A strange and uneven novel, “The Temple of Dawn,” the third volume in Yukio Mishima’s “Sea of Fertility” tetralogy, was first published in 1970. It is an elegy to the loss of pureness in the Japanese national spirit, which Mishima, a nuanced nationalist, saw tamed after the country’s defeat in World War II. “Was there any way to live honestly with Japan,” he writes pointedly, “other than by rejecting everything?”
The story revisits Shigekuni Honda, the protagonist of the previous installments, who seems to embody the passive complacency that Mishima perceived in Japan. On a business trip to Thailand, Honda encounters the beautiful princess Ying Chan, a seeming reincarnation of his childhood friend Kiyoaki. As the aging lawyer senses his own death approaching, he abandons his life-long rationality and gives in to erotic obsession.