Yukio Mishima: Nationalist, Genius, and the Perfect Death
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Yukio Mishima wrote, “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 if you have never read Mishima – or read his work deeply – because his death looms over his reality or unreality. Either he freed himself or ultimately gave into mere illusions?
In truth, a starting point about Mishima is difficult. Equally, does a critic need to 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. Yet 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, aborigines in Australia didn’t witness Christian love.
Adolf Hitler had respect for Islam because Mohammed gave the go-ahead to enslave non-Muslims during Islamic jihad. Also, to enforce power by Sharia Islamic law and dhimmitude.
According to Hitler, Christianity was weak whereas Islam was strong because this faith justifies holy wars throughout the Koran and Hadiths. Hence in Hitler’s mindset, the reality of war and power concentration fused naturally in Islam.
Therefore, maybe it is better to look at snapshots and then formulate ideas because Mishima certainly did this. Nationalism, like all ideologies and thought patterns, is based on myths. However, elements of truth – if truth exists in the real sense.
My snapshot of Mishima is based on his death because the snapshots of history ran deep in his blood. Even if ultimately he was clutching at straws. After all, the death of Mishima did not alter Japan and return the country to an isolated Edo Period
Yes, an isolated Japan did exist to some extent but this is also part mythical because the Shimazu clan of Satsuma was trading with and invading Ryukyu (Okinawa). At the same time, the Japanization of the north was ongoing. Thus the Ainu would melt into the Japanese bloodline followed by the linguistic colonial reality.
Hence, the final moments of Mishima are about the drama of his ideas, even if futile. In saying that, Mishima died how he desired even if the final moments weren’t fully perceived.
I presume for those fleeting minutes and seconds before his self-induced demise that his mind and spirit were in ecstasy because his fantasy would become the reality he desired. Yet soon an articulate nationalist would be no more. Therefore, Mishima’s cause and effects came to nothing because Westernization continued albeit tinged within the Japanese psyche.
In Mishima’s short memoir, “Sun and Steel,” it is clear that his extreme obsession during the last ten years was writing and bodybuilding. This book was published in 1968 and it reflected the psyche of Mishima.
Thus he fused the pen with physical training and concepts that the “new Japan” was betraying the “old and glorified Japan.” The book Sun and Steel relates to Mishima throwing away his earlier novel “Confessions of a Mask.”
Mishima was now building up to be a man of strength. In other words, Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” was born within the ego and spirit of Mishima.
Mishima now focused on moving away from his literary genius and delving into a world of “body and action.” However, if he desired to break free and distance himself from the “power of the word” by building himself up to be a “warrior,” then he failed.
After all, the last poignant days of his life were based on the “power of words” and “ideas.” Hence his ego, inner passion for nationalism, and the man of steel fused everything into the death that he glorified ritually.
Mishima highlights the duality that he constantly struggled with for many decades. He says, “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.”
Mishima’s duality caused enormous anxiety along with developing a powerful ego based on power and strength. If you watch the video footage of his “illusionary uprising,” then you can see a passion and spirit that is difficult to find within the ego of others.
Maybe Mishima was merely battling against himself? Or maybe his ego had overtaken reality – or possibly “the drug of life” was fused within “the drug of a glorified death?”
Whatever was going through his mind he certainly believed in himself because the nationalist connection he desired was falling by the wayside. Indeed, Mishima’s strength probably became heightened by seeing liberal weakness.
Mishima had a complex nature because he had little time for so-called intellectuals. Instead, he revered men of action. In his mindset, this applied to famous samurai fighters, strong military leaders, and people who sacrificed themselves. This pulled at his soul because his literacy prowess was seen to be a weakness. However, how could Mishima inspire others without “words of passion?”
Mishima’s obsessive physical training meant that he was creating a warrior from within. Yet warriors who sacrificed themselves had something to sacrifice but Mishima’s world was illusionary.
Most of Japan’s literary cliques in the 1960s were on the left but the nature of his books focused on militaristic thought patterns and nationalism. Thus Mishima focused on Bunburyodo and a death that appealed to his ego. Therefore, “The Sea of Fertility” written by in this period was a four-book set based on many intrigues.
In 1968, Mishima began training at a Japanese military base where 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.
In Runaway Horses he 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 was born in 1925. Thus despite being young he could have served near the end of World War Two. However, this never materialized and troubled Mishima in later years.
His friend Hasuda, a fellow writer, said, “I believe one should die young in his age.” Hasuda was true to his word because he committed suicide. Therefore, not fighting in the war and avoiding death haunted the “man of steel.”
It appears that homosexuality may also have eaten away at Mishima because 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 form of sex.
Also, many a leader of Japan in the pre-Edo and the Edo period had male concubines. Indeed, for many “men of steel” homosexuality was a pure form of sex in the sense of sharing the ultimate on the battlefield Hence, was Mishima ashamed of the Christian ethics that had entered Japan after the Meiji Restoration (1868)?
After all, loyalty in old Japan was to the daimyo ruler and fellow samurai. Thus compassion was deemed to be weak because of the nature of life. Not surprisingly, strong male bondings took hold within the samurai psyche. However, Mishima’s modern Japan viewed homosexuality to be weak, unlike the samurai period.
Wakashudo had various ways of initiating young boys in “old Japan.” Hence, within the mindset of the samurai system, 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 history. However, the samurai system was based on creating “a learning process under their code of ethics” which would install loyalty, strong bonds, and in times of hardship, samurai warriors would remain united within the upbringing that they knew.
Mishima was now pumping iron – and honing martial art skills – thus becoming the “man of steel.” Equally, he made erotic poses and planned the martyrdom of his death.
He posed gladly in front of the camera where images of St. Sebastian were conjured up. Thus arrows striking the body and the samurai invoking ritual suicide played to his psyche. Mishima’s world was both real and surreal because his strength was fused with a feminine nature buried within his soul.
Mishima stated: “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.”
November 25, 1970, became the embodiment of what Mishima had become. This reality was based on suicidal visions thus 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. After all, Mishima had laid plans for the aftermath because he had built up this day for years. Yet now the time for acting was over despite the events being based on his ego.
In his illusionary world “the self” would act collectively “with strength.” In turn, this would generate “a spirit” based on Mishima’s dream of a glorified death.
Despite this, he was not a soldier in the real sense. Also, he had escaped fighting for Japan at a young age. Hence the nationalist rhetoric was part of the drama. Therefore, November 25 was his “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. Thus several attempts were needed. After all, he was no soldier, he was no samurai, and neither were his loyal followers.
Therefore, the final act is evidence that “dreamers” are just that. Hence the ending was not the beautiful image of serenity. Instead, it was a scene of “foolish hell and self-made folly.”
Mishima’s illusionary world changed nothing because he couldn’t re-write history. Yes, people after him can re-write history and maybe this was the yearning of Mishima. Therefore, a future cult following where the man of words forsook everything for his beloved Japan.
Irrespective of everything, Mishima is a literary genius who was blessed with a spirit and ego that is beyond most people. His power rested within “internal demons and contradictions” that glorified self-sacrifice.
The work of Mishima is very special and he belongs alongside the greatest of international writers. Thus the enigmatic boy from Tokyo had a rare passion outside the scope of what is perceived to be normal. However, the passion of Mishima is missing today and this is where his “genius belongs.”
In Mishima, the past seems alive based on his words and the last moments of his life. Hence the failings in his life must be brushed aside because to ignore Mishima’s writing is to ignore a potent force within the literary energy of Japan.
Mishima transcends the nation he belonged to because his writing hits a raw nerve within the “inner soul.”
This is ironic given his nationalist tendencies.
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