Kimitake Hiraoka,better known to the world by the pen name of Yukio Mishima was born in Tokyo in 1925. He was the first of three children born to Azusa and Shizue Hiroaka. Azusa Hiroaka , Mishima's father, was a government offical, while his mother Shizue was the daughter of a school principal in Tokyo. At the time of Mishima's birth, his parents were living with Jotaro and Natsuko Hiroaka, Mishima's paternal grandparents. Jotaro Hiroaka came from a family who had once been farmers, but he rose to be a senior level civil servant in the Japanese government,despite his family's humble origins. His wife, Natsuko Hiroaka, came from a family who had descended from samurais. Her maiden name was Natsu Nagai and she was the oldest of twelve children.Her paternal grandfather was a member of the aristocracy in Japan called a "daimyo". He was related by marriage to the Tokugawas who were the ruling military family of Japan for 250 years.
Natsuko Hiroaka instilled in her grandson Kimitake the spirit of her samurai ancestors which stressed self-discipline and complete control over both mind and body.She also taught him to be proud and to carry that sense of pride with him at all times. One of her favorite sayings to her grandson was "You should be as haughty as you can be." Natsuko Hiroaka was probably most powerful influence on Yukio Mishima of anyone in his life.You can see her influence throughout much of his writing.She passed on to Mishima her romantic longing for the past and she bred in him a fierce desire for both beauty and purity.It is not surprising that Mishima would always be dissatisfied with who he was.
Mishima's parents Azusa and Shizue Hiroaka lived on the second floor of Jotaro and Natsuko Hiroaka's house while Jotaro and Natsuko Hiroaka lived on the first floor. Twenty-nine days after he was born, Mishima was taken from his mother by his grandmother and raised by her on the first floor of the family home. Mishima's mother was only allowed to see her son to feed him.The grandmother kept her grandson by her side at all times. In March of 1937, Yukio Mishima finally returned to live with his parents.His grandmother was 62 years old and was becoming very ill. In January of 1939 Mishima's grandmother died of hemorrhaging ulcers.His father would comment to the Mishima biographer John Nathan many years later that when his son learned of his grandmother's death he showed no emotion. In the many years that followed, Mishima never talked or wrote about his grandmother except to say that he was raised " a grandma's boy".
Mishima's first novel was published in his school paper while he was thirteen. Later, with the help of Fumio Shimizu,a teacher at the Gakushuin school where he attended, his first long work "The Forest in Full Bloom" was published in a magazine called "Bungei Bunka". The year was 1941 and Mishima was sixteen years old.
Shortly before World War Two began in the Pacific, "The Forest in Full Bloom" was published and Hiroaka Kimitake adopted the pen name of "Yukio Mishima" to hide his age. "Yukio" comes from the word yuki, which is Japanese for snow and Mishima is a town which known for its view of the snowy peaks of Mt. Fuji.
Shortly before entering college Mishima began to focus much more strongly on his writing. In 1943 he entered Tokyo Imperial University where he studied law. While a student there, he published his first collection of short stories, the first printing of which sold out in one week.
In 1944, Mishima had his first major work "The Forest in Full Bloom" published in Tokyo. To have a book published in the last year of the war was considered a great achievement for any Japanese writer, since because of a shortage of paper many books weren't being published. The publisher printed 4000 copies for the first printing of the book. The first edition sold out in one week.
Mishima graduated from the university in 1947 and worked for a brief time at the Finance Ministry. He resigned from the ministry in 1948 and decided to support himself exclusively from his writing. In July of 1949 his first novel "Confessions of a Mask" was published, causing Mishima to be called one of Japan's most promising new writers. Between 1950 and1964 Mishima turned out a prolific body of writings ranging from novels, plays, short stories, essays to travel books and articles for magazines. Some of his most important and successful novels were written during this time : " Thirst for Love ", " Forbidden Colors ", " The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea ", " Silk and Insight ", " After the Banquet " and " The Sound of the Waves ". In 1956 Mishima published "Temple of the Golden Pavilion", his most commercially successful work of this period.
On May 30th 1958 Yukio Mishima married Yoko Sugiyama. Yoko Sugiyama was the daughter of Nei Sugiyama, one of Japan's most famous traditional painters. The two had met the previous March through a friend of the Mishima family. Yoko Sugiyama was a 19 year old college sophmore when she first met Yukio Mishima and Mishima was 33 years old.
Mishima made it clear from the beginning that he expected certain things from his wife before he would enter into marriage. First, he expected his wife to understand that his writing would always come first. He also expected her to respect his right to privacy as well to agree not to interfere with his bodybuilding routine. It is hard to say why Mishima choose to marry considering all of the conditions that he expected his wife to comply with. One reason seems to have been his mother's health. In March of 1958 his mother was diagnosed as having a terminal form of cancer. The diagnosis turned out eventually to be incorrect, but Mishima rushed through the various marriage arrangements to ensure his mother that she would see him married and with a family before she died.
Another reason for Mishima's decision to marry was given by the writer and Mishima biographer John Nathan. John Nathan stated in his biography about Yukio Mishima entitled "Mishima : a biography" that even though Mishima went out of his way to shock the Japanese public with his outrageous behavior, he was very passionately concerned with what other people thought of him. It is considered very unusual for a middle class person in Japan to be unmarried after the age of 30. Most successful people in Japan are expected to marry and raise a family. Nathan's feeling is that Mishima was always very concerned with preserving his own respectability and this respectability meant that he should be married and have a family.
From 1964 to November 25, 1970, Mishima worked on the "Sea of Fertility" novels.These four novels are considered to be his masterwork.Together they depict a portrait of Japanese life fom 1912 to 1970.
On November 25, 1970, the same day that he finished the last novel of "Sea of Fertiliity", Yukio Mishima along with several members of his private army,called "The Shield Society" took over a military base in Ichigaya and demanded the resignation of Japan's prime minister. He read a manifesto to the soldiers who gathered in the courtyard encouraging them to rise up and save Japan. When his actions failed to rouse the soldiers to revolt, he committed seppuka(ritual suicide).He was 45 years old.
Yukio Mishima has often been accused of being a right wing fanatic, but neither he or any other member of his private army were ever involved in any violence which is usually characteristic of most right wing organizations. In addition neither he or any other member of the "Shield Society" were on the list of subversive groups monitored by the very cautious Japanese police. Some feel that the "Shield Society" was a by all accounts less of a real paramilitary organization and more of a theatrical group involved in political and social protest, but it is hard to ignore the political nature of the actions of Mishima's last days. After all, Mishima and his followers took over a military base, held a high ranking Japanese general hostage, and incited the armed forces of his country to overthrow their democratically elected government, before ending his own life by ritual suicide(seppuku).Whatever it's true purpose may have been, Mishima used "The Shield Society" to challenge his country to seriously reconsider the westernized direction that they were taking.
To see a picture of Yukio Mishima, click here.
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