Yukio Mishima

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Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima.jpg
Photograph by Shirou Aoyama (1956)
Born (1925-01-14)January 14, 1925
Shinjuku, Tokyo
Died November 25, 1970(1970-11-25) (aged 45)
JSDF headquarters, Tokyo
Pen name Yukio Mishima
Occupation Novelist, playwright, poet,
short story writer,
essayist, critic
Nationality Japanese
Ethnicity Japanese
Citizenship Japanese
Alma mater University of Tokyo
Period 1941–1970
Spouse Yoko Sugiyama (m. 1958)
Children Noriko Tomita (daughter)
Iichiro Hiraoka (son)

Yukio Mishima (三島 由紀夫 Mishima Yukio?) is the pen name of Kimitake Hiraoka (平岡 公威 Hiraoka Kimitake?, January 14, 1925 – November 25, 1970), a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor, and film director. Mishima is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century; he was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature[1] and was poised to win the prize in 1968 although lost the award to his fellow countryman Yasunari Kawabata, presumably because of his radical right-wing activities.[2] His avant-garde work displayed a blending of modern and traditional aesthetics that broke cultural boundaries, with a focus on sexuality, death, and political change.[3] He is also remembered for his ritual suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d'état attempt, known as the "Mishima Incident".

Mishima was also known for his natural bodybuilding and modelling career. A 1985 biographical film by Paul Schrader titled Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters depicts his life.

Life and work[edit]

Early life[edit]

Mishima in his childhood (ca. April 1931)

Mishima was born in the Yotsuya district of Tokyo (now part of Shinjuku). His father was Azusa Hiraoka, a government official, and his mother, Shizue, was the daughter of the 5th principal of the Kaisei Academy. Shizue's father, Kenzō Hashi, was a scholar of Chinese classics, and the Hashi family had served the Maeda clan for generations in Kaga Domain. Mishima's paternal grandparents were Sadatarō Hiraoka and Natsuko (family register name: Natsu) Hiraoka. He had a younger sister, Mitsuko, who died of typhus in 1945 at the age of 17, and a younger brother, Chiyuki.[4] Neither of his parents' families were technically part of the most elite families in Japan.

Mishima's early childhood was dominated by the shadow of his grandmother, Natsuko, who took the boy, separating him from his immediate family for several years.[5] Natsuko was the granddaughter of Matsudaira Yoritaka, the daimyo of Shishido in Hitachi Province, and had been raised in the household of Prince Arisugawa Taruhito; she maintained considerable aristocratic pretensions even after marrying Mishima's grandfather, a bureaucrat who had made his fortune in the newly opened colonial frontier in the north and who eventually became Governor-General of Karafuto Prefecture on Sakhalin Island. Through his grandmother, Mishima was a direct descendant of Tokugawa Ieyasu.[6] Natsu was prone to violence and morbid outbursts, which are occasionally alluded to in Mishima's works.[7] It is to Natsu that some biographers have traced Mishima's fascination with death.[8] Natsu did not allow Mishima to venture into the sunlight, to engage in any kind of sport or to play with other boys; he spent much of his time alone or with female cousins and their dolls.[7]

Mishima returned to his immediate family when he was 12. His father, a man with a taste for military discipline, employed parenting tactics such as holding the young boy up to the side of a speeding train. He also raided Mishima's room for evidence of an "effeminate" interest in literature and often ripped apart the boy's manuscripts.

Schooling and early works[edit]

At the age of six, Mishima enrolled in the elite Gakushūin, the Peers' School in Tokyo.[9] At twelve, Mishima began to write his first stories. He voraciously read the works of Raymond Radiguet, Oscar Wilde, Rainer Maria Rilke as well as numerous classic Japanese authors. After six years at school, he became the youngest member of the editorial board of its literary society. Mishima was attracted to the works of the Japanese author Michizō Tachihara (1914–39), which in turn created an appreciation for classical Japanese poetry form of waka. Mishima's first published works included waka poetry, before he turned his attention to prose.

He was invited to write a short story for the Gakushūin literary magazine and submitted Hanazakari no Mori (花ざかりの森?, "Forest in Full Bloom"), a story in which the narrator describes the feeling that his ancestors somehow still live within him. Mishima’s teachers were so impressed that they recommended the story to the prestigious literary magazine, Bungei-Bunka. The story makes use of the metaphors and aphorisms that later became his trademarks and was published in book form in 1944 in a limited edition (4,000 copies) because of the wartime shortage of paper. In order to protect him from a possible backlash from his schoolmates, his teachers coined the pen-name "Yukio Mishima".

Mishima's story Tabako (煙草?, "The Cigarette"), published in 1946, describes some of the scorn and bullying he faced at school when he later confessed to members of the school's rugby union club that he belonged to the literary society. This trauma also provided material for the later story Shi o Kaku Shōnen (詩を書く少年?, "The Boy Who Wrote Poetry") in 1954.

Mishima received a draft notice for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. At the time of his medical check up, he had a cold, and the young army doctor heard rales from the lung, so the doctor misdiagnosed as tuberculosis, Mishima was declared unfit for service.[10]

Although his authoritarian father had forbidden him to write any further stories, Mishima continued to write every night in secret, supported and protected by his mother, who was always the first to read a new story. Attending lectures during the day and writing at night, Mishima graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1947. He obtained a position as an official in the government's Finance Ministry and was set up for a promising career. However, Mishima had exhausted himself so much that his father agreed to his resigning from the position during the first year of employment in order to devote himself to writing.[citation needed]

Post-war literature[edit]

Mishima wrote novels, popular serial novellas, short stories and literary essays, as well as highly acclaimed plays for the Kabuki theater and modern versions of traditional Noh drama. Mishima began the short story Misaki nite no Monogatari (岬にての物語?, "A Story at the Cape") in 1945, and continued to work on it through the end of World War II. In January 1946, he visited famed writer Yasunari Kawabata in Kamakura, taking with him the manuscripts for Chūsei (中世?, "The Middle Ages") and Tabako, and asking for Kawabata’s advice and assistance. In June 1946, following Kawabata's recommendations, Tabako was published in the new literary magazine Ningen (人間?, "Humanity").

Also in 1946, Mishima began his first novel, Tōzoku (盗賊?, "Thieves"), a story about two young members of the aristocracy drawn towards suicide. It was published in 1948, placing Mishima in the ranks of the Second Generation of Postwar Writers. He followed with Confessions of a Mask, a semi-autobiographical account of a young homosexual who must hide behind a mask in order to fit into society. The novel was extremely successful and made Mishima a celebrity at the age of 24. Around 1949, Mishima published a series of essays in Kindai Bungaku on Yasunari Kawabata, for whom he had always had a deep appreciation.

His writing gained him international celebrity and a sizable following in Europe and the United States, as many of his most famous works were translated into English. Mishima traveled extensively; in 1952 he visited Greece, which had fascinated him since childhood. Elements from his visit appear in Shiosai (潮騒?, "Sound of the Waves"), which was published in 1954, and drew inspiration from the Greek legend of Daphnis and Chloe.

Mishima made use of contemporary events in many of his works. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion published in 1956 is a fictionalization of the burning of the famous temple in Kyoto. Utage no ato ("After the Banquet"), published in 1960, so closely followed the events surrounding politician Hachirō Arita's campaign to become governor of Tokyo that Mishima was sued for invasion of privacy.[11] In 1962, Mishima's most avant-garde work, Utsukushii hoshi ("Beautiful Star"), which at times comes close to science fiction, was published to mixed critical response.

Mishima was considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times and was a favorite of many foreign publications. However, in 1968 his early mentor Kawabata won the Nobel Prize and Mishima realized that the chances of it being given to another Japanese author in the near future were slim.[citation needed]

Acting and modelling[edit]

Mishima was also an actor, and had a starring role in Yasuzo Masumura's 1960 film, Afraid to Die. He also had roles in films including Yukoku (directed by himself, 1966), Black Lizard (directed by Kinji Fukasaku, 1968) and Hitokiri (directed by Hideo Gosha, 1969). He also sang the theme song for Afraid to Die (lyrics by himself; music by Shichirō Fukazawa).

Mishima was featured as a photo model in Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses by Eikoh Hosoe, as well as in Young Samurai: Bodybuilders of Japan and Otoko: Photo Studies of the Young Japanese Male by Tamotsu Yatō. American author Donald Richie gave a short lively account of Mishima, dressed in a loincloth and armed with a sword, posing in the snow for one of Tamotsu Yato's photoshoots.[12]

Private life[edit]

Yukio Mishima (lower) with Shintaro Ishihara in 1956

In 1955, Mishima took up weight training and his workout regimen of three sessions per week was not disrupted for the final 15 years of his life. In his 1968 essay Sun and Steel, Mishima deplored the emphasis given by intellectuals to the mind over the body. Mishima later also became very skilled at kendo, traditional Japanese swordsmanship.

After briefly considering a marital alliance with Michiko Shōda — who later married Crown Prince Akihito and is now Empress Michiko —[13] Mishima married Yoko Sugiyama on June 11, 1958. The couple had two children, a daughter named Noriko (born June 2, 1959) and a son named Iichiro (born May 2, 1962).

While working on Forbidden Colors, Mishima visited gay bars in Japan.[14] Mishima's sexual orientation was an issue that bothered his widow, and she always denied his homosexuality after his death.[15] In 1998 the writer Jiro Fukushima published an account of his relationship with Mishima in 1951, including fifteen letters between himself and the famed novelist. Mishima's children successfully sued Fukushima for violation of his privacy and copyright.[16]

In 1967, Mishima enlisted in the Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) and underwent basic training. A year later, he formed the Tatenokai ("shield society"), a private militia composed primarily of young students who studied martial principles and physical discipline, and swore to protect the Emperor of Japan. Mishima trained them himself. However, under Mishima's ideology, the emperor was not necessarily the reigning Emperor, but rather the abstract essence of Japan. In Eirei no Koe ("Voices of the Heroic Dead"), Mishima actually denounced Emperor Hirohito for renouncing his claim of divinity after World War II, arguing that millions of Japanese had died in the war for their "living god" Emperor, and that the Showa Emperor's renouncing his divinity meant that all those deaths were in vain.

In the final ten years of his life, Mishima wrote several full length plays, acted in several films and co-directed an adaptation of one of his stories, Patriotism, the Rite of Love and Death. He also continued work on his final tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility (Hōjō no Umi), which appeared in monthly serialized format from September 1965.

Mishima espoused a very individual brand of nationalism towards the end of his life. He was hated by leftists, in particular for his outspoken and anachronistic commitment to bushido, the code of the samurai, and by mainstream nationalists for his contention, in Bunka Bōeiron (文化防衛論?, "A Defense of Culture"), that Hirohito should have abdicated and taken responsibility for the loss of life in the war.

Coup attempt and ritual suicide[edit]

Mishima delivering his speech in the failed coup attempt just prior to committing seppuku (November 25, 1970)

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai, under pretext, visited the commandant of the Ichigaya Camp, the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan's Self-Defense Forces.[15] Inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto and a banner listing their demands, Mishima stepped onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire a coup d'état to restore the power of the emperor. He succeeded only in irritating the soldiers, and was mocked and jeered. He finished his planned speech after a few minutes, returned to the commandant's office and committed seppuku. The assisting kaishakunin duty at the end of this ritual (to decapitate Mishima) had been assigned to Tatenokai member Masakatsu Morita, who was unable to properly perform the task. After several failed attempts at severing Mishima's head, he allowed another Tatenokai member, Hiroyasu Koga, to behead Mishima. Morita then knelt and stabbed himself in the abdomen and Koga again performed the kaishakunin duty.

Another traditional element of the suicide ritual was the composition of so-called death poems before their entry into the headquarters.[17] Mishima planned his suicide meticulously for at least a year and no one outside the group of hand-picked Tatenokai members had any indication of what he was planning. His biographer, translator John Nathan, suggests that the coup attempt was only a pretext for the ritual suicide of which Mishima had long dreamed.[18] Mishima made sure his affairs were in order and left money for the legal defense of the three surviving Tatenokai members.

Mishima's grave is located at the Tama Cemetery in Fuchu, Tokyo.

Legacy[edit]

Grave of Yukio Mishima in Tama Cemetery

Much speculation has surrounded Mishima's suicide. At the time of his death he had just completed the final book in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy.[15] He was recognized as one of the most important post-war stylists of the Japanese language. Mishima wrote 34 novels, about 50 plays, about 25 books of short stories, and at least 35 books of essays, one libretto, as well as one film.

Awards[edit]

  • Shincho Prize from Shinchosha Publishing, 1954, for The Sound of Waves
  • Kishida Prize for Drama from Shinchosha Publishing, 1955 for Shiroari no Su (白蟻の巣?, "Termites' nest")
  • Yomiuri Prize from Yomiuri Newspaper Co., for best novel, 1956, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
  • Shuukan Yomiuri Prize for Shingeki from Yomiuri Newspaper Co., 1958, for Bara to Kaizoku (薔薇と海賊?, "Rose and Pirate")
  • Yomiuri Prize from Yomiuri Newspaper Co., for best drama, 1961, Toka no Kiku (十日の菊?, "The chrysanthemum on the tenth", "The day after the fair")
  • One of six finalists for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1963.[19]
  • Mainichi Art Prize from Mainichi Shimbun, 1964, for Silk and Insight
  • Art Festival Prize from Ministry of Education, 1965, for Madame de Sade

Major works[edit]

Literature[edit]

Japanese title English title Year English translation, year ISBN
假面の告白
(仮面の告白)
Kamen no Kokuhaku
Confessions of a Mask 1949 Meredith Weatherby, 1958 0-8112-0118-X
愛の渇き
Ai no Kawaki
Thirst for Love 1950 Alfred H. Marks, 1969 4-10-105003-1
禁色
Kinjiki
Forbidden Colors 1951–1953 Alfred H. Marks, 1968–1974 0-375-70516-3
潮騷
Shiosai
The Sound of Waves 1954 Meredith Weatherby, 1956 0-679-75268-4
金閣寺
Kinkaku-ji
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion 1956 Ivan Morris, 1959 0-679-75270-6
鏡子の家
Kyōko no Ie
Kyoko's House 1959  
宴のあと
Utage no Ato
After the Banquet 1960 Donald Keene, 1963 0-399-50486-9
黒蜥蜴
Kuro Tokage
(play)
The Black Lizard and Other Plays 1961 Mark Oshima, 2007 1-929-28043-2
午後の曳航
Gogo no Eikō
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea 1963 John Nathan, 1965 0-679-75015-0
肉体の学校
Nikutai no Gakkō
The School of Flesh 1963  
絹と明察
Kinu to Meisatsu
Silk and Insight 1964 Hiroaki Sato, 1998 0-7656-0299-7
三熊野詣
Mikumano Mōde
(short story)
Acts of Worship 1965 John Bester, 1995 0-87011-824-2
サド侯爵夫人
Sado Kōshaku Fujin
(play)
Madame de Sade 1965 Donald Keene, 1967 0-394-17304-X
憂國(憂国)
Yūkoku
(short story)
Patriotism 1961 Geoffrey W. Sargent, 1966 0-8112-1312-9
真夏の死
Manatsu no Shi
(short story)
Death in Midsummer and other stories 1953 Edward G. Seidensticker, Ivan Morris,
Donald Keene, Geoffrey W. Sargent, 1966
0-8112-0117-1
鹿鳴館
Rokumeikan
(play)
The Rokumeikan 1956 Hiroaki Sato, 2002 0-231-12633-6
葉隠入門
Hagakure Nyūmon
Way of the Samurai 1967 Kathryn Sparling, 1977 0-465-09089-3
朱雀家の滅亡
Suzaku-ke no Metsubō
(play)
The Decline and Fall of The Suzaku 1967 Hiroaki Sato, 2002 0-231-12633-6
わが友ヒットラー
Waga Tomo Hittorā
(play)
My Friend Hitler and Other Plays 1968 Hiroaki Sato, 2002 0-231-12633-6
癩王のテラス
Raiō no Terasu
(play)
The Terrace of The Leper King 1969 Hiroaki Sato, 2002 0-231-12633-6
太陽と鐡
(太陽と鉄)
Taiyō to Tetsu
Sun and Steel 1968 John Bester 4-7700-2903-9
豐饒の海
(豊饒の海)
Hōjō no Umi
The Sea of Fertility tetralogy: 1965–1970   0-677-14960-3
  I. 春の雪
  Haru no Yuki
   1. Spring Snow 1969 Michael Gallagher, 1972 0-394-44239-3
  II. 奔馬
  Honba
   2. Runaway Horses 1969 Michael Gallagher, 1973 0-394-46618-7
  III. 曉の寺
  Akatsuki no Tera
   3. The Temple of Dawn 1970 E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia S. Seigle, 1973 0-394-46614-4
  IV. 天人五衰
  Tennin Gosui
   4. The Decay of the Angel 1971 Edward Seidensticker, 1974 0-394-46613-6

Plays for classical Japanese theatre[edit]

In addition to contemporary-style plays such as Madame de Sade, Mishima wrote for two of the three genres of classical Japanese theatre: Noh and Kabuki (as a proud Tokyoite, he would not even attend the Bunraku puppet theatre, always associated with Osaka and the provinces).[20]

Though Mishima took themes, titles and characters from the Noh canon, his twists and modern settings, such as hospitals and ballrooms, startled audiences accustomed to the long-settled originals.

Donald Keene translated Five Modern Noh Plays (Tuttle, 1981; ISBN 0-8048-1380-9). Most others remain untranslated and so lack an "official" English title; in such cases it is therefore preferable to use the rōmaji title.

Year Japanese title English title Genre
1950 邯鄲
Kantan
The Magic Pillow Noh
1951 綾の鼓
Aya no Tsuzumi
The Damask Drum Noh
1952 卒塔婆小町
Sotoba Komachi
Komachi at the Gravepost Noh
1954 葵の上
Aoi no Ue
The Lady Aoi Noh
1954 鰯賣戀曳網
(鰯売恋曳網)
Iwashi Uri Koi Hikiami
The Sardine Seller's Net of Love Kabuki
1955 芙蓉露大内実記
Fuyō no Tsuyu Ōuchi Jikki
The Blush on the White Hibiscus Blossom: Lady Fuyo and the True Account of the Ōuchi Clan Kabuki
1955 班女
Hanjo
Noh
1957 道成寺
Dōjōji
Dōjōji Temple Noh
1959 熊野
Yuya
Noh
1960 弱法師
Yoroboshi
The Blind Young Man Noh
1969 椿説弓張月
Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki
A Wonder Tale: The Moonbow
or Half Moon (like a Bow and arrow setting up): The Adventures of Tametomo
Kabuki

Films[edit]

Year Title USA release title(s) Character Director
1951 純白の夜
Jumpaku no Yoru
Unreleased in the U.S. an extra (dance party scene) Hideo Ōba
1959 不道徳教育講座
Fudōtoku Kyōikukōza
Unreleased in the U.S. himself Katsumi Nishikawa
1960 からっ風野郎
Karakkaze Yarō
Afraid to Die Takeo Asahina Yasuzo Masumura
1966 憂国
Yūkoku
The Rite of Love and Death
Patriotism
Shinji Takeyama Yukio Mishima,
Domoto Masaki (sub)
1968 黒蜥蝪
Kurotokage
Black Lizard Human Statue Kinji Fukasaku
1969 人斬り
Hitokiri
Tenchu! Shimbei Tanaka Hideo Gosha

Works about Mishima[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Yukio Mishima – Biography. Egs.edu. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  2. ^ Revealing the many masks of Mishima. The Japan Times. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  3. ^ Yukio Mishima Essay – Mishima, Yukio. eNotes.com. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  4. ^ Naoki Inose & Hiroaki Sato, Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima (Naoki Inose, Hiroaki Sato) (Stone Bridge Pr 2012)
  5. ^ Profile of Yukio Mishima (1925–1970)
  6. ^ Matsudaira-Tokugawa genealogy (jp)
  7. ^ a b glbtq Entry Mishima, Yukio (1925–1970). Retrieved on 2007-2-6.
  8. ^ Profile Yukio Mishima (January 14, 1925 – November 25, 1970. 2007 February 2–6.
  9. ^ "Guide to Yamanakako Forest Park of Literature( Mishima Yukio Literary Museum)". Retrieved 20 October 2009.  "三島由紀夫の年譜". Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  10. ^ Mishima, Yukio (1957). わが思春期 [My Puberty] (in Japanese). Myōjō, Shueisha. 
  11. ^ Anne Cooper-Chen; Miiko Kodama (1997). Mass communication in Japan. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-8138-2710-0. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  12. ^ Donald Richie, The Japan Journals: 1947–2004. Stone Bridge Press (2005). pp. 148–149.
  13. ^ "Briton let author commit hara-kiri". Sunday Times. 2 May 2005. 
  14. ^ The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, by Henry Scott Stokes. London: Owen, 1975. Page 130.
  15. ^ a b c Mishima: Film Examines an Affair with Death by Michiko Kakutani. New York Times. September 15, 1985.
  16. ^ Sato, Hiroaki (2008-12-29). "Suppressing more than free speech". The View from New York (The Japan Times). Retrieved 2014-10-06. 
  17. ^ Donald Keene, The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, p. 62
  18. ^ Nathan, John. Mishima: A biography, Little Brown and Company: Boston/Toronto, 1974.
  19. ^ "Candidates for the 1963 Nobel Prize in Literature". Nobel Prize. 2013. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  20. ^ Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan, Columbia University Press, 2008. ISBN 0-231-51348-8 Cf. Chapter 29 on Mishima in New York
  21. ^ web-magazine Gyan Gyan
  22. ^ Yamashita, Kunihiko (1991). 坂本龍一・全仕事 [Ryuichi Sakamoto Complete Works] (in Japanese). Ohta Shuppan. 

External links[edit]