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Yukio Mishima

(1925—1970) Japanese writer

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Japanese novelist, whose obsession with the loss of traditional Japanese military values led to his suicide.

Born into an upper-class family in Tokyo, Mishima was educated at the Peers' School, where he developed an interest in the literature of Japan's classical (pre-Meiji) period, and graduated from the University of Tokyo in law. He resigned from a civil service position after a short time to devote himself to writing. His reputation was made with his first roughly autobiographical novel, Kamen no kokuhaku (1949; translated as Confessions of a Mask, 1960), in which there is a suggestion of the abnormal in the hero's (unfulfilled) desire to die young in some great conflagration. After a visit to Greece in 1952, Mishima published Shiosai (1954; translated as The Sound of Waves, 1956), an adaptation, transposed to Japan, of the classical Greek romance Daphnis and Chloe. His experience in Greece also led him to undertake a strenuous physical regime that transformed his appearance from that of an introspective intellectual into something approximating the ideal classical male. (He liked to publish photographs of himself, a favourite pose – among many of somewhat erotic interest – depicting the martyrdom of St Sebastian.)

Kinkakuji (1956; translated as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, 1959), perhaps his finest novel, was based on a real event in which a disturbed young apprentice priest burnt down a famous temple. In the novella Yūkoku (1960; ‘Patriotism’), concerned with a conspiracy in the 1930s to seize political power and restore it to the emperor, Mishima took up a theme that was to become of obsessive interest. On the same day that he completed his final work, the tetralogy Hōjö no umi (1969–71; translated as The Sea of Fertility), Mishima and a few colleagues belonging to his private army, the Shield Society, seized the headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defence Force. After delivering a speech, Mishima committed suicide with a companion in a traditional manner (seppuku). He appeared to hope that this act would publicize his views on, and perhaps lead to a military uprising in defence of, Japan's traditional heritage; later speculation as to what other motives might be involved probably derives from assumptions about the pathological subject matter of some of his novels. Mishima also wrote a number of plays, both on modern subjects and on themes from the classical nō drama.

Subjects: Literature

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Works by Yukio Mishima