Today in Literary History – November 25, 1970 – Yukio Mishama’s ritual suicide

On November 25, 1970, Japanese author Yukio Mishima committed ritual suicide, seppuku, a form of hara-kiri involving ritual disembowelment, literally falling on your sword.

Mishima was one of the most popular and important novelists of the Japanese post-war years. He was also very popular in the English language world.

I read two of his novels when I was in my late thirties (The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea and Confessions of a Mask) after reading a biography of Mishima.

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Considering his hyper-militarist and conservative Japanese nationalist stances in life I was touched by how tender they were.

Mishima was nominated for The Nobel Prize three times. He was also a divisive figure in Japan for his support of a modern version of the samurai movement. He was in fact a direct descendant of samurai himself.

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His death is still bizarre and shrouded in counterclaims. He had organized his own militia and had taken over a military headquarters and made a rambling speech to the troops.

At the time his intention was said to be to inspire a coup against the Japanese government. It now seems he knew his actions would fail and planned his suicide as more of a political statement than a something that would lead to action.

In the end it descended into farce. The soldiers jeered at him. When the time came for Mishima to be ritually beheaded his co-conspiritors couldn’t get it right, only succeeding after several very messy attempts.

 

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