Yukio Mishima, the pseudonym used by Kimitake Hiraoka, was one of Japan's greatest novelists and playwrights and perhaps the Japanese author most read by Western readers. In his lifetime he produced over 100 works, including novels, short stories, plays, literary essays, and screenplays. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times. His works deal with themes such as death, the spiritual barrenness and meaninglessness of contemporary life, sexuality, cultural norms and changes, and the tensions between mind and body.
Mishima was born in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo on January 14th, 1925. He attended the elite Peers School and enrolled in Tokyo Imperial University in 1943, graduating with a law degree in 1947. He did not qualify for military service during World War II and worked in an aircraft factory instead. Later he was employed in the finance ministry. He married Yoko Sugiyama on May 30th, 1958. Yoko was the daughter of a famous painter named Nei Sugiyama. They had two children -- Noriko and Ichiro. Despite his traditional family life, Mishima is commonly understood to be a closeted homosexual. There is evidence that he visited gay bars and had a homosexual correspondence with another Japanese writer, Jiro Fukushima. His first novel, Confessions of a Mask (1948), has strong homosexual themes.
His true passion was literature and he began devoting all of his time to studying and writing. His literary influences included Oscar Wilde and Rainer Maria Rilke. Mishima's intense self-discipline resulted in his practice of writing from midnight until dawn.
His first novel was the partly autobiographical Confessions of a Mask (1948); this novel was a popular and critical success and allowed him to become a full-time author. His other most important literary works include The Sound of Waves (1954), The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (1963), and the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, which consisted of Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel (1970).
Mishima was not content with the sedentary life of an author, and took up weight training and began working out regularly and intensely in the last fifteen years of his life. He was also remarkably skilled at kendo. He enlisted in the Ground Self Defense Force and underwent basic training, later forming the Tatenokai (Shield Society), a private army of young students who studied martial arts and discipline and vowed to protect the Emperor. As he aged, his brand of nationalism was disavowed by Japanese leftists as well as mainstream nationalists; the former did not approve of his adherence to the code of the samurai, while the latter did not appreciate his criticism of Hirohito.
Mishima is widely known for his flamboyant suicide and failed coup on November 25th, 1970. This was also the day he completed the last volume of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy; he handed the copy to his publisher that morning. That day Mishima and four members of the Shield Society took over the Ichigaya Camp, the Self Defense Forces' military headquarters in Tokyo, and after giving a speech to the soldiers gathered below a balcony that railed against the Americanized Japanese constitution and implored the JSDF to rebel and protect Japan's traditions and culture, he committed seppuku, ritual suicide. He was 45 years old.
Study Guides on Works by Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima's The Sound of Waves was published in 1954 in Japanese. It was translated into English by Meredith Weatherby and published in North America in 1956. It is a sweet and simple tale of two lovers on an idyllic, isolated Japanese island...