Yukio Mishima: Nationalist, Genius and the Perfect Death
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Yukio Mishima states: “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, 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 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 based on the reality of war and power concentration.
Therefore, maybe it is better to look at snapshots and then formulate ideas because Mishima certainly did this. After all, nationalism like all ideologies and thought patterns is based on myths but with elements of truth – if truth exists in the real sense.
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, the death of Mishima did not alter Japan or return the country to an isolated Edo period whereby the sense of Japan did not fully exist because of the complex daimyo system.
Yes, an isolated Japan did exist to some extent but this is also 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. Therefore, the final moments of Mishima is all about drama because his actions were futile. However, in saying that, Mishima died a death that he desired despite the final moments being a reality that he didn’t fully perceive.
I presume for those fleeting minutes and seconds before the self-induced demise of Mishima that his mind and spirit were in ecstasy because part of 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 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 were writing and bodybuilding to an extreme. 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” because now Mishima was building up to be a man of strength. In other words, the Nietzsche “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, 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” that came from an inner passion whereby confusion, nationalism, attention seeking and a man of steel were fused into a death that he glorified.
Mishima also highlighted the duality that he constantly struggled with because he states: “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 along with developing a powerful ego based on power and strength. After all, 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 the ego had overtaken reality or possibly “the drug of life” was fused within “the drug of a glorified death?” Whatever was really going on in his mind he certainly believed in himself too much because the nationalist connection he desired was falling by the wayside within the masses.
Mishima had a complex nature because he had little time for so-called intellectuals but he revered men of action. 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 yet how could Mishima 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 were on the left but the nature of his books focused on militaristic thought patterns and nationalism. Mishima therefore focused on Bunburyodo and a death that appealed to his ego. “The Sea of Fertility” written by Mishima in this period was a four book set whereby many intrigues can be found.
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” because his friend, Hasuda, a fellow writer, states: “I believe one should die young in his age.” Hasuda was true to his word because he committed suicide.
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 period and Edo period had male concubines. Therefore, was Mishima ashamed of the Christian ethics that had 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 in old Japan was to the daimyo ruler and fellow samurai. Therefore, compassion was deemed to be weak 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 that 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 – he was now becoming the “man of steel.” However, this was tainted with feminine poses fused with the martyrdom of his 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 because his power and strength were fused together 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.”
Therefore, November 25, 1970, was the embodiment of what Mishima had become. This reality was based on suicidal visions therefore 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. Also, Mishima 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. In turn, this would generate “a spirit” based on Mishima’s 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 because several attempts were needed. After all, he was no soldier, he was no samurai and neither were his loyal followers. The final act is evidence that “dreamers” are 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 because he couldn’t re-write history. Yes, people after him can re-write history and maybe this was the history that Mishima yearned?
Despite this, Mishima is a literary genius and he had a spirit and ego that is beyond most people. His power rested within “the internal demons that he struggled with” and a culture that 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. Therefore, the boy from Tokyo was enigmatic and had a raw passion. 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.”
http://www.vill.yamanakako.yamanashi.jp/osusume.php – Yukio Mishima Cyber Museum
http://dennismichaeliannuzz.tripod.com/index.HTML – Tribute to Yukio Mishima
http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/mishima.htm – Yukio Mishima
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