Patriotism by Yukio Mishima Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

Patriotism

One of the most powerful short stories ever written: Yukio Mishima’s masterpiece about the erotics of patriotism and honor, love and suicide.

By now, Yukio Mishima’s (1925-1970) dramatic demise through an act of seppuku after an inflammatory public speech has become the stuff of literary legend. With Patriotism, Mishima was able to give his heartwrenching patriotic idealism

By now, Yukio Mishima’s (1925-1970) dramatic demise through an act of seppuku after an inflammatory public speech has become the stuff of literary legend. With Patriotism, Mishima was able to give his heartwrenching patriotic idealism an immortal vessel. A lieutenant in the Japanese army comes home to his wife and informs her that his closest friends have become mutineers. He and his beautiful loyal wife decide to end their lives together. In unwavering detail Mishima describes Shinji and Reiko making love for the last time and the couple’s seppuku that follows.
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    Traveller

    Sep 13, 2012

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    Mishima addressing the troops before withdrawing to commit seppuku.

    ***
    On the twenty-eighth of February, 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 Incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Konoe Transport Battalion—profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers from the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops- took his officer’s sword and ceremonially disemboweled himself in the eig

    ***
    On the twenty-eighth of February, 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 Incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Konoe Transport Battalion—profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers from the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops- took his officer’s sword and ceremonially disemboweled himself in the eight-mat room of his private residence in the sixth block of Aoba-cho, in Yotsuya Ward.

    His wife, Reiko, followed him, stabbing herself to death. The lieutenant’s farewell note consisted of one sentence: “Long live the Imperial Forces.” His wife’s, after apologies for her unfilial conduct in thus preceding her parents to the grave, concluded: “The day which, for a soldier’s wife, had to come, has come. . . .” The last moments of this heroic and dedicated couple were such as to make the gods themselves weep.

    The lieutenant’s age, it should be noted, was thirty-one, his wife’s twenty-three; and it was not half a year since the celebration of their marriage.

    ***

    Thus the story opens.

    The February 26 rebellion mentioned in this novella, was a true event. The Niniroku Jiken Incident (or the February 26 Incident), was an attempted coup d’état in Japan on 26 February 1936, organized by a group of young Imperial Japanese Army officers with the goal of purging the government and military leadership of their factional rivals and ideological opponents.

    The hero of the story of the novella, the fictional Lieutenant Takeyama, feels that it is more honorable to commit ritual suicide than to have to choose between loyalty to his comrades and loyalty to the Emperor, by whom he is ordered take action against the rebels.

    But the novella is a foreshadowing of yet another event, an even stranger one, instigated by Yukio Mishima himself.

    Yukio Mishima is an icon of Japanese cultural life. Flamboyant, romantic, eccentric, he was also an intensely idealistic and political person. It is beyond the scope of an article on this story to deal with his life and politics in detail, but the way in which Mishima ended his own life, was a strange echo of the way in which the hero of this novella ended his life.

    On November 25, 1970, the Japanese author and playwright Yukio Mishima committed seppuku in an attempted military coup. Mishima had planned his suicide meticulously for at least a year.

    Psychologically speaking, he was an extremely complex person.

    Politically speaking, he was almost in a class of his own. He wanted Japan to go back to its old traditional ways, and his interpretation of the samurai code, or warrior code, known as “Bushidō” or “the way of the warrior” had special emphasis on the warrior’s readiness to die, and on how it is more honorable to die a hero’s death than to live a shameful life. Ritual suicide is, according to the Samurai code, a way to gain back lost honor. (The code generally stresses dignity, obedience to cultural rules, and honor.) You would think that this would place Mishima on the far right of the political spectrum, but the Right wing were contemptuous of Mishima’s declaration that Emperor Hirohito should have resigned from the Chrysanthemum Throne.

    Mishima’s militaristic patriotism and his romantic idealism are reflected in many of his works, including this novella.

    If I’d had to rate this directly after first reading it, (I bought the book in Japan in my mid-late teens), I would have been impressed enough to have given it 5 stars – the novella is a lyrical and riveting depiction of a dual ritual suicide, the events that precede it, and the cultural milieu it plays out in.

    When I first read this, I had not known a thing about Mishima. I had found the novella very dramatic and romantic, and the idealism spoke to me. It really gripped me. My teenage self felt very impressed.

    …but writing a review on it now, with what I do know now about Japan and Mishima, I can’t help but automatically integrate what I have read and seen of Mishima and his background, with how I feel towards this text.

    I have since had time to think about the Mishima/Samurai/seppuku debacle, (of which I see this novella as a romanticization) and now I have pretty much mixed feelings.

    Besides general issues that I may have with Mishima’s political sentiments, the real seppuku undertaken by Mishima and his friends was a much less romantic undertaking and much more of a horribly messy affair, because the person who had been assigned to decapitate Mishima, couldn’t complete the duty after many tries (slashing Mishima’s neck, but not actually decapitating him) and someone else had to complete the task for him.

    In fact, it was horrific in it’s garbled execution, if you’ll excuse the pun.

    In this novella, Mishima gives his intended seppuku a much more romantic treatment, which makes what really happened so much more horrible to contemplate.

    (Seppuku or harakiri is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Part of the samurai bushido honor code, seppuku was either performed voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, or as a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed serious offenses, or performed for other reasons that had brought shame to them.

    Dressed ceremonially, with his sword placed in front of him, the warrior would prepare for death by writing a death poem.
    With his selected attendant standing by, he would open his robe, take up his knife or short sword and plunge it into his abdomen, making a left-to-right cut. The kaishakunin would then perform kaishaku, a cut in which the warrior was decapitated.
    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seppuku )

    Warrior about to commit seppuku.

    In reading this work, I feel that it is worthwhile keeping in mind that this act of suicide (although now outdated) was very much a cultural thing with a long tradition, closely tied in with the Japanese concepts of honor and shame. I think it is something that might be rather strange for most Westerners to contemplate, since we actually tend to see suicide as a shameful thing; whereas in the context of this story, it is quite the opposite.

    Hard as it must be to commit any suicide, I cannot imagine the determination it must require to actually disembowel yourself with a dagger or sword.

    All the context aside, this is a novella that is a worthwhile read as a demonstration of Mishima’s narrative skill, and is probably one of those “1001 novellas you should read before you die”. It is a work of strangeness and beauty. Interesting also, are its various themes. As is obvious from its opening paragraphs, Mishima has a very idealistic interpretation of patriotism, an interpretation which is romantic despite its severity.

    The novella is a window that lends some insight especially for Western readers, into the Japanese concepts of tradition and honor, and specifically into the traditional way of thought of the Samurai.

    In any case, from various sources, it is fairly obvious that Mishima fantasized a lot about his coming suicide. In addition, a lot of his creative work deals with the subject of death.

    He even made a film of this novella, which is definitely worthwhile watching and has a haunting quality. What is memorable is Mishima’s ability to make what is actually a grisly event come across as something which has a dreamlike, surreal beauty. (Which just makes it feel more creepy, yet riveting at the same time).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO-w-c…

    The film is co-directed by Mishima himself, and he also acts in it, playing the main role.

    This work gets 4 stars for its iconic status.

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