Essay about The Conflicted Japan of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow

Essay about The Conflicted Japan of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow

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The Conflicted Japan of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow


Yukio Mishima was a revolutionary author. His dramatic public suicide is the perfect capstone to a life full of turmoil and unrest. Mishima himself was as conflicted as his many stories and plays, which tend to play out the problem of which direction is Japan heading, and should the nation be developing that way. Mishima romanticized the samurai and nurtured a lifelong affair with traditional Japanese theater. At the same time, he admired the West and studied Western art and literature avidly. The influence is evident, from the decidedly 19th Century British feel of his novel, Spring Snow, to the many references therein to Western art, literature, film, and philosophy. Mishima was not the only Japanese citizen to feel their country was in danger of becoming too Westernized, and his novels reflect the conflicted state of Japan’s national consciousness during the Meiji era.

Before the Meiji Restoration the idea of blending Japanese and Western culture was prevalent in the land of the rising sun. It was generally thought that Japanese ideology was superior to its Western counterpart, but that Western technology would be essential to Japan’s success as a modern nation. While the pros and cons of the differing ideologies are almost impossible to get to the bottom of, Japan could not succeed in an industrial global society without adopting Western technology. But along with steam engines and steel mills came Western food, fashion, and customs, threatening long-established Japanese tradition. The Shishi samurai ushered in the Meiji Restoration, and they preached the motto, "Japanese thought, Western technology." Mishima identified with this philosophy, and does his best to suppo...


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... similarities. It is Dickens’ great work of cultural upheavel, A Tale of Two Cities, that really pertains to Spring Snow. As with the French revolution, the Meiji Restoration forced a complete restructuring of the class system. Dickens focuses on the chaos caused by such a change. Mishima focuses on similar issues.

It is fitting, too, that Mishima provides us with very few answers. At the time of the novel’s publication, 1972, Japan was on the rebound from American occupation and defeat in WWII. The nation was becoming a true player in the global economy, and facing yet another wave of change. And it is important to remember that Spring Snow is the first of a four-novel cycle, a tetralogy. Mishima has chosen to begin with Japan’s restructuring, the most significant social, political, and economic change in hundreds of years. I am eager to see where he leaves off.

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