Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > Spring Snow

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima
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it was amazing
bookshelves: the-japanese

Yukio Mishima felt the Japanese government needed to return to a system based on the samurai code. He was descended from samarais and believed that this code, advocating complete command of one's body and soul combined with a complete loyalty to the emperor, was necessary for Japan to return to prominence. He formed his own army in 1970 and attempted a coup d'état. With a few friends he overpowered the commandant of the Ichigaya Camp — the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan's Self-Defense Forces and tied the commandant to a chair. Mishima then stepped onto a balcony outside the commandant's office and gave an impassioned speech to the government troops to join his cause. He was jeered and mocked off the balcony.

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He returned to the commandant's office and committed seppuku, a ritual suicide. The friend he had chosen to slice his head from his body at the end of the ritual could not complete his responsibilities and another friend stepped in to end his pain. Mishima had been planning his suicide for almost a year. For those with a more gruesome bent you can find pictures of his severed head on the internet.

Mishima was only 45 on November 25th, 1970. He had been a successful actor, kendo master, and of course writer. Mishima wrote 40 novels, 18 plays, 20 books of short stories, and at least 20 books of essays, one libretto, as well as one film. Like Fitzgerald, he dashed off a lot of work for quick cash, but even if those inferior works are discarded, he still had an impressive body of work for a man who died so young. He had just finished the final volume in The Sea of Fertility tetralogy, of which Spring Snow is the first, before his suicide.

Spring Snow is a novel of pride, misplaced loyalty, blackmail, intrigue, lust, selfishness, sacrifice, and misery. It is the story of star crossed lovers, steadfast friends, political mishaps, and conniving servants. The setting is 1912 Tokyo in the inner circle of imperial court. Our hero is Kiyoaki, who was born so beautiful he stirred the blood of women from 8 to 80. He was a young man of 19 whom women wanted and men wanted to be like. Those people too enamored with him soon found themselves rebuffed. Honda, a fellow classmate of Kiyoaki observed this tendency and modified his approach to Kiyoaki forsaking fawning for aloofness. "He knew only too well how Kiyoaki reserved his keenest displeasure for any excessive show of friendship." Now his name is HONDA not HONDO.

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It must be the fact that Hondo was one of my favorite John Wayne movies when I was a kid combined with the fact that I really liked Honda, by far my favorite character in the book, that I kept changing his name in my head to Hondo.

Kiyoaki as a young lad of 13 was asked to participate in a ritual ceremony that brought him in close proximity to the princess. He missteps and disrupts the trail of her ermine coat.

"Princess Kasuga's lavish use of French perfume extended to her train, and its fragrance overpowered the musky odor of incense. Some way down the corridor, Kiyoaki stumbled for a moment, inadvertently tugging at the train. The princess turned her head slightly, and, as a sign that she was not at all annoyed, smiled gently at the youthful offender. Her gesture went unnoticed; body perfectly erect in that fractional turn, she had allowed Kiyoaki a glimpse of a corner of her mouth. At that moment, a single wisp of hair slipped over her clear white cheek, and out of the fine-drawn corner of an eye a smile flashed in a spark of black fire. But the pure line of her nose did not move. It as as if nothing had happened...this fleeting angle of the Princess's face--too slight to be called a profile--made Kiyoaki feel as if he had seen a rainbow flicker for a bare instant through a prism of pure crystal."

This scene stays with Kiyoaki for the rest of his life. He considered it one of the most defining moments of his life, which makes it all the more inexplicable why it takes him so long to realize the extraordinary beauty of his life time friend Satoko. Only after his friends at school see her and react extravagantly to her charms does Kiyoaki for the first time see her as a woman and not as an annoying child. She is acerbic, sarcastic, intelligent, and head over heels in love with Kiyoaki. Her wit and his pride contribute to the continued cross purposes of their relationship. Honda proves himself time and time again helping Kiyoaki with insane plans to get unsupervised time with Satoko. He rejects her and then wants her more than ever. "His own heart seemed to him to be much like an arrow stripped of the flashing white feathers that gave it direction."

The minor characters provide twisty plot turns that add inspiring flavor to the plot. Jaw dropping, unexpected moments of blackmail with a dash of spicy intrigue keep the pages turning even when the main characters are off the stage. Beautiful descriptive passages, bits of Zen, and an ending that Shakespeare would certainly approve of lead me to say HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Reading Progress

March 18, 2012 – Started Reading
March 18, 2012 – Shelved
March 23, 2012 – Finished Reading
February 9, 2015 – Shelved as: the-japanese

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Traveller (last edited Mar 24, 2012 08:01AM) (new) - added it

Traveller If you're interested, Mishima's book Sun and Steel chronicles part of the sad story of his political misadventures. I read the book quite long ago (in my teens actually) and the memory I have from that book, is that he, in fact stabbed himself with a sword and his wife subsequently also committed suicide, by his side, with a dagger.

However, since he couldn't have been expected to have written a true account of events from his grave, I assume that what he wrote in Sun and Steel was just his own fantasy of how he would have wanted to have things play out. I've been planning to read more Mishima, but I just never get around to it...


Capsguy There`s a whole lot more fantasising about death, especially in youth in his writings, Traveller.

It was a sexual thing for him, or something along those lines.

Geniuses tend to deviate from society`s norms in terms of morality and social conduct. I still respect him for his love of his people during those tough times and his skill and intelligence.


message 3: by s.penkevich (last edited Mar 24, 2012 08:04AM) (new) - added it

s.penkevich Ha, now when I get around to reading this I'm just going to picture John Wayne in it. Are you jumping into the rest of the tetralogy next?

And great review as well, I need to read this.


Jeffrey Keeten Traveller wrote: "If you're interested, Mishima's book Sun and Steel chronicles part of the sad story of his political misadventures. I read the book quite long ago (in my teens actually) and the memor..."

Thanks Traveller I put that on my list. After I finish the tetralogy I will definitely read Sun and Steel.


Jeffrey Keeten s.penkevich wrote: "Ha, now when I get around to reading this I'm just going to picture John Wayne in it. Are you jumping into the rest of the tetralogy next?

And great review as well, I need to read this."


Thanks. I will definitely be reading the rest of the tetralogy. In fact I ordered a copy of Runaway Horses, the second book, this morning. It was just so odd every time I saw Honda on the page I didn't see a motorcycle I saw John Wayne fighting Apaches.


message 6: by s.penkevich (new) - added it

s.penkevich Jeffrey wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "Ha, now when I get around to reading this I'm just going to picture John Wayne in it. Are you jumping into the rest of the tetralogy next?

And great review as well, I need to r..."


As you should That's a good one, but then again they all are. I was actually just watching The Searchers the other day.
Oh nice, I'll be looking forward to the reviews. I've only read The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea, but I have been meaning to revisit Mishima soon. This 5 star rating makes me think I should do so sooner than later.


message 7: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Jeffrey wrote: "Thanks Traveller I put that on my list. After I finish the tetralogy I will definitely read Sun and Steel. "

In any case, it's quite short, so it should be quite easy to squeeze in.

Interesting remarks, Capsguy. I should read more Mishima, since I've been wanting to for a long time, but wasn't sure where to go next. Now I know: Spring Snow . :)


David Traveller wrote: "If you're interested, Mishima's book Sun and Steel chronicles part of the sad story of his political misadventures. I read the book quite long ago (in my teens actually) and the memor..."

Young soldier killing himself with wife is "Patriotism", I think.


message 10: by Traveller (last edited Mar 24, 2012 11:38AM) (new) - added it

Traveller David wrote: "Traveller wrote: "If you're interested, Mishima's book Sun and Steel chronicles part of the sad story of his political misadventures. I read the book quite long ago (in my teens actua..."

Hmm, I had a quick look at your profile, (but not a very good look, I admit; will look some more just now) since my initial impression were that you might be Japanese, ..but perhaps not, since you mention somewhere that you can't read Japanese, and then there's your surname, and the fact that you live in the UK. :P (Of course you could still be Japanese nevertheless, but..)

Anyway, I was going to make the disclaimer that I don't quite understand all the ins and outs of Japanese culture, but I find them a very interesting and complex people, and I'm actually currently trying to brush up on my knowledge of Japanese and Chinese history. My background on Chinese history isn't too bad, but frankly, my knowledge of Japanese history is quite pathetic. Any recommendations on lit I can read to rectify this criminal lack in my education?

Incidentally, in some other thread, I had linked to this awesome event : http://www.youtube.com/embed/paH0V6JLxSI and commented on the great sense of solidarity the Japanese tend to have. They also seem to have an intense sense of national pride and "Japaneseness" in spite of their partiality to things American.

In fact, I find the dynamic between American and Japanese culture fascinating too. The two cultures seem to be to some extent fascinated with one another, and there's been instances of remarkable attrition (counter-influences) between the two cultures.


message 11: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller David wrote: "Young soldier killing himself with wife is "Patriotism", I think.

"


Yes, you're right, I seem to have the story of 'Patriotism' in my head, so I might have read that as well. ..but I know for a fact that I read Sun and Steel too, it's sitting on my shelf right here, and was in fact a book I remember purchasing very well, because I bought it on a visit to Tokyo.

Oh, the vagaries of memory...-I might have to read it again! :P


David Yes, I'm not Japanese. My profile picture is Morita Masakatsu, dapper in his Tatenokai uniform! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masakats...

I'm not a rightist though. I am more of the "Mishima invented a dramatic way to kill himself because he was so unhappy" school. FYI.

Recommendations? My goodreads bookshelves are based on the Japanese flag! I appreciate that it doesn't really work, but "big red circle" is Japanese fiction by Japanese writers.


message 13: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller David wrote: "Recommendations? My goodreads bookshelves are based on the Japanese flag! I appreciate that it doesn't really work, but "big red circle" is Japanese fiction by Japanese writers. "

Yes, I gathered as much, but there are so many! Clearly you are much better read on the subject than I am, which is why I thought you might point me to a nice, concise-but-comprehensive (if such a thing can exist) book that will bring me more or less up to speed with the basic aspects of Japanese history, sort of from when they emerged as a nation or when they started recording history, up to more or less the present day... is such a book possible? :P

David wrote: "I'm not a rightist though. I am more of the "Mishima invented a dramatic way to kill himself because he was so unhappy" school. FYI. "

That's quite a relief! Ideas of Samurai warriors still running around and everybody staying stuck in ye olden days might seem very romantic, (not that I know nearly enough about the subject) but I'm not sure how practical that would be. The world moves on, and time stands still for nobody..


message 14: by Hend (new) - added it

Hend I was planning to read it,u encouraged me too read it soon,i only read to him ,The confession of a mask


Jeffrey Keeten Hend wrote: "I was planning to read it,u encouraged me too read it soon,i only read to him ,The confession of a mask"

I have a feeling you will really like it. I have Runaway Horses, the 2nd book in the tetralogy slated to read sometime this fall. I'm glad I could be an encouragement to you.


message 16: by Hend (new) - added it

Hend Yeah,u are very encouraging...
and thank u for liking by reviews.....
:)


message 17: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Great review, Jeffrey.
In 1971 (when I was ten-years-old) I was gifted the previous year's yearbook, and there was a piece in there about this man's troubled end, including the same photo that you've shown
I can remember being astonished that someone would willingly kill themselves in this manner. The almanac used the more colloquial term of harakiri, but seppuku is more apt.
Because I was so young this man's almost Quixotic quest has always lingered in the recesses of my memory.
And your informative review has helped me to join the dots.
Thank you!


message 18: by Gaurav (new) - added it

Gaurav Kevin wrote: "Great review, Jeffrey.
In 1971 (when I was ten-years-old) I was gifted the previous year's yearbook, and there was a piece in there about this man's troubled end, including the same photo that you'..."


Nice review, Jefffrey, quite an evocative one!

The rituals, seemingly strange to us, prompt the curious bone in myself to read about it, it's quite startling to read about those death rituals (Seppuku ) wherein someone would be beheaded in such fashion.
I've bought this book just a few days, your review has reconsolidated my wish to start it soon :)


Jeffrey Keeten Kevin wrote: "Great review, Jeffrey.
In 1971 (when I was ten-years-old) I was gifted the previous year's yearbook, and there was a piece in there about this man's troubled end, including the same photo that you'..."


Historical the Japanese have venerated suicide as the honorable way to atone for doing something wrong or just being on the losing side. Killing oneself this way is very painful, but hopefully you have arranged for a friend with a steady hand to lop off your head once you've made your cut. I find it all very distasteful, but their culture has been mired in the ritual suicide for thousands of years. Thanks Kevin!


Jeffrey Keeten Gaurav wrote: "Kevin wrote: "Great review, Jeffrey.
In 1971 (when I was ten-years-old) I was gifted the previous year's yearbook, and there was a piece in there about this man's troubled end, including the same p..."


Thanks Gaurav! I think you will find the Japanese culture fascinating and certainly Mishima is one of their most talented writers. I hope you find this reading experience intriguing.


Gabriel Kemlo Thank you Jeffrey. It really adds to my experience of reading the novel to discuss it like this.

I'd like to consider your Romeo & Juliet equation. The parallels are there of course, a totally legitimate and thought-provoking...meaning not thought-provoking...transliteration, analogous to say Kurosawa's Ran. My facetious point about 'not thought-provoking' is I suppose a reflection on Japanese culture and expression: which is bemusing to me. Shakespeare sees the lark at dawn as an occasion for poetry, at length if the feeling takes him/his characters. Japanese poetry and expression seems to celebrate concision, to the point of silence at times. How are we to view Kiyoaki otherwise? This semi-mute, anti-intellectual. For me, I don't see why this makes a powerful romantic hero, like Romeo. He's not like Romeo.

I' truth my stomach's rebelled against many a romantic hero - Heathcliff, Darcy, anything with John Wayne - I'm seeing a pattern here; they are all sullen, brooding, romantic hunks. I guess women find this attractive: does the man's inarticulacy or silence prove that he is focused solely on her? He is guaranteed to not be a writer or poet at any rate, his mind drifting onto expression and creating a second hand experience by his artistic remove.

This is not the tenor of Romeo & Juliet. In Shakespeare the code is that the veracity of experience is enhanced by poetry. And the nature of theatre is that all expression is dialogue: so any romantic figure is by that fact richly expressive.

Of course you didn't mean your Romeo & Juliet comparison to be extended relentlessly like this. I didn't really warm to Kiyoaki though. I'd always taken Japanese taciturnity to be a sign of repression, cultural and etiquette-heavy restrictions on free speech. Now I understand that there are not thoughts bursting to come out if allowed, they prefer, celebrate silence. They find this to be far the most eloquent, meaningful comment. The sound of one hand clapping.

Will not be reading any more Mishima methinks. Loving everyone's enjoyment of this writer though, and gotta admire his commitment to his art.


Jeffrey Keeten Gabriel wrote: "Thank you Jeffrey. It really adds to my experience of reading the novel to discuss it like this.

I'd like to consider your Romeo & Juliet equation. The parallels are there of course, a totally leg..."


Wonderful, thoughtful comments Gabriel. I more wanted to allude to Shakespeare rather than make too much of it which you did realize.

I think the hulking brooding, but man of action like John Wayne and the others that you mentioned has more to do with a natural tendency of a percentage of females to want a man who can protect them. They are attracted to his brute strength. He can pick up a club and go beyond the firelight and say...here kitty kitty to the sabretooth tiger. They seem to also associate a quiet man as a mature man. It is more interesting for them to speculate about what is in his head than to actually hear it. Again, I know there are women who don't fit this profile, but films and books are filled with men who fit that "manly" profile. I'm 6'4" and 210 so I can appreciate women preferring that profile though I don't do as well with the quiet brooding aspect. :-)

Don't worry there are plenty of women who prefer the poet, the artist, or the fiction writer.

I do plan to read more Mishima! I'd like to finish the tetralogy. Thanks again for your speculations. They definitely add to the dialogue about this novel.


Michael Perkins This is a beautifully written book. The sequel in the tetralogy, "Runaway Horses," takes on a very different tone, closer to what we know of Mishima. I hope you won't mind, Jeffrey, if I share the link to a beautiful film made about his life by Zoetrope Studios and directed by Paul Schrader....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtmNC...


Jeffrey Keeten Michael wrote: "This is a beautifully written book. The sequel in the tetralogy, "Runaway Horses," takes on a very different tone, closer to what we know of Mishima. I hope you won't mind, Jeffrey, if I share the ..."

Not at all Michael. Thanks for sharing.


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