November 25, 2020


A fanatic heart: On the 50th anniversary of his public suicide, Nigel Jones reflects on the strange life and bizarre death of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima (Nigel Jones, 11/25/20, The Critic)

Fifty years ago, on 25 November 1970, Japan's best-known celebrity, the writer Yukio Mishima, grabbed headlines around the world by the very public yet very traditional manner of his death.

Mishima committed seppuku (Hara-Kiri), the time-honoured way of death of Japan's warrior caste, the Samurai, from whom he was himself a direct blood descendant. He knelt half naked on the office floor of General Mashita, commander of the toothless Japanese army, the Self Defence Forces (SDF), whom he had just taken prisoner, plunged a short sword, the wakizashi, into the left side of his belly and drew it across his abdomen, disembowelling himself.

At this point, Mishima's closest lieutenant (and possible lover) 25-year-old Masakatsu Morita, should have delivered the coup de grace to his master by decapitating him with Mishima's own full-length samurai sword, the katana. But Morita botched the job, failing to hack off the author's head despite three attempts. Another of Mishima's young disciples, Hiroyasu Koga, stepped into the breach, striking off both Mishima's head and then that of Morita. It was a messy end to a ritual that should, according to Samurai lore, have been conducted as carefully and cleanly as a tea ceremony.

Japan's feudalism and reactionary hierarchy were not easily shaken off

Moments before his bizarre and gruesome end, Mishima had been standing on the balcony of the SDF's Tokyo HQ, haranguing a bemused audience of some 1,000 young army officers and cadets. Hands on hips, clad in the camp, tight fitting, and rather Ruritanian uniform he had designed for his own private army, the Totenokai ("Shield Society"), his voice almost drowned out by a helicopter clattering overhead, Mishima called on the SDF to become a real army, repudiate treaties with the US that had reduced Japan to a vassal state, and restore Emperor Hirohito to the divine status that the US had forced him to disavow in 1946.

The reaction of the audience was what he had expected: a derisive chorus of hoots, catcalls and mocking laughter. With a final defiant triple cry of "Banzai! Long live the Emperor!" Mishima and Morita retreated back into Mashita's office to meet their self-induced fate.

Posted by at November 25, 2020 7:33 AM