A meditation on why a modern Japanese writer rejected the veracity of the word for the spiritual discipline of physical action, culminating in the gesture at the Self-Defense Force Headquarters in November 1970.
Mishima's reverence for the Japanese martial arts led him to take up Kendo (a type of fencing, with wooden swords) and Karate, as well as body-building, and by 1968 he had become a Kendo master of the fifth dan. He also organized a "private army" called the Shield Society, and in November 1970 he and his group forced their way into a Self-Defense Force headquarters in Tokyo, where Mishima, after reading out a proclamation, committed ritual suicide with a young follower in the commanding officer's room. On the morning of his death, the last volume of Mishima's tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility ( The Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, The Decay of the Angel) was delivered to his publisher.
He is survived by his wife and two children.
The Translator: John Bester, born and educated in England, is one of the foremost translators of Japanese fiction. Among his translations are Masuji Ibuse's Black Rain, Kenzaburo Oe's The Silent Cry, Fumiko Enchi's The Waiting Years, and Junnosuke Yoshiyuki's The Dark Room. He received the 1990 Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature (for Mishima's Acts of Worship).
Of course, this is assuming the book accurately reflects the author's views. If you have read Mishima biographies such as Stokes' "Life and Death of Yukio Mishima" you might agree that "Sun and Steel" is a true reflection of the author's feelings. Otherwise, you might not have a good frame of reference.
It's a good idea not to make this the first of Mishima's works that you read (the aforementioned biography and "Confessions of A Mask" are suitable prerequisites). However, it is an interesting work in its own right.
My main reason for not giving this book 5 stars is that I was longing for more depth into his character than could be provided in so short a work; but maybe that's just because of my fascination with the author's life.
From the outset, it is clear that Mishima advocated an "active" creativity and that he held in contempt those who used words to convey experiences yet denied their own heroic capabilities.
For Mishima, art, action and creativity had to embrace the tragic. To be a hero meant sacrifice of the highest order and suffering life's strangest and most difficult problems. "He who dabbles in words can create tragedy, wrote Mishima, "but cannot participate in it."
Mishima begins Sun and Steel by telling us that, for much of his life, he held an unnatural view of the world, due to the fact that his awareness of words preceded his awareness of his body. This isolated him, he says, and he spent much time at his bedroom window simply watching the world go by.
"Words," says Mishima, "are a medium that reduces the world to an abstraction...and in their power to corrode reality inevitably lurks the danger that the words will be corroded, too."
Mishima explains how he attempted to overcome this "corrosive function of words" with physical discipline of the body. Because his early years were suffused with words, as an adult, he seeks balance in life with a preoccupation with the physical. His body, he says, came to be a metaphor of the human condition and allowed him to directly experience the tragic in life.
Life, says, Mishima, can be intellectualized, but the only thing that imposes dignity on life is the element of mortality that lies within. Here we have the key to both Mishima's writing and his own life and death.Read more ›