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The selfish, selfless Yukio Mishima

I've been going through something of a Yukio Mishima phase again recently. I did once before, many years ago, until a cursory read of his biography saw me dismiss him as deeply flawed, and in his fascination with violence, perhaps more ugly than beautiful. But I am having second thoughts. I don't think I will ever condone his suicide—it bespeaks to me ultimately of selfishness, and short-sightedness, and for one so enamoured of the virtues of duty, strength, sacrifice and courage—the forgotten“bushido” code of the Samurai—even of weakness. He was a man who cared passionately for his country, and his pronouncement that she would gain little satisfaction through her headlong rush for material prosperity has been more than vindicated, yet it seems common sense to say that he would have been better placed to make his point living rather than dead. His word alone was newsworthy, and as one once connected to the wife of the Emperor and personal friend of the Prime Minister, he moved in circles that suggested a career in politics was there for the taking should he have wished. So his death can only be seen as a waste; his desire to live his life as a poem and die by the code of bushido ultimately a vain, selfish act that more served himself than the greater good. Still though, I find much to admire in his written and lived ideals, and it should be emphasised in Mishima's case that they were always lived—his death the ultimate example of that. He prided himself on turning ideas into action, a form of self-abnegation in which he sought to erase, in his view, the effeminate, ineffective intellectual of his youth, by becoming a man of strength and action. And I can’t help but secretly admire, half in horror half in awe, his final, mis-guided act, and the un-imaginable courage—or insanity —it must have taken to do such a thing. Almost completely un-heard of now, seppukku was near common-place in pre-modern Japan; Mishima’s however was the first recorded of the post-war era. In the short excerpt that follows, some will see simply an idealisation of self-destruction, and in the tale of a pre-war army officer, a glorifying of the militarism that so led Japan astray. But that would only be a shallow reading of the story, very much incomplete. Yes, Patriotism is a celebration of death, but not in a negative, destructive sense. Rather it celebrates the death of an army officer and his wife as the ultimate form of sacrifice—his death for belief and country; her death for him—the wife takes her husband’s beliefs as her own. Patriotism asks the question “what if?”—what if the sacrifice of 1936 Niniroku Jiken uprising, of which this real life army officer was a part, hadn't been in vain, if this last stand against the faction in favour of western style militarism and imperialism—forces incidentally which the “rightist” Mishima saw as negative, “un-Japanese” imports—had been successful. With the restoration of the spirit of bushido to the army, and its spirit of sacrifice and honour, of true service to the greater good, the destructive war with America might have been averted—a war which very near totally destroyed Japan outwardly, and, in Mishima’s view, in the occupation that followed, with its enforced constitution, robbed her inwardly of half her essence—the sword no longer beside the chrysanthemum. Mishima saw Japan as having lost her spiritual values, and in her excessive materialism, dying slowly from a “tediousness” and “insipidness” of the soul. Sadly, although largely proved correct, he left the earthly stage prematurely, and with surely much still to contribute. It is perhaps worth saying that his criticism of Japan is hardly unique to Japan; the whole world would do well to heed this warning near forty years old against materialism unchecked.

Memoirs of a Gaijin

kenchoji.jpgI've been enjoying reading several blogs from Japan recently, written by foreigners living there, or“gaijin” as they are known to the Japanese. I'm sure there are countless Japanese bloggers out there who write in English, and one day I'll hunt them down as well, but as one who was actually in Japan only six months ago I am for the moment enjoying the like-minded, non-Japanese perspective of these fellow gaijin. Like myself, each of these bloggers each went to Japan for their love of the country, and write about the lives they are leading there with a mixture of fascination and endearment, rather than empty curiosity or worse. I have also just added a few of my own stories about Japan here now that we are on the topic. Considering that I only spent a single week in Japan my stories may in truth be somewhat light in actual content, yet the very fact that I wrote thousands of words speaks something of the experience... Recommended blogs on Japan School Yanki Given the choice between a BMW convertible or a $15,000 shopping spree anywhere in the world, this graduating American high school student chose neither; instead requesting her parents allow her to spend her last semester in Japan:
“I think that took them off-guard. Mom really regrets dropping that mint julep glass. The set is worthless now that one of the glasses is broken.”
Pandora has only just started her blog, and is writing almost in real-time about her adventures in a Japanese school. This blog will only get better, especially now that the rumour is out that she is“Yanki” (a notorious type of anti-social punk). Firefly in Japan Firefly (not his real name) came to Japan from Australia five years ago with no Japanese, little money and no friends or contacts, to study martial arts for a month. After one week of living in Tokyo he decided to stay:
“I felt like Japan was testing me. Seeing if I had what it takes. One guy at martial arts often talked about the“martial arts god”, who looks after people who come to Japan with the serious intent to learn martial arts.“If you just commit yourself to martial arts, things will happen,” he told me, as we sat on a train speeding through the Japanese countryside.”
Firefly’s blog has proved to be enormously popular in a short space of time. An only cursory sampling of his writing might leave you with the impression that he is a typically“ignorant” gaijin, but you would be mistaken—enthusiastically and sincerely written, his posts are filled with valuable insights into Japanese life and culture, and his roadside encounter with a yakuza is one of many classics. ChadTheEvilXpat At the time of writing the evil Chad‘s blog has vanished, perhaps under the strain of the traffic that comes making the front-page of Reddit, but hopefully he will soon return, as his "Helpful advice of how to mess with Japanese people” was a blogging classic:
“When you're about to cross a 1-lane road with no other cars for 500 meters in either direction and there is still a mob of people waiting for the crossing light, proceed across without breaking stride. Bonus points if there are mothers holding their children back for whom you can provide a bad example, and further bonus points if anyone follows you who was previously standing there.”
Chad probably is a typical gaijin, yet his candour and irreverence are refreshing. Terry Dobson’s story Not a blog, but a great story about a 70 year old using Aikido to“disarm” an aggressive drunk on a Tokyo train. Hint: Aikido translates as“the way of harmonious spirit.”
"C’mere," the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. "C’mere and talk with me." He waved his hand lightly. The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, "Why the hell should I talk to you?" The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.