The Temple of Dawn or Akatsuki no Tera in Japanese is Mishima’s 1970 novel. The third in his tetralogy known as the Sea of fertility, and extremely late in his writing career. This novel follows Honda once again, and the mad Siamese princess Chantrapa who believes that she is the reincarnation of a Japanese man and wants to be returned home. Honda begins to believe that this is the second reincarnation of his friend Kiyoaki, the first being Isao. This is her story.
Honda is in Bangkok in order to sort out a product problem with his legal advice. He is with a translator called Hishikawa. The land of Siam is now the land of Thailand, this is the same land that the two princes who made friends with Kiyoaki and Honda many years ago are from. Honda is now forty six years old, and asks his translator and guide if he knows anything about the two princes that he used to be friends with. Hishikawa says he can set up a meeting, but not with the two princes, but with a relative of their’s, as they are both away right now.
The relative he can meet is a very young princess called Chantrapa, and she was named after the princess who was the sister of one of the princes and was engaged to the other one. She died of an illness, and the name was given to this princess to honour her. Hashikawa explains that she is considered retarded and crazy because she is convinced that she isn’t actually Siamese, she walks around telling people she is the reincarnation of a Japanese, and wants to go home to Japan. Because of this she has been locked away in isolation. Honda rereads Kiyoaki’s dream diary and finds a section where he had a dream that he was on a golden throne with a crown on, and was wearing a big emerald ring which reflected a little girl’s face. This is the same ring that one of the princes had been given by his love Chantrapa, and he lost in Japan. Little does Honda know that Isao also had a dream about being a young woman who handled a snake and lived in a hot southern nation like Thailand. From this Honda becomes curious if she is the second reincarnation of Kiyoaki.
A meeting is set up and when Honda meets her she runs over to him, grabbing him and crying into his trousers. He cannot understand her and needs the translator. The translator explains that she is so glad to see him, she has been meaning to say thank you for what he has done for her, and to say sorry for killing herself. She then begs him to take her home to Japan. She is only a child, but clearly knows about Isao’s suicide and also how much Isao owed Honda. Honda then asks her two questions that she would only know the answer to if she was both Isao and Kiyoaki: she answers both perfectly. She then asks to see him again in two days, he agrees to meet her.
They meet again, and while the princess plays and bathes in the waters with her maids Honda cannot see a cluster of three moles on her body, he assumes this is because she is very tanned. His lawsuit goes well and he is allowed to travel to India, while there he sees many rituals of Hinduism and Buddhism. While waiting with countless people to see the Sun rise and be worshipped for being the entity of truth, he realises that the sun which Isao had constantly seen in his suicide dream was this full disc God in the skies. Honda feels that this exact image is what Isao was actually seeing. He has a similar experience with two waterfalls, one is falling perfectly while the other is being prevented from falling fully. With this image Honda wonders whether Kiyoaki’s words about meeting again under the falls were really about Isao under the falls, or was instead about these holy falls.
Honda returns to Thailand and is informed that the princess has been waiting for him to return because she thinks that he will be taking her home to Japan. He is asked to hide his return date so she does not know when he is leaving when he meets her. During the meeting something he says is mistranslated and the translator tells the princess that Honda is leaving, with this she gets upset and begs him to take her with him. He is forced to leave by her maids.
Honda returns to Japan and is happy to be around his wife Rie, and mother again. Not long after his return it is announced that Japan is at war with the USA and the public now know about the Pearl Harbour Kamikaze attack. He asks his wife to get a doll for the princess which he will send to her as a gift. He spends most of his time studying ancient Buddhist and Hindu books in order to know more about reincarnation, the transmigration of souls and such profound ideas such as these within the great religions of the East. All the while he is haunted with the idea that Kiyoaki’s and Isao’s graves are empty.
He visits an area on business and is within walking distance of Kiyoaki’s home, the Matsugae mansion. It was sold many years ago and transformed into housing areas among other things. He sees a woman crying and approaches her to ask if she is okay. It turns out this is Satoko’s maid, Tadeshina, she is now in her nineties. She asks him to visit Satoko as she would like that, he thinks about how much power her beauty had over him when he was young and Tadeshina can see this in his eyes. She accuses him of being in love with Satoko when they were young. After a short conversation she gives him a book as thanks for letting her have a gift off him, the book was given to her by a priest and no doubt Honda will get something from this book through providence.
The second world war ends, Honda moves out of his house and builds a villa from the ground up, and also nurtures a garden seeking to learn how to relax and have fun in his old age. Honda is now fifty seven. He lives next door to a middle-aged woman called Keiko who often comes round and helps out around the house. He invites her in and shows her an emerald ring, this is the ring that one of the Siam princes lost when the two princes visited Kiyoaki. It turns out that the ring wasn’t lost, but stolen, and thirty four years later he found it in a pawn shop. He purchased it and has invited the crazy princess to his house for a party. She is now seventeen, speaks Japanese and is studying in Japan. Since this ring was Chantrapa the first’s, and she was named after her, he wants to give it to her as a gift and to return it to the family.
The day of the party arrives and Honda’s wife comes home without the princess because she didn’t turn up to meet her. Keiko comes over and helps set things up for the party, then Makiko Kito arrives, who is now a famous poet, and she arrives with her friend who is also a poet called Tsubakihara. Honda is worried something has happened to princess Chantrapa, who is now commonly referred to as Ying Chan, and that she won’t turn up.
The party goes ahead without the princess, when the party ends some of the people who visited go to their bedrooms as they are staying the night. Honda makes a pass at his wife but is refused the romantic offer. He goes into his study and removes books from his bookcase so that he can sneak a peek into the room next door. He can see Makiko sat calmly looking at something, he moves so he can see what she is looking at and it is Tsubakihara who is Makiko’s poet friend and another guest called Imanishi having sex. Honda guesses that Tsubakihara in her respect for Makiko and always taking her orders is doing this to please her, while Makiko watches with a blank face and serene eyes. While Honda watches Makiko, who is watching this sexual intercourse, he realises that Makiko is his exact counterpart in this peeping act.
Both are peeping with a lack of emotional involvement and are serene in their observations. This peeking of Honda’s is odd, it contradicts his entire life so far: being a judge and always being the kind of boy and then man who worked logically. In his old age he is learning how to have fun but also being a bit of a deviate here. He now spends all of his time seeing to his garden, reading religious texts and enjoying the scenery of his household. With this he has relaxed his moral and legal fibres, so this peeping of his is a shock to the reader. Honda has grown old, and changed, maybe for the worse. The reader has always respected Honda for about one thousand pages worth of reading so far, this change in Honda is both depressing and exciting. It is depressing that his character which the reader has grew to rely on as stable and reliable, has now became absurd, but fun to read about. His character is now more fun to read, but with this fun is an uncomfortable realisation that there is something wrong with his actions, no matter the intention of why he is being this way. This makes reading about Honda feel unreliable, as if you cannot trust his inner workings and how he is interacting with people. For example, he seems cold towards his wife now, she complains endlessly and this is pushing him away. He doesn’t even believe her complaints, but when she complains to other people about him it doesn’t bother him. Yet, he feels a desire to be close to Makiko and has a magnetism towards her. We as readers do not know whether he is just being an honest and sincere man, or allowing himself to commit another act of his failing moral fibre. As this moral and legal fibre weakens and is soaked by the weather of old age, we feel something bad is coming this way. As if this weakening is readying itself for a catastrophic break. We cannot help but feel anxious that another indiscretion is about to be committed.
Honda returns home one day to find out that Ying Chan had visited to see him and then left when he wasn’t there. They miss each other a few times, and he sends her a ticket to a theatre. She turns up when the play is almost over, and during a meal with Honda she explains that she doesn’t remember thinking she was Japanese, reincarnated and wanted to move to Japan. She assumes that this was her being an imaginative child who mirrored the people she met: maybe she thought she was Japanese and reincarnated because saying that would please Honda. Honda himself doesn’t know what to think about this but acts strangely, not wanting to invite Ying Chan to his home because of his wife. He returns the emerald ring to her and she thanks him, and wears it from now on. He thinks to himself how he would like to see her utterly naked so he could see if she has the set of three moles, and if she doesn’t: he would fall in love with her. Again, Honda is being odd and illogical.
Isao’s father turns up to say hello on the pretence that he was in the area and couldn’t resist the visit. Honda assumes he wants money, but Isao’s father explains that he is ashamed of himself, he opens his shirt and shows a wound where he tried to kill himself by stabbing at his heart. He failed, and is ashamed of himself for not being as pure as his son. Honda is surprised by this and forces a packet of money into Iinuma’s pocket telling him to have the money and that it was a pleasure to see him again. Iinuma says he will use this to revive his academy and leaves with the shame of the wound off his chest.
Honda wants to find a way to get Ying Chan naked, and makes the plan to use someone else as a seducer who can confirm her body has a set of three moles on it. He implies the plan of seeing Ying Chan naked to Keiko, who instantly takes this to mean he wants her virginity removed so then he can sleep with her. She recommends her nephew Katsumi. All four go for a meal at a nightclub and Katsumi invites Ying Chan to dance and seems to be charming her, although it seems to Honda that Ying Chan’s beauty is the one doing the charming.
All four are invited to Honda’s house where he is now building a swimming pool just to see her have less clothes on. Keiko doesn’t turn up, as planned and Ying Chan goes to bed where Honda watches her through the peephole. It turns out that Hondo refused to have a better heating system in his house just because it would mean the walls would be thicker and not allow a peep hole: this is how far Honda has fallen; his entire house is built with the sole purpose of seeing Ying Chan naked. Katsumi makes his entrance and makes a move on Ying Chan, she refuses and injures him in the process. He leaves and Honda sneaks off to go to bed, failing to have seen her three moles. In the morning Katsumi lies about what happened and says he slept with her, when pushed to reveal if he had seen her three moles he says that he has, he then reveals that he believes that Honda had already taken her virginity by knowing that she had these moles. While in reality neither of them know whether she does actually have this cluster of moles on her left side like Kiyoaki and Isao did. Honda then goes to her room to deliver a breakfast, but she is not there. Turns out she ran away and went next door to Keiko’s.
It turns out that Honda’s peeping habit isn’t new, he had been frequenting an area where young lovers come to let out their indiscretions. Honda took advantage of this by being a peeping Tom. He keeps having odd dreams about Ying Chan, and his wife believes he is sleeping with her every time he leaves the house. Because of the way his wife is being, he goes out more often which turns into a vicious cycle. Keiko and Honda plan to invite her to Keiko’s as Ying Chan seems to trust her. Honda wagers that if Ying Chan turns up with her ring on, she has forgiven him. Ying Chan comes to the party without the ring, Honda gives her a note with a location and asks her to meet him there for an hour alone. She says she will, but when Honda goes there she is not there. He goes outside and sees a light is on in an apartment and she is standing at the window. Seeing him she hides, he runs under the window and waits there. She throws her ring out at him and closes the window. Honda goes to Keiko’s and asks her to return the ring to Ying Chan, and says that he loves her. She laughs, not believing him, but then agrees to give her the ring if he kisses her feet. He does.
Honda has a party to celebrate the completion of his swimming pool. Many people come, including Makiko’s poet friend, her boyfriend, royalty who live in the local area, and of course Keiko and Ying Chan. Ying Chan turns up wearing the ring and Honda takes this as a good sign. Everyone is in shorts and swimming clothes, Honda upon watching Ying Chan can see no evidence of any moles: this makes him joyous. Later on everyone goes to bed and Honda is in his study. He goes to the peep hole and can see Ying Chan and Keiko making love to each other, which would explain the way both have treated Honda recently: Ying Chan has been ignoring him, while Keiko has been overly nice and also suggesting a sexual tension with him being dominated by her. He hears a noise and his wife is standing behind him, she asks what he is doing and goes to scold him, but he replies that she should look, so she does. He asks her if she can see the moles, she says she can: a set of three moles on her left side can be seen, confirming her reincarnation. Honda seems completely relaxed and Rie doesn’t accuse him of anything because of how he is talking about the moles and reincarnation. They go to bed shattered from the whole experience.
They are woken up by a fire, everyone escapes from the house except Makiko’s poet friend Tsubakihara and her boyfriend. Both had taken sleeping pills and slept through their own demise. The house begins to fall apart and the firemen arrive to douse an already ruined house. Ying Chan is holding a picture of Keiko naked, and saying how she is glad she didn’t lose this in the fire, while she had left the ring in the house. Apparently a naked picture of her lover is more important than her family’s heirloom.
Honda doesn’t see Ying Chan again, and while at a party with a Thai princess who looks like her, he asks if she knew Ying Chan. The princess explains that she did know her, but she died when she was twenty. This princess is Ying Chan’s twin, and when she returned to Thailand she wanted to stay there. She was then bit by a cobra which killed her. This is where her story ends.
This book, much like the other two differentiates itself from the others in style and what it concentrates on. The vast majority of the story is Honda’s exploration of religion through his travels and readings, and thus a lot of the book comes across as educational, as Honda is trying to explain the events of the last two books. While the first was a romantic novel with an oppressive sense of nihilism, and the second was a idealistic novel with an oppressive sense of needing to act with purity, this novel was religious in nature with an oppressive use of experiences and visions. Ying Chan seems to have been more spiritually awake as a child, while as an adult she seems empty. Like a soulless vessel, a beautiful vase with no flower. Honda’s wife seems to be a counterpart of her: Rie is barren and never gave Honda a child, she is always swelling up and being ill. While Ying Chan has the body which could give any man pleasure and a full brood of as many children as one liked. While Rie is jealous and feels threatened by other women, Ying Chan is rather mindless and seeking love from a strong and using woman: Keiko. While Honda has been transformed from a naive child interested in religion, to a judge of the law with a proper reputation, to an old man with too much money and time who has slipped into the habits of a peeping Tom. As Honda has soured into his religious experiences and figured more of his life out, that life has became unwound and his actions are putting flames to the threads that keep it together.