Japan’s most famous writer Yukio Mishima, Bodybuilding And A failed Coup Attempt Which Led To Suicide

Yukio Mishima

The foreign press has long adored Yukio Mishima, a writer from Japan. To describe him as “Japan’s Hemingway,” Life magazine labeled him “Japan’s Dynamo of the Letters.” In 1970, he was named “Japan’s Renaissance Man” after appearing on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.

The New York Times cover featured him in a white kendo jacket and hakama, clutching a katana sword, as a prolific writer, actor, director, singer, bodybuilder, and martial arts enthusiast.

On November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima, whose true name is Kimitake Hiraoka, went to a Tokyo army camp, kidnapped the commander, and had him assemble the garrison before attempting to conduct a coup. After berating the soldiers for their submission, he dared them to reinstate the Emperor to his pre-war position as a living god, national leader, and supreme ruler of Japan. While at first, the audience appeared to be indifferent, they soon began to chant and jeer at him. Stepping back, Mishima added, “I don’t believe they heard me.” When he was done, he knelt down and committed the Samurai’s ritual suicide, seppuku.

Yukio Mishima

Public shock was caused by the death of Mishima in Japan. A literary celebrity, like Norman Mailer in the United States or Michel Houellebecq in France, he was masculine and daring, but also pretty silly. However, what appeared to be a blustering ploy was in fact very serious. The Emperor was in attendance as the Diet, Japan’s parliament, convened for its 64th session. Some of the attention was diverted from Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s address on the government’s priorities for 2017. Since the end of World War II, no one had been killed through seppuku.

In a 1975 piece for The New York Review, Japanese philosopher Hide Ishiguro said, “Some thought he had gone mad, others that this was the latest in a series of exhibitionistic acts, one more manifestation of the urge to shock for which he had become known.” His death was seen by some on the political right as a protest against the current state of Japan. As for the rest of the world, they thought it was the work of an artist who had been an enfant terrible in his youth and couldn’t endure the thought of living into middle age and mediocrity.” If I’m not understood right away, it’s fine; in 50 or 100 years, Japan will understand me,” Mishima once said to his wife.

Mishima with his cadets
Mishima with his loyal cadets (Credit: Getty Images)

A form of autobiography, disguised as a novel, made Mishima famous in Japan’s early twenties with Confessions of a Mask in 1949. In it, a sensitive young man is practically held hostage by his grandma. When she’s sick, he’s forced to take care of her. He is confined to the overly sweet smelling shadows of her bedroom for years instead of playing outside with other boys.

Yukio Mishima as a child
Credit: Getty images

In “Sun and Steel,” his autobiographical essay. As a starting point, Yukio Mishima establishes a stark contrast between the world of words and the world of physicality. A metaphor for this is that if his body is an orchard with termites devouring it, then his words are the termites devouring reality. He explains that this hostility is what drove him to create novels and “to seek a type of platonic ideal that would make it possible to place the body and words on the same footing.”

Mishima then explains in detail how he went about achieving this ideal body. For the past decade, Mishima has been devoted to the quest of “swelling muscles encased in sunlight skin” as a metaphor for an intellectual obsession with sensory experience, rather than the nighttime abstractions that characterize the solitary thinker. ‘Why must thought, like a plumb line, exclusively concern itself with vertical descent?’ There was something absurd about the idea that men could not find depths of a type in the “surface,” that fundamental borderline between our outward and interior, which confirms our separateness and shape. To be able to think and write accurately on matters of the surface, he needed to make his own body lovely.

Mishima then explains in detail how he went about achieving this ideal body. For the past decade, Mishima has been devoted to the quest of “swelling muscles encased in sunlight skin” as a metaphor for an intellectual obsession on sensory experience, rather than the nighttime abstractions that characterize the solitary thinker. ‘Why must thought, like a plumb line, exclusively concern itself with vertical descent?’ There was something absurd about the idea that men could not find depths of a type in the “surface,” that fundamental borderline between our outward and interior, which confirms our separateness and shape. To be able to think and write accurately on matters of the surface, he needed to make his own body lovely.

Also read: Women In Fitness – How Things Have Changed

As Mishima progresses through this journey, his ideas change in tandem with his physical sensations. His ideas on the body take on a tragic, morbid turn as he grows more familiar with the agony and exertion involved in his physical hobbies. Not only does the sun come to symbolize lovely browned skin, but it also begins to symbolize thanatological transcendence: “A sun full of the furious dark flame of feeling, a sun for death”

This dualism between body and thought is ultimately tied to death, which is the only link between the basic incommensurability of the two. My solace resided more than anywhere—indeed, lay solely—in the little resurrections that took place immediately after exercise,” Mishima writes. “Never-ending motion, never-ending carnage, never-ending elude from cold objective […]” As a result, working out can induce feelings of bliss, a brief loss of awareness, and even orgasmic breakdown.

That the body is a receptacle for both intellectual and material transcendence is a magnificent idea in its own right. He chose to die by seppuku (ritual suicide) after mounting a nationalist coup against the Japanese government in 1970, and this cannot be ignored in light of this. There is no doubt that the physical training he describes and undergoes in “Sun and Steel” corresponds closely to his preparations for this sad crime, which he committed at the height of his physical attractiveness.

Mishima then explains in detail how he went about achieving this ideal body. For the past decade, Mishima has been devoted to the quest of “swelling muscles encased in sunlight skin” as a metaphor for an intellectual obsession on sensory experience, rather than the nighttime abstractions that characterize the solitary thinker. ‘Why must thought, like a plumb line, exclusively concern itself with vertical descent?’ There was something absurd about the idea that men could not find depths of a type in the “surface,” that fundamental borderline between our outward and interior, which confirms our separateness and shape. To be able to think and write accurately on matters of the surface, he needed to make his own body lovely.

As Mishima progresses through this journey, his ideas change in tandem with his physical sensations. His ideas on the body take on a tragic, morbid turn as he grows more familiar with the agony and exertion involved in his physical hobbies. Not only does the sun come to symbolize lovely browned skin, but it also begins to symbolize thanatological transcendence: “A sun full of the furious dark flame of feeling, a sun for death”

This dualism between body and thought is ultimately tied to death, which is the only link between the basic incommensurability of the two. My solace resided more than anywhere—indeed, lay solely—in the little resurrections that took place immediately after exercise,” Mishima writes. “Never-ending motion, never-ending carnage, never-ending elude from cold objective […]” As a result, working out can induce feelings of bliss, a brief loss of awareness, and even orgasmic breakdown.
That the body is a receptacle for both intellectual and material transcendence is a magnificent idea in its own right. He chose to die by seppuku (ritual suicide) after mounting a nationalist coup against the Japanese government in 1970, and this cannot be ignored in light of this. There is no doubt that the physical training he describes and undergoes in “Sun and Steel” corresponds closely to his preparations for this sad crime, which he committed at the height of his physical attractiveness.

Despite the fact that Mishima’s subject matter was his own, the Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata, who believed that literature should serve as a vehicle for art rather than propaganda, was seen as a student of Mishima’s writing style. Mishima’s writing, in its formal, almost traditional manner emphasizing on strongly sensual description above all else, seems to adhere to this concept. This chosen portrayal of people’s body, clothing, and scents comes across as almost fetishistic. Shocking nylon embrace and counterfeit damask couch gave room an agitated feeling… Kimono washed away with a sweet sigh as the kimono dropped to the floor with an audible serpent’s warning.” From the 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.

The beautiful should die young, and everyone else should live as long as possible – Yukio Mishima

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Mishima’s political phase might be said to begin. Mishima’s demeanour changed dramatically in the last decade of his life, from a pure aesthete to a debauched romantic. At order to bulk up his 5’3″ physique, he began bodybuilding, working out in the gym twice a day for two hours a day for the next year. It wasn’t long before he started tanning himself in the sun and formed an exercise group for right-wing male university students to follow. To aid the armed forces in the event of a communist takeover, the Shield Society was founded.

Yukio Mishima sitting after workout
Credit: Getty Images

Finally, a flash of inspiration

By the time Mishima was in his forties, he was acutely aware of his age. During an essay on James Dean’s early death, he stated, “The beautiful should die young, and everyone else should live as long as possible.” Most people have it backward, with beautiful individuals living far into their eighties and ugly fools dying young. Mishima, realizing that his time was running out, began to craft the details of his swan song.

Everyone has had the experience of viewing life through the lens of a stage at some time in their journey through it. However, few people live and act their lives as if they were a stage production, and even fewer would end their show by taking their own lives. However, Mishima’s lifetime dream had finally come true. In Confessions of a Mask, the elements of soldiers, death, and blood were present from the beginning. Self-transformation had made him the object of his desire: lovely things that were worth killing. And the obsession with seppuku was becoming more and more apparent. Mishima went so far as to write and star in a short film called Patriotism, in which he acted out the entire scenario. Whether or not Mishima’s ultimate act was a political protest, it was undoubtedly a death as art.

On 25 November 1970, Mishima gave a speech to the army assembled below him, before taking his own life
Credit: Getty Images

The Sea of Fertility, the final volume of Mishima’s tetralogy, was delivered to his publisher on the morning of his last day. These four volumes, penned in a frenzy of inspiration, were groundbreaking. During this period, which began in 1912 and ended in 1975, there was a tremendous amount of change: from the rise of Imperial Japan, to the annihilation of World War II, to the rise of a capitalist and consumerist Japan, and so on. A single character, Honda (possibly a stand-in for Mishima), and his boyhood friend, an enduring spirit surrounded by change and decline, are the glue that holds them together.

The Sea of Fertility has a lot more complex philosophising compared to Mishima’s earlier writings. And after the second, the volumes become hurried and progressively thin. A coastal family vacation in August 1970 inspired Mishima to pen the bulk of The Decay of the Angel. “To me, finishing this [book] is nothing more than the end of the world,” Mishima wrote to a mentor, Fumio Kiyomizu, in a letter dated November 18, 1970. It’s hard to believe that The Decay of the Angel is coming to a close.

“It was a sunny, peaceful garden devoid of any noteworthy features. The shrieking of cicadas was like a rosary rubbed between the hands.

There was nothing else to hear save the rustling of leaves. The garden was deserted. Honda had arrived to a spot with no recollection of his time there, and he wondered if he had arrived at the wrong place.

The calm garden was bathed in the summer’s midday heat.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.