The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima

BOOK: The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Life and Death

Photo: UPI

The Life and Death

Henry Scott Stokes

First Cooper Square Press edition 2000

This Cooper Square Press paperback edition of
The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima
is an unabridged republication of the edition published in New York in 1995. It is reprinted by arrangement with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Copyright © 1974, 1995, and 1999 by Henry Scott Stokes

Designed by Paula Wiener

Grateful acknowledgment is extended to Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., for permission to quote from their copyrighted translations of the works of Yukio Mishima.

We are also grateful to New Directions Publishing Corporation for permission to quote from two works by Yukio Mishima,
Death in Midsummer and Other Stories
, copyright © 1966 by New Directions Publishing Corporation; reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Yukio Mishima,
Confessions of a Mask
, translated by Meredith Weatherby, copyright © 1958 by New Directions Publishing Corporation; reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Grateful acknowledgment is also extended to Kodansha International Ltd for permission to quote from their copyrighted translation by John Bester of Yukio Mishima's
Sun and Steel
, and from
Landscapes and Portraits
by Donald Keene.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.

Published by Cooper Square Press

An Imprint of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group

150 Fifth Avenue, Suite 911

New York, New York 10011

Distributed by National Book Network

ISBN 0-8154-1074-3

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992. Manufactured in the United States of America.

For Gilbert de Botton



A Personal Impression


The Last Day

1  Off to the Parade

2  The Fight in the General's Office

Tennō Heika Banzai!

4  Hara-kiri

5  “Out of His Mind”


Early Life (1925–39)

1  The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

2  Birth

3  Fairy Tales and Fantasies

4  School and Adolescence


The Making of Yukio Mishima (1940–49)

1  Child of Ancient History

2  The “Irony” of It All

3  Fearful Days

4  Kawabata's Protégé


The Four Rivers (1950–70)

1  Pictures at an Exhibition

2  The River of Writing

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

3  The River of Theater

4  The River of Body

5  The River of Action

Part One

Part Two
Picnic on Mt. Fuji

Part Three
Sauna Baths and Secrecy

Part Four
The Decay of the Angel


Epilogue (1995–99)



Acknowledgments and Sources




Beauty, beautiful things, those are now my most deadly enemies.

Yukio Mishima,
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

The Life and Death


A Personal Impression

I first encountered Yukio Mishima, whose name is pronounced Mi-shi-ma with short vowels, on April 18, 1966, when he was to make an after-dinner speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, as our guest of honor. At that time, then only forty-one, Mishima was already confidently spoken of as a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He came with his wife, Yōko. The Mishimas took their seats at a head table, flanking John Roderick, an Associated Press journalist who was then president of the club. I was seated at a little distance from the top table, but I observed that Mishima was small, wiry in physique, and brisk—he had his hair cut very short, almost in a crew cut. His skin had a slightly unhealthy pallor. No doubt he was working himself too hard, I thought, knowing that he always wrote straight through the night. Mishima spoke fluent English. Yōko was a complete contrast. Also small, she was ten years younger than her husband and looked it. Petite, with a round face, she kept her counsel and spoke little—she had, by that time, two very young children.

In his introductory remarks that night Roderick described the career and achievements of Yukio Mishima. He was born Kimitaké Hiraoka—Yukio Mishima was a pen name—in 1925, the eldest child of an upper-middle-class family living in Tokyo. His school record had been excellent and he had graduated top of his class at the exclusive Gakushūin (the Peers' School) in 1944. At the age of nineteen he had traveled to the palace in central Tokyo to receive a prize, a silver watch, from Emperor Hirohito in person. (The
following year, 1945, he had received a summons to an army medical, as a draftee, but he had failed that medical and had never served in the Japanese Imperial Army.) After the war, following graduation from the elite Tokyo University Law Department, he had taken the toughest job examination of all, the Ministry of Finance's entrance examination, and passed with flying colors. Yet he had rejected a career in government—he would surely have pressed on to become a bank president or the like—and had opted to become a writer, a still more competitive choice of career. Seizing his opportunity, he completed a first major work,
Confessions of a Mask
, published in 1949, a book that touched on homosexual themes—and made him famous. At twenty-four he was hailed as a “genius” by Japanese critics. Thereafter, he published novels one after another at rapid speed. His outstanding works were
The Sound of Waves
(1954), a retelling of the romantic legend of Daphnis and Chloë in a Japanese setting, and
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
(1956), a novel based on a celebrated arson incident in Kyoto—not long after war's end, a monk set fire to one of Kyoto's most famous old temples, burning it to the ground. Both works were translated and published in America in the 1950's (though publication of
Confessions of a Mask
was delayed for a couple of years after its actual translation, to allow
The Sound of Waves
, a less controversial work, to come out first and to set Mishima's reputation in the West as an uncommonly brilliant new writer). Mishima, said Roderick, was not only a novelist. He was a playwright, a sportsman, and a film actor. He had just completed a film of his short story
, a movie in which he played the part of the protagonist, a young army officer of the 1930's who committed suicide with his wife—the officer by hara-kiri, his wife by cutting her throat. Mishima was a man of many parts, concluded Roderick, a Leonardo da Vinci of modern Japan. That reference to Leonardo sounded a shade exaggerated, and it was delivered with a deliberate smile.

Mishima then stood up. He spoke, mainly, of his wartime experiences. He described the bombing of Tokyo in March 1945 and the appalling fires that swept the city, killing hundreds of thousands of Tokyoites on the worst night. “It was the most beautiful fireworks display I have ever seen,” he said in a jocular manner.
Finally, he came to his peroration, concluding in his forceful if grammatically incorrect English, and spiking the ending with a surprising reference to his wife (“Yōko has no imagination”—spoken with a comic grimace):

BOOK: The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The API of the Gods by Matthew Schmidt
By Chance Alone by Max Eisen
The Sirius Chronicles by Costanza, Christopher
Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle
Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry
Defenseless by Adrianne Byrd
Jigsaw Lovers by William Shenton
New World, New Love by Rosalind Laker