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Tags: mishima | japan | suicide

51 Years After His Suicide, Novelist Yukio Mishima's Ghost Haunts Japanese Politics

yukio mishima stands on balcony with hands on hips
This Nov. 25, 1970 file picture shows Japanese author Yukio Mishima speaking before Japanese Self-Defence Force soldiers at Tokyo's miltary garrison station. (JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

John Gizzi By Thursday, 25 November 2021 08:27 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Nov. 25 is a date on which some Japanese will celebrate the memory of acclaimed novelist, poet, actor, and political activist Yukio Mishima — albeit in a subdued way.

On Nov. 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of his private militia Tatenokai ("Shield Society") seized the office of a commandant of Camp Ichigaya, headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

Wearing his white headband bearing the legend "To Be Reborn Seven Times To Serve the Country," Mishima took to the balcony.  He implored soldiers to rise up, stage a military coup, scrap their country’s pacifist constitution, revive an armed Japan, and restore the emperor to his pre-war status as a god on earth.

The soldiers laughed, lit up cigarettes, and mocked the would-be coup leader. Realizing he had failed, Mishima retreated to the office, and committed seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment, which ends with the beheading of the deceased).

Fifty-one years after dying by his own hand, Mishima, high priest of a re-armed Japan, is remembered at a time when nationalism is clearly on the rise in his country.

Former Prime Minister Shinzu Abe pursued a robust revision of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to permit Japan to pursue "collective self-defense"— essentially pursuing part of Mishima’s agenda in seeking a rearmed Japan. In May 2017, Abe set 2020 as a deadline for his vision of a revised Article 9, but ill health forced him out of office without his much-sought constitutional amendment.

Like other politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Abe belonged to the Nippon Kaigi nationalist society and holds revisionist views (as did Mishima) on the nefarious role of Japan before and during World War II. 

The candidate Abe supported for prime minister earlier this year, Sanae Takaichi, also embraces nationalism and she has frequently visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which houses the remains and symbols of Japanese warriors, including 14 A-Class war criminals — meaning involved in the planning and initiation of World War II.

"Nationalist actors continue to carry significant weight in the LDP [Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party]," Paul Nadeau wrote in the Tokyo Review last month. "For foreign observers of Japan, confusion can arise from whether commentators give more weight to the intentions of these actors, or to the effects they actually have. Neither can really be ignored."

Politics aside, Yukio Mishima is remembered as Japan’s Ernest Hemingway or Norman Mailer — a gifted author who also had demons.

Rich in aphorisms and muscular vocabulary, Mishima works cast a long shadow on Japan’s post-war literature. Thieves (1946), his first novel about two 19th century aristocrats who eventually commit suicide, drew critical acclaim for the 20-year-old Mishima as one of the "Second Generation of Writers."

His second novel, Confessions of a Mask (1949), was a runaway best-seller about a young man who hides his homosexuality. (Married and a devoted father of two, Mishima was widely known to frequent gay bars and clearly lived a double life.) 

Another novel, Kyoko (1959), took a unique turn in telling the stories of four men who represent different aspects of Mishima himself: a painter, boxer, actor, and businessman — all of which the author had actually been.

In his 45 years of life, Mishima wrote 34 novels, 50 plays, 25 books of short stories, at least 35 books of essays, a libretto, and a motion picture. 

But it was his complete embrace and advocacy of nationalism for which this well-rounded man would be remembered. Radicalized by the mass protests in 1960 against the proposed defense treaty with the U.S. under Prime Minister Nobosuke Kishi (Abe’s grandfather), Mishima began writing op-eds and making speeches about Japan’s loss of its identity and culture at the hands of the West and its worship of wealth.

Japan had lost its tradition, he felt, "and is under the curse of a Green snake now"— the Green Snake, he explained, being the U.S. dollar.

Foreseeing the vulnerability of Taiwan at the hands of Communist China, Mishima predicted "Our friend Taiwan will say that ‘it will no longer be able to count on Japan’, and Taiwan will go somewhere."

On Nov. 25, Yukio Mishima’s life and death will be celebrated. The "Yukio Mishima Study Group" and various nationalist sects, including the remnants of Mishima’s "Shield Society," will hold a memorial service for him. There are various monuments erected to him throughout Japan and two biographical films have been made.

"The anniversary is remembered by some people, mostly elderly people including some famous conservative journalists," Satoshi Nishihata of Japan’s Liberty Magazine told Newsmax. "I think he has had some influence on today’s nationalism. But his influence has been limited, especially for the younger generation who are generally liberal and don’t know about Mishima."

"In Japanese society, Mishima is still now some big name, and his unique style is now an icon for right wing movement," veteran Japanese journalist Hidyea Yamamoto told Newsmax. "So he has influence for some part of Japan, but it's not so powerful. If one LDP politician in main stream were clever enough, he or she will never talk about the name of Mishima publicly. It is OK to go to the Yasukuni Shrine, but showing sympathy to Mishima means he or she is a fanatic nationalist. I believe the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo will send a report to State Department about him or her."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Nov. 25 is a date on which some Japanese will celebrate the memory of acclaimed novelist, poet, actor, and political activist Yukio Mishima - albeit in a subdued way. On Nov. 25, 1970, Mishima and...
mishima, japan, suicide
Thursday, 25 November 2021 08:27 AM
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