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Soseki and Mishima were both concerned with the erosion of Japanese traditions. After World War II the gap between the young and the old was made more apparent and traditions were lost. Mishima felt that Japan had succumbed to western ideas and cultures and was diluted of its own cultural heritage. Soseki also felt that the gap between old and young people was widening and that this was causing misunderstandings between generations. It was in this period that the emperor denounced his divinity and admitted to being merely human. Mishima was among those who became disillusioned and felt betrayed. He wanted Japan to revert to its days of honor when the land was filled with samurai; he was obsessed with the Japanese code of honor. The era of samurai defined the Japanese spirit. When the emperor denounced himself it meant the end of Japan as Mishima wanted it. He was prepared to die if that would bring back the spirit of honor in Japan. Soseki wrote Kokoro in the time when the Confucianist ideals of position in families were being challenged. As the changes in Japan separated parents and children s ways of thinking, the relationships between them also changed. Both authors were afraid of what Japan might become if left to continue it s changing, and their novels serve as warnings to the problems arising from their country s evolution.
Both authors link death with honor. It is honorable for General Nogi to commit ritual suicide after the emperor dies, because he has fulfilled his duty. In Kokoro, Sensei commits suicide because he can no longer face the world in which he has no reason to live. His guilt of K s death keeps him from enjoying life, and the gap between old and poor further drives him to despair. The only solution to save him from guilt is to die. As the Meiji era died, it took many lives with it. Sensei could not live in the new era; he couldn t accustom himself with the changing traditions. Soseki reveals his view that death is an acceptable escape from the changing world.
Mishima believed it was better to die than lose the heart of one s own country. In 1970 he committed seppuku, taking his life in the traditional samurai manner. He died believing that death was an honorable solution to Japan s problems. Mishima also sees death as honorable, however, his view is much more radical. The character Ryuji suggests the emperor of Japan, and the sea symbolizes old traditions. When Ryuji leaves the sea for the woman, who represents the west, he betrays the traditions and he loses his admiration from the group of boys. Once thinking of him as a hero, they decide that all hope is lost for the sailor since he turned his back on what is honorable. The one hope for redemption is an honorable death. A vision of death now eternally beyond his reach, majestic, acclaimed, heroic death unfurled its rapture across his brain, describes Mishima s view on death. Both Mishima and Soseki held that death meant honor, and when one could not face the changes in Japan, or bear to see its westernization, it was honorable to commit suicide.
In order to redeem oneself, there must be a sacrifice. This was the view of both authors, as shown in their books. In The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, the sailor must be sacrificed to redeem him of his mistake of giving up the sea, which is honorable, to become a husband and a father, which is not honorable. Noboru gives Ryuji a chance to redeem himself when he lets him find out he s been spying on him and Fusako. Noboru expects an impassioned reaction and a severe beating; he wants his new father to be strong and brutal. When Ryuji offers the syrupy solution that they all forget Noboru s sin, Noboru feels as though he were about to suffocate. Ryuji tries to be tender instead of strong because he wants to be a good father, showing Mishima s view of the Emperor becoming weak after giving in to the western powers. Noboru is disgusted, his idol, once a splendid hero, has become a tender father trying to please everyone. Can this man be saying things like that? This splendid hero who once shown so brightly? To this situation there is only one solution: sacrifice. Mishima believed sacrifice was needed to redeem Japan s loss of honor.
In Kokoro, the character K sacrifices himself when he discovers that Sensei has betrayed him. K chose to die so that Sensei could be married to Ojosan. Sensei is enveloped with guilt because he has caused K to take his life, and K has been honorable while Sensei has been deceptive and turned against his friend. Since K sacrificed his life for Sensei, there is no honor to be had by Sensei. He knows he wasn t deserving of K s sacrifice, especially since he betrayed his friend. To settle the matter, Sensei commits suicide, but only after telling of his sins to the narrator. Sacrifice is viewed as redeeming by Mishima, and viewed as honorable by Soseki.
Both authors thought Japan was declining in spirituality, as shown through the characters Fusako and the Narrator, of The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and Kokoro, respectively. Noboru s mother seduces Ryuji and pulls him away from his life at sea. She destroys his spirituality by making him give up his way of life. After he gives up sailing she begins training him to help her with her import business. This symbolizes Japan giving up its spirit to become more like the west. The samurai were no more, and the spirit of honor was declining, being replaced by western ideals. Mishima can t accept the changes his country has undergone, and his novel is a cry against it.
Soseki also resents the loss of spirituality, especially in the younger generations. The character Sensei constantly mentions how things were in the past. Passages like: It was not the custom for students to wear silk in those days, and Brought up as we were in an atmosphere quite different from that of today, serve to remind the reader of the contrasts between the generations. The differences between Sensei and the narrator show how much Japan has changed. Sensei can t fit into a modern world where there is little spirituality. He hopes to teach the narrator enough so that he can understand the importance of Sensei s mistakes, and in doing so restore some of the spirituality of Japan s younger generations. Mishima and Soseki try in different ways to revive the lost spirituality of Japan.
Mishima saw a pattern in Japanese history-Japan continually loses its spirituality and replaces it with western ideas. The isolation policy of Japan ended and the country was opened to foreigners, leading to the influx of people with different ideas and traditions. The country loses in World War II, surrenders to the west, and the emperor denounces his divinity. Japan was becoming more and more like the west all the time. Losing the war left them little choice, but instead of committing suicide to keep the Japanese spirit alive, the emperor admits the west is right. Disillusioned Mishima can t handle this and refuses to give in to the west.
Soseki was more concerned about the gap separating the young and old, which was created when Japan was in transition at the end of the Meiji era. He was worried about the new generations forgetting their traditions in the rush to become modern and westernized. He felt that modern society failed to understand ancient tradition, and that this was causing misunderstandings between children and their parents. This is portrayed in the relationship between the narrator and his father as they continually misunderstand each other. I decided to say nothing, rather than try to explain to them clearly what my feelings were. The gulf between us was too great. This chasm in communication kept the families from coming together as they once did, and Soseki feared the trend would continue to appear and grow more common.
Soseki and Mishima wouldn t let Japan blindly forget its traditions and spirit as it raced to catch up with the western powers and adhere to modern standards. The message of their novels speaks strongly and plainly as a warning not to forget what spirit and tradition means. Their fear that Japan might lose its spirit altogether compels them to write in admonition novels that speak against the younger generation s forgetfulness. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and Kokoro are literary works that bring to light the terrible possibility that Japan might never have the same spirit as it once did.
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