Yukio Mishima (三島 由紀夫 Mishima Yukio) (born Kimitake Hiraoka, 平岡 公威) (January 14, 1925 - November 25, 1970), a Japanese author and playwright, famous for both his nihilistic post-war writing and the circumstances of his ritual suicide in public in the traditional seppuku style. Mishima was a prolific writer and is regarded by many critics as the most important Japanese novelist of the twentieth century. His works include 40 novels, poetry, essays and modern Kabuki and Noh dramas. Among his best-known works are Spring Snow (tr. 1972), Runaway Horses (tr. 1973), The Temple of Dawn (tr. 1973), and The Decay of the Angel (tr. 1974). Other important novels include the semi-autobiographical Confessions of a Mask (1949; tr.1958). The tetaology The Sea of Fertility (1964-1970), traces the disappearance of the old Japan in the first decade of the twentieth century and continues through the aftermath of World War II.
Mishima actively engaged in martial arts and tried to live a life of "Bunbu ryodo" ("scholarship and the martial arts"), according to an old samurai code. Mishima founded the Tatenokai (Shield Society), comprised primarily of young patriotic students; key members of the group attended Mishima's ritual samurai-style suicide. Mishima also acted in several movies and co-directed a movie based upon one of his works. Mishima was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for literature.
Hiraoka Kimitake, better known to the world by the pen name of Mishima Yukio, was born in Tokyo January 14, 1925. He was the first of three children born to Hiraoka Azusa, a government official, and Shizue Hiraoka, the daughter of a school principal in Tokyo. When Mishima was born, his family was sharing a house with his paternal grandparents, Hiraoka Jotaro and Natsuko. Hiraoka Jotaro came from a family of farmers, but he had risen to the level of a senior civil servant in the Japanese government. His wife, Hiraoka Natsuko, the oldest of 12 children, was descended from a samurai family; her paternal grandfather had been a “daimyo” related by marriage to the Tokugawa family who ruled Japan for 250 years.
Mishima's early childhood was dominated by the shadow of this grandmother, “Natsu,” who separated the boy from his immediate family when he was 29 days old. Mishima’s parents lived on the second floor of the house, while Hiraoka Jotaro and Natsue lived on the first floor. The grandmother kept her grandson by her at all times, allowing his mother to see him only at feeding time. Grandmother Natsu instilled in her grandson Kimitake the spirit of her samurai ancestors, which stressed self-discipline and complete control over both mind and body. One of her favorite sayings to her grandson was, “You should be as haughty as you can be.” Natsu maintained aristocratic pretensions even after marrying Mishima's grandfather, a commoner but, nevertheless, a bureaucrat who had made his fortune on the newly-opened colonial frontier. Her stubbornness was exacerbated by sciatica, and the young Mishima was employed to massage her to help alleviate the pain. Natsu was also prone to violent, even morbid, outbursts bordering on madness, which are occasionally alluded to in Mishima's works. It is to Natsu that some biographers have traced Mishima's fascination with death, and with the exorbitant; she read French and German, and had an aristocrat's taste for Kabuki theater. Natsu did not allow Mishima to venture into the sunlight, to engage in any kind of sport, or to play with boys; he spent much of his time alone, or with female cousins and their dolls.
In March of 1937, when his grandmother was 62 years old and becoming seriously ill, Mishima Yukio finally returned to live with his parents. She died in January of 1939 of hemorrhaging ulcers. Mishima entered into a relationship with his mother that some biographers have described as nearly incestuous; it was to his mother that he turned always for reassurance and to do his proofreading. His father, a brutal man with a taste for military discipline, employed such disciplinary tactics as holding the young boy up to the side of a speeding train. He also raided the young boy's room for evidence of an "effeminate" interest in literature, and wantonly tore up the adolescent Mishima's manuscripts. Mishima reportedly made no response to these gestures.
Mishima began to write his first stories at the age of 12. He read voraciously the works of Wilde, Rilke, and numerous Japanese classics. Although his family was not as affluent as those of the other students of this institution, Natsu insisted that he attend the elite Gakushuin (Peers School).
After six miserable years at school, a pale and frail teenager, he began to do well and became the youngest member of the editorial board in the school literary society. He was invited to write a short story for the prestigious literary magazine, Bungei-Bunka (Literary Culture) and submitted Hanazakari no Mori (The Forest in Full Bloom). The story was published in book form in 1944, although in limited quantities due to the shortage of paper in wartime.
Mishima received a draft notice for the Japanese Army during World War II. When he went for his medical check up, he had a cold; on the spur of the moment he lied to the army doctor about having symptoms of tuberculosis and was declared unfit for service. Although Mishima was greatly relieved at not having to go to war, he continued to feel guilty for having survived and having missed the chance for a heroic death.
Although his father had forbidden him to write any more stories, Mishima continued to write secretly every night, supported and protected by his mother Shizue, who was always the first to read a new story. In 1943 he entered Tokyo Imperial University where he studied law. After school, his father, who sympathized with the Nazis, wouldn't allow him to pursue a writer's career, but instead forced him to study German law. Attending lectures during the day and writing at night, Mishima graduated from the elite Tokyo Imperial University in 1947. He obtained a position in the government Finance Ministry and was set up for a promising career, but he exhausted himself so much that his father agreed to his resigning his position within a year in order to devote himself to writing.
Mishima began his first novel, Tōzoku (Thieves), in 1946 and published it in 1948. It was followed by Kamen no Kokuhaku (Confessions of a Mask, 1949), an autobiographical work about a young latent homosexual who must hide behind a mask in order to fit into society. The novel was extremely successful and made Mishima a celebrity at the age of 24.
Between 1950 and 1964 Mishima produced a number of novels, plays, short stories, essays, travel books and articles for magazines. Some of his most important and successful novels were written during this time: Thirst for Love, Forbidden Colors, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, Silk and Insight, After the Banquet, and The Sound of the Waves. In 1956 he published his most commercially successful work of that period, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a brilliant depiction of a psychopathic monk who destroys the temple he loves. Mishima was a disciplined and versatile writer, writing not only novels but highly-acclaimed plays for the Kabuki theater and modern versions of traditional Noh drama.
On May 30, 1958, Mishima Yukio married Sugiyama Yoko, the daughter of Sugiyama Nei, one of Japan’s famous traditional painters. Yoko was a 19-year-old college sophomore when she first met Mishima, then age 33. He made it clear from the beginning that she must understand certain things before he would agree to marriage. He expected his wife to understand that his writing would always come first. He also expected her to respect his right to privacy as well to agree not to interfere with his bodybuilding routine. It is thought that Mishima chose to marry because of his mother, who had been incorrectly diagnosed in March of 1958 with a terminal form of cancer. Mishima rushed through the marriage arrangements so that she would see him married and with a family before she died. John Nathan, in his biography of Mishima, stated that Mishima also married because, even though he went out of his way to shock the Japanese public with his outrageous behavior, he was passionately concerned with what other people thought of him. In Japan it was highly unusual for a person of the middle class to remain single after the age of 30; Mishima felt that he ought to have a family in order to preserve his respectability. Over the next three years, the couple had a daughter and a son. (Before marrying Yoko Sugiyama, Mishima briefly considered an alliance with Michiko Shoda, who later became the wife of Emperor Akihito).
From 1964 to November 25, 1970, Mishima worked on the four Sea of Fertility novels, considered to be his masterpiece. Together they give a portrait of Japanese life from 1912 to 1970.
His writing gained him international celebrity and a sizable following in Europe and America, as many of his most famous works were translated into English. Mishima traveled extensively, was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and became the darling of many foreign publishers. When his early mentor Kawabata Yasunari won the Prize in 1968, Mishima realized that the chances of it being given to another Japanese author in the near future were slim. It is believed that Mishima wanted the aging Kawabata to receive the Prize, out of respect for the man who had first introduced him to the literary circles of Tokyo in the 1940s.
In addition to contemporary style plays such as Madame de Sade, Mishima wrote for two of the three genres of classical Japanese theater: Noh and Kabuki. Mishima took themes, titles, and characters from the Noh canon, but his twists and modern settings such as hospitals and ballrooms startled audiences accustomed to the ancient originals.
After Confessions of a Mask, Mishima tried to leave behind the young man who had lived only inside his head, continuously flirting with death. He tried to tie himself to the real, physical world by taking up stringent physical exercise. In 1955, Mishima took up weight training, and his workout regimen of three sessions per week was not disrupted for the final 15 years of his life. Photographs show that he developed an impressive physique. He also became skillful at Kendo (the Japanese martial art of sword fighting). However, the swimming and weight lifting only trained his upper body, while his legs stayed thin.
In 1967, at age 42, Mishima enlisted in the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) and underwent basic training. A year later, he formed the Tatenokai (Shield Society), composed primarily of young patriotic students who studied martial principles and physical discipline and who were trained through the GSDF under Mishima's tutelage.
In the last ten years of his life, Mishima acted in several movies and co-directed an adaptation of one of his stories, Patriotism, the Rite of Love and Death.
On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai visited the commandant of the Ichigaya Camp, Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan Self-Defense Forces, under a false pretext. Once inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto and banner listing their demands, Mishima stepped onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire them to stage a coup d'etat and restore the Emperor to his rightful place. He succeeded only in irritating them and was mocked and jeered. Unable to make himself heard over the uproar, he finished his planned speech after only a few minutes. He stepped back into the commandant's office and committed seppuku (suicide by disembowelment). The customary decapitation at the end of this ritual had been assigned to Tatenokai member Masakatsu Morita, but he was unable perform this task properly; after several failed attempts, he allowed another Tatenokai member, Hiroyasu Koga, to finish the job. Morita then attempted seppuku and was also beheaded by Koga. Another traditional element of the suicide ritual involved the composition of jisei (a farewell poem composed on the eve of one's death), before their entry into the headquarters.
Mishima had prepared his suicide meticulously for at least a year, unknown to outside his group of hand-picked Tatenokai members. Mishima must have known that his coup plot would never succeed. Mishima made sure his affairs were in order and even had the foresight to leave money for the legal defense of the three surviving Tatenokai members.
There has been much speculation regarding Mishima's suicide. At the time of his death he had just completed the final book in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy and was recognized as one of the most important postwar stylists of the Japanese language. While Mishima espoused a brand of 'patriotism' towards the end of his life, it is perhaps most appropriate to say that he took a position outside of politics. He belonged neither to the “right” nor to the “left"; he was hated by conservative nationalists for his position, in Bunka Boeiron (A Defense of Culture), that Hirohito should have resigned the throne to take responsibility for the war dead, and was hated by leftists (particularly students) for his outspoken, anachronistic commitment to the code of the samurai. Mishima’s political ideas were dominated by the language of aesthetics and were disconnected from the political reality of postwar Japan.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (金閣寺; Kinkakuj, 1956) is loosely based on the burning of Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple by a young Buddhist acolyte in 1950. The temple was a national monument which had been spared by the American bombers during World War II, and the arson shocked Japan. The story is narrated by Mizoguchi, the young man who will burn the temple, who is afflicted with an ugly face and a stutter, and who recounts his obsession with beauty and the growth of his urge to destroy it. The novel also includes one of Mishima's most memorable characters, Mizoguchi's club-footed, deeply cynical friend Kashiwagi, who gives his own highly individual twist to various Zen parables.
The book was translated into English by Ivan Morris in 1959. A film version, titled Enjo (Conflagration) was made by Kon Ichikawa in 1958. It was the most critically successful film to be made from a Mishima novel.
The Sound of Waves (1954) details the coming of age of protagonist Shinji, a poor fisherman on the remote island of Uta-jima, and his romance with Hatsue, the beautiful daughter of the wealthy ship-owner Terukichi.
Shinji Kubo lives with his mother, a pearl diver, and his younger brother, Hiroshi. He and his mother support the family because Shinji's father has died in a previous war, but the family lives a peaceful life and Shinji is content to be a fisherman along with a master fisher, Jukichi, and another apprentice, Ryuji. This changes when Terukichi Miyata, after the death of his son, decides to reclaim the daughter who had been adopted by another family and raised as a pearl diver on another island. The beautiful Hatsue wins many admirers, including Shinji, and Shinji and Hatsue soon fall in love.
When Chiyoko, the daughter of the lighthouse-keeper and his wife, returns from studying at a university in Tokyo, she is disappointed to discover that Shinji, whom she has affections for, has fallen in love with someone else. She takes advantage of the jealous Yasuo Kawamoto, an arrogant and selfish admirer of Hatsue, to spread vicious rumors about the relationship between Shinji and Hatsue. Shinji is forbidden to see Hatsue again, though the two continue communicating with each other through Jukichi and Ryuji, and Terukichi refuses to speak to him. Tensions between Shinji and Hatsue are exacerbated when Shinji’s mother tries to help and is rebuffed by Terukichi. Chiyoko, before returning to Tokyo, becomes filled with remorse after she realizes that Shinji is not attracted to her, and feels guilty that she has ruined Shinji's chance at happiness.
The ugly rumors die out when the other pearl divers, including Shinji's mother, recognize that Hatsue is still a virgin. Terukichi mysteriously employs Yasuo and Shinji on one of his shipping vessels. When the vessel is caught in a storm, Shinji’s courage and willpower allow him to brave the storm and save the ship. Chiyoko's mother receives a letter from Chiyoko, who refuses to return home, explaining that she feels she cannot return and see Shinji unhappy because she is the one who started the rumors. The lighthouse-keeper's wife shows the letter to Terukichi, who reveals that he intends to adopt Shinji as Hatsue's husband. Employing the boys on his ship had been a test to see which one was most suitable for his daughter, and Shinji's courage in saving the vessel had earned Terukichi’s respect and permission to wed his daughter.
This book was awarded the Shincho Prize from Shinchosha Publishing in 1954. It was adapted to film on five separate occasions.
The Sea of Fertility (Hojo no Umi) was a series of four novels; Spring Snow (1966), Runaway Horses (1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970), and The Decay of the Angel (1971).
The series, which Mishima began in 1964, is usually thought of as his masterpiece. Its title refers to the Mare Fecunditatis, a "sea" on the Moon. The main timeline of the story stretches from 1912 to 1975. The viewpoint in all four books is that of Shigekuni Honda, a law student in Spring Snow who eventually becomes a wealthy retired judge in The Decay of the Angel. Each of the novels depicts a different reincarnation of his school friend Kiyoaki Matsuage, and Honda's attempts to save each of them from the early deaths to which they seem to be condemned by karma. The result is both personal and professional embarrassment for Honda, and eventually he is destroyed. The friend is successively reincarnated as Kiyoaki Matsugae, a young aristocrat; Isao Iinuma, an ultranationalist and violent extremist; Ying Chan, an indolent Thai princess; and Tōru Yasunaga, a manipulative and sadistic orphan. Other characters who appear in more than one book include Satoko Ayakura (Kiyoaki's lover), Tadeshina (Satoko's maid), Imperial Prince Toin, Shigeyuki Iinuma (Kiyoaki's servant and Isao's father), Keiko Hisamatsu, and Rié (Honda's wife).
Although The Temple of Dawn contains lengthy arguments in favor of the theory of reincarnation, Mishima's biographers note that he did not believe in it himself. An earlier work of about the same length, Kyoko's House, had been spurned by critics; it has been conjectured that he embarked on The Sea of Fertility in defiant response. It expresses many of Mishima's deepest-held convictions about the nature and purpose of human life, and the last book is thought to encapsulate an extremely negative personal assessment of himself and his own legacy. He delivered its final pages to the publisher on the same day that he committed suicide.
The tetralogy was described by Paul Theroux as "the most complete vision we have of Japan in the twentieth century." Although the first book is a loving recreation of Japan in the brief Taisho period, and is well-grounded in its time and place, references to current affairs are generally tangential to what is later to become Honda's obsessive quest to understand the workings of individual fate and to save his friend.
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