Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima
三島 由紀夫
Yukio Mishima

photograph by Shirou Aoyama (1956)
Born January 14, 1925(1925-01-14)
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
Nationality Japanese
Ethnicity Japanese
Citizenship Japanese
Alma mater University of Tokyo
Period 1944–1970
Children Noriko Tomita (daughter), Iichiro Hiraoka (son)

Yukio Mishima (三島 由紀夫 Mishima Yukio?) was 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, also remembered for his ritual suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d'état. Nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mishima was internationally famous and is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century, whose 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]


Life and work

Early life

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 a school principal in Tokyo. His paternal grandparents were Jotarō and Natsuko Hiraoka. He had a younger sister named Mitsuko, who died of typhus, and a younger brother named Chiyuki.

Mishima's early childhood was dominated by the shadow of his grandmother, Natsu, who took the boy and separated him from his immediate family for several years.[4] Natsu was the illegitimate 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 and who rose to become Governor-General of Karafuto. She was also prone to violence and morbid outbursts, which are occasionally alluded to in Mishima's works.[5] It is to Natsu that some biographers have traced Mishima's fascination with death.[6] 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.[5]

Mishima returned to his immediate family at 12. His father, a man with a taste for military discipline, employed such tactics 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 up the boy's manuscripts.

Schooling and early works

At age six, Mishima enrolled in the elite Peers School (Gakushuin 学習院).[7] At 12, Mishima began to write his first stories. He read voraciously the works of Oscar Wilde, Rainer Maria Rilke and numerous classic Japanese authors. After six years at school, he became the youngest member of the editorial board in its literary society. Mishima was attracted to the works of Michizō Tachihara, which in turn created an appreciation for the classical form of the waka. Mishima's first published works included waka poetry, before he turned his attention to prose.

He was invited to write a prose short story for the Peers' School literary magazine and submitted Hanazakari no Mori (花ざかりの森 The 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 with the work that they recommended it for the prestigious literary magazine, Bungei-Bunka (文芸文化 Literary Culture). The story, which makes use of the metaphors and aphorisms which later became his trademarks, was published in book form in 1944, albeit in a limited fashion (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 spontaneously lied to the army doctor about having symptoms of tuberculosis; he was thus declared unfit for service.

Although his father had forbidden him to write any further stories, Mishima continued to write secretly every night, 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 his position during his first year in order to devote his time to writing.

Post-war literature

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, per 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 latent 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 which 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 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.[8] 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 among those considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times and was the darling 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.

Acting and modelling

Mishima was also an actor, and had a starring role in Yasuzo Masumura's 1960 film, Afraid to Die. He also has had roles in films including Yukoku (1966), Black Lizard (1968) and Hitokiri (1969). He also sang the theme song for Hitokiri.

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. Donald Richie gives a short lively account[9] of Mishima, dressed in a loincloth and armed with a sword, posing in the snow for one of Tamotsu Yato's photoshoots.

Private life

Yukio Mishima (lower) with Shintarō 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 skillful at kendō.

Although it is known that he visited gay bars in Japan, Mishima's sexual orientation annoyed his widow : she wanted that part of his life downplayed after his death.[10] However, the writer Jiro Fukushima published a revealing homosexual correspondence between himself and the famed novelist. Soon after publication, Mishima's children successfully sued Fukushima for violating Mishima's privacy.[11] After briefly considering a marital alliance with Michiko Shōda — who later married Crown Prince Akihito and is now Empress Michiko — he married Yoko Sugiyama on June 11, 1958. The couple had two children, a daughter named Noriko (born June 2, 1959) and a son named Ichiro (born May 2, 1962).

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 army composed primarily of young students who studied martial principles and physical discipline, and swore to protect the Emperor. 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 denounces Emperor Hirohito for renouncing his claim of divinity at the end of World War II.

In the last 10 years of his life, Mishima wrote several full length plays, acted in several movies 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, Hōjō no Umi (Sea of Fertility), which appeared in monthly serialized format starting in 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 bushidō (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 war dead.

Coup attempt and ritual suicide

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.[10] Inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto and 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 restoring the powers of the emperor. He succeeded only in irritating them, and was mocked and jeered. He finished his planned speech after a few minutes, returned to the commandant's office and committed seppuku. The customary kaishakunin duty at the end of this ritual had been assigned to Tatenokai member Masakatsu Morita, but Morita was unable to properly perform the task. After several failed attempts, he allowed another Tatenokai member, Hiroyasu Koga, to behead Mishima. Morita himself attempted to commit seppuku that day as well. When he failed, Koga once again performed the kaishakunin duty.

Another traditional element of the suicide ritual was the composition of jisei no ku (death poems) before their entry into the headquarters.[12] 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 and former friend John Nathan suggests that the coup attempt was only a pretext for the ritual suicide of which Mishima had long dreamed.[13] Mishima made sure his affairs were in order and left money for the legal defense of the three surviving Tatenokai members.

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.[10] He was recognized as one of the most important post-war stylists of the Japanese language. Mishima wrote 40 novels, 18 plays, 20 books of short stories, and at least 20 books of essays, one libretto, as well as one film. A large portion of this oeuvre comprises books written quickly for profit, but even if these are disregarded, a substantial body of work remains.


Major works


Japanese Title English Title Year English translation, year ISBN
Kamen no Kokuhaku
Confessions of a Mask 1948 Meredith Weatherby, 1958 0-8112-0118-X
Ai no Kawaki
Thirst for Love 1950 Alfred H. Marks, 1969 4-10-105003-1
Forbidden Colors 1953 Alfred H. Marks, 1968–1974 0-375-70516-3
The Sound of Waves 1954 Meredith Weatherby, 1956 0-679-75268-4
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion 1956 Ivan Morris, 1959 0-679-75270-6
Kyōko no Ie
Kyoko's House 1959  
Utage no Ato
After the Banquet 1960 Donald Keene, 1963 0-399-50486-9

Kuro Tokage
The Black Lizard and Other Plays 1961 Mark Oshima, 2007 1-929-28043-2
Gogo no Eikō
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea 1963 John Nathan, 1965 0-679-75015-0
Kinu to Meisatsu
Silk and Insight 1964 Hiroaki Sato, 1998 0-7656-0299-7
Mikumano Mōde
(short story)
Acts of Worship 1965 John Bester, 1995 0-87011-824-2
Sado Kōshaku Fujin
Madame de Sade 1965 Donald Keene, 1967 0-394-17304-X
(short story)
Patriotism 1966 Geoffrey W. Sargent, 1966 0-8112-1312-9
Manatsu no Shi
Death in Midsummer and other stories 1966 Edward G. Seidensticker, Ivan Morris,
Donald Keene, Geoffrey W. Sargent, 1966
Hagakure Nyūmon
Way of the Samurai 1967 Kathryn Sparling, 1977 0-465-09089-3
Waga Tomo Hittorā
My Friend Hitler and Other Plays 1968 Hiroaki Sato, 2002 0-231-12633-6
Taiyō to Tetsu
Sun and Steel 1970 John Bester 4-7700-2903-9
Hōjō no Umi
The Sea of Fertility tetralogy: 1964-
  I. 春の雪
  Haru no Yuki
   1. Spring Snow 1968 Michael Gallagher, 1972 0-394-44239-3
  II. 奔馬
   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 1970 Edward Seidensticker, 1974 0-394-46613-6

*For the temple called Kinkaku-ji, see Kinkaku-ji.

Plays for classical Japanese theatre

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).[14]

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
1952 卒塔婆小町
Sotoba Komachi
Komachi at the Stupa (gravepost) Noh
1954 鰯賣戀曳網
Iwashi Uri Koi Hikiami
The Sardine Seller's Net of Love Kabuki
1955 綾の鼓
Aya no Tsuzumi
The Damask Drum Noh
1955 芙蓉露大内実記
Fuyō no Tsuyu Ōuchi Jikki
The Ōuchi Clan (oversimplified/not standardised) Kabuki
1956 班女
1956 葵の上
Aoi no Ue
The Lady Aoi Noh
1965 弱法師
The Blind Young Man Noh
1969 椿説弓張月
Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki
The Crescent, or Crescent Moon: The Adventures of Tametomo, literally "The Strange Theory of a Paper Lantern's Appearance" Kabuki


Year Title USA release title(s) Character Director
1951 純白の夜
Jumpaku no Yoru
Unreleased in the U.S.   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
The Rite of Love and Death
Shinji Takeyama Domoto Masaki, Yukio Mishima
1968 黒蜥蝪
Black Lizard Human Statue Kinji Fukasaku
1969 人斬り
Tenchu! Shimbei Tanaka Hideo Gosha

Works about Mishima

  • Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses by Eikō Hosoe and Mishima (photoerotic collection of images of Mishima, with his own commentary) (Aperture 2002 ISBN 0-89381-169-6)
  • Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence, and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima by Roy Starrs (University of Hawaii Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8248-1630-7 and ISBN 0-8248-1630-7)
  • Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo (Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, No 33) by Susan J. Napier (Harvard University Press, 1995 ISBN 0-674-26181-X)
  • Mishima: A Biography by John Nathan (Boston, Little, Brown and Company 1974, ISBN 0-316-59844-5)
  • Mishima ou la vision du vide (Mishima : A Vision of the Void), essay by Marguerite Yourcenar trans. by Alberto Manguel 2001 ISBN 0-226-96532-5)
  • Rogue Messiahs: Tales of Self-Proclaimed Saviors by Colin Wilson (Mishima profiled in context of phenomenon of various "outsider" Messiah types), (Hampton Roads Publishing Company 2000 ISBN 1-57174-175-5)
  • The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, by Henry Scott Stokes London : Owen, 1975 ISBN 0-7206-0123-1)
  • The Madness and Perversion of Yukio Mishima by Jerry S. Piven. (Westport, Connecticut, Praeger Publishers, 2004 ISBN 0-275-97985-7)
  • Teito Monogatari (vol. 5–10) by Hiroshi Aramata (a fantasy/historical novel featuring Mishima as a central character contending with malignant spiritual forces which feed off his nationalist pride), (Kadokawa Shoten ISBN/ASIN 4041690056)
  • Yukio Mishima by Peter Wolfe ("reviews Mishima's life and times, discusses, his major works, and looks at important themes in his novels," 1989, ISBN 0-8264-0443-X)
  • Yukio Mishima, Terror and Postmodern Japan by Richard Appignanesi (2002, ISBN 1-84046-371-6)
  • Mishima's Sword – Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend by Christopher Ross (2006, ISBN 0-00-713508-4)
  • Yukio Mishima's Report to the Emperor by Richard Appignanesi (2003, ISBN 978-0954047665)
  • Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), a film directed by Paul Schrader
  • The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima (1985) BBC documentary) directed by Michael Macintyre
  • Yukio Mishima: Samurai Writer, a BBC documentary on Yukio Mishima, directed by Michael Macintyre, (1985, VHS ISBN 978-1-4213-6981-5, DVD ISBN 978-1-4213-6982-2)
  • Yukio Mishima, a play by Adam Darius and Kazimir Kolesnik, first performed at Holloway Prison, London, in 1991, and later in Finland, Slovenia and Portugal.
  • String Quartet No.3, "Mishima", by Philip Glass. A compilation of his soundtrack for the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters it has a duration of 18 minutes.
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See also

  • Kosaburo Eto
  • Yukio Mishima Prize
  • Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Waagenar, Dick, and Iwamoto, Yoshio (1975). "Yukio Mishima: Dialectics of Mind and Body". Contemporary Literature, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Winter, 1975), pp. 41-60
  2. ^ a b Yamanouchi,Hisaaki (1972). "Mishima Yukio and his Suicide". Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1 (1972), pp. 1-16
  3. ^ http://www.enotes.com/twentieth-century-criticism/mishima-yukio
  4. ^ Profile of Yukio Mishima (1925–1970)
  5. ^ a b glbtq Entry Mishima, Yukio (1925-1970). Retrieved on 2007-2-6.
  6. ^ Profile Yukio Mishima (January 14, 1925 - November 25, 1970. 2007 February 2–6.
  7. ^ "Guide to Yamanakako Forest Park of Literature( Mishima Yukio Literary Museum)". http://www.mishimayukio.jp/history.html. Retrieved 20 October 2009.  "三島由紀夫の年譜". http://www.mishimayukio.jp/history.html. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  8. ^ Anne Cooper-Chen; Miiko Kodama (1997). Mass communication in Japan. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 187. ISBN 9780813827100. http://books.google.com/books?id=hzfVsTpRFBYC&pg=PA187. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  9. ^ Donald Richie, The Japan Journals: 1947-2004, Stone Bridge Press (2005), pp. 148–149.
  10. ^ a b c Mishima: Film Examines an Affair with Death by Michiko Kakutani. New York Times. September 15, 1985.
  11. ^ Sato, Hiroaki (2008-12-29). "Suppressing more than free speech". The View from New York (The Japan Times). http://search.japantimes.co.jp/rss/eo20081229hs.html. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  12. ^ Donald Keene, The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, p.62
  13. ^ Nathan, John. Mishima: A biography, Little Brown and Company: Boston/Toronto, 1974.
  14. ^ Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan, Columbia University Press, 2008. ISBN 0231513488 Cf. Chapter 29 on Mishima in New York

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Yukio Mishima — Fotografía de Shirou Aoyama 1956 Nombre completo Hiraoka Kimitake Nacimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • Yukio Mishima — (三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio), de verdadero nombre Kimitake Hiraoka (平岡公威), fue un escritor japonés nacido en Tokio el 14 de enero de 1925 y muerto el 25 de noviembre de 1970 …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Yukio Mishima — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Mishima. Yukio Mishima 三島 由紀夫 Mishima en 1956 …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Mishima : une vie en quatre chapitres — Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters est un film américain du réalisateur Paul Schrader sorti en 1985. Sommaire 1 Synopsis 2 Distribution 3 Fiche technique …   Wikipédia en Français

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