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Yukio Mishima
Posted by Lesley Anne Truchet

Yukio Mishima

Born in 1925, 94 years ago today and considered to be one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century, Kimitake Hiraoka wrote under the pen name of Yukio Mishima so that his anti-literary father, a government official, wouldn’t know that he wrote. Mishima’s father, a strict disciplinarian, was said to have held his young son up to the side of a speeding train on more than one occasion. After Mishima began writing his father frequently raided his room and destroyed his work.

Mishima’s grandmother took him to live with her, separating him from his immediate family during his formative years. Raised in a royal household she had the temperament of a self-important aristocrat and would not allow Mishima to mix with local boys. Until he reached 12 years of age Mishima divided his time between attending a school for children of imperial aristocracy, reading classic Japanese and Western literature, studying German, French and English or playing with female cousins. His grandmother was also disposed to violence and melancholy which Mishima sometimes refers to in his writings. Some believe she was responsible for her grandson’s fascination with death.

Aged 12 Mishima returned home, continued his schooling and began to write. He gained a place at University studying law and wrote late into each night. Following his graduation he landed a job in the government’s Finance Ministry, with a promising career ahead of him.  Working all day and writing by night, he became so exhausted his father finally agreed to allow his son to devote all his time to writing.

A prolific author, Yukio Mishima wrote approximately 40 novels, 50 plays, 25 books of short stories, around 35 books of essays, one libretto, and a film. His ground-breaking writing style, focusing on sexuality, death, and political change stretched cultural boundaries and much of his work has been translated into English and other languages. He was also a model, a film director and an actor, starring in several films and appearing in some of his plays.

He married Yoko Sugiyama in 1958 and their union produced a son and a daughter. Whilst married, Mishima was known to have frequented gay bars. Jiro Fukushima, a fellow writer, wrote a book about his sexual relationship with Mishima.  Yoko always denied her husband’s homosexuality and the family successfully sued Fukushima.

Mishima was an active nationalist and in the late sixties formed and trained a right-wing militia, his own private army composed of students knowledgeable in military principals and physical discipline.  On the 25 th November, 1970, he and members of his militia seized control of a Japanese military base and took the commander hostage. With a prepared declaration and a list of demands, Mishima addressed the soldiers on the base from a balcony. His speech was supposed to have instigated a coup d'état aimed at restoring power to the emperor. The soldiers laughed at him. He returned to the commandant's office and ordered one of his followers to decapitate him after he had performed seppuku,  (also known as hara-kiri.) Things went badly wrong.  Mishima failed to disembowel himself properly and the person assigned to decapitate him was shaking so much that he botched his task. After several failed attempts at decapitation, another militia member stepped in and finished the grisly task. The failed executor also performed hara-kiri, presumably to erase his shame. Yukio Mishima died suffering excruciating agony. Some judge that the coup attempt was only a ploy staged by Mishima so that he could perform the ritual suicide of which he had long dreamed.

“Human life is limited but I would like to live forever.” Yukio Mishima wrote these words on the morning of 25 November 1970. That same morning he posted his draft of ‘The Sea of Fertility’ to his publisher. By lunchtime he was dead by his own choice.

Some of his noted works are:

Confessions of a Mask, the protagonist, a homosexual, has an upbringing similar to Mishima. In order to conceal his sexual orientation and fit into society, he presents himself to the world through a false personality, his mask.  

A tetralogy, with an overall title of The Sea of Fertility .  The novels in chronological order: Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn and The Decay of an Angel. They cover a timeline between 1912 and 1975. The story is set in Japan and main character throughout is Shigekuni Honda, a schoolboy in the first novel and a wealthy, an ageing lawyer in the final one.  Honda meets a different person in each novel, believing they are reincarnations of a school friend.

The Mishima prize, presented annually, was established in 1988 to honour Yukio Mishima’s works. The prize is awarded to writers considered to have broken new ground for the future of literature. 

For further information follow the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yukio_Mishima




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