Yukio Mishima - Last Samurai of Japan

You were so beautiful when you wanted to die. When you wanted to live, you became so ugly.

Prolific writer, who is considered by many critics as the most important Japanese novelist of the 20th century. Mishima's works include 40 novels, poetry, essays, and modern Kabuki and Noh dramas. He was three times nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. Among his masterpieces is The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956). The tetralogy The Sea of Fertility (1965-70) is regarded by many as Mishima's most lasting achievement. As a writer Mishima drew inspiration from pre-modern literature, both Japanese and Western. Mishima ended his brilliant literary career by suicide in 1970. 
"How oddly situated a man is apt to find himself at the age of thirty-eight! His youth belongs to the distant past. Yet the period of memory beginning with the end of youth and extending to the present has left him not a single vivid impression. And therefore he persists in feeling that nothing more than a fragile barrier separates him from his youth. He is forever hearing with the utmost clarity the sounds of this neighboring domain, but there is no way to penetrate the barrier." (from Runaway Horses, 1969)


Yukio Mishima was born Kimitaka Hiraoka in Tokyo, the son of a government official. Later he changed his name into Yukio Mishima so that his anti-literary father, Azusa, wouldn't know he wrote. The name Yukio can loosely be translated as "Man who chronicals reason." On his father's side Mishima's forebears were peasants, but his ambitious grandfather eventually climbed to the position of the governor of the Japanese colony on the island of Sakhalin. Mishima's mother, Shizue Hashi, came from a family of educators and scholars.

Mishima was raised mainly by his paternal grandmother, Natsu Nagai, a cultured but unstable woman from a samurai family, who hardly allowed the boy out of her sight. During World War II Mishima was excused military service, but he served in a factory. This plagued Mishima throughout his life - he had survived shamefully when so many others had been killed. "I believe one should die young in his age," wrote Mishima's friend, the writer Hasuda, who committed suicide after the war. In February 1944, Mishima received a silver watch from Emperor Hirohito's own hand at the graduation ceremony – "he was splendid, you know, the emperor was magnificent on that day", Mishima later said.


Mishima entered in 1944 Tokyo University, where he studed law, and then worked as a civil servant in the finance ministry for eight months before devoting himself entirely to writing. Mishima's first book, Hanazakari (1944), a pastiche of decorative classical prose, appeared when he was just 19-year-old. In 1946 Mishima met Kawabata Yasunari, who recommended Mishima's stories to important magazines. His first major work, Confessions of a Mask (1949), dealt with his discovery of his own homosexuality. The narrator concludes, that he would have to wear a mask of 'normality' before other people to protect himself from social scorn. Mishima admired Oscar Wilde, of whom he published an essay in 1950.





The largely autobiographical work reflected Mishima's masochistic fantasies. His preoccupation with the body, its beauty and degeneration, marked several of his later novels. Mishima wished to create for himself a perfect body that age could not make ugly. He started body building in 1955 and he also became an expert in the martial arts of karate and kendo. Perhaps preparing for his death, Mishima liked to pose in photographs as a drowned shipwrecked sailor, St. Sebastian shot death with arrows, or a samurai committing ritual suicide. In 1960 he played a doomed yakuza, Takeo, in Yasuzo Masumura's film Karakkaze Yaro (Afraid to Die). At the end Takeo is killed, dying in a stairway. Many of Mishima's later short stories and novels delt with the theme of suicide and violent death. 

''Let us remember that the central reality must be sought in the writer's work: it is what the writer chose to write, or was compelled to write, that finally matters. And certainly Mishima's carefully premeditated death is part of his work.'' (Mishima: A Vision of the Void by Marguerite Yourcenar, 1985)
AI NO KAWAKI (1950, Thirst for Love), written under the influence of the French writer François Mauriac, was a story about a woman who has become the mistress of her late husband's father.

KINKAKUJI (1956, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) was based on an actual event of 1950. It depicted the burning of the celebrated temple of Kyoto by a young Buddhist monk, who is angered at his own physical ugliness, and prevents the famous temple from falling into foreign hands during the American occupation. "My solitude grew more and more obese, like a pig." (from Temple of the Golden Pavilion)


The Sound of Waves (1954) has been filmed several times. The story, set in a remote fishing village, tells of a young fisherman, Shinji, who meets on the beach a beautiful pearl diver, Hatsue, the daughter of Miyata, the most powerful man in the village. Hatsue is loved by another young man, Yasuo. Miyata forbids Hatsue to continue seeing Shinji, but when Shinji shows his courage during a storm, he finally gives him and his daughter his blessing. The first film version from 1954, directed by Senkichi Taniguchi, was shot on location in the Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture, home of Japan's famous women pearl divers.


Mishima's reputation in Japan started to decline in the 1960s although in other countries his works were highly acclaimed. This decade and the next have been characterized as something of a Golden Age in the translation of Japanese fiction into English. Donald Keene, who translated several of Mishima's plays and the novel UTAGE NO ATO (1960, After the Banquet), developed a lifelong friendship with the author. KINU TO MEISATSU (1964, Silk and Insight), which John Nathan politely refused to translate (saying that the "I don't think I could make it work in English"), dealt again lost ideals, but this time the story was set in the world of silk textile manufacturing and was based on a real strike that took place in 1954, at the textile manufacturer Omi Kenshi. The central characters are an old-fashioned factory owner, Komazawa, and a manipulating political operator, Okano. Also After the Banquet, set behind the scene of politics, drew from real-life occurrences and provoked a legal suit for violating privacy.


Mishima was deeply attracted to the patriotism of imperial Japan, and samurai spirit of Japan's past. However, at the same time he dressed in Western clothes and lived in a Western-style house.

 In 1968 he founded the Shield Society (Tate no Kai), a private army of some 100 youths in uniforms worked on de Gaulle's uniform, who were dedicated to a revival of Bushido, the samurai knightly code of honour. In 1970 he seized control in military headquarters in Tokyo, trying to rouse the nation to pre-war nationalist heroic ideals. His coup d'état was doomed from the beginninbg.

On November 25, after failure, Mishima committed seppuku (ritual disembowelment) with his sword within the compounds of the Ground Self-Defense Force. Before he died he shouted, ''Long live the Emperor.'' As he fell on the carpet, he was beheaded by one of his men, acting as a kaishaku, the one who delivers the decapitating sword-blow. After his death, Mishima's wife had the negative of Patriotism (1966) burned, a film in which Mishima played the leading role and committed suicide at the end.


On the day of his death Mishima delivered to his publishers the final pages ofTennin Gosui (The Sea of Fertility), the authors account of the Japanese experience in the 20th century. Mishima based the theme on the Buddhist idea of the transmigration of the soul. The first part of the four-volume novel, Spring Snow(1968), is set in the closed circles of Tokyo's Imperial Court in 1912. It was followed by Runaway Horses (1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970) and Five Signs of a God's Decay (1971). Each of the novels depict a different reincarnation of the same being, Honda, who dies at the age of twenty: first as a young aristocrat, then as a political fanatic in the 1930s, as a Thai princess before and after World War II, and as an evil young orphan in the 1960s. The tennin in the tetralogy's Japanese title refers to a supernatural being Buddhist theology, who has similarities with the Christian angel but who is mortal. 

"Just let matters slide. How much better to accept each sweet drop of the honey that was Time, than to stoop to the vulgarity latent in every decision. However grave the matter at hand might be, if one neglected it for long enough, the act of neglect itself would begin to affect the situation, and someone else would emerge as an ally. Such was Count Ayakura's version of political theory." (From Spring Snow, 1968)


On November 25, 1970  Yukio Mishima stood on a balcony in front of some one thousand servicemen at the Tokyo command of the Eastern Headquarters of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces, and exhorted them to rise up against Japan’s postwar Constitution, which prohibits  the country from having an army and forbids war. He then turned back to the room where he and four followers had barricaded themselves and proceeded to perform harakiri, ritual Japanese suicide. This involved driving a razor-sharp Japanese sword into his stomach and then having his head sliced off by a waiting friend. On the day of his death Mishima had delivered to his publishers the final pages ofTennin Gosui (The Sea of Fertility), the author’s account of the Japanese experience in the twentieth century.




The Way of the Samurai

Mishima’s aesthetic ideal was the beauty of a violent death in one’s prime, an ideal common in classical Japanese literature. As a sickly youngster, Mishima’s ideal of the heroic death had already taken hold: “A sensuous craving for such things as the destiny of soldiers, the tragic nature of their calling . . . the ways they would die.”

He was determined to overcome his physical weaknesses. There is much of the Nietzschean “Higher Man” about him, of overcoming personal and social restraints to express his own heroic individuality.
 His motto was: “Be Strong.”
World War II had a formative influence on Mishima. Along with his fellow students, he felt that conscription and certain death waited.[14] He became chairman of the college literary club, and his patriotic poems were published in the student magazine.[15] He also co-founded his own journal and began to read the Japanese classics,  becoming associated with the  nationalistic literary group Bungei Bu, that believed war to be holy.
However, Mishima barely passed the medical examination for military training. He was drafted into an aircraft factory where kamikaze planes were manufactured.

In 1944, he had his first book, Hanazakan no Mori (The Forest in Full Bloom) published, a considerable feat in the final year of the war, which brought him instant recognition.
While Mishima’s role in the war effort was obviously not as he would have wished, he spent the rest of his life in the post-war world attempting to fulfill his ideals of Tradition and the Samurai ethic, seeking to return Japan to what he regarded as its true character amidst the democratic era in which the ideal of “peace” is an unquestioned absolute (even though it has to be continually enforced with much military spending and localized wars).
In 1966, Mishima wrote: “The goal of my life was to acquire all the various attributes of the warrior.” His ethos was that of the Samurai Bunburyodo-ryodo: the way of literature (Bun) and the Sword (Bu), which he sought to cultivate in equal measure, a blend of “art and action.” “But my heart’s yearning towards Death and Night and Blood would not be denied.” His ill-health as a youth had robbed him of what he clearly viewed as his true destiny: to have died during the War in the service of the Emperor, like so many other young Japanese. He expressed the Samurai ethos: “To keep death in mind from day to day, to focus each moment upon, inevitable death . . . the beautiful death that had earlier eluded me had also become possible. I was beginning to dream of my capabilities as a fighting man.”

In 1966, Mishima applied for permission to train at army camps, and the following year wrote Runaway Horses, the plot of which involves Isao, a radical Rightist student and martial arts practitioner, who commits hara-kiri after fatally stabbing a businessman Isao had been inspired by the book Shinpuren Shiwa (“The History of Shinpuren”) which recounts the Shinpuren Incident of 1877, the last stand of the Samurai when, armed only with spears and swords, they attacked an army barracks in defiance of Government decrees prohibiting the carrying of swords in public and ordering the cutting off of the Samurai topknots. All but one of the Samurai survivors committed hara-kiri. Again Mishima was using literature to plot out how he envisaged his own life unfolding and ending, against the backdrop of tradition and history.

The Feminization of Society

One of the primary themes of interest for the present-day Western reader of Mishima’s commentary on Hagakure is Mishima’s use of Jocho’s observations on his own epoch to analyze the modern era. Both seventeenth century Japan and twentieth century Japan manifest analogous symptoms of decadence, the latter due to the imposition of alien values that are products of the West’s cycle of decay, while those of Jocho’s day indicate that Japanese civilization in his time was in a phase of decay. Therefore, those interested in cultural morphology, Spengler’s in particular, will see analogues to the present decline of Western civilization in Jocho’s analysis of his time and Mishima’s analysis of post-war Japan.
The first symptom considered by Mishima is the obsession of youth with fashion. Jocho observed that even among the Samurai, the young talked only of money, clothes, and sex, an obsession that Mishima observed in his time as well.
Mishima also pointed out that the post-war feminization of the Japanese male was noted by Jocho during the peaceful years of the Tokugawa era. Eighteenth-century prints of couples hardly distinguish between male and female, with similar hairstyles, clothes, and facial expressions, which make it impossible to tell who is the male and who the female. Jocho records in Hagakure that during his time, the pulse rates of men and women, which usually differ, had become the same, and this was noted when treating medical ailments. He called this “the female pulse.”[41] Jocho observed: “The world is indeed entering a degenerate stage; men are losing their virility and are becoming just like women . . .”

Celebrities Replace Heroes

Jocho condemns the idolization of certain individuals achieving what we’d today call celebrity status. Mishima comments:
Today, baseball players and television stars are lionized. Those who specialize in skills that will fascinate an audience tend to abandon their existence as total human personalities and be reduced to a kind of skilled puppet. This tendency reflects the ideals of our time. On this point there is no difference between performers and technicians.

Intellectualism

Mishima held intellectuals in the same contempt as Westerners who were also in revolt against the modern world, such as D. H. Lawrence, who believed that the life force or élan vital is repressed by rationalism and intellectualism and replaced by the counting house mentality of the merchant, not just in business but in all aspects of life. Jocho stated that:
The calculating man is a coward. I say this because calculations have to do with profit and loss, and such a person is therefore preoccupied with profit and loss. To die is a loss, to live is a gain, and so one decides not to die. Therefore one is a coward. Similarly a man of education camouflages with his intellect and eloquence the cowardice or greed that is his true nature. Many people do not realize this.[48]
Mishima comments that in Jocho’s time there was probably nothing corresponding to the modem intelligentsia. However, there were scholars, and even the Samurai themselves had begun to form themselves into a similar class “in an age of extended peace.” Mishima identifies this intellectualism with “humanism,” as did Spengler. This intellectualism means, contrary to the Samurai ethic, that “one does not offer oneself up bravely in the face of danger.”

The law

“The law is an accumulation of tireless attempts to block a man’s desire to change life into an instant of poetry. Certainly it would not be right to let everybody exchange his life for a line of poetry written in a splash of blood. But the mass of men, lacking valor, pass away their lives without ever feeling the least touch of such a desire. The law, therefore, of its very nature is aimed at a tiny minority of mankind.”

Cult of the Hero – A Mighty Nihilism

“Facile cynicism, invariably, is related to feeble muscles or obesity, while the cult of the hero and a mighty nihilism are always are always related to a mighty body and well-tempered muscles. For the cult of the hero is, ultimately, the basic principle of the body, and in the long run is intimately involved with the contrast between the robustness of the body and the destruction that is death.”

On Art

“…there is no discipline so easy to speak of and so difficult to perform as the Combined Way of the Warrior and the Scholar. I decided that nothing else could offer me the excuse to live my life as an artist. This realization, too, I owe to Hagakure.”

On Women

Women can bring nothing into the world but children. Men can father all kinds of things besides children. Creation, reproduction, and propagation are all male capabilities. Feminine pregnancy is but a part of child rearing. This is an old truth.Women’s jealousy is simple jealousy of creativity. A woman who bears a son and brings him up tastes the honeyed joy of revenge against creativity. When she stands in the way of creation she feels she has something to live for. The craving for luxury and spending is a destructive craving. Everywhere you look, feminine instincts win out. Originally capitalism was a male theory, a reproductive theory. Then feminine thinking ate away at it. Capitalism changed into a theory of extravagance. Thanks to this Helen, war finally came into being. In the far distant future, communism too will be destroyed by woman.
Woman survives everywhere and rules like the night. Her nature is on the highest pinnacle of baseness. She drags all values down into the slough of sentiment. She is entirely incapable of comprehending doctrine: ‘-istic’, she can understand; ‘-ism’, she cannot fathom. Lacking in originality she can’t even comprehend the atmosphere. All she can figure out is the smell. She smells as a pig does. Perfume is a masculine invention designed to improve woman’s sense of smell. Thanks to it, man escapes being sniffed out by woman.
Woman’s sexual charm, her coquettish instincts, all the powers of her sexual attraction, prove that woman is a useless creature. Something useful would have no need of coquetries. What a waste it is that man insists on being attracted by woman! What disgrace it brings down upon man’s spiritual powers! Woman has no soul; she can only feel. What is called majestic feeling is the most laughable of paradoxes, a self-made tapeworm. The majesty of motherhood that once in a while develops and shocks people has no truth in relation to spirit. It is no more than a physiological phenomenon, essentially no different from the self-sacrificing mother love seen in animals. In short, spirit must be viewed as the special characteristic that differentiates man from the animals. It is the only essential difference.



Tribute To Yukio Mishima -Last Samurai of Japan




Runaway Horses (Poetry Written with a Splash of Blood)


From the Mishima Soundtrack, Composed by Philip Glass




Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Director:

Paul Schrader

Writers:

Chieko Schrader (Japanese script), Paul Schrader , and 3 more credits »

Selected Works Translated into English

  Confessions of a Mask (Kamen no Kokuhaku, 1949; trans. 1958)

Forbidden Colors (Kinjiki, 1953; trans. 1968-74)
The Sound of Waves (Shiosai, 1954; trans. 1956)
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji, 1956; trans. 1959)
After the Banquet (Utage no Ato, 1960; trans. 1963)
Death in Midsummer and Other Stories (Manatsu no Shi, 1966; trans. 1966)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Manatsu no Shi, 1966; trans. 1966)
Sun and Steel (Taiyo to Tetsu, 1968; trans. 1970)
The Sea of Fertility (tetralogy)
1.      Spring Snow (Haru no Yuki, 1968; trans. 1972)
2.      Runaway Horses (Honba, 1969; trans. 1973)
3.      The Temple of Dawn (Akatsuki no Tera, 1970, trans. 1973)
4.      The Decay of the Angel (Tennin Gosui, 1970; trans. 1974)

Other links

Harold Clurman, “The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima,” December 29, 1974,http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/25/specials/mishima-bios.html
“Featured Author: Yukio Mishima – with news and reviews from the archives of the New York Times, n.d., http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/25/specials/mishima.html
Donald Keene, “Beauty Itself Became a Deadly Enemy,” May 31, 1959,http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/25/specials/mishima-temple.html
Petri Liukkonen, “Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) – Pseudonym for Hiraoka Kimitake,” 2008,http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/mishima.htm
Ben Ray Redman, “What He Had to Hide,” September 14, 1958,http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/25/specials/mishima-mask.html
“Edward Seidensticker, “Yuichi Was a Doll,” June 23, 1968,http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/25/specials/mishima-colors.html
Philip Shabecoff, “Everyone in Japan Has Heard of Him,” August 2, 1970,
“Yukio Mishima Speaking in English,” 1970, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPAZQ6mhRcU&NR=1
“Mishima Speech (with English Subs),” 1970, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Bi2YA_r-QQ&feature=related