Blood Oaths and Seppuku: The “Beautiful Death” of Author Mishima Yukio

Blood Oaths and Seppuku: The “Beautiful Death” of Author Mishima Yukio

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Mishima Yukio (illustrated)
What drove one of Japan's most acclaimed authors to raise a personal militia, and take a high-ranking general hostage in an attempted nationalist coup d'état?

In my previous article on Mishima Yukio, I discussed the intriguing life the famed author had so far led: taken in by an imperious and traditional grandmother, Mishima Yukio (三島由紀夫) – born in 1925 as Hiroaka Kimitake (平岡公威) – had led the life of a near shut-in for most of his youth, spending his time immersed in reading, or occasionally visiting the kabuki theater with his grandmother. Under her tutelage, Mishima had come to respect his samurai ancestors and Japanese tradition, and had also come to have an uncomfortable obsession with death and decay.

His upbringing left him physically weak, but the untold hours of reading he had engaged in had blessed him with a keen literary understanding. Returned to his parents, Kimitake began engaging in the writing of prose stories and poetry, earning the admiration of his teachers, as well as scorn from his classmates and even his father, who viewed literature as beneath Kimitake’s status by birth. Kimitake’s teacher came up with the pen name “Mishima Yukio” to help him hide the publication of his works from his father, and the name stuck.

While writing, Mishima attempted to join the army, hoping to do glorious battle for the sake of the emperor, and to perhaps even find a beautiful death on the battlefield. He was denied this chance when a military physician deemed him unfit for duty. He would regret his inability to fight Japan’s last war for the rest of his life.

As World War II ended, Mishima began publishing at a furious pace. Confessions of a Mask (仮面の告白, 1949), his first major work, became an instant best-seller – partially because of how scandalously it portrayed the author’s feelings of attraction towards other men. Other classics followed, such as The Sound of Waves (潮騒, 1954) and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (金閣寺, 1956). Themes of frustrated sexuality, fear of women, the false patriotism of bureaucrats and the true patriotism of the youth, the beauty of the human form, the decay of age, and the valor of suicide by the blade were recurring themes in Mishima’s voluminous works.

As he aged, Mishima became more famous internationally. He also became consistently more nationalistic. He believed that the emperor must be returned to power, that the “peace constitution” that forbade Japan an offensive military must be changed, and that Japanese needed to return to the military mindset of a imagined glorious past.

His politics began to negatively affect his image in Japan. But abroad, he was considered the quintessential post-war samurai. All of this came about by way of Mishima’s careful cultivation of his own image, melding himself closer to the ideal martial man as portrayed in his literary works by way of body building, the practice of martial arts, and appearances in action films and homoerotic photo-shoots.

As he approached the age of forty – in his perception, the last years before decay set in and ruined human beauty – Mishima began casting about for a way to leave his mark politically and aesthetically on Japan and on the world. He strove to become more than just a man of words, but a man who would be remembered for his actions. This is the period where he began to envision his own personal right-wing militia, and perhaps when he began to grasp for a way in which he could achieve his own “beautiful death” before the years and the progress of age took the opportunity away from him.


The Shield Society

Masakatsu Morita
The funereal photo of Masakatsu Mirota, Mishima Yukio’s right-hand man in the Shield Society. (Picture: kou*un*のブログ)

In 1966, Mishima made his first entreaties towards the Japanese Self Defense Force in order to be able to use their facilities to train recruits as part of a citizens’ militia. The purpose of said militia would be that of defending Japan from “indirect aggression” (間接侵略; kansetsu shinryaku) – domestic unrest and strife brought about by foreign elements in absentia. While he was denied permission at his first meeting with JSDF officials, he continued to use connections he had made in high places in order to achieve this somewhat outlandish goal.

A razor was passed around, which each man slid across their right hand, allowing their blood to flow into a tea cup. Click To Tweet

In the meantime, he had become increasingly close with various groups of nationalistic student activists, and had taken on a sort of paternal role for the young journalists who worked on two far-right magazines — the Ronso Journal (“ronso” meaning “controversy” ), which aimed to directly oppose the popular leftist student’s magazine Asahi Journal, and the Nihon Gakusei Shinbun, which was associated with the extreme nationalist student association, the Nihon Gakusei Domei (日本学生同盟). Mishima met with the leaders behind these magazines regularly, freely lending them his guidance and even his direct support in terms of supplying them with articles for their publications.

In 1967, Mishima was finally granted permission to engage in military training with the JSDF, and for over a month went through a variety of basic training exercises. He would later even go on to receive fighter pilot training, flying a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. His young disciples from Ronso Journal and the Nihon Gakusei Domei also wished to recieve the same basic training, leading Mishima to move towards the actual planning stage for his imagined militia.

In mid-June, Mishima went to a café to meet with representatives of the students who wished to join in his military training. There he first came face-to-face with Morita Masakatsu (森田必勝), a 21-year-old Waseda University student who, enraged at the permissive attitude towards communist activists on campus, had joined his university’s small far-right group. He was soon completely under Mishima’s charismatic spell.

The next month, Masakatsu and twelve other students were sent to Hokkaido to receive basic training at a JSDF base on that northern island. Mishima planned to find an additional 87 members to make up his militia, who he would then send to military training twice a year. He foresaw the militia as eventually consisting of 10,000 mentally and physically hardened young men, ready to defend Japan at a moment’s notice.

In November, Mishima put forth to his young disciples the creation of their militia under the name Japan National Guard (祖国防衛隊). They began distributing leaflets.

In late February of 1968, Mishima gathered with ten of his closest disciples in the offices of the Ronso Journal. There, Mishima wrote out the following in ink.

「誓 昭和四十三年二月二十五日 我等ハ 大和男児ノ矜リトスル 武士ノ心ヲ以テ 皇国ノ礎トナラン事ヲ誓フ」

An oath made upon February 25th of the 43rd year of the Showa era, whereupon we pledge to be the strong base of the emperor, with the hearts of warriors as make proud the men of the Yamato race.

A razor was passed around, which each man slid across their right hand, allowing their blood to flow into a tea cup. Then, each picked up a brush from which to sign their names upon the document in a mixture of all their blood. When it was his turn, Mishima chose to sign his birth name: Hiraoka Kimitake.

Mishima then lifted the cup, and spoke of how, though their document might be lost to the winds, their oath would live on. He then bade the boys to drink their own blood. As he lifted the cup to his lips, Mishima paused to quip “if any of you happen to be sick, raise your hands.” After his disciples laughed, he drank deeply. So did all the young men, enraptured by what must have seemed like a scene right out of a near-mythic samurai tale.

Of course, the story they were actually living out was one of Mishima’s own crafting.

Training a Militia

Lockheed F-104
A Lockheed F-104 fighter. Mishima would learn to fly the plane through training he received from Japan’s Self Defense Forces. (Picture: Shutterstock)
Mishima even began to suggest to JSDF friends and acquaintances that a coup d’état was required. Click To Tweet

As new recruits emerged, Mishima would have them engage in harder and harder training. After one such training camp, Masakatsu Morita sent Mishima a letter of gratitude, in which he wrote:

「先生のためには、いつでも自分は命を捨てます。」 I am ready at any time to lay my life aside if only for your sake, Sensei.

Mishima responded to this self-sacrificial letter of fealty, stating:

「どんな美辞麗句をならべた礼状よりも、あのひとことには参った」 That simple statement had bested any letter of thanks laden in rhetorical flourishes.

On April 14th of that year, at a gathering at his own mansion, Mishima gave out diplomas for those who had mastered the art of the bayonet, and then lead an excursion to Aome City to celebrate the creation of his militia’s uniform, based on his own design and inspired by those of France’s de Gaulle. The group took a memorial picture at a local Shinto shrine, posing under the full bloom of the cherry blossoms.

Mishima was soon forced to scale back some of his militia’s activities after the loss of a major backer who had pulled his funds, saying “you can’t just go about creating a personal army.” Pivoting from the large scale militia he had previously imagined to a smaller group of only his most select, Mishima decided he also needed to change the name of his organization from Japan National Guard to something less grandiose. He took a line from the Manyoshu, the oldest extant collection of Japanese poetry, that referred to “the humble shield of our sovereign lord the Emperor (大皇の醜の御楯).” Thus, the Tatenokai (楯の会, Shield Society) was born.

Mishima’s activities with his militia project only increased, however, with more and more training excursions and specialized counter-insurgency activities. Mishima also constantly made attempts at getting close with JSDF soldiers and higher-ups, becoming familiar with some and being rebuffed by others. Increasingly feeling that Japan needed to change its constitution to allow for a fully operational armed forces to deal with burgeoning leftist activities within Japan, Mishima even began to suggest to JSDF friends and acquaintances that a coup d’état was required. When he found few within the military ranks willing to agree with him, he and his young confident Masakatsu Morita began to consider ways to push the issue. Their plans began to crystallize through 1970.

The two knew they would have to communicate their plans to only a select few from among the most trusted of their cohort. Each was approached in person, and asked if they would be willing to set their lives down to support the emperor. The three they selected all agreed. The selected members who would carry out their coup would thus be Mishima’s young confidant Masakatsu Morita, Ogawa Masahiro, Koga “Chibi” Masayoshi, skilled kendo swordsman Koga Hiroyasu, and Mishima himself.

All expected to die in the attempt, committing honorable seppuku as would a samurai, but Mishima began to rethink the necessity that all the boys die. Discussing this with Morita, the latter insisted that he would have no purpose in life without Mishima, to whom he was loyal as though to a father. He would go on to the next life with his master. The others, at first angered that they would not too be allowed the honor of committing ritual self-disembowelment, were convinced by being told that they would carry on the will of Mishima in the land of the living.

Towards a Dreamed-of Death

Mishima’s nominal plan was to rouse the common soldiers of the JDSF, who he believed to be the only honorable men left in Japan, to arms, convincing them to carry out a sort of “Showa Restoration” in which the emperor would be placed back into a seat of true political power. In order to do this, they would need an audience, and they would need a proper hostage. Mishima put in a call to Mashita Kanetoshi , camp Inspector General of the Japan Self Defense Eastern Command Headquarters in Ichigaya, Tokyo, and the two agreed to a friendly, face-to-face meeting.

Meanwhile, Morita and the other Tatenokai members went about buying the supplies they would need for their action, and then checked into a hotel. There, they assembled the last of what they would need for their communal date with destiny – rope, cloth, written manifestos, hachimaki martial headbands, and their individual death poems.

The next day, Morita made a hurried journey to his hometown in Mie Prefecture, where he visited the graves of his parents – both of whom had died when he was very young. He prayed to them, before setting back towards Tokyo, and the man who had come to be his only father figure: Mishima Yukio.

Back in Tokyo that night, Mishima treated his followers to a final meal at an upscale Japanese restaurant. As they left, Mishima told his four disciples that he was sad of what they were about to do to General Mashita, as he was a “good man,” but that perhaps “when he sees me cut my stomach with his own eyes, then he’ll understand.” He then implored the others that, if they were detained before they could reach the Inspector General, they should bite off their own tongues so as to choke on their blood rather than face the shame of capture.

The next morning, the five entered a car and set off for the Ichigaya base.

The Mishima Incident

Mishima Yukio talking from a balcony
Mishima Yukio on the day of the Mishima Incident, monologuing from a balcony. (Picture: Wikipedia)

Pulling up to one of the main gates of the base, the five men were ushered inside, all wearing their eye-catching regalia, and despite Mishima bearing a full-length samurai sword. There, a soldier called ahead to announce Mishima’s arrival. Permission having been granted, they were lead directly to the the very room and person their plans had called for. General Mashita invited Mishima into his office, allowing the young men inside as well.

Mishima explained their presence – these four boys had distinguished themselves by carrying him down a mountain when he had injured himself during a training maneuver, and Mishima wished to give them the honor of meeting with the Inspector General as a reward.

Just as the sword clicked into place, Koga made his move. Click To Tweet

Mashita seemed to accept this explanation, and began chatting with Mishima. When he enquired about the sword Mishima was bearing, the author explained that it was in fact the work of a master swordsmith of the Edo era, and was some hundreds of years old. The Inspector General wondered that Mishima could brandish such a weapon without repercussions from the police, after which Mishima ensured him that it was a registered antique. He offered to show Mashita the sword, and unsheathed it.

“Ah, the oil. It needs to be wiped down with a cloth,” uttered Mishima. These were to be the code words signaling that the boys should apprehend the Inspector General, but just as Koga Hiroyasu was about to spring to action, Mashita got up from his seat, suggesting he had a cloth somewhere with which to wipe the sword. Their planned moment had passed.

The Inspector General found no such cloth, though, and Koga handed Mishima one of his own as Mashita retook his seat. Mishima handed the Inspector General his sword, which Mashita looked over in appreciation, noting that it indeed must have been the work of an old master. As he spoke, Koga rose from his seat, and nonchalantly walked behind the Inspector General’s chair.

Mashita returned the sword to Mishima, who replaced it in its sheath. Just as the sword clicked into place, Koga made his move.

Grabbing the Inspector General from behind, he stuffed a cloth over the man’s mouth as the other young men jumped from their seats, ropes, cloths, and short swords in hand. As they began tying him up, Mashita laughed, telling his assailants that they had indeed trained well. Glancing at their leader, he said “Mishima, please, stop joking around.”

Mishima simply unsheathed his sword, and brandished it at the older man. Suddenly, Mashita became aware this was no over-eager training exercise.

With the general tied up and gagged, the young men moved to barricading the office, moving furniture up against the doors and blocking the windows.

A major on staff, about to deliver the scheduled tea for tea time, heard strange noises from outside of the Inspector General’s office. Calling over a colonel, the other man peeked through one of the windows into the room, seeing what looked like a Tatenokai member giving the Inspector General as a massage. And yet the movements were all wrong. As he struggled to open the door in order to ascertain what was in fact going on, Morita yelled out from inside. “Stay away, stay away!” A list of demands was then pushed from under the door.

The colonel immediately raised the hue and cry. The military police were dispatched within moments.

Soldiers armed with wooden swords tried to rush into the room, but Mishima struck at them with his ancient katana, wounding some, yelling at them to retreat and read his demands. More officers entered, and engaged in brief bouts of fighting with the Tatenokai, who lashed out with short swords, or threw tables and other items that happened to be at hand, at those trying to rescue the Inspector General. All the while Mishima dealt blows to the oncoming soldiers, his kendo-trained form leaving garish, although not deadly, wounds.

One soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Nakamura, assumed Mishima’s sword to be a simple replica, and badly injured his hand as he tried to grab at the blade. Although the resulting injury caused him to lose some grip strength for life, Nakamura would later claim he felt no ill will towards Mishima. “If he had meant to kill me, surely he would not have swung the sword with such intent. I felt he saw me wound myself, and gave me some leniency as a result.”

Worried for the Inspector General’s safety as well as their own, the soldiers finally retreated. Eight of the JSDF personnel had been injured by Mishima and his followers.

A force of over one hundred military police had arrived at the base. One JSDF colonel in charge, hoping to speak with Mishima, broke a window and stuck his head in – Mishima quickly slashed at it, and the soldier fell back, bleeding. Mishima yelled out to the soldiers gathered behind the barricaded doors, telling them that if they simply followed their demands that he would spare the Inspector General’s life. He threw another copy of the Tatenokai list of demands through the window. The demands read as such:

  1. All members of the Ichigaya Garrison shall be gathered in front of the main building at 11:30 AM.
  2. The gathered shall courteously listen to following in the form of an address: ⋅⋅a. Mishima’s address (dissemination of manifesto) ⋅⋅b. The names of those students taking park shall be read out loud ⋅⋅c. Mishima’s instructions to the remaining Tatenokai* members
  3. The remaining Tatenokai members (who are in no way involved in this action) shall be hurriedly convened here and allowed to participate in listening to the address
  4. For the hours between 11:30AM and 1:10PM, there shall be no attacks or disturbances upon us. Provided no attacks occur, we shall mount no attacks ourselves.
  5. If two hours pass and all the above items are carried out, we shall deliver the Inspector General unharmed. This shall be carried out by attaching two or more guards from amongst our men, whereupon we shall deliver him while still restrained (to prevent self-harm) to the front entrance of the base.
  6. If the above items are not maintained, or if we fear they shall not be, Mishima shall kill the Inspector General and then commit suicide.

Finally, the Deputy Head of Defense for the base gave in to the demands, promising Mishima that he would gather the soldiers on the parade grounds below the Inspector General’s balcony. Mishima seemed momentarily placated.

Mishima opened up a pack of cigarettes, smoking as he awaited the assembly of the JSDF soldiers. He chatted with the Inspector General, ensuring him that all he was doing was for the good of the Self Defense Forces. He promised he would deliver a shock to their system that would invigorate them as nothing had before.

Meanwhile, metropolitan police headquarters had issued a warrant for Mishima’s arrest. All around the Ichigaya base, police cars screeched to a halt, as white military police vans encircled the premises. The news media had already gotten wind of the shocking events happening at Ichigaya, and soon news helicopters could be seen flying around the base.

A Desperate, Self-Indulgent Appeal

As many as a thousand JSDF soldiers had gathered outside the balcony. Many had been eating in the cafeteria when the message to assemble had come over the loudspeakers; these grumbled to each other, exchanging rumors regarding what was going on. Tales of insurgencies, the kidnapping of the Inspector General, communist uprisings, and the involvement of Mishima Yukio abounded.

Morita and Ogawa, with hachimaki headbands around their foreheads and their hands ensconced in white gloves, appeared on the balcony. There they unfurled the long white banners they had prepared that revealed their manifesto in black ink.

Less than a moment later, a string of jeers had erupted yet again from the crowd. Click To Tweet

At noon, as sirens wailed around the Ichigaya base, Mishima appeared on the balcony with sword in hand. On his head, too, was a white hachimaki headband emblazoned with the hinomaru, the red sun of Japan, as well as the characters 「七生報國,」bearing the implicit meaning of “even if I am to be reborn seven times, I shall overthrow the enemies of the imperial court, and shall be rewarded by my country.” Morita and Ogawa stood behind him, staring straight ahead.

Mishima raised his white-gloved hand, and amidst mutterings from the crowd of “it’s Mishima,” and “what a fool,” began to speak. He had first to implore the crowd to quiet down before he could arrive at his intended message.

Repeating the concepts listed in the manifesto, Mishima entreated the soldiers below to rise up against what he saw as an unfair constitution that made the soldiers of the JSDF into a mere division of the American military. He begged them, as warriors (武士), to make a stand. From below, he simply received more hoots and hollers.

He voice fierce but increasingly desperate, Mishima called out, asking, “is there not one amongst you who will rise up with me?”

For some seconds, silence reigned in the Ichigaya Headquarters, with only the sound of the media helicopter motors above breaking the reverie. But less than a moment later, a string of jeers had erupted yet again from the crowd.

Mishima’s address had ended. Together with Morita and Ogawa, Mishima turned towards the direction of the imperial palace, and together the three let out a loud cry: “Long live His Majesty the Emperor (天皇陛下万歳)!!” He and his disciples then returned inside.

Little did Mishima know that on that day, around 900 of the elite JGSDF 32nd Infantry Regiment had left the base for training exercises in the area around Mt. Fuji, leaving only a small portion of their forces behind. The men Mishima had been speaking to were for the most part those involved with base supplies, media, and materials — a far cry from the “warriors” whose hearts he had so hoped to sway.

The Final Moments of Mishima

Morita, shaking, handed the sword to Koga Hiroyasu, a much more skilled swordsman. Koga took his stance. Click To Tweet

Returning inside, Mishima whispered, “I spoke for twenty minutes, but it wasn’t enough to make them hear.” Then, turning to the Inspector General, he said, “I have no hatred towards you. I did all this in order to return the Self Defense Forces to the emperor. There was no other way.” Mishima had begun unbuttoning his uniform. He then took Koga’s short sword, with which the young man had been holding the Inspector General hostage, and handed over his longer katana to Morita.

The ultimate moment, which all of Mishima’s work had been leading towards, had finally arrived. He knelt down on the red carpet, only a few meters away from where the Inspector General sat tied to his chair, taking the seiza position as though about to engage in martial arts or a meeting with a superior. Looking towards Morita, he said simply “don’t do it,” tersely urging to young man to give up on his aspirations to follow his master in martyrdom. Koga Hiroyasu then began to hand him a colored piece of paper, upon which it had been planned that Mishima would write with his own blood the character 武, signifying militarism, but Mishima waved him away. Instead, he removed his expensive wristwatch from his right arm, and gifted it to his young disciple.

What Mishima was thinking at the time, as he stared ahead, his short sword held in both hands pointing towards his midsection, we cannot know. He let out a quick martial cry of “uhn,” then yelled out more loudly, plunging the dagger into the left side of his own abdomen. A swift pull towards the right, and Mishima had completed his seppuku, just as the samurai etiquette of his ancestors would have demanded.

Behind him stood Morita, Mishima’s appointed Kaishakunin (介錯人), whose role in this sordid ritual was to swiftly cut off the head of the suicider before they could experience too much agony. But for Morita, never a great swordsman, the challenge of beheading his mentor and idol proved too much. He swung and Mishima’s neck twice, but failed to allow the blade to follow all the way through; Mishima, now bleeding profusely from both neck and abdomen, silently slumped forward. Both Kogas could tell Mishima still lived, and called out to Morita, urging him to swing again. Morita’s sword fell a third time, as the Inspector General yelled out, “Stop! Don’t help him to die, don’t finish him off!” (Inspector General Mashita had seen seppuku before, when a friend and fellow soldier had committed the act in 1945).

Still, Mishima lived. Morita, shaking, handed the sword to Koga Hiroyasu, a much more skilled swordsman. Koga took his stance, and struck true. Mishima died by his own sword.

Morita then knelt down next to his decapitated master, taking the bloodied short sword that was still held firmly in the dead man’s hands. Once in seiza position himself, with Koga standing behind him with sword held aloft, Morita echoed his master’s suicide by plunging the same dagger into his own abdomen. Morita gave Koga the signal that he had achieved his part in this morbid ritual. Koga then swung at his friend’s neck.

Moments later, the surviving three Tatenokai members began untying the Inspector General, who convinced them he would offer them no trouble as they escorted him to the waiting JSDF soldiers and military police. As the three young men knelt, hands pressed together as in prayer, for a final farewell to their master and compatriot, the Inspector General looked on in horror. He admonished them, saying, “cry like you actually mean it.” Then, joining them in sitting seiza, he added “allow me to help pray that they find peace in the afterlife.”

The men sat in front of the bodies of Mishima and Morita, and for a few moments, all four prayed.

The Aftermath

Mishima Yukio's grave
Mishima Yukio’s gravestone. (Picture: Wikipedia)

Kaishakunin Koga Hiroyasu, as well as Koga Masayoshi and Ogawa Masahiro, were all arrested and finally put on trial on March 24, 1971. The three men, all still in their early twenties, were convicted on charges of bodily injury, violence, and the illegal carrying of swords. Hiroyasu Koga was additionally tried for his participation in the suicides of Mishima and Morita.

The three were sentenced to four years imprisonment, and were eventually released a few months early for good behavior. Koga Hiroyasu, the last recorded Kaishakunin in history, would go on to become a Shinto priest, and for some time would gather the remnants of the by-then long defunct Tatenokai for an annual memorial to Mishima and Morita. He would eventually take on another name, leaving for Hokkaido to become involved with a chapter of the “New Thought” religious movement known as Seicho-no-Ie (生長の家). It is believed he is still involved with this religious movement to this day.

Ogawa Masahiro passed away in in 2018, the year before this writing. He had gone to his wife’s hometown in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where he worked as a secretary for the Democratic Party. He continued to refer to the late Mishima as “Sensei,” but broke off communication with the remaining Tatenokai members.

Koga Masayoshi returned to university in his native Wakayama Prefecture, where he received employment, married, and continues living to this day. As for Inspector General Mashita, he accepted responsibility for allowing the attempted coup to happen under his watch, and stepped down from his post. He would die three years later, during abdominal surgery.

The “Mishima Incident” made major ripples in Japanese and international society, where it understandably became a major news story. While the suicide of famous authors was nothing new, either internationally or in Japan, the method by which Mishima had carried out his own shocked the world. Debates continue to this day over where Mishima’s true motivation lay – if he truly hoped to cause a coup d’état or leave a lasting political message, or, as some of Mishima’s biographers have argued, his actual wish was more self-indulgent. As a man who constantly strove to meld his art with his flesh and to create an image of himself as the ultimate masculine, martial, philosopher warrior, this final act allowed his artistic vision to be forever linked with his own fate. It was perhaps the ultimate form of self-promotion.

Mishima’s death is now one of the things he is most remembered for, although it is ironic that it has slowly become more infamous outside of Japan than in his own country. Some non-Japanese see Mishima as the ultimate representation of an imagined “samurai” spirit within Japan, completely willing to self-sacrifice for his philosophy. His life and death was the focus of the masterful 1985 film by Paul Schrader, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Mishima has even been co-opted by fascist, anti-feminist, and far-right nationalist movements in Europe (especially in Italy) and the United States, who find that his “patriotism, monarchism, and militarism” speak to them almost directly. Such extremist groups view him as a martyr to their own causes. Such uses of his story turn Mishima’s artistry into something even more dangerous than what he actually achieved within Japan.

Perhaps, even in writing and disseminating an article like this – especially one for an English-speaking audience – we continue to propagate the exact sort of effect Mishima had wished for. He has become immortalized in the exact moment where his art coalesced with his actions. He has outlasted his death, avoiding the decay and insults of age he had so obsessed over. How we deal with and react to this image he has left behind is what truly matters now.


Meyers, Jeffrey. Mishima’s Suicide. Michigan Quarterly Review, Volume XLIX, Issue 4: Growing up Motown, Fall 2010.

Flanagan, Damian. Mishima, Murakami and the elusive Nobel Prize. The Japan Times, August 29, 2015.

Vulpitta, Romano. Yukio Mishima, Yojuro Yasuda, & Fascism, Part 1. Lecture, October 2012.

Liukkonen, Petri. Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). Author’s Calendar, 2008.

Mccarthy, Paul. Revealing the many masks of Mishima. The Japan Times, May 5th, 2013.

三島由紀夫. フリー百科事典『ウィキペディア(Wikipedia).

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Suzuki, Hanako. Learning from Famous Japanese Literature Everyone Knows だれもが知ってる日本文学から学ぶ日本語. May 21st, 2019.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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