Student Question

What cultural elements of the era are depicted in Spring Snow?

Quick answer:

In 1912, there is a new nationalistic spirit and emboldened sense of Japan's future, destiny, and place in the world percolating alongside Western-borrowed ideas about justice, democracy, and economics remaking Japan into a modern, globalized society. The novel portrays through its setting and characters the clashes of history with modernity, and duty with personal freedom that all levels of Japanese society were facing.

Expert Answers

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The period in which the novel is set was a time of sweeping social, political, and cultural change as Japan emerged from centuries of feudalism and isolation and stasis to become an early-twentieth century military and industrial power with the help of European technological support and know-how.

This dynamic of change is contrasted among the three characters at the center of the novel, Kiyoaki, Satoko, and Honda, as each represents a different class of Japanese society.

Satoko comes from the inherited wealth of true aristocracy, is bound by custom, and groomed to marry into the royal family and has the most to lose in her relationship with Kiyoaki.

Honda represents the middle-class of learned professions as the son of a judge, and is himself a good student, trusted friend and well-balanced combination of old and new influences.

Kiyoaki, meanwhile, embodies the effects of a luxurious, carefree lifestyle corrupted by Western ideas about individualism that have made him so dreamy and feckless. He is an unfit military cadet, soft and fearful, and in that way he is alienated both from his glorious Samurai past and also from Japan’s future as a military empire. Kiyoaki’s former samurai family has thrived in the new Japan by ascending to the minor nobility through its financial successes that has maintained its respectability. Yet, we see how insecure Kiyoaki’s father is about the security of their social position, a comment on the pretentious of the new-money elite, who become obsessed with maintaining their status and self-made fortunes and with upward social mobility.

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