Although love is not what Akio feels for Masako, it is still a theme in the story since Akio used the promise of love to woo Masako. He did so only in order to form a relationship with her so he could break up with her. Akio has no emotional ties to Masako, but he believes she has them to him, which is what he attributes her tears to. At the end of the story, however, he discovers that Masako is not in love with him either. She responds to his words calmly and reasonably and appears to be affected very little by the ending of the love affair.
A strong current of sexuality runs through the story. Akio clearly believes that sleeping with Masako will make her love him and will reinforce his claims of love for her. Thus Akio shows that he equates sex and love, even though he acknowledges to himself that he does not love Masako. Akio also takes pride in his ability to control his sexuality, falsely seeing himself as “free from the dominance of desire.” When faced with the fountains, however, the truth emerges: Akio is fascinated by the rushing water, which takes on ambiguous sexual symbolism under his gaze.
The art of deception is critical to the success of Akio’s scheme, but he is not good at it. He pretends to love Masako, but he does not; and he believes that he has made Masako fall in love with him, but she does not love him. Not only does he deceive himself by repressing feelings of sexual desire, he also deceives himself by focusing his sexual energy on women, though he is, in fact, also aroused by images suggesting male sexuality. Throughout most of the story, Akio exists in some state of self-deception. At the end, however, he does think one purely natural thought, yet it is quite mundane: “If I’m not careful I’m going to get a cold.” Such an ending demonstrates the great depth to which Akio’s deception has drawn him as well as the grandiosity that he finds in this false way of looking at life.
Akio experiences many different emotions throughout the course of this brief story. When he first sits down in the tea room with Masako, he is feeling great anticipation and excitement at breaking off their relationship. He thinks this action will bring him greater maturity. When Masako does not stop crying, however, he begins to feel embarrassed. He wants to get away from her, but he is thwarted in this desire, for she has no umbrella and he must let her share his. When he settles on the plan of bringing her to the fountains, Akio feels elated. He thinks it is a joke on Masako, and he wants to humiliate her. When they arrive at the fountains, however, Akio feels unaccountably angry. He no longer draws pleasure from his plan. He tries to escape from Masako, and he runs toward the fountains, but she follows. Next Akio becomes fascinated with the movement of the water. After that moment passes, however, Akio falls into a state best characterized by a certain vacancy. He wanders away with no thought of Masako. That is when he discovers that she never even heard him breaking up with her, and he is left in a state of shock.
Control and Self-Control
Above all else, Akio values self-control. He prefers to think of himself as a young man who has self-control, but his actions show otherwise. In order to make himself feel like he does have control over himself, Akio tries to assert control over others; it is for this that he wanted to break up with a woman. The elements of the story—first, Akio’s insistence on what a hard person he is, even beyond the boundaries of sexual desire, and later, Akio’s fascination with the fountains—clearly show that Akio has very little control over himself. Masako’s reaction to the news of the end of relationship also shows that Akio’s actions have little effect—thus little control—on her.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Yukio Mishima, Published by Gale Group, 2001.