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Yukio Mishima: articulate, genius, nationalist and the perfect death

Yukio Mishima: articulate, genius, nationalist and the perfect death

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima stated “If we value so highly the dignity of life, how can we not also value the dignity of death?  No death may be called futile.” This comment is poignant because for many people who have never read Mishima, or read his work deeply; then his death looms over his reality or unreality because either he freed himself or ultimately gave into mere illusions?

In truth, where do you start when you write about Mishima?  Also, does a critic have to claim that you know about the subject matter from the inner work of the individual you are writing about?  Or can the images and reflections represent a greater depth of knowledge based on snapshots and the images of the last moments of Mishima?

After all, millions of Buddhists and Christians have read sacred books but history tells us that Zen Buddhism supported nationalism to the hilt in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. Therefore, the Buddhist temples of Kyoto in the last century welcomed the slaughter of Chinese innocents.  Similarly, the aborigines in Australia will ask where was the Christian love and peace?

Adolf Hitler had a respect for Islam because Mohammed gave the go ahead to enslave non-Muslims during Islamic jihad and then enforce power by enforcing Sharia Islamic law.  For Hitler, Christianity was weak, but unlike the followers of Buddhism and Christianity who may do misdeeds based on hypocrisy; at least Islam was frank because it justified holy wars throughout the Koran and Hadiths.

Therefore, maybe it is better to look at snapshots and then formulate ideas because Mishima certainly did this.  After all, nationalism like all ideologies is based on myths and ignoring history and reality. 

Given this, my snapshot of Mishima is based on his death because the snapshots of history ran deep in his blood but ultimately he was clutching at straws.  After all, his death did not shake up Japan or return the country to an isolated Edo period where the sense of Japan did not exist.

Yes, an isolated Japan but like ideologies this is part mythical because the Shimazu daimyo was trading with and invading Ryukyu (Okinawa).  At the same time the complete Japanization of the north was ongoing and soon the Ainu would melt into the Japanese bloodline and linguistic colonial reality. 

The final moments of Mishima is all about drama because his actions were futile but he died a death that he desired but did it have the beauty that he perceived it to be?

I presume for those fleeting minutes and seconds before the self-induced demise of Mishima that his mind and spirit were in ecstasy.  Yet soon an articulate nationalist would be no more and cause and effects came to zilch because Westernization continued albeit tinged within the Japanese psyche. 

In Mishima’s short memoir, “Sun and Steel,” it is clear that his obsession during the last ten years was writing and bodybuilding.  This book was published in 1968 and it reflected the psyche of Mishima who fused the pen with physical training and concepts of the “new Japan” betraying the “old and glorified Japan.”

The book Sun and Steel relates to Mishima throwing away his earlier novel, Confessions of a Mask.”  Now Mishima was building up to be a man of strength and the Nietzsche “ubermensch” was born within the ego and spirit of Mishima. 

Mishima focused on moving away from his literary genius and delving into a world of “body and action.”  However, if, like claimed, he desired to break free and distance himself from the “power of the word” by building himself up to be a “warrior” in his worldview then he failed. 

For the last poignant days of his life were based on the “power of words” and “ideas” which came from an inner passion where confusion, nationalism, attention seeking and a man of steel, were fused into a death that he glorified but ultimately achieved little.

Mishima also highlighted the duality which he constantly struggled with.  He stated that Many people will express disbelief that such a process could already be at work in a person’s earliest years. But that, beyond doubt, is what happened to me personally, thereby laying the ground for two contradictory tendencies within myself. One was the determination to press ahead loyally with the corrosive function of words, and to make that my life’s work. The other was the desire to encounter reality in some field where words should play no part at all.”

It is clear that Mishima’s duality must have caused enormous anxiety and I am not trying to underestimate the power that Mishima had because if you watch video footage of his “illusionary uprising” then you can see a passion and spirit which is difficult to find. 

Maybe Mishima was merely battling against himself?  Or maybe the ego had overtaken reality or possibly “the drug of life” was fused with “the drug of a glorified death?”  Whatever was really going on in his mind he certainly believed in himself too much and the nationalist connection he desired fell away because the latest Hollywood film was too irresistible for the masses of Japanese people.   

Mishima had a duality complex because he had little time for so-called intellectuals but he revered men of action and in his mindset this applied to famous samurais, strong military leaders and people who sacrificed themselves.  This pulled at his soul because his literacy prowess was seen to be weakness but how could he express and inspire others without “words of passion?”

Mishima’s obsessive physical training meant that he was creating a warrior from within but warriors who sacrificed themselves had something to sacrifice.  Mishima had nothing to sacrifice because his actions were not only futile but based on an illusionary world that he had created.

Most of Japan’s literary clique in the 1960s was on the left and the nature of his books focused on militaristic thought patterns and nationalism.  

Mishima focused on Bunburyodo and a death which appeared to his ego.  Therefore, “The Sea of Fertility” which was a four book set was started and the first part, “Spring Snow” was completed in 1966.

The following year he began training at a Japanese military base and his private army was formed.  Mishima was now entering the final years of his life and it was all focused on a noble ending he desired.

Mishima in 1969 in Runaway Horses states “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.”

Mishima, who was born in 1925, was very young during World War Two but he could serve near the end of the war but he was excused.  This must have haunted the “man of steel” and his friend, Hasuda, a fellow writer stated “I believe one should die young in his age” and Hasuda was true to his word because he committed suicide.

Given the nature of Mishima’s demise then clearly the war was not based on a youthful hero and defender of his country.  Added to this, his friend committed suicide and maybe Mishima wanted redemption or maybe he was caught up in the psyche of the culture he understood.

It appears that homosexuality may also have eaten away at Mishima and Confessions of a Mask (1949) deals with inner emotions and passion.  However, if Mishima knew history well then many samurai believed that homosexuality was the purest sex and many a leader of Japan in the pre-Edo period and Edo period had male concubines.

Therefore, was Mishima ashamed of the Christian ethics which entered Japan after the Meiji Restoration (1868)?  If not, then many “men of steel” of old Japan had homosexual relationships and this is to be understood in the light of reality. 

After all, loyalty was to the daimyo ruler and fellow samurai and compassion was weakness because of the nature of life.  Not surprisingly, strong male bonding took hold within the samurai psyche and this cultural reality was the opposite to the image of homosexuality in modern day Japan which is perceived to be weak.

Wakashudo had various ways of initiating young boys in “old Japan” and within the mindset of the samurai system then women were seen to be feminizing men and weakening their spirit.  The Wakashudo system was often abused by the Buddhist clergy for sexual gratification in past history. However, the samurai system was based on creating “a learning process under their code of ethics” which would install loyalty, strong bond, and in times of hardship samurai warriors would remain united within the upbringing that they knew.

Mishima, with pumping iron and with well honed martial art skills, was now becoming the “man of steel” but this was tainted with feminine poses fused with the martyrdom of death. 

He posed gladly in front of the camera and images of St. Sebastian being killed by many arrows or a samurai invoking ritual suicide all played to his psyche and being.   Mishima’s world was both real and surreal and his power and strength fused together with a feminine nature buried within his soul.

Mishima stated that The most appropriate type of daily life for me was a day-by-day world destruction; peace was the most difficult and abnormal state to live in.”

Therefore, November 25, 1970, was the embodiment of what Mishima had become and suicidal visions and his illusionary world was to erupt into a violent ending.  However, true to Mishima it was a violent and chaotic ending within a planned structure because he laid plans for the aftermath.

He had built up this day for years but now the time for acting was over, well partly, because he was still acting in the world of “ego.” In his illusionary world the “self” would act collectively “with strength” and generate “a spirit” and “fuse” this with his dream of a glorified death.

Yet, he was not a soldier, after all he had lied in order to not fight for Japan; therefore, the nationalist rhetoric was just that and November 25 was more about “personal redemption” and ending the “duality within his soul.”

The man of words would die in “a paradise of extreme pain” because the final cut to behead him was not clean and several attempts were made.  After all, he was no soldier, he was no samurai, and neither were his loyal followers. The final act is evidence that “dreamers” were just that; therefore, the ending was not the beautiful image of serenity but instead a scene of “foolish hell and self made folly.”

Mishima’s illusionary world could not change anything and he, like everyone, can’t re-write history.  Yes, people after him can re-write history and maybe this was the history that Mishima followed?

Despite this, Mishima was a literary genius and he had a spirit and ego which is beyond most people.  His power rested within “the internal demons that he struggled with” and a culture which glorifies self sacrifice. However, Mishima had nothing to sacrifice because the final events of his life did not shake Japan and it was more like “egoism” based on “unreality.”

Yet, the work of Mishima is very special and in the twentieth century he belongs alongside the greatest of international writers.

The boy from Tokyo was enigmatic and had a raw passion and sadly the passion of Mishima is missing today and maybe this is where his “genius belongs.”

In Mishima, you can imagine the energy of the past and where the individual is visionary; therefore, the failings in his life, like the failings of all people; must be brushed aside because to ignore Mishima’s writing is to ignore a potent force within the literary energy of Japan.

Mishima, unlike the majority of writers, transcended the nation he belonged to because his writing hits a raw nerve within the “inner soul” and he will continue to be read by millions of people all over the world.  – Yukio Mishima Cyber Museum  – Tribute to Yukio Mishima  – Yukio Mishima   – Yukio Mishima  (Please visit)

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in Japan


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