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Cherry Blossoms, Yukio Mishima

The ebullience and conviviality of cherry blossom festival in Japantown takes a darkening tinge this year on the heels of the recent tragedy. In Japan, the flowers have long symbolized the fleeting nature of beauty and life. Japanese poets from early on took this as analogous to the ephemerality of life. The focus, besides cherry blossom viewing, is on relief effort, which is what have brought me to the community this weekend. Short window of the blossoms, made worse by gusty wind in the city that blows off the petals, is perceived with a new layer of meaning.

On top of the benefit booths, Tokyo-based Kinokuniya Bookstore also donates a percentage of the sales to relief effort. San Francisco store has a good selection of Japanese literature in English translation. Yukio Mishima (三島由紀夫 1925-1970) is the purpose of the visit. He 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.

Although it is known that he visited gay bars in Japan, Mishima’s sexual orientation remains a matter of debate, as his widow wanted that part of his life downplayed after his death. However, several people have claimed to have had homosexual relationships with Mishima, including writer Jiro Fukushima, who published a revealing correspondence between himself and the famed novelist.

I’m interested in reading two of his most controversial novels, which are meant to be autobiographical. Forbidden Colors (禁色 Kinjiki) describes a marriage of a gay man to a young woman. The name kinjiki is a euphemism for homosexuality. The kanji 禁 means “forbidden” and 色 in this case means “erotic love”, although it can also mean “color” or “lust.” The word “kinjiki” also means colors which were forbidden to be worn by people of various ranks in the Japanese court. The title is pun-intended and has multiple meanings. Confessions of a Mask (仮面の告白 Kamen no Kokuhaku) is about a young man who, born with a less-than-ideal body in terms of physical fitness and robustness, struggles to keep his homosexuality to himself. It’s been recognized that Mishima had placed himself in the novel, cast himself as the protagonist.