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Yukio Mishima, Japanese Literature

If Haruki Murakami epitomizes modern Japanese literature, then the genre is too weird and eccentric for me. Dreamscape, wells, missing cats (and wives)… I feel so disjointed. So I have shifted my attention to Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor, and film director who was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. But, his legendary death precedes his life. After a failed military rally Mishima committed ritualized suicide and cemented his position as staunchly conservative right-winger.

In 1955, Mishima (age 30) 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 kendo. 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. Forbidden Colours, which I’m reading at the moment, deals with this downplaying of homosexuality—except Mishima goes farther. An old novelist who has been scarred by three disastrous marriages finds his revenge machine a very handsome homosexual who will mete out punishment of the womankind. Mishima style is more embellished but not as disjointed as Murakami. He often weaves his philosophical view in his writing, the tucks and pleats of the prose. The story now really sneaks up on me as the protagonist carries on with both a wife and her husband. What is it about the Japanese that they are so obsessed with masochism? Misogyny is also a encroaching theme in this book. That it describes a marriage of a gay man to a young woman renders the novel somewhat autobiographical.

10 Responses

  1. You might also enjoy the work of Natsuo Kirino.

  2. ‘The Sailor Who Fell from Grace to the Sea’ is also a very good Mishima read.

  3. I love both of their (Murakami and Mishima) books. There is only 3 left for Murakami that I haven’t read and I have read 4 of Mishima’s books.
    – The Sailor Who Fell from Grace to the Sea
    – The Banquet
    – Confessions of the mask
    – The temple of the golden pavillion
    and each one is as haunting as the last. I aim to finish all his backlist. The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy will come soon. Now I am reading Mishima’s the Sound of Waves.

    I just find Mishima to be a fascinating character.

    • Mishima is sophisticated and, like many Japanese men and plus he was closeted, he’s suppressed. I read an excerpt of his monograph on beauty and aesthetics and am not surprised he would write a novel that hinges on how a person of beauty would emerged unscathed.

  4. I’m very interested in your thoughts on Mishima as I have become curious about Japanese Literature, of which I’ve read very little. I recently read Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain, which is about the bombing of Hiroshima (a very distressing book actually), but it piqued my curiosity about Japanese culture. I pulled the Sound of Waves from my library’s shelves and it sits and waits for me on my desk at work. But I decided to opt for something easy in the interim and am reading Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X, which is a crime novel that goes about things a little differently–you know who commits the crime up front, and now it will be interesting to see if they get caught.

  5. I was a huge fan of Haruki Murakami in high school, though I’m not sure I would be now. I still remember loving Kafka on the Shore, though I never really connected with his other novels in quite the same way again. My favorite book of his is the short story collection “after the quake.” In any case, since I don’t read much Murakami anymore, I have been interested in exploring Japanese literature more. I’m adding Yukio Mishima to the list.

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