Today I continue my reflections on Yukio Mishima’s final books, “The Sea of Fertility” tetralogy. The four books that make up the tetralogy are:
“Spring Snow” translated by Michael Gallagher
“Runaway Horses” translated by Michael Gallagher
“The Temple of Dawn” translated by E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Seqawa Seigle
“The Decay of the Angel” translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
I am half way through book two “Runaway Horses” and will avoid discussing the rampant Nationalism and the right-wing bent until a later post – I may even wait until I’m done with all four titles.
Today I’m going to look at metaphor and allegory, Mishima making it easy for the reader to identify a number of metaphors;
Yet if Iinuma had been more honest with himself, he would undoubtedly have noticed that he used an excessive number of metaphors having to do with emotion. He would undoubtedly have recognized himself as one who had indeed once lived out the original poem but who now made do with mere echoes of it, constantly applying the images of the moon, snow, and blossoms of long ago to scenes that were altering with every passing year. What he did not realize, in short, was that his eloquence had grown hollow. (‘Runaway Horses’ p178)
I have already written about the moon in my first post of the collection, little did I know Mishima was going to point out that the moon is a metaphor!!! Snow, obviously featuring in the title of the first volume and throughout. The protagonist Kiyoaki’s and his love Satoko consummating their love whilst taking place in a rickshaw ride:
As he looked up, the sky above seemed to be a fury of boiling white. The snow was now lashing down right on their faces. If they opened their mouths, it lay on their tongues. To be buried in such a drift…it seemed like heaven.
“Now there’s snow in here,” she said dreamily. Apparently, she meant that it had melted in a trickle from her neck to her breast. There was nothing anarchic in the falling snow, however: it fell with the steady solemnity of an ordered ritual. He felt his cheeks grow cold, and gradually became aware that his heart was fading within him. (‘Spring Snow’ p90)
The sun is also a feature, of course the rising sun features on Japan’s National flag, and the Emperor of Japan is said to be a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. “Runaway Horses” set primarily in unrelenting heat;
Only on this drill ground was the hand of the sun working with a mathematical clarity and precision. Only here! The will of the Emperor penetrated the sweat, the blood, the very flesh of these young men, piercing their bodies like X-rays. From high above the entranceway of regimental headquarters, the golden chrysanthemum of the imperial crest, brilliant in the sunshine, looked down upon this beautiful, sweaty, intricate choreography of death.
And elsewhere? Elsewhere throughout Japan the rays of the sun were blocked.
(‘Runaway Horses’ Page 150)
Later during a discussion about “capitalism devoid of national allegiance” there is a further sun/Emperor reference;
The sorrowful sun, the sun glittering with a chill whiteness, could give no touch of warmth, yet rose up sadly every morning to begin its course. This was indeed the figure of His Majesty. Who would not long to look up again to behold the joyful countenance of the sun? (‘Runaway Horses’ p229)
Flowers also feature heavily, as seen in the excerpt above, “the golden chrysanthemum of the imperial crest” the flag of the Japanese Emperor;
Image from By Zscout370 – 皇室儀制令 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 1 May 2009., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1093355
Takashi Fujitani’s book “Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan” explains;
While the chrysanthemum had had close associations with the imperial household since the reign of Gotoba (1183-98), the sixteen-petalled Imperial Chrysanthemum Crest was first recognized as the exclusive emblem of the imperial household in April 1868. The Imperial Flag bearing the chrysanthemum emblem was an early Meiji invention as well. The idea of an imperial flag dates from 1870, and in 1871 the prototype for all future imperial flags was unveiled: a gold chrysanthemum on a red background. Since in this early period court ritualists themselves were experimenting with imperial emblems, it seems safe to assume that for most people, especially those living in the provinces, the chrysanthemum need not have signified the imperial household.
In fact, during Emperor Meiji’s progresses there was sometimes a great deal of confusion in the popular mind about which floral emblem to associate with the emperor. Kishida Ginko, a newspaper reporter for the Tōkyō nichinichi shinbun who was then accompanying the 1878 Hokuriku -Tōkaidō Tour, noted that red cherry blossoms had been placed on lanterns hanging from the eaves of houses along the processional route in Niigata Prefecture. When he asked a local if this emblem stood for the province of Echigo, the customary name for the Niigata area, the reply was that the red cherry blossom was the crest of the emperor (tenchōsama no mon dasuke).
Emperor Meiji also took with him two of the imperial regalia, the Sacred Sword and Curved Jewel, and he passed through villages and towns that had been ornamented with Rising Sun lanterns (hinomaru chōchin) and national flags. But again, the great masses of people were not familiar with any of these symbols. How could they have known that the heavenly gods had conferred the imperial regalia upon Ninigo-no-mikoto, the grandson of the Sun Goddess, with the injunction to rule over the land? The authorisies, it must be remembered, had difficulty enough explaining that the emperor was descended from the Sun Goddess.
The Rising Suns gracing Japan’s national flag and the hinomaru lanterns had an even longer history of association with the imperial household than the chrysanthemums did; but like the floral emblem, the rising sun had no exclusively national or imperial meaning for most commoners until the modern era. (Pages 48-49)
In “Spring Snow”, Kiyoaki’s and Satoko meet clandestinely again, this time during the festival of the cherry blossom. There are innumerable flower references throughout the works, I’m sure many symbolic, if I come across any obvious metaphors or allegories I’ll put up another post.
I had prepared a post about the flag references, the purity of volume one “Spring Snow” and the whiteness of the snow possibly being the background to the Japanese flag, volume two “Runaway Horses” with the unrelenting heat and the red sun possibly being the rising sun on the flag. I decided against a lengthy post because I am possibly reading too much into the symbolism, where would volumes three and four go? We have water (ice, snow) and fire (heat, sun) in books one and two, will three and four be earth and wind? I better get back to reading to find out…