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Yukio Mishima and Political Extremism

The novelist Yukio Mishima was twenty when World War II ended. He had been misdiagnosed as having tuberculosis and declared unfit for service. After the war he wished to see Japan return to its 1930s values. Like the militarists of the 1930s, he disliked modernity, he opposed foreign influences and he revered the emperor. He wished for Japan to revive its imperialism, but where he wished Japan to invade is not clear. Mishima was dreaming, failing to see that Japan's imperialism had developed as a part of a worldwide imperialism and that such imperialism was finished as a credo, that any attempt to return to conquest would have brought to Japan another disaster.

Japan had its "Red Army Faction" which grew out of the disturbances of the 1960s. Here, too, were young people who took an uncompromising opposition to the present order. Extending the battle to what they saw as the evil of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, they made a suicidal assault on the Tel Aviv airport, killing twenty-six people and wounding eighty. Their movement also came to nothing. The Japanese government eventually apprehended the Red Army's remaining activists, and their leader committed suicide in prison.

Mishima made a name for himself as an author, poet, playwright, actor, and film director. He was also devoted to bodybuilding, the martial arts and other displays of manliness. Like John Wayne, who in World War II chose to pursue his acting career rather than join the military, Mishima followed his missing action during the war with his glorification of soldiering. Mishima retained his nation's glorification of the military man's death.

Mishima had a tiny army of followers that paraded around in uniforms. On November 25, 1970, in Tokyo, Mishima and his army stormed the headquarters of Japan defense forces. On the headquarters balcony he shouted to a thousand or so soldiers on the parade ground below, voicing in military fashion his opposition to Japan's disgraceful defeat in World War II. The soldiers could hardly hear him because of the helicopters circling above, but it was obvious that they disliked Mishima. There were shouts of "shoot him," while Mishima was chanting, "Long Live the Emperor!" Mishima turned from the balcony and stepped into the commander's office. There he slit open his stomach, and one of his followers tried to behead him but missed, his sword hitting Mishima on his back. Another follower did the job right and in the same fashion helped the first follower kill himself, and he draped the two severed heads on the necks of the corpses.

Mishima and his little army had accomplished nothing. But a few people saw Mishima as having displayed truth. "Mishima got it right," one of his admirers would write in online commentary to a website devoted to Mishima. Another described Mishima's suicide as an example of strength and nobility. A Japanese wrote of Mishima representing "our spirit." Mishima was described as having won spiritually and as having upheld honor, pride and glory. One wrote of Mishima as having upheld Buddhist values. And from Italy came a description of Mishima as having rebelled against materialism, vileness, stupidity, liberalism and false democracy.

Sources

Japan: Who Governs? The Rise of the Developmental State,
by Chalmers Johnson

A History of Japanese Economic Thought, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, 1998

Mishima: a biography, by John Nathan, 1974

The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, by Henry Scott-Stokes, 1974

Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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