Mishima Yukio

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Pseudonym for Hiraoka Kimitake. Nationality: Japanese. Born: Tokyo, 14 January 1925. Education: Peers School and College, graduated 1944; Tokyo University, degree in jurisprudence 1947. Family: Married Sugiyama Yoko in 1958; one daughter and one son. Career: Civil servant, Finance Ministry, 1948; then freelance writer; also film director, designer, and stage producer and actor. Awards: Shincho prize, 1954; Kishida Drama prize, 1955; Yomiuri prize, 1957, 1961; Mainichi prize, 1965. Died: 25 November 1970 (suicide).



Zenshu [Collected Works], edited by Shoichi Saeki and DonaldKeene, 36 vols., 1973-76.

Short Stories

Misaki nite no monogatari [Tales at a Promontory]. 1947.

Kinjiki; Higyo. 2 vols., 1951-53; as Forbidden Colours, 1968.

Manatsu no shi. 1953; as "Death in Midsummer," in Death in Midsummer and Other Stories, 1966.

Death in Midsummer and Other Stories. 1966.

Acts of Worship: Seven Stories. 1989.


Hanazakari no mori [The Forest in Full Bloom]. 1944.

Yoru no Shitaku [Preparations for the Night]. 1948.

Tozoku [Thieves]. 1948.

Shishi [Lion]. 1948.

Kamen no Kokuhaku. 1949; as Confessions of a Mask, 1958.

Hōseki Baibai [Precious-Stone Broker]. 1949.

Magun no tsuka [Passing of a Host of Devils]. 1949.

Ai no kawaki. 1950; as Thirst for Love, 1969.

Kaibutsu [Monster]. 1950.

Janpaku no Yoru [Snow-White Nights]. 1950.

Ao no jidai [The Blue Period]. 1950.

Natsuko no bōken [Natsuko's Adventures]. 195l.

Nipponsei [Made in Japan]. 1953.

Shiosai. 1954; as The Sound of Waves, 1956.

Shizumeru taki [The Sunken Waterfall]. 1955.

Kinkakuji. 1956; as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, 1959.

Kofuku go shuppan. 1956.

Bitoku no yorimeki [The Tottering Virtue]. 1957.

Hashizukushi [A List of Bridges]. 1958.

Kyōko no Ie [Kyoko's House]. 1959.

Utage no ato. 1960; as After the Banquet, 1963.

Suta [Movie Star]. 1961.

Nagasugita haru [Too Long a Spring]. 1961.

Utsukushii hoshi [Beautiful Star]. 1962.

Gogo no eikō. 1963; as The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, 1965.

Ken [The Sword]. 1963.

Nikutai no gakkō [The School of Flesh]. 1964.

Kinu to meisatsu [Silk and Insight]. 1964.

Han-teijo Daigaku [College of Unchasteness]. 1966.

Eirei no Koe [Voices of the Spirits of the War Dead]. 1966.

Fukuzatsuma Kare [A Complicated Man]. 1966.

Yakaifuku [Evening Dress]. 1967.

Taiyo to tetsu. 1968; as Sun and Steel, 1970.

Hojo no umi; as The Sea of Fertility:

Haru no yuki. 1969; as Spring Snow, 1972.

Homba. 1969; as Runaway Horses, 1973.

Akatsuki no tera. 1970; as The Temple of Dawn, 1973.

Tenninjosui. 1971; as The Decay of the Angel, 1974.

Kemono no tawamure [The Play of Beasts]. 1971.


Kataku [Burning Houses] (produced 1949). In Ningen (magazine), 1948.

Tōdai [Lighthouse] (produced 1950). 1950.

Kantan (produced 1950). In Kindai Nogakushu, 1956; translated asKantan, in Five Modern Nō Plays, 1957.

To Setjo [Saintess]. 1951.

Aya no tsuzumi (produced 1952). 1953; as The Damask Drum, inFive Modern No Plays, 1957.

Sotoba komachi (produced 1952). In Kindai Nogakushu, 1956; translated as Sotoba komachi, in Five Modern No Plays, 1957.

Yoru no himawari (produced 1953). 1953; as Twilight Sunflower, 1958.

Wakodo yo yomigaere [Young Man Back to Life] (produced1955). 1954.

Aoi no ue (produced 1955). In Kindai Nōgakushu, 1956; as The Lady Aoi, in Five Modern No Plays, 1957.

Shiroari no su [Nest of White Ants] (produced 1955). 1956.

Fuyo no Tsuyu Ouchi Jikki [True History of the House of Ouchi](produced 1955).

Kindai Nogakushu. 1956; as Five Modern No Plays, 1957.

Yuya (produced 1957). In Kindai Nogakushu, 1956.

Rokumeikan [Rokumei Mansion] (produced 1956). 1957.

Hanjo (produced 1957); translated as Hanjo, in Five Modern No Plays, 1957.

Bara to kaizoku [Rose and Pirates] (produced 1958). 1958.

Nettaiju (produced 1961); in Koe (magazine), 1960; as Tropical Tree, in Japanese Quarterly 11, 1964.

Toka no kiku [Late Flowering Chrysanthemum] (produced 1961).

Kurotokage [Black Lizard], from a story by Edogawa Rampo (produced 1962).

Gikyoku zenshu [Collected Plays]. 1962.

Yorokobi no Koto [Koto of Rejoicing] (produced 1964).

Sado kōshaku fujin (produced 1965). 1965; as Madame de Sade, 1967.

Suzaku-ke no Metsubo [Downfall of the Suzaku Family] (produced1967). 1967.

Waga tomo Hitler [My Friend Hitler] (produced 1968). 1968.

Raio no Terasu [Terrace of the Leper King] (produced 1969). 1969.

Chinsetsu yumiharizuki [The Strange Story of Tametomo] (produced 1969). 1969.


Yukoku [Patriotism], 1965.


Karl to emono [The Hunter and His Prey]. 1951.

Aporo no sakazuki [Cup of Apollo]. 1952.

Sakuhin-shu [Works]. 6 vols., 1953-54.

Koi no miyako [City of Love]. 1954.

Megami [Goddess]. 1955.

Seishun o dō ikiru ka [How To Live as a Young Man]. 1955.

Senshu [Selected Works]. 19 vols., 1957-59.

Gendai shōsetsu wa koten tari-uru ka [Can a Modern Novel Be a "Classic"?]. 1957.

Fudōtoku kyōiku kōza [Lectures on Immoralities]. 1959.

Hayashi Fusao Ron [Study of Hayashi Fusao]. 1963.

Watashi no Henreki Jidai [My Wandering Years]. 1964.

Tampen zenshu [Short Pieces]. 1964.

Mikuma no Mōde [Pilgrimage to the Three Kumano Shrine]. 1965.

Hyōron zenshū [Collected Essays]. 1966.

Hagakure nyumon. 1967; as The Way of the Samurai: Mishima on Hagakure in Modern Life, 1977.

Taido. 1967; as Young Samurai, 1967.

Taidan, ningen to bungaku, with Mitsuo Nakamura. 1968.

Wakaki samurai no tame ni [Spiritual Lectures for the YoungSamurai]. 1968.

Bunka boeiron [Defense of Culture]. 1969.

Yū koku no genri [The Theory of Patriotism]. 1970.

Sakkaron [Essays on Writers]. 1970.

Gensen no kanjō [The Deepest Feelings]. 1970.

Hyō mon [An Introduction to Action Philosophy]. 1970.

Kodogaku nyūbu no kokoro [Heart of Militarism]. 1970.

Waga shishunki [My Adolescence]. 1973.

Editor, Rokusei nakamura utaemon. 1959.

Editor, with Geoffrey Bownas, New Writing in Japan. 1972.


Critical Studies:

Mishima: A Biography by John Nathan, 1974; The Life and Death of Mishima by Henry Scott-Stokes, 1974; Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel by Masao Miyoshi, 1974; The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima by Gwenn Boardman Petersen, 1979; A Vision of the Void: Mishima by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Alberto Manguel, 1985; Mishima by Peter Wolfe, 1989; Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in Mishima and Ō e Kenzaburo by Susan J. Napier, 1991; Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima by Roy Starrs, 1994; Mishima Yukio vs. Todai Zenkyoto: The Cultural Displacement of Politics by Guy Yasko, 1995; The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima by Henry Scott-Stokes, 1995.

* * *

A useful place to start in considering Mishima as a short story writer or, indeed, to understand his oeuvre as a whole is with the story "Patriotism." This story (later made into a film that Mishima both directed and starred in) is based on a real incident in which a young army lieutenant and his wife committed ritual suicide, or seppuku, after the failure of the "patriotic" rebellion in 1936. Following the introduction, in which the perfect beauty of the young couple is emphasized, the rest of the story is devoted entirely to a description of the preparations for suicide and, in shockingly exact detail, the act of suicide itself. It is a paean to unswerving devotion to an accepted code and to the beauty of a young and noble death.

There is no undercurrent of irony here, no balancing of the passion of life with the necessity of death: the essential point is that the passion of life is only achieved through such a violent death. Death in the prime of youth is the fit culmination, the justification and the true glory of life, and the narrator takes enormous pains to make us assent to this point of view and emotionally participate in it.

Dying the beautiful death, the beautiful body of death, the instant of death that gives meaning to everything else—these were ideas to which Mishima constantly returned. This does not mean, of course, that all his short stories contained such meticulous and anatomically exact descriptions of suicide, but the beloved immensity of death works its influence on all his writings in one way or another.

There are other stories that deal directly with the subject of death itself or in which the principle character dies: "Death in Midsummer," "Sword," "Kujaku" (The Peacocks). Death's numinous presence, usually more a promise than a threat, underlies and gives coherence to a story. Its absoluteness makes the everyday concerns of those struggling to avoid death seem absurd and foolish by contrast. "Death in Midsummer," one of Mishima's best-known stories, contains all these elements. The tragedy comes at the beginning. Two of Tomoko and Masaru's three children are drowned when the aunt watching them has a heart attack just as she sees them being swept out to sea; she dies before she can give warning. The rest of the story shows how the agony of grief is dulled gradually by the humdrum circumstances of life and the adjustments of the ego. Mishima convincingly shows the mother's anger and disbelief fading into a state where she has to remind herself to feel sad. Then she becomes pregnant again: "While true forgetfulness had not come, something covered Tomoko's sorrow as thin ice covers a lake" (translated by Edward G. Seidensticker). The roles have been reversed: "It attacked the organism like an invisible germ." "The organism" here means her grief and despair, and it attacks forgetfulness, what would normally be regarded as the healing processes of life. The end of the story comes after the new baby is born and Tomoko suddenly feels an urge to return to the beach where the deaths occurred. As she stands gazing out to sea and the horizon of massed clouds, her husband observes her expression, as if she were waiting for something: "'What are you waiting for?' he wanted to ask lightly. But the words did not come. He thought he knew without asking. He clutched tighter at Katsuo's hand." Katsuo is the one child who was not swept out to sea at the time, and it seems clear that what Tomoko is waiting for here is the death meted out to her other children, waiting to be borne out toward the infinity of sea and cloud and golden light—elements of landscape that occur frequently in Mishima's tales.

Another example, and one that illustrates the breadth of Mishima's reading and his eclectic use of sources, is the short tale "Sea and Sunset." Set in medieval Japan, it is about an old man who climbs to the top of a hill every evening to view the sunset over the sea. He is not Japanese, but a Frenchman, once a shepherd boy from the Cevennes who had a vision urging him to lead a crusade. He was captured and brought as a slave to India, eventually ending in the service of a wandering Japanese monk. In his vision the sea would part for him and allow him to walk to the holy land. But it does not happen, and this is all he remembers, the fact that the sea would not part and that all experiences and memories now have disappeared into the glowing sea.

It is hard to deny that many of Mishima's ideas boil down to a kind of romantic nihilism. But however intellectually confused and often simply adolescent his philosophy may seem, an anarchic and nihilistic view of society allowed him to produce sharp and witty satires. This is the reverse side of the romanticism of death—the burlesquing of life. Some stories are simply comedies of manners, such as "The Pearl," which describes the vindictiveness, injured pride, and social maneuvering of four wealthy, middle-aged women at a tea party. Mishima captures the icy hypocrisy of the exchanges between these women with an exactness that, even in translation, rivals Saki or Waugh at their best. Other of his stories, such as "Act of Worship," "Dojoji," and "The Seven Bridges," contain many examples of the same witty social observation, although their overall tone is soberer: Mishima was even capable of a kind of Rabelasian grotesque, as in the tale of five monstrous students in "Tamago."

But in the majority of Mishima's mature stories the main point is the ironic contrast between the characters' hopes and their real circumstances. Often they are engrossed in their trivial everyday concerns, until something brings them up against the emptiness at the center. This is especially true of the characters identified with what Mishima saw as the decadent materialism of post-occupation Japan. In "Kyuteisha" (Emergency Stop) a young man who wanted to be an artist instead makes his living creating lamps for the rich and tasteless. In "Thermos Bottles" a former Geisha with a talent for traditional dance is turned into just another Westernized Japanese mistress, as though "the great vermilion-lacquered, black-riveted gate of some noble lady's mansion were suddenly to change into a slick revolving door." Although Mishima is better known for his novels, he, like Lawrence, is a writer whose best qualities and principle ideas can be easily understood from his short fiction. For someone who tended to lapse into long passages of speculative philosophy and equally long, and rather overcontrived and schematic descriptions, the constraints of the short story often did him a service, forcing him to make his effects cleaner and his ideas clearer, as well as bringing to the fore his talent for dialogue, which tends to go ignored in his longer works.

—James Raeside

See the essays on "Patriotism" and "Three Million Yen."