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Literary Heritage: Yukio Mishima (January 14, 1925 – November 25, 1970)

In his quest for masculinity, Yukio Mishima mythologized himself both in his life and his writings, culminating in his ritual suicide.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima attempted a military coup d'état at the Ichigaya, Tokyo, headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces aided by four young men, selected "cadets" of his "private army." Mishima expected the Self-Defense Forces to support his belief in the need to revise the Japanese constitution; they would unite with his private military group, the "Shield Society" (whose constituents were right-wing young men), in order to establish a mobilized National Army.

He tried to appeal to their nationalism, saying that the coup would "restore Japan to her true form" and bring back the Imperial reign and military system, both of which had been abolished after World War II. The members of the Self-Defense Forces simply laughed at him. Failing in this coup attempt, he killed himself on the spot.

This incident consequently puzzled the world not only because an internationally renowned writer committed suicide, but also because he employed seppuku (or harakiri, disemboweling himself), which was difficult to associate with modern democratic Japan. How could such an intelligent and perspicacious man like Mishima be unaware of the anachronism of a military coup d'état?

His actions generated a furor of interpretation. Some suspected this incident was in reality a pretext to attain his lifelong desire to live and die by the code of the samurai, for whom male bonding and death had the most value. In this interpretation, the Shield Society was merely a vehicle to this end.

However, the intent of Mishima's seppuku still resists explanation. He consciously and constantly kept mythologizing himself throughout his life. The manner of his death gave a final flourish to his myth.

Mishima was born to a family dominated by his petulant and oppressive paternal grandmother, Natsu. Less than a couple of months after his birth, he was snatched away by Natsu from his mother, Shizue, who was allowed to see her infant son only when she was summoned to breast-feed him under her mother-in-law's supervision. Natsu seldom allowed him to be taken out of her room.

Since she disliked boys' roughness, she forbade him to associate with other boys, and his companions were limited to women or girls. As a consequence, he picked up (in Japanese male chauvinistic terms) feminine patterns of speech, as well as women's taste and sensitivity.

Mishima's father was said to be extremely callous and egotistic; he was indifferent to his son's well-being and let Mishima become a hostage to Natsu to pacify his temperamental mother. Whether Mishima's homosexuality was innate or acquired, his early experiences led him to misogyny compounded with misanthropy. The lack of a male role model in his household steered him toward an obsession for masculinity.

As a young man, Mishima was "feminine"--thin and weak. At thirty, he launched on his quest for masculinizing himself and sought occasions for performing heroic masculine roles: He started weight-lifting; he learned martial arts and boxing; he wore overtly "masculine" costumes (leather, loincloths, uniforms, sports shirts with fronts widely open); he married and fathered two children; he organized his Shield Society, collaborated in designing their uniforms, and participated with them in the practice sessions of the Self-Defense Army; and, finally, he killed himself in the traditional ritual of the heroic Japanese warrior.

Mishima provides a fascinating study of a writer obsessed with the quest for masculinity. It led him to homosexual interests, masculine cults, male bonding, militaristic activities, and finally to the most masculine form of death. As a result, in his scheme of aesthetics, homoeroticism became inseparable from suicide.

He is unique among the world's writers in that he linked homoeroticism with self-willed death and put this theory into action. In so doing, he kept masking and unmasking his sexual orientation by overexposing it in massive pageantry. Of course, to put people in ambiguity about his sexuality was what the mask was always intended to achieve.

Citation Information
Author: Nakao, Seigo
Entry Title: Mishima, Yukio
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated October 12, 2007
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/mishima_y.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date November 25, 2012
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates
Forbidden Colors (“Kinjiki” in Japanese: the word “kinjiki” is not only a euphemism for homosexual but also means "forbidden colors," those colors permitted only to various ranks in the Heian royal court described by Murasaki, whose pen name means violet or purple, the color of secret passions.) kicked off my Yukio Mishima Period, which was a natural outgrowth of my fascination with Japanese literature (and movies), a fascination I shared with my sorely-missed friend Susan Sontag--" the godmother of “Mawrdew”; it's a long story!--who often brought me a new Japanese novel to add to my collection when she came to dinner. It was thrilling to read about the universality of my love of men, as well as to meet characters bravely accepting--not without great struggle--living outside the social norm, for this was pre-Stonewall. Also, the central character, Yuichi, is a great beauty who battles against his desires. Years later, while working in publishing, I read some modern romantic gothic novel--a form my mother loved and which I supplied her by the dozens--where the Jane-Eyre secret was not a crazy wife in the attic but--GASP!--a queer husband!! (There was actually a spate of these.) So, “Gaywyck” was born in 1977 as a way of proving that genres have no genders and romantic love is democratic realm not a het's kingdom. (The book was rejected by over 30 publishers and the editor who eventually bought it had to be convinced that gay people wanted romance: "If they want romance why hasn't anyone ever written a gay romance?" she asked me.) Like Yuichi, my Robert Gaylord is exquisitely gorgeous but has NO crisis when he falls in love with Donough Gaylord whose secrets in the attic generate enough grief for anybody. Their love is not the issue for Robert. He is only concerned with their happiness, not easily won but lasting forever after...as in all fairy tales. --Vincent Virga
Embracing Japanese Empirical repression and using it for self power is what Yukio Mishima is famous for, and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea is the best book, in my opinion, of this dichotomy. --Blair Mastbaum
Further Readings:

Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary P. Leupp
Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: University of California Press (May 15, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0520209001
ISBN-13: 978-0520209008
Amazon: Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan

Tokugawa Japan ranks with ancient Athens as a society that not only tolerated, but celebrated, male homosexual behavior. Few scholars have seriously studied the subject, and until now none have satisfactorily explained the origins of the tradition or elucidated how its conventions reflected class structure and gender roles. Gary P. Leupp fills the gap with a dynamic examination of the origins and nature of the tradition. Based on a wealth of literary and historical documentation, this study places Tokugawa homosexuality in a global context, exploring its implications for contemporary debates on the historical construction of sexual desire.
Combing through popular fiction, law codes, religious works, medical treatises, biographical material, and artistic treatments, Leupp traces the origins of pre-Tokugawa homosexual traditions among monks and samurai, then describes the emergence of homosexual practices among commoners in Tokugawa cities. He argues that it was "nurture" rather than "nature" that accounted for such conspicuous male/male sexuality and that bisexuality was more prevalent than homosexuality. Detailed, thorough, and very readable, this study is the first in English or Japanese to address so comprehensively one of the most complex and intriguing aspects of Japanese history.

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Tags: author: yukio mishima, boys like us, gay 100, gay classics, literary heritage, queers in history
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