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Mishima, Yukio (1925-1970)  
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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.

Homoeroticism in Mishima's Works

His interests are manifested in his works in several ways: for instance, narcissism in his photoerotic book Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses (1963); praise of a female impersonating Kabuki actor in "Onnagata" (1957); critical writings on Jean Genet and Oscar Wilde; and extensive allusions to Western writers of male-homoerotic inclination (André Gide, Walter Pater, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, to name only a few).

Confessions of a Mask

With Confessions of a Mask (1949), Mishima bared his suppressed homosexuality. Confessions was the first novel dealing with male homosexuality in modern Japanese literature that gained both artistic recognition and wide popularity. The story abounds with references to Western figures of homosexual tendency: Heliogabalus, Michelangelo, de Sade, Winckelmann, Huysmans, Wilde and Proust.

The protagonist, at the age of four, is awakened to his sexuality; he recognizes his preference for young blue-collar workers. His first object of love is a night-soil man, a ladler of excrement. He feels "a kind of desire like stinging pain" for this man. His gaze is riveted to his close-fitting work trousers, which outline "the lower half of his body, which move[s] lithely and seem[s] to be walking directly toward [him]."

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Yukio Mishima in 1956. Photograph by Shirou Aoyama.
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