Yukio Mishima, pseudonym of Hiraoka Kimitake, was considered one of the most important Japanese novelist of the 20th century. He was born in Tokyo in 1925, and died there in 1970. Mishima was the son of a high civil servant and attended the aristocratic Peers School in Tokyo. During World War II, having failed to qualify physically for military service, he worked in a Tokyo factory and after the war studied law at the University of Tokyo. In 1948–49 he worked in the banking division of the Japanese Ministry of Finance. His first novel, Confessions of a Mask (1949), is a partly autobiographical work that describes with exceptional stylistic brilliance a homosexual who must mask his sexual preferences from the society around him. The novel gained Mishima immediate acclaim, and he began to devote his full energies to writing. He followed up his initial success with several novels whose main characters are tormented by various physical or psychological problems or who are obsessed by unattainable ideals that make everyday happiness impossible for them. In addition to novels Mishima also wrote short stories and essays, and also plays in the form of the Japanese Nō drama, producing reworked and modernized versions of the traditional stories. Mishima was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature 3 times. The short story “Patriotism” from the collection Death in Midsummer, and Other Stories (1966) revealed Mishima’s own political views and proved prophetic of his own end. The story describes, with obvious admiration, a young army officer who commits seppuku, or ritual disembowelment, to demonstrate his loyalty to the Japanese emperor. Mishima was deeply attracted to the austere patriotism and martial spirit of Japan’s past, which he contrasted unfavourably with the materialistic, Westernized people and the prosperous society of Japan in the postwar era. Mishima himself was torn between these differing values. Although he maintained an essentially Western life-style in his private life and had a vast knowledge of Western culture, he raged against Japan’s imitation of the West. He diligently developed the age-old Japanese arts of karate and kendo and formed a controversial private army of about 80 students, the Tate no Kai (Shield Society), with the idea of preserving the Japanese martial spirit and helping protect the emperor in case of an uprising by the left or a Communist attack. On Nov. 25, 1970, after having that day delivered the final installment of The Sea of Fertility, his 4 volumes epic work, to his publisher, Mishima and four Shield Society followers seized control of the commanding general’s office at a military headquarters near downtown Tokyo. He gave a 10-minut speech from a balcony to a thousand assembled servicemen in which he urged them to overthrow Japan’s post-World War II constitution, which forbids war and Japanese rearmament. The soldiers’ response was unsympathetic, and Mishima then committed seppuku in the traditional manner, disemboweling himself with his sword, followed by decapitation at the hands of a follower.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is considered the father of the Japanese short story. He wrote more than 150 short stories, including “In a Grove” and “Rashōmon,” on which director Akira Kurosawa based his renowned film. Akutagawa was born in Tokyo to a mentally-ill mother who committed suicide shortly after his birth. His father, who struggled to raise him, transferred the child to his brother-in-law’s care. In his writing h, was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, repudiated literary naturalism, and was drawn to the mysterious and the bizarre. He defined the world as an “olympiad of lunatics,” and at the age of 35, when he felt that he himself was about to lose his sanity, committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
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