28 February 2006
If you are in the early stages of a Mishima infatuation, my advice is to quit now

I was struck by this book review (via A&L) by Victoria James.  She says:

For most of 1998, I read nothing but the works of Yukio Mishima. The following year, having consumed everything available in English translation, I moved to Tokyo to learn Japanese, the better to read the rest: 40 novels, 20 volumes of short stories and almost that number of plays. I stayed in Japan for five years, as did Christopher Ross, the author of Mishima’s Sword.

Some thoughts:

  • I may not have gone quite that far but at about the same time I did pick up a fair number of his novels.  I eventually came to the conclusion that his writing was pretty much worthless.
  • I think there are all sorts of reasons why so many are fascinated by him in the West.  Mainly due to the manner of his death.
  • We probably shouldn’t be so fascinated.

So, who is this Mishima guy?

  • Japanese novelist and playwright.  On 25 November 1970, he and four colleagues entered the headquarters of the Tokyo garrison of Japan’s Self-Defence Force, taking its commander hostage.  Having failed to induce the garrison to rebel, Mishima and a colleague committed suicide by ritual disembowelment (seppuku)

So, why are so many fascinated by him?

  • I think it is largely the nature of his death.
    • Western democracy is (thankfully) rather dull and predictable.  Those who think they can inject some drama into proceedings (Tejero is another example) are few and far between.
    • He committed ritual suicide.  That takes a lot of guts (so to speak) - especially when you don’t have a superior or some sort of code of honour to encourage you.  One tends to think he must have meant something by his actions.
  • He also managed to inspire a great movie

  • I can’t help but think that the date of his death is in some way significant.  1970 was the year the Sixties ended, culturally as well as numerically.  Idealism was giving way to disillusion.

So, did his death have meaning?

  • I’m sure he meant something by it but that doesn’t mean he was right.  History is littered with the corpses of men who were both brave and wrong - Adolf Hitler, Patrick Pearse, Guy Fawkes, Mohammed Atta just to name a few.

By the way, what did he want?

  • Difficult to say.  He didn’t exactly leave behind a detailed manifesto.  It was something about Japan regaining its soul.  Anyway, it may not have been an entirely political act.  One of his worries was growing old and ugly.  He may just have wanted to check out before it was too late.
PermalinkFeedback (2)CultureJapan


  1. Ah, speaking of him, I’ve just posted reviews of Spring Snow and Runaway Horses, the next two will come later.

    Posted by Swifty on 08 March 2006 at 10:31pm

  2. ... that bad huh?

    Posted by Swifty on 08 March 2006 at 10:31pm

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.