Book Review: Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio


Spring Snow is the first novel of the tetralogy named The Sea of Fertility by Mishima Yukio.

The scandal of his theatrical suicide in 1970 performed as an act of seppuku, (also known as harakiri in the West),  made him probably immortal. The fact is, he announced his death plan many times before, stating, that he will kill himself after finishing the fourth novel and he did it. It is known as the Mishima incident and still today controversially discussed and also made into a film.

Mishima is regarded as an avantgarde author, because of his mixture of modern and traditional Japanese aesthetics. His themes are often characterized by the effects of obsession and political changes. Yet his writing became world literature. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times. Apart from that he has also many faceted talents as a writer, playwright and actor.

Spring Snow is the story of a young man, Matsugae Kiyoaki, placed in Tokyo of 1912. He was raised in the family tradition of the aristocracy. He fells in love with the elegant and sophisticated Ayakura Satoko.

Their relationship is disturbed by the behavior of both: Satoko is teasing him involuntarily by her distinguished  behavior. The young Kiyoaki feels inferior and reacts insulted by drawing back. Yet he wants to possess her. As Ayakura Satoko was promised to marry a prince, all hope become non-existent for Kiyoaki and in a childish act of stubbornness he rejects her totally, a step which is not reversable. This is the groundwork for their failure.
Later Kiyoaki is in despair and his love for Satoko is driving him to an obsessive secret affair with Satoko, who is then engaged with a member of the imperial family. This love affair is doomed from the start  and both will have to pay an extraordinary price for it.

The story is written in a highly elaborated style with much love for detailed scenes. Aesthetically composed Japanese traditional settings and nature descriptions are well-designed. Yet the narration is mixed with manly obsession, crime and lively sublime characters. It is not an easy read, but worth the effort to get to know  a really good modern Japanese classic.

If you want to read more of it the tetralogy consists of the following titles:
Spring Snow
Runaway Horses
The Temple of Dawn
The Decay of the Angel

Japanese: 三島 由紀夫. 春の雪. Mishima Yukio. Haru no Yuki, 1968.