Mishima Yukio and Modern Japanese Literature featured in Grantland

Thank you, Tyler Mahaffey, for sending me this link!

Fans of Yukio Mishima 三島由紀夫 (1925-1970), you should read The Sea of Crisis, by Brian Phillips. This is some really good reading (and writing!), but caution: if you’re just scrolling through while waiting in line at the bank, then you’d better wait until you get home, or at least get someplace comfortable where you can sit and enjoy this piece.

The article interlaces a story about Japanese sumo wrestling with a little bit of mystery that surrounds the life of the post-war writer Mishima.

If you walk into a bookstore, chances are they’ll have some Mishima on the shelves. Despite really being into existentialism, magic-realism, and Beat literature (strange mix?), when I was living in Japan for the first time, I had decided that I would only read Japanese authors. Until that point I had never formally studied anything about Japan, or Asia for that matter. I was a recently graduated English-literature-major living in Osaka and trying to dive headfirst into this new world–so what better way to do it than by exploring the country’s literature?

I did not speak Japanese at all, other than “round-house kick” and “spear-hand thrust,” so when it came to J-lit I was limited by what was printed in English. On one of my day’s off I went to a book store in Namba (Kinokuniya, maybe?) where I had heard they had a large selection of “English books,” which could mean anything from trashy romance novels to Webster dictionaries. Fortunately, they had a lot of J-lit in translation. I had no idea who or what I was looking for, so I went to the far left-end of the shelf where the “A’s” were and took the first book: Abe Kōbō’s 阿部公房 (1924-1993) Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna 砂の女).

The Woman in the Dunes. Publisher: Vintage. ISBN-10: 0679733787.

Choosing this book was a total crap shoot, but I won. I didn’t know this at the time, but Abe was influenced by some of the same philosophers and authors whom I had really liked and enjoyed. The existentialist nature of Woman in the Dunes was immediately obvious to me. I loved this book. So much so that I made my seniors read it when I was teaching World Literature at Monsignor Bonner High School (there’s probably still a box of them in the Language Arts faculty room…)

Anyway, to Mishima…

A co-worker who I had hardly known (I, being new to the country), Julian Ward, asked me about what I was reading. He noticed my new-found enthusiasm for J-lit and recommended Mishima Yukio to me. I went back to the same book store a week later, skipped the books ordered from “B” to “L,” and took the first Mishima book they had, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Gogo no eikō 午後の曳航).

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is completely different than Woman in the Dunes. Woman in the Dunes: think Kafka meets Sartre. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea: I don’t know… just think Freud? Oedipus complex? In Mishima’s novel, I kind of enjoyed the child-character’s twisted nature, perhaps only because it had challenged my image of Japanese people…? However, I can’t help but think this novel is only good for it’s shock value, rather than having some profound insight into society. Whereas, Woman in the Dunes really has a profound critique of Japanese post-war society.

1994 First Vintage International Edition paperback cover

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. Publisher: Vintage. ISBN-10: 0679750150.

As I learned more and more about Mishima though, I became more interested in his antics as a “member of society” than as a writer. This is, I think, true for most people. Abe lived what was probably a boring life, whereas Mishima was out there doing all these crazy things like modeling, writing, body building, kendō, hanging out with movie stars, living a secret double life as a homosexual male. Modern day readers newly discovering J-lit hear about all these things about Mishima’s life that draw the attention away from his writing, which, I dare say, is less interesting than his life.

What the article that this post links to talks about is Mishima’s “samurai” like death by self-disembowelment and eventual beheading after he and his mini-militia stormed Japan’s Self-Defense Forces’ headquarters. Intriguing, no? Enjoy the article~

Mishima Yukio 三島由紀夫


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s