The following essay is my analysis of Yukio Mishima’s Fountains in the Rain (which I have just submitted to my beloved professor). I am willing to share this to fellow literature students, though I would really appreciate it if credit will be given to where it is due. For a copy of the story, click here.
COMING TO TERMS WITH MASCULINITY: AKIO’S EMOTIONAL SOJOURN
A Literary Analysis of Yukio Mishima’s Fountains in the Rain
Contemporary Japanese literature, just like any work of art produced by European, American, and other nations, presents an unmistakable portrait of everyday life – a monotonous process stirred by complex emotions, feelings, and personalities. Howard Hibbett (1977) noted in his anthology that Japanese literature revolves around these factors: (1) regard for the past in a nostalgic sense; (2) the nightmarish possibilities of the future; and (3) the present-day realities of the urban life. However, Ivan Morris, as cited by Shimer (1967), posited that these prose writers are verbose and do not observe economy of expression, despite having introduced and perfected the haiku, the world’s shortest form of poetry.
The story presented in this paper, Fountains in the Rain, was written by Yukio Mishima, pseudonym for Hiraoka Kimitake. His extraordinary talent in writing gave him fame even though he was still a student at the Peer’s School. Most of his works contain themes of sexuality and a great desire to gain identity, which were possibly influenced by Mishima’s austere and military type of upbringing, and his sense of belongingness in a community which looked down upon a literary career. His works likewise heed a certain type of glory to human folly, albeit in a satirical manner. His main characters seem to linger in a bubble of self-satisfaction, which is bound to be pricked towards the end of the story, in all attempts to deliver a perfect denouement.
The story begins with the protagonist, Akio, walking in the rain with his girlfriend, Masako. Most of the story was told in the same manner that they have appeared in Akio’s train of thoughts, almost as if he were telling the story himself. The first scene takes the readers to a flashback where Akio and Masako spent a rainy afternoon in a tea house. Akio, who had long wanted to be the one to break off a relationship, uttered the dreadful statement to Masako. The girl, in turn, just cried noiselessly. Troubled by the attention they were getting from the other customers, Akio left the tea house with Masako.
During their walk, Akio’s thoughts trailed off again as to how he would get rid of Masako, and convincing himself that all his efforts of sharing the umbrella with his girlfriend and NOT saying a thing to her, are devoid of emotions. In his mind, they were just a pretense and a matter of pride.
Seeing that Masako still kept on crying, Akio became angry. Incidentally the two passed by three fountains in front of the Imperial Palace. Akio was suddenly struck with an idea as to how to shake Masako to yield to reality. The fountains whose waters shot ceaselessly from base to summit held a magnificent sight to Akio, and provided a truth for him, too – that the water from the fountains reuse water, while Masako merely wastes her tears. Akio felt rather frustrated of seeing Masako and being drenched in the rain, two of which he had no control with.
Akio watched the continuous motion of the waters shooting from the fountains. He was fascinated by art that governed the unceasing movement. As Akio looked at the water reaching its height, he gazed upwards and saw the rain falling on him – rain which did not have any signs of stopping. At that moment Akio lost interest in the fountain and thought it was a symbol of a stupid, repetitive process.
He walked away from Masako, who by this time had stopped crying. She asked him where he was going, and Akio, still determined to inflict hurt on his girlfriend, reminded the latter that he had split up with her. The main turn of the story came out as a disappointment and shock on Akio’s part, for Masako had not heard a thing he said back at the tea house. Confused, Akio asked the reason for her crying, and she answered, ““The tears just came. There wasn’t any special reason. ” Akio wanted to shout at her, but instead he sneezed and thought he must be careful lest he catches a cold.
The story is presented in a limited omniscient point of view – only the protagonist’s feelings and ideas were given emphasis. It is evident that Akio longed for this moment of breaking off a relationship – something that he, for once, had initiated. He made it clear that he merely pretended to love Masako; he became her boyfriend, and he slept with her, so that it could deliberately lead to the final act – the split up. For feminist readers this may seem chauvinistic. Though Akio thought that that phrase is “ only the most human of humans, the most manly of men, might utter”, he found it difficult to articulate the message in the manner that he intended it to be. He was hesitant, and was rather satisfied with seeing Masako cry, for he thought it was her response. It can be assumed that Akio’s concept of defeat is crying, and triumph, hurting. However, Akio’s glory was short-lived because of the unwanted attention they were getting. This spoiled his moment of “manliness”, and it troubled him to see Masako’s unstoppable crying.
Masako’s crying can be interpreted as something Akio cannot control. He wanted her to stop crying yet he could not say anything. He could not physically hurt the girl. He could not leave her out in the rain. There was always a hint of guilt or pride, or a combination thereof, that haunted Akio. He might as well have thought that everything was not happening according to his plan. It was implied in the following passage:
…the rain, the tears, the leaden sky that hung like a barrier before him. They
pressed down on him on all sides, reducing his freedom to a kind of damp rag.
For a boy who defined his masculinity by saying he made love to Masako without actually loving her, felt a sort of responsibility to the girl to at least ingrain the reality on her. With this he sought the help of the fountains, which he compared with the girl’s tears. It can be noted that Akio himself was forming his theories that seemed to disregard emotions as follows:
For one thing, the fountains were the type that used the same water over and over again, so the girl, whose tears all ran to waste, could hardly compete with them.
The passage above clearly shows how Akio is trying hard to be very logical, feelings-wise. It is as if he reduced humanity to a piece of mechanic work, suggesting that people must not be too emotionally involved in everything. Ergo, he expected Masako to understand this concept once she sees the fountains. However, it was not Masako who was captivated by the beauty of the fountains; it was Akio himself! His anger was momentarily lost as he gazed at the arcs created by the waters shooting from the fountains. Ironically this is a showcase of his desire – an intense, but fleeting, emotion. He wanted to view sexuality and desire as something mechanical, something which can be triggered and aborted any time.
Akio’s fascination towards the fountains was likewise triggered and aborted in a flash, as soon as he looked up and notice the rain falling from the gray sky. His struggle to be in control of his feelings was supported by the statement “he got rain on his eyelashes”, which was like a wake-up call for him. He began to notice that he was not all set apart from the roofs of buildings and the concrete floor he was standing on, as they were all under the same falling rain. This realization is his first act to give up on the proud and glorious stance that he held onto.
The final act, and therefore the real climax of the story, is the confrontation between Akio and Masako. The part where Masako still followed Akio may lead the readers to assume she is indeed weak and dependent on Akio. These are to be deemed misconceptions for Masako did not hear Akio’s speech at all. The author noted that Masako’s voice seemed “normal” – devoid of any emotion. This is the perfect denouement to cap off the conflict brewing in Akio’s mind: he had not at all succeeded in his plan. Rather, he was repulsed by Masako’s nonchalant response. Akio’s tight grip on masculinity loosens up as he sneezes when he was supposed to shout. His weakness to stay attuned with his emotions and to articulate them were masqueraded by his silence, as he believed it was brought about by his pride. However, his last statement, “If I’m not careful I’m going to get a cold”, is his first attempt at acknowledging the truth and his recognizing his weakness. Throughout most of the story he was in a mood of self-deception, believing his own theories and convincing himself of his own truths.
The dominant themes in the story are of self-deception and sexuality. Akio tried to convince himself that being with Masako was just a part of his plan, of showing that he was a man by all means. He believed that he could sleep with a woman without regarding any feelings for the other, and that he can control what he feels. However, this perception was contradicted by his “sudden fascination” for the fountains. In psychology, the interpretation for the flow of water is one’s sexual urge. This is proved by the following paragraph:
At first glance, it seemed as neat, as motionless, as a sculpture fashioned out of water. Yet watching closely he could see a transparent ghost of movement moving upward from bottom to top. With furious speed it climbed, steadily filling a slender cylinder of space from base to summit, replacing each moment what had been lost the moment before, in a kind of perpetual replenishment.
In her essay, Korb (2001) interpreted the vertical motion of the waters coming from the columns as the male sexuality, while the basins that surround the fountain represent the female sex organ. Taking these symbolisms into account, the paragraph above then represents the intercourse itself, with a description of prolonged and unwaning orgasm. This idea is integral in the story since Akio was trying to separate the concept of sex from desire (or love), or vice versa. The antithesis to his perception, though, is his fascination towards the fountain. It can be assumed that he does not really have any control with his emotions. Similarly it can be said that Akio might have indeed felt desire for Masako, though he is too embarrassed to admit it to himself since for him, expressions of emotion are unbecoming of a man.
Another theme is control and self-control. Akio has an undeniable urge to control his feelings, ideas, and even the people and things that surround him. His relationship with Masako, or at least his breaking it off, is a manipulative tactic to prove to himself that he IS a man. Control is sometimes equated with maturity. It took a while before Akio could realize that there are things beyond his control (such as the rain and Masako’s tears), and accepting this fact is real maturity. By far the least, his mundane statement about the cold, was the closest thing that he could control. Moreover, Akio’s emotional transformation is another proof that he is a creature subject to immaturity. His feelings are fleeting – another thing he does not have any control with). He shifts from elation to anger, from pride to frustration, from sexual arousal to denial, and from deception to acceptance.
The story’s ending was not determined, save for Akio’s statement. It cannot be concluded as to whether Akio insisted on the split up, or if he and Masako were still together. It depends on the perception of the reader, on how he would like Akio to behave after the “revelation”. However, it is possible that the relationship ended right then and there, without any drama, if Masako’s disinterest towards the matter will be considered. On the other hand, it is also possible that Masako had really heard him at all, though she did not give him the upper hand in the end. If the reader will be a little imaginative, he may presume that Masako “toyed” with Akio’s emotions as an act of sweet revenge.
Akio personifies the typical male persona – hard-hearted, unemotional, and manipulative. However, it must not be forgotten that he is, after all, a young man. As a person coming to terms with his masculinity, his perceptions of such are rather superficial, bordering on the satisfaction of seeing Masako cry. Akio is trying hard to control his feelings and Masako, but he cannot. This is the ultimate paradox: Man, who is able and the most rational of all creatures, falls vulnerable even in things that concern himself. Masako, on the other hand, is a person who willingly sheds tears for nothing in particular. She may or may not be acting it out, but towards the end the readers may recognize that she has the grace and the power to acknowledge her feelings, and then let them go without painfully doing so. She sets a sharp contrast against Akio, who struggles with these emotions.
Yukio Mishima’s childhood background may have influenced the story, since his literary dreams were repressed and opposed to by his father, paternal grandparents, and classmates. The use of a nom de plume is a proof of this. The inclinations to literature were regarded as “unbecoming of a man”, at least during the 1940s, when young men were expected to join the military service. Akio’s repression of his desire may have been an indirect expression of Mishima’s hostility towards this distorted definition of masculinity.
Hibbett, H. (1977). Contemporary japanese literature: An anthology of fiction, film, and other writing since 1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Korb, R. (2001). A critical essay on ‘Fountains in the Rain’. Retrieved May 20, 2010 from http://www.answers.com/topic/fountains-in-the-rain-story-7.
Shimer, D. (1967). The mentor book of modern asian literature. New York: New American Library.