Student Question

How does the novel Spring Snow compare and contrast with the actual culture of its time?

Quick answer:

To compare and contrast the depictions of cultural elements represented in Spring Snow with the actual culture, one would consult primary sources or reliable secondary sources about early-twentieth-century Japan. Significant cultural elements include the overall modernization of Japanese culture at the time, the impact of the Russo-Japanese War, and the importance of education at the elite Peers School.

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In order to compare and contrast the depictions of Japanese culture that Yukio Mishima includes in Spring Snow with actual cultural features, the writer would select a few key features and look for factual information that corresponds to or challenges the author’s depiction. Such information could be drawn from primary sources and reliable secondary sources.

Among the factors that emerge as important are the ongoing modernization that was occurring in Japan in the early twentieth century. The protagonist, Kiyoaki, is also strongly influenced by the recently concluded Russo-Japanese War. Mishima also stresses the importance of the youth’s education at the Peers School, along with other elite boys.

One useful online secondary source is the Asia for Educators resource maintained by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute of Columbia University. The entry on the Meiji Restoration discusses modernization in this era; it includes a summary of the environment in the 1910s that closely matches Mishima’s portrayal. This description emphasizes the increased availability of money, leisure, and education in this era, and links urbanization to foreign influences that undercut traditional values.

Increasingly they lived in cities where they came into contact with influences from abroad and where the traditional authority of the extended family was less influential. Industrialization in itself undermined traditional values, emphasizing instead efficiency, independence, materialism, and individualism.

The site also includes potentially useful primary sources, notably excerpts from the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War. This conflict and its impact on Kioyaki, who was only a child when the war ended, are discussed in the novel’s first chapter.

The novel stresses the influence of attending an elite school, where Kioyaki’s schoolmates were other elite boys and even foreign royalty. The Peers School actually exists, and Mishima was also educated there; its name in Japanese is Gakushuin. According to the school’s website, its establishment in 1877 was a result of the Emperor Meiji’s policies for the new nobility.

The Peers’ Club, an organization of members of the nobility, planned to set up their own educational institution and subsequently established the Peers’ School in Kanda Nishiki-chō, in Tokyo, in 1877.

There are also numerous academic book-length studies of the Meiji era, such as Donald Keene’s Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912 (Columbia University Press, 2002).

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