Legendary Japanese Author Yukio Mishima Muses About the Samurai Code (Which Inspired His Hapless 1970 Coup Attempt)

One day in November of 1970, Nobel prize-nominated author Yukio Mishima barricaded himself in the Eastern Command office of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and tied the commandant to a chair. Accompanied by a handful of young men from the Tatenokai, a student society-cum-militia, Mishima had launched a coup against the government. He followed in the tradition of literary radicals, whose ranks held writers as diverse as Alexander Pushkin and Pablo Neruda, with one key distinction: while Russian and Chilean authors sought leftward political shifts, Mishima espoused a jackboot brand of ascetic nationalism. If Mishima’s captivation with authoritarian politics seems out of character for a writer of such emotional depth, it is worth noting that his values were rooted in the honour code of the samurai, known as bushido. A rare clip of Mishima’s English interviews, above, makes the author’s beliefs about both art and honor palpably clear:

I think that brutality might come from our feminine aspect, and elegance comes from our nervous side. Sometimes we are too sensitive about defilement, or elegance, or a sense of beauty, or the aesthetic side. Sometimes we get tired of it. Sometimes we need a sudden explosion to make us free from it. For instance, after the war, our brutal side was completely hidden… I don’t like that the Japanese culture is represented only by flower arrangement—a peace-loving culture. We still have a very strong warrior mind.

The samurai ethos was a critical component of Mishima’s most moving works, including The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea and Patriotism. In the film adaptation of Patriotism, below, Mishima shows that to him, even love is subordinate to—or perhaps greatest when it works alongside—honour. While the film’s theatrical production and graphic nature may not be for everyone’s tastes (we also note that the clip below has been re-scored, with the original film available here), the ritual suicide it depicts offers some insight into the author’s psyche—after his failed coup, Mishima plunged a blade into his stomach, and had one of the Tatenokai members behead him. He was 45 years old.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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  • David Miller says:

    “Nobel-prize nominated” is a pretty meaningless accolade. If it was the Literature Prize he was nominated for, any “professors of literature and of linguistics at universities and university colleges” may nominate someone.

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