Great Japanese Writers: Yukio Mishima

Source: Gaijin Pot

Yukio Mishima’s death is arguably more famous than his life — and casts a long shadow over his output. As he was such a personal, confessional writer who mined his own existence for inspiration, this is perhaps unsurprising. Whether reading early works like Confessions of a Mask or his final tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility, the sense of a man struggling to forge a definition of himself is palpable. He is widely regarded as one of the great Japanese writers of the 20th century.

Mishima’s great tragedy was good fortune. Born in 1925 as Kimitake Hiraoka, his was the generation that fought World War II. He grew up—and he writes about this in Confessions of a Mask—expecting to die for the Emperor. All through school, through his adolescence and teenage years, Japan was involved in a military conflict on the continent. The war with China had already begun and the boys in the years above him were going off to fight, to fulfill their assigned roles and do their duty. He appears to have taken this on board (how much of this is self-mythology is unclear, Mishima was nothing if not a self-mythologizer) at an early age and accepted his future. He writes about how this freed him from the usual concerns of life: why worry about qualifications, getting a job or finding a wife if you’re destined to die young? Why bother? But ill-health — misdiagnosed tuberculosis on account of a cold — prevented him from joining the army. He never recovered from the guilt that he had been granted an exemption. He survived the war but was from then on morbidly drawn towards the martial, the warrior spirit and death.

His first …continue reading