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Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) was a Japanese novelist and playwright. He wrote in a multitude of styles, from ornate to plain, and dealt with a variety of subjects drawn from both literary sources and contemporary life.

Born and raised in Tokyo, Yukio Mishima attended the Peers School before enrolling in the Law Department of Tokyo University. Upon his graduation in 1947 he worked as an official in the government's Finance Ministry. He resigned his position within a year in order to devote his energies totally to writing. After a highly successful yet controversial career he committed suicide in 1970.

Exceedingly well read in both classical Japanese and Western literature, Mishima produced works of intellectual brilliance and stylistic diversity. Certain of his novels and stories directly portray contemporary life; other works—his modern Nō plays, for example—draw on various literary and philosophical writings for context. Some critics single out certain works by Mishima as thinly disguised autobiography. The author himself, however, usually denied these claims.

Mishima published several promising stories as a high school and university student. Before his career was really underway he had also won the patronage of Yasunari Kawabata, a leading novelist who would eventually receive the only Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to a Japanese writer to that time. Mishima's first full-length novel, Kamen no Kokuhaku (Confessions of a Mask, 1949), appeared shortly after he left government service. A latent homosexual narrates the story. Though his sexual orientation is evident to the reader, the narrator himself, while describing his reactions with clarity, never draws any conclusion about his sexuality. Seldom erotic, the work is primarily an exact portrayal of an extremely self-enclosed personality.

During the 1950s Mishima extended his exploration into various types of love. Ai no Kawaki (Thirst for Love, 1950), dealt with a farm widow caught up in a turmoil of love and hate. The mistress of her own father-in-law, Etsuko the widow feels intensely attracted to a young farmer in the region. In the climactic scene of the novel, however, she brutally kills the farmer just as he becomes aware of her feelings and attempts to caress her. Mishima's ability to shift direction is strikingly demonstrated in his next notable work, Shiosai (The Sound of the Sea, 1954). In this instance a young couple in a Japanese fishing village overcome their shyness and eventually recognize their love for one another. The tale is conspicuous in the Mishima canon for its simplicity and optimism.

The 1960s might be termed the "political" phase of Mishima's life and career. After Utage no Ato (After the Banquet, 1960), a somewhat disguised account of certain aspects of an actual campaign, Mishima eventually organized a movement to restore the imperial authority and martial discipline that Japan had lost through defeat in World War II. He founded and led the Tate no Kai (The Shield Society), a group somewhat quixotically dedicated to the defense of the emperor. In the late 1960s he also wrote a controversial play entitled Waga Tomo Hittorā (My Friend Hitler, 1968), and a turgid treatise on the mystique of the body, Taiyō to Tetsu (Sun and Steel, 1968).

During the last five years of his life Mishima also immersed himself in the composition of a tetralogy of novels with the overall title Hōjō no Umi (The Sea of Fertility). This quartet of books is held together principally by the theme of reincarnation and by the continued presence of one character, a schoolboy in the initial novel, Haru no Yuki (Spring Snow, 1965-1967), and an aging lawyer in the final work, Tennin Gosui (The Decay of the Angel, 1970-1971). Honda, the character in question, is the epitome of rationality and empiricism. His sceptical nature is, however, severely tested by clear evidence that the reincarnation of his boyhood friend is actually taking place.

The second novel of the tetralogy, Homba (Runaway Horses, 1967-1968), is notable for its emphasis on martial discipline, especially the ritual suicide that occurs in the final scene. In conjunction with similar scenes, especially in the notorious short story "Yūkoku" ("Patriotism," 1960), this depiction of ritualistic suicide came to appear to be a harbinger of the author's own death. On November 25, 1970, after haranguing an assembly of self-defense personnel on imperial loyalty and military discipline, Mishima disemboweled himself with a sword, exactly as a samurai warrior in medieval Japan might have done.

Yukio Mishima was the first Japanese writer of the postwar generation to attain international fame. Before his sensational death he was generally considered the most likely Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Further Reading

Three biographies of Mishima in English are: John Nathan, Mishima (1974); Henry Scott-Stokes, The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima (1974); and Marguerite Yourcenar (translated from the French by Alberto Manguel), Mishima (1986). Criticism is available in a number of sources, such as Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Writers (1976); Masao Miyoshi, Accomplices of Silence (1974); and Donald Keene, Landscapes and Portraits (1971). □

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"Yukio Mishima." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Mishima, Yukio

Yukio Mishima (yōō´kēō mĬsh´ēmä), 1925–70, Japanese author, b. Tokyo. His original name was Kimitake Hiraoka and he was born into a samurai family. Mishima wrote novels, short stories, essays, and plays. He appeared on stage in some of his plays as well as directing and starring in films. During World War II he worked in an aircraft factory. Upon graduation (1947) from Tokyo Univ., he served a brief time in the finance ministry before devoting himself entirely to writing. Mishima and the youthful members of his Tatenokai [Shield Society] practiced physical fitness and the ancient arts of the samurai, e.g., karate and swordsmanship, attempting to return to the ideals of Japan under Imperial rule. His tetralogy The Sea of Fertility traces the fading of the old Japan in the first decade of the 20th cent. and continues through the aftermath of World War II. The individual novels of this group are: Spring Snow (tr. 1972), Runaway Horses (tr. 1973), The Temple of Dawn (tr. 1973), and The Decay of the Angel (tr. 1974). Other important novels include the semiautobiographical Confessions of a Mask (1949; tr. 1958); The Sound of Waves (1954; tr. 1956), a simple love story of a boy and girl in a Japanese fishing village; The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956; tr. 1963), a brilliant depiction of a psychopathic monk who destroys the temple he loves; After the Banquet (1960; tr. 1963), the story of a successful businesswoman who marries an aging politician and attempts to restore his former glory; and the allegorical tale The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1963; tr. 1965). All contain paradoxes: beauty equated with violence and death; the yearning for love and its rejection when offered; plus an exquisite attention to detail in the delineation of character. After an unsuccessful demonstration in which he harangued the Japanese self-defense forces for their lack of power under the Japanese constitution, Mishima committed ritual suicide (seppuku).

See biographies by J. Nathan (1974) and H. S. Stokes (1975).

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Mishima, Yukio

Mishima, Yukio (1925–70) Japanese writer. An early novel, Confessions of a Mask (1949), is a semi-autobiographical study of homosexuality. His final work, the four-volume The Sea of Fertility (1965), is an epic of modern Japan. He committed ritual suicide at Tokyo's military headquarters, which he occupied with his small, private army.

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"Mishima, Yukio." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mishima-yukio