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Yukio Mishima

Japan flag. Famous Japanese & Foreigners In Japan: Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima 三島由紀夫

  • Yukio Mishima (Jan 14 1925-Nov 25 1970)
  • Born and died in Tokyo, Japan
  • Japanese author
  • Popular in the 1960s in Japan
  • Found more lasting popularity in the West
  • Wrote for stage as well, including noh and kabuki
  • Became a radical nationalist
  • Died by committing hara-kiri (seppuku)

Mishima Yukio (Jan 14 1925-Nov 25 1970) (born Kimitake Hiraoka) was one of Japan's most famous modern writers. He summed up in one person Japan's complex and often contradictory relationship with the West, and his life was one of extremes.

Mishima was born in what was then Yotsuya ward (now Shinjuku ward) in Tokyo. He was a fragile, sickly child, brought up until the age of 12 by his half-crazed aristocratic grandmother who isolated him from all masculine and outdoor influences. When he returned to the family, he was exposed to the brutality of his ironfisted, militaristic father, and sought refuge from him in his mother.

It was upon his return to the family that the young Kimitake began writing. At the aristocratic Peers School that his grandmother insisted he attend (in spite of the family's lack of wealth), he began to distinguish himself as a writer. It was while a high school student that his first published work, The Forest in Bloom (Hanazakari no Mori), was written. He began using the penname Yukio Mishima, perhaps to mitigate the bullying he was subject to from his sporty schoolmates for his effeminate devotion to literature, or to conceal his writing activities from his father.

Mishima escaped the draft for the Pacific War by pretending that his frail constitution was actually symptomatic of tuberculosis. He attended the prestigious Tokyo University, studying by day, writing prose by night.

His meeting in 1946 with the prominent writer Yasunari Kawabata was seminal in that Kawabata used his influence to promote the young Mishima. Upon graduation in 1947, Mishima entered the Ministry of Finance. The strain of continuing to write, however, proved too much, and after a year he left the Ministry.

His first major success was Confessions of a Mask (Kamen no Kokuhaku) published when he was only 24: an autobiographical tale of a homosexual forced to conceal his sexuality in order to fit in. However, from about age 30 he tried to remodel himself, rejecting the pale ethereal youth he had been and trying to engage as concretely as possible with the world of the body. He took up weight training. Although he frequented gay bars and was known to have sex with gay men, he married in 1958 at the age of 33. He and his wife, Yoko, had two children: a daughter Noriko in 1959 and a son, Iichiro, in 1962.

Mishima's output was vast, if not all world class literature. As well as novels he wrote plays (including works for the noh and kabuki stages), short stories, and poetry. However, his masterpieces quickly attracted attention from overseas, making him internationally famous. His book The Sound of Waves (Shiosai) (1952) was inspired by a trip to Greece. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) (1959) was based on an actual act of arson against the temple by one of its own priests. In 1962 he wrote Beautiful Planet (Utsukushii Hoshi) (no English translation), but to his mortification it failed to live up to his previous successes and went virtually unnoticed. There is speculation that this marked the beginning of his move away from writing and towards politics.

After joining the Ground Self-Defense Force for a year in 1967 and receiving basic training, Mishima founded the Tatenokai (Shield Society), a radical nationalist group. On November 25, 1970, Mishima submitted the final draft of the fourth volume of his The Sea of Fertility opus. On the same day he and his cohorts took over the Tokyo office of the commandant of the Eastern Self Defense Forces. Mishima appeared on his balcony and made a speech to the assembled soldiers trying to rouse them to restore the Emperor to his rightful place (only to be mocked and jeered by them) and, immediately after, committed hara-kiri. He was 45 years old.

In spite of his intensely nationalist paradings, Mishima was fastidiously Western in his everyday lifestyle. His exaggerated Japaneseness was worn like a suit, or cultivated the same way as he built up his physique. His death, indeed his dying words of "Long live the Emperor," seem less an expression of true patriotism than a desperate last attempt at glory for a writer whose popularity had waned and a man terrified of growing old.

Yukio Mishima and Ishihara.

Yukio Mishima & Shintaro Ishihara



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