The Life and Work of Yukio Mishima

1. About the author

Yukio Mishima was a Japanese writer, thinker, and public figure who became one of the most renowned authors of the twentieth century. He was born Kimitake Hiraoka in 1925 in the city of Tokyo, into a family of samurai descent. He attended Peers School, an exclusive English-language institution where he was first exposed to Western literature. In 1944, he enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, but the Second World War ended before he could see action. Mishima then turned to writing, publishing his first novel, Confessions of a Mask, in 1949. This was followed by a succession of other works that established his reputation as one of Japan’s preeminent writers, including The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1955), The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), and The Death of a Hero (1959).

Mishima’s writings are marked by a concern with aesthetics and an obsession with beauty, violence, and death. He is also known for his highly stylized and formal prose, as well as his theatricality both on and off the page. In 1960, he founded the Tatenokai (“Shield Society”), a private militia dedicated to “the preservation of traditional values” in Japan. On November 25th, 1970, he staged a coup d’état at an army base in Tokyo in an attempt to instigate a military takeover of the government. When this failed, he committed seppuku (ritual suicide) inside the headquarters of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. His act shocked and horrified many in Japan and around the world, but it also made him into a cult figure and cemented his status as one of the most controversial and provocative figures of his time.

2. Life and work

Yukio Mishima was born Kimitake Hiraoka on January 14th, 1925, in Tokyo, Japan. His father was Azusa Hiraoka, a government official, and his mother Shizue Hiraoka, a housewife. He was the second of four children; his older sister Fumiko died when she was two years old from meningitis. Mishima had a happy childhood until 1931 when his grandfather Kumezo Yamamoto passed away. Kumezo had been like a father to Mishima and his death deeply affected him. A few months later, Mishima’s grandmother also died; this double loss left him feeling insecure and adrift.

In 1933, Mishima’s father was transferred to Karuizawa, a resort town north of Tokyo. It was here that Mishima had his first taste of freedom and began to explore his sexuality. He also developed a strong interest in Western literature after reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in English class. In 1939, he returned to Tokyo to attend Peers School (now Gakushuin University), an elite institution for the children of nobility and government officials. It was here that he started using the pen name Yukio Mishima; “Yukio” means “happiness forever” while “Mishima” refers to an old military family crest depicting three sheaves of wheat.

Mishima graduated from Peers School in 1943 and enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Army Academy the following year. However, he did not see any action during World War Two as the war ended before he could be deployed. After the war, Mishima returned to Peers School to study law and politics but dropped out after one year. He then turned his attention to writing, publishing his first novel, Confessions of a Mask, in 1949. The book, which is semi-autobiographical, tells the story of a young man who feels alienated from society and turns to masks in order to conform. It was an instant success and established Mishima as one of Japan’s most promising new authors.

Mishima’s second novel, The Sound of Waves, was published in 1954 and won the prestigious Shincho Prize for Fiction. The book tells the story of a young fisherman who falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy family. In 1955, Mishima published one of his most famous works, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. The book tells the story of a sailor who returns home to find that his son has joined a gang of ruthless criminals. Mishima based the character of the son on real-life juvenile delinquents he had seen while working as a police officer in Tokyo.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea was followed by a string of other successful novels, including The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), The Death of a Hero (1959), and The Sea of Fertility (1964-1965). Mishima also wrote plays, essays, and short stories, as well as translating works by Western authors such as Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Yukio Tsuchiya into Japanese. In 1960, he founded the Tatenokai (“Shield Society”), a private militia dedicated to “the preservation of traditional values” in Japan.

On November 25th, 1970, Mishima staged a coup d’etat at an army base in Tokyo in an attempt to instigate a military takeover of the government. When this failed, he committed seppuku (ritual suicide) inside the headquarters of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. His act shocked and horrified many in Japan and around the world, but it also made him into a cult figure and cemented his status as one of the most controversial and provocative figures of his time. Mishima’s death came just three days before the completion of his last work, The Decay of the Angel (1970), which is considered one of his greatest novels.

3. Yukio Mishima and Aesthetics

Yukio Mishima was deeply interested in aesthetics and his writings are marked by a concern with beauty, violence, and death. He is also known for his highly stylized and formal prose, as well as his theatricality both on and off the page. In an essay entitled “In Search of Beauty”, Mishima wrote: “I am not interested in ideas or concepts… What I am interested in is flesh and blood.” For Mishima, it was important that his writings should be aesthetically pleasing; he once said that “a writer’s whole life is nothing but preparation for his work.”

One theme that recurs throughout Mishima’s work is evanescence; he believed that everything is temporary and that life is constantly fading away. This is most evident in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which tells the story of a young man who sets fire to a beautiful temple because he cannot bear to see it gradually degrade over time. However, evanescence is also a key theme in Mishima’s shorter works, such as the stories “The Stationmaster’s Wife” and “The Crown of Thorns”. In these stories, Mishima uses the motif of the flower to explore the idea that beauty is transient and fleeting.

Mishima was also fascinated by the interplay between time and consciousness. He believed that our consciousness is like a “screen” on which we project our memories and experiences. However, he also believed that our memories are constantly being rewritten and revised; in other words, our past is not fixed but is always in a state of flux. This is a theme that he explored in The Sea of Fertility, a multi-volume novel about a group of friends who are reincarnated over the course of several centuries. Mishima once said that his ambition was to write a novel that would “compress the history of Japan into a single lifetime.”

4. Japan and death

Death is a recurrent theme in Mishima’s work, and he often wrote about the subject from a Japanese perspective. In an essay entitled “Death in Midsummer”, Mishima wrote: “In Japan… death is not considered to be an enemy… To Westerners, death is something to be conquered or overcome; to us Japanese, it is something natural and beautiful, like flowers blooming or leaves falling.” Mishima believed that there was something aesthetic about death, and he often wrote about it in highly stylized language.

Mishima also had a strong interest in samurai culture and he often wrote about bushido, the code of honor that governed the lives of medieval Japanese warriors. In 1968, he even published a book on the subject entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan. For Mishima, bushido was more than just a code of conduct; it was a way of life that emphasized duty, self-discipline, and loyalty. He believed that bushido was still relevant in modern Japan and that it could help to restore traditional values to a society that he felt was becoming too Westernized.

5. Yukio Mishima and bushido

Yukio Mishima was deeply interested in bushido, the code of honor that governed the lives of medieval Japanese warriors. In 1968, he even published a book on the subject entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan. For Mishima, bushido was more than just a code of conduct; it was a way of life that emphasized duty, self-discipline, and loyalty. He believed that bushido was still relevant in modern Japan and that it could help to restore traditional values to a society that he felt was becoming too Westernized.

Mishima’s interest in bushido led him to develop a strong interest in swordsmanship. He took up kendo, a form of Japanese fencing, and eventually became a master swordsman. In 1970, he even founded his own dojo (training hall) where he taught kendo to his followers in the Tatenokai (“Shield Society”), a private militia dedicated to “the preservation of traditional values” in Japan. On November 25th, 1970, Mishima staged a coup d’etat at an army base in Tokyo in an attempt to instigate a military takeover of the government. When this failed, he committed seppuku (ritual suicide) inside the headquarters of the

FAQ

The overall plot of the story is that a young boy named Noboru becomes fascinated with a group of tough-looking sailors, and starts to emulate their lifestyle. His mother grows concerned about his increasingly violent behavior, and hires a private tutor in an attempt to reform him. However, Noboru only becomes more obsessed with the sailors, and eventually kills the tutor in a fit of rage. The sailors then take him in as one of their own, but ultimately reject him when they realize he is not truly one of them. Noboru goes on to commit suicide.

Mishima uses symbolism to communicate his themes of alienation and rejection by society. The sailor's uniforms represent conformity and order, while the sea represents freedom and chaos. By contrast, Noboru is initially drawn to the sailors because they represent something different from the stifling conformity of Japanese society. However, he is ultimately rejected by them because he cannot fully embrace their lifestyle or understand their code of honor. This symbolizes how people who are different from mainstream society are often marginalized and excluded.

The character traits that define Noboru are his fascination with violence, his lack of empathy, and his desire to be accepted by the sailors. These traits change over time as he becomes more obsessed with the sailors and less able to relate to other people. His increasing isolation from society leads him to commit suicide at the end of the story.

Society plays a role in shaping the events of the story by forcing people like Noboru to conform to its norms and values. Those who do not conform are often marginalized and excluded. In this way, society is responsible for creating the conditions that lead to Noboru's downfall.

Mishima's radical political views are evident in the way he critiques society's treatment of those who do not conform to its norms. He also highlights the individual's responsibility to resist conformity, even if it means going against the grain.