Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kelly Mallari

I have taught Language Arts for 4 years and served as a Professor for ENG 101 and GLS for more than 3 years. I am a licensed teacher with a B.A. in English Literature, International and Global Studies, and Religious Studies. I have a M.A. in Global Studies.

Yukio Mishima's novel 'Runaway Horses' is the intriguing second part of his tetralogy 'The Sea of Fertility.' In 'Runaway Horses,' we jump 19 years after the death of Kiyoaki, the protagonist's best friend. Discover what happens when Honda thinks he meets his dead best friend.

Worth Dying For

Have you ever loved something so much that you believed it was worth facing ridicule — even dying for? In Mishima's Runaway Horses, we see a man tormented by the actions of his reincarnated friend who follows his destiny toward a doomed end.


Runaway Horses begins 19 years after the death of Kiyoaki Matsugae. Honda, the main protagonist of the story and best friend of Kiyoaki, is now a judge. Honda is married although he has no children, yet the tone of the novel deems his life one of senseless repetition and conformity to the Japanese legal system in which he works.

Honda's mundane life shows no sign of picking up until a colleague asks him to attend a kendo match outside of Tokyo. It is here that Honda has what is to be a fateful encounter. A young man, named Isao, exudes virile power as he easily defeats his opponents during the tournament. Honda is intrigued but does not approach him. As fate would have it, Isao pops up again when Honda and his colleague take a walk. Bathing under a waterfall, Isao is exposed long enough for Honda to notice a peculiar set of moles on Isao's underarm. Honda becomes instantly transfixed because the moles are identical in location to those of his deceased friend, Kiyoaki. Even more intriguing, Honda remembers Kiyoaki's prediction that they will '' meet again, under the falls ... .''

Honda becomes obsessed with the idea that Isao is the reincarnation of Kiyoaki. His obsession causes him to struggle with his daily life upon returning to Tokyo. Honda's mind becomes plagued with torment as he wishes to continue living his life as an established lawyer — a life ruled by logic and reason. The dilemma for Honda is that seeing can't be believing. Even though he feels that Isao is Kiyoaki, the idea of reincarnation goes against Honda's mental constitution.

Honda's internal struggle to reconcile coincidence with fate is again put to the test when Honda finds out that Isao is the son of Kiyoaki's instructor. The instructor carefully grooms Isao to be the man that Kiyoaki would have been. Isao's father is a patriotic zealot who begins to instill the same crippling rhetoric in Isao that led to Kiyoaki's untimely death. Convinced that he must stop Isao's father from causing the possibly reincarnated Kiyoaki from dying again, Honda starts communicating with Isao and sharing his thoughts on what it means to be patriotic. Isao appreciates Honda's sentiments but calls him a '' coward.'' Determined to create the world that his fanatical father has continuously lectured about, Isao comes up with a violent plan to restore imperial power back to the Emperor.

As the novel's doomed ending becomes an inevitability, it is easy to see that Isao's deepest motivation for the violent plan to rebel against the government is simply a way to allow him to '' die in action.'' Isao's desire to commit seppuku, a ritual form of suicide, after doing what he feels necessary to restore balance is ultimately realized.

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