Teaching the history of East Asia this year has given me the opportunity to conceptualize different ways to teach history – through academic works, literature, and manga.
The tetralogy of Yukio Mishima is a series of four novels written by the Japanese author Yukio Mishima, published between 1965 and 1970. The four novels, which are also known as the Sea of Fertility, are:
- “Spring Snow” (1965): This novel is the first in the tetralogy and introduces the main character, Kiyoaki Matsugae. It is set in 1912 and is largely concerned with the themes of love, loss, and the decay of traditional Japanese values. The novel is significant in that it reflects the changes taking place in Japan during this time period, as the country was undergoing rapid modernization and westernization.
- “Runaway Horses” (1969): This novel is set in the late 1920s and follows the life of Isao Iinuma, a young man who becomes involved in a plot to revive the way of the samurai. The novel explores themes of nationalism, the beauty of death, and the declining of traditional Japanese values. It is significant in that it reflects the rise of militarism and nationalism in Japan during this time period, which would eventually lead to Japan’s involvement in World War II.
- “The Temple of Dawn” (1970): This novel is set in the aftermath of World War II and follows the journey of a Japanese prince as he travels through Thailand. The novel explores themes of identity, spiritual fulfillment, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. It is significant in that it reflects the sense of loss and confusion that many Japanese felt after the war and the country’s subsequent surrender.
- “The Decay of the Angel” (1971): This novel is the final in the tetralogy and brings together the various themes and characters from the previous novels. The novel explores the idea of morality, the meaning of life, and the ultimate fate of humanity. It is significant in that it reflects the existential and spiritual concerns that were prevalent in Japan during this time period.
The tetralogy is a sprawling, multi-generational tale that explores themes of mortality, the declining of traditional Japanese values, and the search for personal and spiritual fulfillment. The novels are widely regarded as some of Mishima’s greatest works and are considered to be among the greatest literary achievements of 20th century Japanese literature.