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Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970) was a Japanese author of the post-World War II period. Much of his work deals with the conflict between Western influences on Japan and the code of the samurai, as well as the conflict between intellect and the body. In addition to his novels, short stories, and plays, Mishima is famous for his dramatic ritual suicide at the age of 45.
The author was born Kimitaka Hiraoka in Tokyo, Japan, on 14 January 1925. He later changed his name to hide the fact that he was writing from his anti-literary father. Until the age of 12, Mishima lived with his paternal grandmother, who was quite overprotective. She introduced him to literature, including Western classics, but she did not allow him to spend time in the sun or to play with other boys. Mishima's common playmates as a child were consequently his female cousins.
Mishima began to write at the age of 12; around the same time he moved in with his parents and began attending the prestigious Peers School. His father, a government official, was abusive, often violent, and very opposed to his son's interest in literature. He often destroyed his son's manuscripts, and although he had his mother's support, Mishima was forced to write in secret. His first story, "The Forest in Full Bloom," was published in book form in 1944.
He was drafted for the Japanese Army during World War II, but falsely claimed to have tuberculosis symptoms during his physical examination and was declared unfit. He carried guilt for this action throughout his life. After finishing at Peers School, Mishima studied German law at Tokyo University at the behest of his father. He graduated in 1947 and became a government official in the Finance Ministry, however he resigned during his first year in the position.
In 1948, Mishima began to devote himself full time to writing and publishing his first novel, Thieves. His Confessions of a Mask, published the same year, was a semi-autobiographical story about a youth coming to grips with his homosexuality. It was a great success and earned him a following around the world.
Up until the day of his death, Mishima was a prolific author, penning short stories, novels, literary essays, and plays in both the Kabuki and Noh styles. He was considered the only writer of his generation with the skills to handle traditional Noh drama. One of his most well known and important works was a tetralogy of novels known collectively as The Sea of Fertility. He sent the last volume to his publisher on the day he committed suicide.
Always torn between the life of the mind and the reality of the physical body, Mishima began weight training and practicing the martial art of Kendo in 1955. He posed for many pictures showing off his physique, many with homoerotic themes, and also appeared in films. Although homosexual, Mishima reputedly only had affairs with men while abroad. He married his wife, Yoko Sugiyama, in 1958, and the couple had two children.
Mishima became increasingly involved in politics near the end of his life, enlisting in the Ground Self Defense Force in 1967 and founding a private army known as the Shield Society a year later. He and the Shield Society planned a government coup meticulously and secretly over the course of a year. On 25 November 1970, he and four followers took over the Ichigaya Camp in Tokyo, the headquarters of Japan's Self-Defense Forces. Mishima stepped onto the balcony and addressed a crowd of soldiers, urging them to stage a coup d'etat against the democratic government.
When Mishima's speech was unsuccessful, he returned inside the headquarters and committed ritual suicide, or seppuku, according the samurai code. One of his followers also committed suicide after he was unable to decapitate Mishima in accordance with the ritual. Before his death, the author made sure that his affairs were in order and left a sum of money behind to pay for the defense of the surviving Shield Society members. His notorious death often overshadows his works, but he was a brilliant author who captured the spirit of post-war Japan in his writings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Yukio Mishima and why is he significant in Japanese literature?
Yukio Mishima was a prolific Japanese author and playwright, considered one of the most important Japanese novelists of the 20th century. Born Kimitake Hiraoka in 1925, Mishima's work is known for its blend of modern and traditional aesthetics, exploring themes such as death, sexuality, and political change. His novels, such as "The Sea of Fertility" tetralogy and "Confessions of a Mask," delve into the contradictions within the human psyche and Japanese society. Mishima's dramatic public suicide in 1970, an act tied to his nationalist beliefs, cemented his legacy as a complex and controversial figure.
What are some of Yukio Mishima's most acclaimed works?
Yukio Mishima's most acclaimed works include "The Sea of Fertility," a four-novel series that is often regarded as his masterpiece, and "Confessions of a Mask," which is semi-autobiographical and deals with a young man's struggle with his identity and sexuality. Other notable works are "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," inspired by the burning of a famous Kyoto temple, and "Patriotism," a short story that reflects his intense nationalist sentiments and preoccupation with death and honor.
How did Yukio Mishima's life influence his writing?
Mishima's life experiences deeply influenced his writing. His upbringing during Japan's militaristic era, his service in the workplace during World War II, and his personal struggles with sexuality are all reflected in his literature. Mishima's fascination with the samurai code, beauty, and the body, as well as his involvement in political activities advocating for traditional values, are themes that recur throughout his work. His dramatic suicide by seppuku after a failed coup attempt was seen as a final act consistent with the themes of his writing.
What is the legacy of Yukio Mishima in contemporary Japan?
In contemporary Japan, Yukio Mishima remains a figure of fascination and controversy. His literary contributions are widely respected, and his works continue to be read and studied for their artistic merit and insight into the human condition. However, his political views and the manner of his death evoke mixed reactions. Mishima's legacy also includes influencing modern writers and artists, both in Japan and internationally, and his life has been the subject of films, books, and scholarly analysis.
Did Yukio Mishima receive any notable awards or recognitions for his work?
Yes, Yukio Mishima received several notable awards and recognitions throughout his career. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times, although he never won. Mishima was also awarded the Shincho Prize from Shinchosha Publishing in 1954 for "The Sound of Waves" and the Yomiuri Prize for his play "The Afternoon When the Crows Fluttered Down" in 1955. These accolades reflect his standing as a significant literary figure in Japan and internationally.