The Sea of Fertility

by Yukio Mishima

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Spring Snow, 1969

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Shigekuni Honda

Shigekuni Honda, the protagonist, a young Japanese man who is studying to become a lawyer. A natural leader, he is exceptionally mature, sometimes appearing to be almost pompous. He is already committed to governing his life by the rule of reason instead of being controlled by his emotions. When he is at the deathbed of his friend Kiyoaki Matsugae, he realizes somewhat regretfully that he can never give himself fully to any passion.

Kiyoaki Matsugae

Kiyoaki Matsugae, the best friend of Honda. At the age of eighteen, he is handsome, with dark eyes and an elegant air. The descendant of a distinguished samurai family, he lacks the vigor of his forebears. Instead, he drifts aimlessly, enthusiastic about nothing. Even though he knows that a childhood companion loves him deeply, he rejects the possibility of marriage to her until she has become engaged to a member of the Imperial Household. Then he falls passionately in love with her, and although he cannot persuade her to run away with him, he has an affair with her. His walk through the snow in a vain attempt to see her results in his getting pneumonia. He dies at the age of twenty.

Satoko Ayakura

Satoko Ayakura, the childhood companion and, later, the lover of Kiyoaki. A beautiful, graceful, bright-eyed girl of twenty, she has loved Kiyoaki hopelessly for years. When her secret meetings with Kiyoaki result in a pregnancy, she has an abortion, breaks off her engagement to a prince, and retires to a convent.

Shigeyuki Iinuma

Shigeyuki Iinuma, Kiyoaki’s tutor, in his middle twenties. He is reserved and bitter. After he becomes involved with a maid in the Matsugae household, she is dismissed.

Runaway Horses, 1969

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Shigekuni Honda

Shigekuni Honda, who is now a judge in the Osaka Court of Appeals. Thirty-eight years old and happily married but childless, he lives a tranquil life until his encounter with Isao Iinuma, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his dead friend Kiyoaki Matsugae. Defeated in his attempt to persuade Isao to lead a reasonable life instead of an unreasoned, passionate one, he resigns his judgeship to become Isao’s defense lawyer, hoping to save his life.

Isao Iinuma

Isao Iinuma, a kendo champion, the son of Shigeyuki Iinuma. A dark boy whose eyes reveal his intensity and determination, he becomes obsessed with the samurai tradition and desires only to die a pure death for an ideal. Gathering a small group of young men around him, he formulates a plot to kill a number of Japan’s leading capitalists. The plot is discovered, and the students are arrested. Eventually, Isao is freed. When he finds out that his betrayers were his lover and his own father, Isao kills Japan’s most powerful capitalist and commits suicide.

Shigeyuki Iinuma

Shigeyuki Iinuma, Isao’s father and the former tutor of Kiyoaki, now the headmaster of the right-wing Academy of Patriotism. A man in his forties, he is no longer reserved but talkative and outgoing. To keep his position, he has had to take money from the very capitalists against whom his son is plotting. His motives for betraying the plot are mixed. He cannot lose the support of the capitalists, his school, and his position, but he is also eager to save his son’s life.

Makiko Kito

Makiko Kito, the daughter of a general and poet. A beautiful woman of thirty who is always perfectly dressed, Makiko is gentle and kind. Although at first she is drawn to Isao because of his idealism and supports his plan to assassinate the capitalists whom she despises, she is eventually overcome by her...

(This entire section contains 339 words.)

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love for Isao and betrays the plot to his father so as not to lose her lover.

The Temple of Dawn, 1970

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Shigekuni Honda

Shigekuni Honda, who is now a middle-aged, successful lawyer and, eventually, a wealthy man. He now appears cheerful and outgoing. On a trip to India, however, he comes to surrender his previous dedication to reason and begins to indulge his emotions, if only as a voyeur. He falls in love with Princess Chantrapa (Ying Chan), but she eludes him.


Chantrapa, also called Ying Chan, a Thai princess, the youngest daughter of Honda’s schoolmate Prince Pattanadid. When Honda first meets her as a seven-year-old, she is considered mad because she insists that she is the reincarnation of a Japanese. When she comes to Japan ten years later, she has forgotten that obsession. A graceful, lithe, golden-skinned woman, she regularly breaks her appointments with the infatuated Honda and rejects the advances of a young man he has provided for her, only to become involved in a lesbian affair with Honda’s neighbor. At the age of twenty, Ying Chan dies of a cobra bite.

Keiko Hisamatsu

Keiko Hisamatsu, a divorcée and a neighbor of Honda. A chic, Westernized woman, she is bisexual and amoral. She offers her nephew to Honda as a seducer of Ying Chan but later herself has a sexual relationship with her.

The Decay of the Angel, 1971

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Shigekuni Honda

Shigekuni Honda, who is now in his seventies. Polite and quiet, he is, however, very strong-willed. Convinced that a sixteen-year-old signalman is the reincarnation of Kiyoaki, Isao, and Ying Chan, Honda adopts him, hoping to teach him to live rationally and thus to avoid an early death. After being exposed as a voyeur, Honda loses his reputation and control of his estate. At the end of the novel, Honda is shocked when the abbess who was once supposedly the mistress of Kiyoaki denies any knowledge of him, thus suggesting that the successive reincarnations that have ruled Honda’s life may themselves be illusory.

Tru Yasunaga

Tru Yasunaga, a sixteen-year-old harbor signalman. A handsome boy with beautiful dark eyes, he is actually malevolent. When he is adopted by Honda and elevated from the station of a poor orphan to that of a wealthy man’s son, he wishes only to injure others, especially his new father. He torments Honda mentally and physically, eventually having him declared incompetent and seizing control of his estate. After reading the “dream diary” of Kiyoaki, however, Tru realizes his own inadequacy and kills himself.

Momoko Hamanaka

Momoko Hamanaka, Tru’s fiancée and the first of his victims. A mediocre girl from a well-to-do family, she continues to love Tru even while he behaves sadistically toward her. Finally, the engagement is broken off by Honda, through Tru’s contrivance.


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Keene, Donald. “Mishima Yukio,” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, 1984.

Nathan, John. Mishima: A Biography, 1974.

Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.

Ueda, Makoto. “Mishima Yukio,” in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.

Yourcenar, Marguerite. Mishima: A Vision of the Void, 1986.


Critical Essays