Japanese author Yukio Mishima poses at his home in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept. 10, 1966. (AP Photo/Nobuyuki Masaki)
“Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.”
Today marks the passing of one of the finest writers I have ever read, Mishima Yukio, best known for his Sea of Fertility tetralogy, but particularly beloved by me for The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, The Sound Of Waves, Sun and Steel, and The Temple Of The Golden Pavillion.
Mishima came to manhood during the fall of Imperial Japan, seeing the Emperor renounce his divinity through the eyes of one deemed unfit for military service. A latent homosexual with artistic aspirations discouraged by his strict father, he grew into one of the most important literary voices Japan has ever produced.
But it was perhaps inevitable that a man with his background who would write –
“Most writers are perfectly normal in the head and just carry on like wild men; I behave normally but I’m sick inside.”
-would not shuffle quietly out of life.
Perceiving the Westernized Japan as a country that had lost its samurai soul, he formed a group of young male kendo enthusiasts and political activists he called the Shield Society, in the hopes of re-establishing the manhood he believed his nation had forfeited at the end of World War II, and perhaps, aspiring to the impossible definition of masculinity he had fallen short of in his boyhood.
On this day November 25th in 1970, he marched his four most loyal followers, including his lover, into the office of a general of the armed forces under the pretense of showing him a rare 16th century katana. He took the officer hostage while his men drove off his aides with swords, then had the man assemble his troops in the courtyard.
Mishima stepped out onto the balcony and addressed the gathered soldiers, urging them to stand up and seize control of their country for the glory of the Emperor. The soldiers reportedly jeered up at him as a pair of helicopters circled low overhead, their mechanical droning drowning out his passionate words.
He stepped back into the general’s office, knelt on the floor before the bound and gagged general, stripped off his tunic, and drove his sword into his own belly, disemboweling himself in the traditional manner of seppuku.
His lover standing behind him in order to act as his kaishakunin, strove to sever his head and end his pain, but only succeeded in striking his shoulder and back and cutting his neck deeply.
Mishima begged that his agony be not prolonged.
Another follower took the sword from his fellow and struck off Mishima’s head with one blow.
Mishima, like a samurai, seemed to live for death. I don’t know if he truly believed his call to arms would be successful, but I do think he had long planned a glorious death for himself, to end his life as a line of poetry with a splash of blood. In the end, he must have been disappointed by the failure of those around him to facilitate his desire and to live up to his ideal, much as I suppose, he felt he had disappointed his own father.
Whatever his reasons, he was an admirable writer, and his death was as strange and beautiful as his work.
A small night storm blows
Saying ‘falling is the essence of a flower’
Preceding those who hesitate