A meditation on why a modern Japanese writer rejected the veracity of the word for the spiritual discipline of physical action, culminating in the gesture at the Self-Defense Force Headquarters in November 1970.
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Yukio Mishima, one of the most spectacularly gifted writers in modern Japan, was born into a samurai family in 1925. He attended the Peers' School and Tokyo Imperial University, and for a time worked at the Ministry of Finance. His first full length novel, Confessions of a Mask, appeared in 1949, and since then he published over a dozen novels, almost all of which were translated into English and other languages during his.lifetime. They include: Thirst for Love; Forbidden Colors; Death in Midsummer; The Sound of Waves; The Temple of the Golden Pavilion; After the Banquet; The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea; and Spring Snow.
Mishima's reverence for the Japanese martial arts led him to take up Kendo (a type of fencing, with wooden swords) and Karate, as well as body-building, and by 1968 he had become a Kendo master of the fifth dan. He also organized a "private army" called the Shield Society, and in November 1970 he and his group forced their way into a Self-Defense Force headquarters in Tokyo, where Mishima, after reading out a proclamation, committed ritual suicide with a young follower in the commanding officer's room. On the morning of his death, the last volume of Mishima's tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility ( The Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, The Decay of the Angel) was delivered to his publisher.
He is survived by his wife and two children.
The Translator: John Bester, born and educated in England, is one of the foremost translators of Japanese fiction. Among his translations are Masuji Ibuse's Black Rain, Kenzaburo Oe's The Silent Cry, Fumiko Enchi's The Waiting Years, and Junnosuke Yoshiyuki's The Dark Room. He received the 1990 Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature (for Mishima's Acts of Worship).Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It happened at dusk on May 25, a beautiful day in early summer. I was attached to a parachute squad; the day's training was over; I had been for a bath, and was on my way back to the dormitory.
The late afternoon sky was dyed in shades of blue and pink, and the turf spread below was an even, glowing jade. Here and there on either side of the path along which I walked stood the ageing, robust, wooden buildings, nostalgic souvenirs of an age when this had been the cavalry school: the covered riding paddock, now a gymnasium, the stables, now a post-exchange.... I was still in my P.T. clothes: long white cotton training pants just issued that day, rubber gym shoes, a running shirt. Even the mud that already soiled the bottom of the pants contributed to my sense of wellbeing.
That morning's training in handling a parachute, the extraordinarily rarified feeling as for the first time one committed oneself to the empty air, still lingered inside me, a transparent residue, fragile as a medicinal wafer. The deep, rapid breathing caused by the circuit training and running that followed had pervaded my whole body with a pleasing lethargy. Rifles, weapons of every kind, were at hand. My shoulder was ready for slinging a gun at any time. I had run to my heart's content over the green grass, felt the sun burning my skin a golden brown; beneath the summer sunlight, I had seen, thirty-five feet below me, people's shadows sharply etched and firmly attached to their feet. I had jumped into space from the summit of the silver tower, aware as I went of how the shadow that I myself would cast among them the next instant would lie isolated like a black puddle on the earth, untied to my body. At that moment I was, beyond all doubt, freed from my shadow, from my self-awareness.
My day had been full to the brim of the body and of action. There was physical excitement, and strength, and sweat, and muscle; the green grass of summer was everywhere, a breeze stirred the dust on the path I walked along, the sun's rays slowly slanted ever more obliquely, and in my training pants and gym shoes I walked amidst them quite naturally. Here was the life I had wanted. At that time, I savored the same solitary, rough-and-ready joy of the physical training instructor walking back between the old school building and the shrubbery after losing himself in the beauty of physical tralnlng on a summer's evening.
I sensed in it an absolute rest for the spirit, a beatification of the flesh. Summer, white clouds, the empty blue of the sky following the final lesson of the day, and the touch of nostalgic sadness tinging the glitter of sunlight filtering through the trees, induced a sense of intoxication. I existed....
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