36 Views of Mishima Yukio (5) – Ian Buruma

Mishima Yukio
The European manners that Mishima often affected were typical of the old upper class. His samurai fantasies were not necessarily a contradiction to this. He wanted to remain an aristocrat, a knight of a special brotherhood in a vulgar age. Being Japanese, the only tradition of knighthood he could fall back upon was The Way of the Samurai, as expressed in such flamboyant works as Hagakure. […] But let us not be conned into thinking that he stood for more than himself. It would be best to concentrate on his books as works of art, not as props for grand statements about the authors life and death […] I do think most Japanese are right in regarding Mishima’s seppuku as little more than the pathetic act of a very gifted buffoon.

(quoted from Ian Buruma, The Missionary and the Libertine. Love and War in East and West. London, et al.: 1996)

4 Responses to “36 Views of Mishima Yukio (5) – Ian Buruma”


  1. 1 Cliff Burns October 2, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Are there good English translations of Mishima? I tried to read one of his novels once and couldn’t get beyond the first few pages. The prose seemed very stilted to me and I wondered if the fault wasn’t with the original author but whoever it was that was assigned the task of translation. Fascinating man, very complex sexually, politically, morally…

  2. 2 zuihitsu October 3, 2007 at 8:08 am

    Mishima sometimes does sound stilted, even in the original. I myself have not read all of his works in English (most of it in German, some in the original Japanese), but two english translations that I did like were Confessions of a Mask and Spring Snow. You might also want to try some of his short prose, e.g. Death in Midsummer. I find Mishima has a greater stylistic range, and comes across a bit less pretentious when writing in the short form.

  3. 3 Cliff Burns October 4, 2007 at 2:40 am

    Thank you for the tip–I like to expose myself to as many diverse authors as I can and Mishima (and, in all honesty, most Asian writers except for perhaps Ha Jin) is a big hole in my library I’d like to fill. Can you suggest other authors and titles? I welcome your recommendations…

  4. 4 zuihitsu October 4, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    I’m afraid my taste is very conventional when it comes to Japanese literature – I mostly like the big names from the Showa era: Kawabata, Mishima, Oe, Abe, Tanizaki, Inoue, etc. Likewise, among Meiji era writers, I like Soseki best. Nakagami Kenji is also great, but just a few of his writings have been translated. Chinese literature, I know next to nothing about, so I’ll refrain from commenting.


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