Spring snow or Haru no Yuki in Japanese is Mishima’s 1969 novel. The first in his tetralogy known as the Sea of fertility, and extremely late in his writing career. The story is about Kiyoaki Matsugae and his friend Shigekuni Honda. Kiyoaki is the son of an aristocrat which comes from a Samurai family, his father is Marquis Matsugae. He was given to the Ayakura family to be raised in the art of elegance which is where he was raised alongside Satoko Ayakura who is two years older than him. They have a complicated relationship which moves and sways like a Shakespearean tragedy. This lasts from childhood to their twenties, this is their story.
A story is told about Kiyoaki when he was a child. It is during the Meiji period and he gets to meet the Emperor Meiji himself, and is rewarded with a pat on the head. He also meets the princess but stumbles, the princess then smiles at him, instead of scorning him for failing in his duty. He tells this story to his teacher and would be butler, Shigeyuki Iinuma, and he looks on the young Kiyoaki with scorn for the way he is failing to take responsibility for this stumbling in front of the princess. During this party where the Emperor is at the household, Marquis Matsugae watches his son and is worried by how handsome he is. He stands out and something about it worries him, but being an optimistic man he pushes it aside.
Kiyoaki grows up and becomes a melancholic teen. No one and nothing about his family and surroundings explain why he is this way, he simply is, which makes him stand out in yet another way. He has also formed habits and likes which keep him isolated and separated. He and Honda, his friend, are now eighteen. Honda is a rather bright and serious young man who has an uncanny ability to know what Kiyoaki is thinking about. while Kiyoaki has grown into a cynical person who doesn’t really see the point or fun of anything. He dislikes his fellow students, how they sing the national anthem, how they exercise, their militarism and pretty much anything that seems meaningful and full of energy. In this way Kiyoaki and Honda are good friends, but have nothing in common by nature or interests. They are like the plant and the flower, utterly different but related. Kiyoaki feels his family is ready for a falling apart, they have worked hard and got into success, but with this success and the gaining of elegance the family must cripple itself and fall again. He is overly aware that he will be the one to deliver this fall, because his nature is a poison, so by his own nature he must poison his roots because he doesn’t have any anymore, being so obsessed with elegance instead of hard work or knowing who you are.
Honda persuades him to come with him to the pond on a boat. He tries to make an excuse about not wanting to row, or to get Iinuma to do it, but Honda pushes this off by saying they don’t need someone to row because he will do it. They get out on the boat, and Kiyoaki out of boredom and forgetting his dread of the snapping turtles looks out to the land and can see a group of women. As the women walk closer, Kiyoaki realises who it is. It is his mother, with Satoko and her aunt. Satoko is a girl who is two years older than Kiyoaki and grew up with him. She is in love with him, as most people are. But Kiyoaki being the way he is doesn’t care. He is described as an indifferent mould, that when touched spreads its indifference everywhere.
He and Honda join the group as they are being shown around the garden by the mother. They come to a waterfall which seems to have something wrong with it, they notice that at the top of the fall there is a dead black dog which is making the water fall oddly. None of them want to point it out and be rude, but Satoko boldly points it out and Kiyoaki feels ashamed of himself for not being so bold, while Honda is impressed by her boldness. Honda tells Kiyoaki about how attractive she is, and he pretends he hadn’t noticed. For him, the fact that she loves him and is attractive is just how things are, and if she wasn’t attractive he would be offended by her love, although he isn’t interested either way.
The aunt offers to give the dead dog a burial prayer, and Satoko asks Kiyo (that is what she calls him) to join her in picking flowers for the burial. He makes a joke about what flowers do you pick for a dead dog, but then goes anyway. He tries to ignore her picking and not look into her eyes, it annoys him that her body is well shaped and she keeps bending down. Before he knows it she is walking up to him and asks him bluntly, ‘Kiyo, what would you do if all of a sudden I weren’t here any more?’ He tries to act uninterested but just blurts out why would she be gone all of a sudden, she says she doesn’t know why, thus dropping doubt into his heart. This is why he hated her, because she would take his clear water and then drop a single blob of ink into it to spread like a disease, thus his calmness was thrown into anxiety. She smiles, knowing she has achieved her goal. He hates her and suddenly has a terrible mood. The group are shocked by his mood when he returns, and when they go back to the household they all gossip about his sourness.
He has a meal with his father and mother which is a very rare event. He listens to their talk where they express that Satoko is annoying because she was implying she would be marrying the man she was set up with, but randomly turned him down. Kiyoaki is in a bad mood until he hears this, he assumes that she suddenly refused because he showed her that he cared by answering her riddling question with concern. Then his father offers for him to come with him to sleep around with some women. Kiyoaki refuses and storms off in a mood. He goes back to his room and contemplates revenge on Satoko for the way she puts him in a state of chaos. While he contemplates this he lays in bed on his side, on his left side can be seen a set of three moles.
Two princes visit his household and while they are showing him pictures of the women they will marry, they ask him if he has a woman he loves and will marry. He gets uncomfortable and says that in Japan we don’t have gift pictures of people, which is a lie. He has an entire album full of Satoko which he has built since childhood because she was the only female friend he ever had. So instead he says that he will introduce them to her, but confuses himself. How can he introduce them to a woman he loves when he doesn’t love her, and he had only yesterday sent her a letter explaining she is nothing but a slut like all women are, so he isn’t interested in anyone, and especially not her.
He considers that the meeting of her with the two princes needs to happen, and the letter needs to not be read. So he rings her although it is very late. He makes her promise that if a letter arrives she will burn it without reading it. He then explains that he is going to take two princes to a theatre and he will pay for a ticket for her and her maid. Satoko is made up and her voice clearly shows the pleasure she is taking in being taken out in such a way by Kiyoaki.
The plan goes ahead without a hitch. Kiyoaki introduces Satoko to the princes and they tell him that he is lucky he has such a beautiful woman in love with him. Everything is going well. but he senses under Satoko’s pleasant smile the knowledge of the letter and what was contained within it. Later Satoko expresses to Kiyoaki how happy it made her to be introduced to the princes as if she was his fiancee.
Kiyoaki meets Satoko’s maid and makes her slightly drunk in order to find out if the letter was received and burned. She admits that she received it and burned it herself, so it is not possible that Satoko read it. This makes him more relaxed and feel that his life will go onto better things. He and the maid ignore Iinuma as he walks into the room, only addressing him to point out that Kiyoaki had noticed how when he goes to pray at the shrine, there seems to be more than just praying on his mind. They both laugh while Iinuma begins to panic, not knowing what to do without seeming dishonourable. Satoko’s maid explains how Kiyoaki had told her how Iinuma passes the maid’s quarters when he goes to pray and had passed a love note to one of the maids. He doesn’t know what to do so he remains still and full of dread. Kiyoaki makes it clear that he won’t let anyone find out, he will help Iinuma get his love and also not get him sacked from his job, on the condition that he helps him and Satoko’s maid in their plan.
One morning it is snowing heavily and Satoko invites Kiyoaki to skip school and go on a snow trip with her. Shile on this trip they end up holding hands and kissing. She begins to cry with happiness. Because Kiyoaki had skipped school Honda is worried and thinks something is wrong, but Kiyoaki dismisses him rudely when he rings him, and the next day at school instead of explaining why he wasn’t at school he just leaves Honda to speak about an unrelated subject.
Kiyoaki then tells Iinuma about an elaborate plan. He has told the maid that he was interested in to meet Iinuma in secret in his grandfather’s library. While he waits in the library for the young maid he is nervously worrying himself into oblivion. He is shaking with anger at Kiyoaki for doing this, and setting up meeting her in a place which he considers a shrine which should not be disrespected, and not only that but this maid he likes is one which regularly sleeps with Kiyoaki’s father. When she knocks on the door he quickly takes her being driven by his anger and desire to have revenge on Kiyoaki. He pities her but is also full of rage, not wanting to dishonour this room he ravishes her in a corner closest to a window filled to the glass by snow. During this she looks up and can see rats running back and forth, implying the utter rottenness of the entire situation.
Satoko sends Kiyoaki a love letter, and while at a party he can’t help but compare her to every women he sees. The fact that they don’t compare makes him proud. He hides in order to surprise her with a grab and a kiss, but she seems upset by this. He kisses her but she is crying and calls him a little boy. She then storms off after delivering a short speech about his pathetic immaturity. He has no idea what has brought this on and he takes himself off to bed. He cannot get over what has just happened so he calls in Iinuma. He then explains that he had heard from the maid that he is now sleeping with, that Satoko’s maid was asking about Kiyoaki and women. She let out some details which Kiyoaki had invented when he sent the insulting letter that should have been burned. It is clear it was read as these details only exist in that letter. Kiyoaki turns cold, and the one time Iinuma feels sympathy for him, willing to cry and hold him if he gets upset is slapped down by Kiyoaki pushing him out of his room with a frozen face of no emotion.
Satoko’s maid keeps ringing Kiyoaki’s household, but he is so angry that he won’t answer. She comes to the house but Iinuma has strict orders to refuse her. She makes it clear that if she is refused she will take no responsibility for what happens next, she is still refused and leaves. Kiyoaki receives a large letter and calls Iinuma into his room to be a witness to him burning it without reading it. During a dinner with his mother and father, they speak about how another marriage proposal has been offered to Satoko and would Kiyoaki have anything to say about it. He makes it clear it is none of his business, then his father explains how this marriage will not be able to be refused if he doesn’t speak up now. Again, he makes it clear it is none of his business and he has nothing to say. An upcoming yearly party is mentioned, and the father explains how Satoko probably won’t have time to come to it if this marriage is going forward, then Kiyoaki calmly states that they shouldn’t bother inviting her then. The father then states that Iinuma will be sacked soon because of his actions with the maid, Kiyoaki figures out from this that this is what Satoko’s maid was implying when she threatened action, but Kiyoaki couldn’t care less.
Satoko is then going to a formal meeting to be introduced to the Emperor’s son who is proposing marriage to her. She was waiting on an invite to the yearly party for a chance to see Kiyo, as she calls him. But the invite never came. Iinuma leaves Kiyoaki’s household with the maid and will soon marry her as the father let them both go and implied they should marry if they wish to be together. Kiyoaki says goodbye, that he will visit and he wants a letter from him soon, but deep down he is glad he is going. With Iinuma and Satoko gone, his emotional well being isn’t in chaos anymore. The yearly party passes, Satoko isn’t there and Kiyoaki as always, couldn’t care less.
Kiyoaki receives yet another huge envelope off Satoko’s maid and tears it up in front of his butler. His mother is on the way to see her when she invites him to come with her to congratulate Satoko on being accepted to marry the Emperor’s son. He says no, but to pass on his regards. This makes him happy, that he is finally rid of her and all the anxiety she causes him. However, days later, being the unstable person that he is he keeps telling himself that he knows he loves her. He thinks the fact that are so far torn from each other proves that this love is real.
He comes up with a plan and basically kidnaps Satoko’s maid while she is travelling. She agrees to go with him and talk somewhere private. He explains that he wants to see Satoko and if she denies him this request he will send the last letter he received off Satoko to the emperor. This letter was sent after she and the emperor’s son begun the process of arranging for marriage, which is how he is using it as a threat. Satoko has been raised to respect the emperor and to bring this shame to light would mean the death of her entire family name, and also an accusation of treason which could lead to the family being forced to commit suicide or be executed. She is stunned by his calculating nature. She agrees because she has to. Satoko is brought to him in a safe private place and he forces himself upon her, but it is clear that with every act of resistance she is also allowing him to do this – she is performing her duty of resistance, but her heart is in love and wants what is happening to her. After this first time, she then stops him from leaving and they make love. He doesn’t have to force anything, and she assists him.
When they are done the maid enters and begins to redress her. She addresses Kiyoaki and asks him if their deal is now done and would he return the letter. He explains he will not, because he wants to see Satoko again. The maid is incensed by this, but Satoko stops her and makes it clear that this will continue to happen so long as Kiyoaki hasn’t given the letter back. It is clear that Satoko wants this and has been dreaming of having Kiyo since her childhood, so she is not willing to let go. While Kiyoaki is enjoying the fact that she is going against the God-Emperor in order to have sex with Kiyo – this fills him with arrogant pleasure. She is willing to dishonour herself, her family and even the nation and emperor just for him.
Kiyoaki visits his friend Honda and for the first time in their friendship actually tells him exactly what is going on and confides in him. Honda is surprised to see that Kiyoaki has matured, maybe not in a good way, but he has certainly become more of a human being. Honda reflects on how now the Meiji period is over we don’t have a war of the trooper to engage in, but he thinks that this new period will not be the age of war, but the war of emotions, and men like Kiyoaki are the new young emotional trooper ready to wage his new war on the front-lines.
Kiyoaki, Honda and the two princes go away to a beach house for a holiday. Kiyoaki is using this as an excuse to seem out of his home area, while planning to sneak back to meet Satoko with no one knowing he is in the area. He tells Honda about this and makes him promise to make excuses for him, Honda agrees and is happy Kiyoaki is being so open with him. The two princes mention reincarnation and the transmigration of the soul, Kiyoaki and Honda listen interested, but not knowing anything about it can’t say much in reply. Honda argues with them in order to find out more, and one of the princes explains that it is not that one person is living through several bodies, but the same current is flowing through each reincarnation, and that the whole of existence is like a great sea with all of its differing and weaving currents. Could there be one great collective flowing current which made up all of these smaller flowing currents? Could our consciousness also be a grain of sand to a fuller consciousness the size of the sea, of which we are merely a speck of? These thoughts hold Honda while he watches Kiyoaki and one of the princes build a sand castle of a great temple. During this beach visit, while Kiyoaki was napping on the sand, Honda could see the set of three moles on his left side. He stared at them lost in thought.
Honda gets a hold of a car from a friend, and uses it to take Satoko to Kiyoaki. She explains how it is wrong for Honda to be involved because he doesn’t deserve to get punished for their sin. Satoko and Kiyoaki make love on the beach and on the return journey brings up that same statement about Honda being involved. She makes it very clear that it offends her that Honda is involved because this dirty little secret should be hers and Kiyo’s only, she has built a tiny palace in her head and heart for Kiyo and her to dwell in, while the world and reality slowly crushes in on it. She notices she has sand in her shoe and begins pouring it out, Honda looks away but thinks about how the sound reminds him of a beautiful hourglass. This metaphor is well used as Satoko and Kiyoaki only have a limited amount of time to enjoy this relationship, and when pushed, Satoko would be more willing to die than to give it up. It also turns out during the conversations of the visit that Satoko’s maid now knows that Kiyoaki had destroyed the letter he said he kept in order to see Satoko.
The two princes receive a letter which explains that one of the princes fiancee has died of illness, and this fiancee is the sister of the other prince. Both are upset and return home. As Kiyoaki watches them board a boat and leave, he thinks to himself how this signals the end of his youth. He goes for a walk with Satoko and she explains that when the wedding with the emperor’s son is set a date for and done, she and Kiyo will no longer be able to have this relationship. He expresses the urge to keep it going even then, but she makes it clear that he should just be happy for what they have left and enjoy it, because after that it is over. She is happy that this even happened, so she has reconciled herself to her fate. Kiyoaki again, sees this as a sign that his youth is over. He was no longer a child, his impending doom was on its way.
After noticing that something was wrong with Satoko, as she was acting like an ill person, her maid invites her for a walk, and sits her down when they are in a secluded shrine. She explains to Satoko that now she has fallen pregnant it is time to stop this relationship with Kiyoaki, and also time to rid herself of the baby, if she does not the marriage would be called off. Satoko asks if she will go to prison, and the maid explains she won’t, but she then in reply expresses the urge to go to prison just to see if Kiyo would still love her. She then makes it clear she will decide whether to follow the maid’s plan or not, but that time will not be now.
Kiyoaki tries to force another meeting between the two but is informed he will have to wait ten days, he does but is in agony and cannot concentrate. When they finally do meet it is just for a short conversation, he tries to set up another meeting at night so they can make love but it is clear that it won’t happen, and the next time they can meet will be another ten days for a short talk again. Satoko looks ill and tired, He tells this to Honda and it is clear he is very upset and is showing signs of desolation.
He attempts to see Satoko by stalking outside of the family mansion, but doesn’t have the guts to ring the bell or sneak in. Nine days pass and his father invites him into his family library. In there his father shows him a letter from Satoko’s maid which explains what has happened without naming Kiyoaki, but explaining that she is pregnant and it needs sorting out. She refers to herself as a dead woman, but the father just states she is ill, but she actually attempted to kill herself out of shame, but was caught in the act and is now pretending to be ill while she recovers in order to not bring shame to the family. The father asks Kiyoaki if the child is his, and he says yes. The father begins beating him with a billiard cue, the mother and grandmother enter and stop this from continuing. Kiyoaki admits to them that the affair is true and this child is his. They come up with a plan for Satoko to make a trip to a shrine as an excuse for her to see an abortion doctor. The father then forbids Kiyoaki from leaving the home and seeing Satoko, he is to concentrate on studying from now on. The plan is made with none of his input, and he feels as if they are taking his relationship and burying it without noticing that they are planning the burial in front of the corpse of that relationship: himself.
Satoko’s maid is visited by Satoko’s father. She brings up an event eight years ago when Kiyoaki’s father had said that he would find Satoko a man worth marrying. Her father was so annoyed by this that he told the maid to plan ahead and let Satoko sleep with a man she loved before she married the man that Kiyoaki’s father had put forward. This was for revenge. But the man she is to marry is the emperor’s son so the plan should naturally have been changed. The maid refuses to take responsibility because of this plan, and he begins to doubt she was going to kill herself, so he asks her if she actually planned to die. She doesn’t really answer, but instead states that if he told her to she would certainly try. However, in eight years you may have forgotten what you said, as you did about the plan. This comes across as an insult, but could simply be her being blunt and honest with her master.
Kiyoaki sees Satoko off at the train station, but nothing meaningful is said. He realises she was late on purpose so the saying of goodbye would be reduced. He tells her to take care of herself but doesn’t dare touch her, she tells him to do the same, says goodbye and uses the nickname Kiyo as always. Satoko has the abortion performed, and then visits a shrine as planned with her mother. The shrine is to children and safe births. They stay there and during the night her mother wakes up and Satoko is missing. She is praying to the shrine and has cut her hair. she and the abbess of the shrine speak for a long time and then invite the mother back in. The abbess explains that Satoko has decided to take on the training to become a nun at the shrine.
The family of Satoko visit her again in order to change her mind, but it doesn’t work. They instead come up with the plan to pretend that she has had a mental breakdown and has became a nun to help her mental health. They then get a doctor to sign a medical record and certificate to prove it, this is presented to the emperor and then published as news. Kiyoaki reads this published story and thinks that this is Satoko’s way of getting out of the marriage so that Kiyoaki and Satoko can be together again.
A newspaper article is written by Iinuma which expresses that Kiyoaki’s father is failing to be pulled into the marriage’s failure, yet he was the one who set up the emperor’s son and Satoko. He does not however write the story in anyway that suggests there is more to the story than just Kiyoaki’s father hiding and Satoko actually having a mental breakdown. Within the article he has left his full name and address, Kiyoaki assumes this is him giving his address over to Kiyoaki in a way that isn’t suspicious, like a letter through the butler or a visit to the mansion of a man he just accused of being unjust and hiding.
A poem recital which happens every year at Satoko’s fathers happens and Kiyoaki is invited because he was invited every year, so to not invite him now would look out of place. While he listens to the poems in the presence of the emperor he cannot help feel that he has betrayed his majesty, and now there is nothing to do but die. He has also forgotten his dread of snapping turtles when he drinks a wine and is then informed that it is the blood of a snapping turtle which the chef made especially for him.
Kiyoaki requests some money off Honda because he is not allowed an account, and then while at school he sneaks through a fence and leaves. He travels to an inn just outside of the shrine that Satoko is becoming a nun at. Every time he travels to the door he is refused entrance. Because of this he makes harsher travels to get there in order to prove he deserves entrance. He stops being taken there and walks instead, he begins to fall ill with a fever, but still walks through the spring snow to get to the door. He collapses at the door and is refused entrance once again. The janitor then picks him up and returns him back to the inn.
Honda arrives at the inn where Kiyoaki is being treated for pneumonia. He can barely speak, and is having fits of fever. Before he leaves to go to the shrine to ask if they will let Satoko see Kiyoaki, Kiyoaki sees him go to leave and is crying. Honda goes to the shrine and asks to see the abbess, she invites him in and talks to him. He puts forward his request for the two lovers to meet, but she rejects it. She explains that when Satoko started her training as a nun, she made a pledge and promise to the Lord Buddha to never see him again in this life, leaving their love to the next. He expresses that Kiyoaki is so ill that he may not make it on his way home, he may die. The abbess is adamant in her reply, it remains unchanged: it is a no. She then explains what religious system that this shrine works under, she mentions several works and Honda makes a mental note of these titles so he can study them when he returns home. He then leaves as quickly as he can.
Honda takes Kiyoaki back to his home on the train. While on the train he takes a note out of his pocket which he was asked to give to Kiyoaki’s mother. The letter explains that their is a dream diary in his desk, this should be given to Honda as he would enjoy it. Kiyoaki then calls out in pain, so Honda puts the note away and goes to help him. He is having chest pains as if he is being stabbed, and then he loses consciousness. After a few moments he awakens and tells Honda that he just had a dream, and that he knows he will see Honda again, beneath the falls. Honda assumes that he is referring to the waterfalls in the garden of his home. Two days after Kiyoaki returns home, he dies from his pneumonia at the age of twenty.
The writing is beautiful, you can tell that Mishima was very late in his writing career with this book. It has a finesse and style of a confident writer who knows exactly what he is doing and what he wants to show the reader. This story is a love tragedy worthy of the Ancient Greeks. Mishima’s use of metaphor, his writing flow and vivid imagery are breathtaking. He had taken on the huge task of writing a four book story line and to finish it with his own death. As the beginning of a swansong, this book is a beautiful gem. This story does not show that the writer has a promising career ahead of him, instead it tells you that this writer is in his prime and already has a promising career under his belt, and that he is ready and willing to use it to weave this powerful and alluring narrative.