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Lectures on the Mind for Young Samurai, by Mishima Yukio

Lectures on the Mind for Young Samurai, by Mishima Yukio
Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno / Unsplash
"The approximation of all forms of sex to the trifling, if expensive, escapist pleasure that comes from taking [sleeping] pills may be called the most critical phenomenon of our time."

Lectures on the Mind for Young Samurai

Mishima Yukio

For Young Samurai


On Life

After beginning life, people gradually begin art. I have the sense that my case was the reverse, that I began life after I began art. Be that as it may, in general, the sequence1 is to go from life to art.

Artists who threw light on the meaning of going from life to art are, for example, Stendhal2 and Casanova. Stendhal's own life was full of vexation and he was not necessarily popular with women, but in the course of repeated failures, he realized that it was only through literature that his dreams could be realized. On the other hand, Casanova through inborn talent had one love affair after another, and when, after having tasted the good fruit of that life to his satisfaction, he had decided that there was no more for him to do, he began to write his recollections.

This is both a contest and a competition between art and life. We have fallen under the illusion that we learn life from novelists, but the lives of novelists are impoverished, while in the wider world there are many people who have lived rich lives. Further, probably one percent of those people who have lived rich lives have a desire to record them. But recording itself requires talent and technique, and, just like all sports and techniques, it a long process of training3. While engaged in training, one cannot enjoy life. Further, in the midst of adventure one cannot train the talent for recording. So when people think to record their own lives, to leave them to the world as a pleasant story for future generations, it is generally too late. Those who were not too late, who barely made it in time, are rare examples like Casanova.

On the other hand, like Stendhal, life does not necessarily go as one wishes. One is not necessarily popular with women, either. To condense all the dissatisfaction, rage, dreams, and poetry of one’s life into a single novel, one must have spectacular ability. Because that is to create something from nothing, and to create a different world with one’s powers of imagination. Powers of imagination are often born of dissatisfaction. Or they are born of boredom. When we are engrossed in action and pouring all our energies into living in a time of crisis, it is almost never the case that we have room for powers of imagination. If powers of imagination become the cause of neuroses, wartime Japan, which was subjected to air raids, was a situation in which it was most difficult for neuroses to emerge. In that era, there were few thieves, little crime, and the sustenance4 of people’s powers of imagination was entirely concentrated in that enterprise in which success is impossible if all the energies of a people are not focused that is war.

Earlier I said that my own life began later than art, but such novelists are in fact the majority. Someone who begins writing novels at twenty has no option but to expand his powers of imagination on the basis of what he has felt until that age. That is rather a problem of sensitivity5 than experience. We, in the midst of the easily wounded fragility of sensitivity, discover incongruities with our life, and in order to bury the gaps in those incongruities, seek to play in the world of words. Because that is the origin of many novelists, the strong power of will, endurance, and other powers of the fully fledged human being sufficient to taste true life consequently end up being used when they begin to write novels. Abilities that are supposed to be useful for life are all devoted to areas of competence for being a novelist. They harden as professionals, and they can seek the most pure, most unsullied, and most intense experiences of their own lives only in the life of sensitivity prior to their boyhood. That writers are often said to mature toward their maiden work is for no other reason than that, for writers, it is that unstable work formed from the most keen sensitivity when their experience of life was yet insufficient that becomes the treasured home of their life experience to which they will return repeatedly.

Not only boyhood, but also infancy is a treasured home for writers. There, life is not an experience, but merely a dream. Not reason, but merely sensitivity. They also evade the responsibilities of adults and are protected by them. This is a different subject, but that, in the political action of the National Federation of Students’ Self-Government Associations, a character as a sort of artistic act cannot be completely gotten rid of is because they are still glued to this sort of juvenile world and politics of dreams and concepts. We do not begin life satisfied with it from the first. Satisfied people are quite exceptional. This will remain the same no matter what sort of social revolution succeeds. Art begins from there.

On Art

Yesterday, I met a former soldier now fifty years of age who graduated from the former military academy. He is now successful and a businessman, but he has faced death seven times in his life. The transport ship convoy that he commanded was repeatedly sunk. He has experienced being sunk six times.

According to him, when he, at the sound of an enemy raid, looked at the sky, several enemy planes suddenly attacked from the front, the right, and the back of the boat.6 If it had been a raid from only two directions, they would have been able to somehow escape with a serpentine motion of the ship, but when attacked from three directions there is nothing one can do. Around them rose water columns from depth bombs. Those white water columns seemed to stand still as if they had been painted. Just like a fountain, the shape of the water was fixed in the air. He gave orders to let down the division commander with the regimental colors in a boat and for other sailors to jump into the sea, while he himself remained until the end with the petty officer, who clung to his waist and trembled. The ship gradually tilted. Then, the sixty year old veteran captain share his fate with the ship by wrapping a chain around his body. At the last moment he jumped into the sea, but he said that there were as many as about sixty meters from the peak of the ship, which was completely erect.

He drank water for a while after jumping into the water, and no matter how much he struggled it seemed unlikely that he would be able to break the surface. He struggled and struggled, and suddenly before he knew it his face had broken through to the surface, where the sun was shining brightly. He floated on the waves and hovered between life and death until they were rescued 36 hours later.  When the rescue boats finally came, the Navy rescue boats first saved the comfort women and nurses who had caught onto buoys and sought help. The Navy is, as one would expect, ladies first. The men were gradually picked up and rescued one by one, but since it would be unacceptable if there were someone who relaxed and died as soon as he was picked up, the system was to have them eat spirit cudgels7 and regain their spirits as soon as they had been rescued by the ship.  He evaded the spirit cudgel by showing his high-ranking officer's badge. He was that vigorous.

Such a life was in his case repeated over and over again. And when he thought that death was certain, he slipped out of its grasp. Life is arranged such that if one does not brush with death, one can demonstrate neither its true power nor the tenacity of human life. Perhaps the hardness of life can only be tested and proven by running up against the hardness of death, just as the hardness and authenticity of a diamond can only be tested and proven by rubbing it against a hard synthetic ruby or sapphire. Such life as is immediately scratched and broken by death may be no more than mere glass.

But we livie in an era of truly hazy and vague life. Besides car accidents we hardly ever die. Medication is widely available, and we have completely evaded tuberculosis, which once threatened sickly youths, and conscription, which once threatened healthy youths. And in a place without the danger of death, it is unavoidable that actions to prove one’s life become on one hand an almost mad quest for sex, and on the other hand political action for the sake of mere violence. And there a feeling of irritation for which even art has almost no meaning is born. Because art is something that one enjoys by the hearth. Without moments of solitude by the hearth, one can absolutely not appreciate8 beautiful art, quiet music, or well-written novels. Literature as a pastime was something like the James Bond novels that old politicians who have tasted both the bitterness and sweetness of life would devour while smoking a pipe by the fireplace. Because in Britain life is prioritized in everything, it was common from the time of Dickens for art to be appreciated in that way. And in British art, too, quiet landscapes and mild portraits are common. Such things as would be a stimulant to life were by no means sought. And even if they became a stimulant, they brought smiles to the hearts of adults, and were no more than a means for people who had known true adventure themselves to once again enjoy an adventure on paper and lose themselves in recollection. The difficulty of getting close to British literature stems from this. In comparison, the tendency to condense more intense lives themselves into novels, the tendency to attempt to bring the mental anguish of young men in their raw form as is into art arises from more immature societies.

Russian novels like Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov which cut through to and reveal the frightful depths of the human mind are completely unsuitable for a retired old politician to read by the hearth. That is such literature as torments, troubles, or encourages young men. And the view arises that, as Heine once aptly stated, however classically perfect literature like that of Goethe, which by no means encourages young men, may be, it is merely infertile. Here, two contradictory demands with respect to art befall it from the side of life. That is, there arises the contradiction that a bored, peaceful age produces fully mature art in a certain sense, but that that fully mature art cannot sufficiently captivate souls that cannot tolerate the anxieties of life.

On Politics

This contradiction sought in art impinges on the problem of human life itself. That is, in an era or a society in which one cannot freely perform deeds that, through contact with death, reveal the brilliance of life, reveal the hardness and strength of life, to put it plainly, in a society that is not full of war, pioneering9, and adventure, as such an era drags on, the things sought in art become unable to be satisfied by the sluggishness of the art that they are given, and immediately end up overflowing out of art. It is natural that that turn into extreme political action. People immediately tire of well-ordered societies, they tire of the status quo. They now bear revulsion to the point of nausea for the sterile hell of the great metropolises with brilliant neon that they so admired during the war. They hate all established order and come to love dilapidated ruins.

Here the problem of art and politics enters. I think that these desires show the shape of how the things originally sought in art finally spill out into life and go on to spill into political acts, which are the most full-bodied acts in life. Political action was not necessarily this way before. Politics was divided into two types. Namely, it is the preservation of the order of civilian life in accordance with moderate, realistic aims and the preservation of the stability of that order through receipt of people’s trust that was supposed to be the duty of the politician, and to slowly rectify its faults, take into account people’s opinions, and gently reform that society was supposed to be the task of the politician. The other political act was revolution. It alters the various problems that social contradictions spread all at once by violent means, and it dreams of an ideal society beyond that change, but that passion for change was itself premised on the real existence of pressing and strained living conditions, poverty, and frightful social contradictions.

However, these two classifications of political action have now come to check one another. The image of the politician who pragmatically preserves order has become a symbol of the utterly unappealing, drab, and boring establishment. And the passion of revolution has come to be freely set off even in places where real poverty and real social contradictions do not necessarily exist.

It is said that Nazism was a nihilist revolution, but it was not born merely of the psychological dissatisfaction and nihilism of the intellectual middle class10. There were in reality economic breakdown and a massive group of the unemployed. Nazism gained strength on that real social basis. However, even though the present student revolution lacks both causes and reasons sufficient to win the support of all, it has spread globally and shows such power as to embroil all cities in the maelstrom of revolt.

Just as the Nazi revolution was called a nihilist revolution, there was not lacking the tendency to, dissatisfied with art, transfer what should properly be sought in art to the world of real action, project the restlessness of life onto social unrest, artificially produce verification of life through contact with death, and to seek to prove it through combative action. However, such artifical political acts have not now stopped at Nazi Germany, but have become a global trend. That is, as I have often said, the transformation of art into politics and the transformation of politics into art.11

One cannot predict what will occur as a result, but, to say something terribly simple, although even if one kills one million people in art it is merely killing on paper, once one enters real action, the killing of one million people becomes an inexpungable historical sin. That is, although art is, no matter how far it goes, a system of irresponsibility12, political action must first begin from responsibility. And because political acts are ultimately judged by their results, even if the motives are self-interested, if the results are superb that will be forgiven as a politician. And however pure the motives may be, when the results are dreadful to behold, he will have to take responsibility for them himself.

One may say that the present political situation lies in that it has introduced the irresponsibility of art into politics, all life has transformed into fiction, all society has transformed into a theater, all the masses have transformed into television spectators, and that what is performed there is ultimately the transformation of art into politics and does not attain the true gravity of fact, of responsibility.

The struggle for Tokyo University’s Yasuda Auditorium13 gathered numerous spectators. People turned eyes tired of television dramas to television tubes and forgot the passage of time. In the words of a certain Briton, it was a colossal theater. The actors who appeared there wrote wills, graffiti that said "we're gonna die in style," and it was as if they showed a pose of death, but not a one of them died, all of them put up their hands and were arrested. Then that act ended, and people forgot the play and returned to their daily lives.

Shortly afterward, on February 11, National Foundation Day,  one young man committed suicide by self-immolation, not in front of the television, and not in front of spectators, but in the shadows of a dark construction site. There were truly a grave fact and responsibility there. What art cannot match no matter what it does are political actions like this suicide by self-immolation. When political acts fall short of this, art can forever boast of its independence and authority. I am one who read the most harsh criticism of politics as a dream or as art into the “seriousness” of the young man Etō Kosaburō who committed this suicide by self-immolation.

What Is The Brave Man14?

A movie called The Samurai starring Alain Delon15 recently came out, but, knowing how much Japanese are idealized in the word “samurai,” I feel a little embarrassed. People are saying big things like that Japanese culture has been introduced to the West, but it seems to be common for Japanese men in the minds of Westerners to be understood in terms of the image of “the samurai.”

Even though a number of my own novels have been introduced in foreign countries, in truth, it feels like I am being patted on the head and told, “aren’t you writing clever things for a little-known race in the distant Far East?” I do not have the least sense that I have adequately won their esteem.

On one occasion, the subject of the Japanese sword came up in front of an English lady. Because I was asked how to use it, I drew the sword with my hand, brandished it before her, and showed the form for slashing down through the shoulder, but in that instant the blood drained from her and she seemed about to collapse. I then understood just how much more than literature the Japanese sword impresses Westerners.

For us, “the samurai” is the figure of our forefathers, but for Westerners, he is also the image of the so-called noble savage16. We should take more pride in the fact that we are savages.

In the view of the psychologist Jung, the hero archetype17 that occupies the hearts of Americans is not sought among Americans themselves, but only among the Indians with whom they once fought.

Now, when one speaks of “the samurai,” we immediately think of courage. What is courage? And what is the brave man?

What I was most surprised and shocked by in the recent Kim Hyi-ro Incident was not Kim Hyi-ro and the societal panic that was provoked around him. It was the several young men in their early twenties among Kim Hyi-ro’s hostages. They were obviously Japanese, they were twenty-somethings at the height of their vigor, and from the perspective of Westerners should indeed be “samurai,” but ultimately, during a period of four days they could not lay a single finger on Kim Hyi-ro even when he was in the bath.

As we are living in an era in which we do not want to sustain even a scratch, Kim Hyi-ro, who abused that era and that public opinion, was in fact a splendid actor. And on our side, the young Japanese men who do not want to sustain even a scratch had dispatched four representatives there.

They say that it’s the Shōwa Genroku18, but Daidōji Yūzan’s19 Budō Shoshinshū20describes the cowardly warriors of the Genroku like so. “The coward”21 puts doing as he pleases first in all things22, likes sleeping in and taking naps, and hates learning. Martial arts — now we would probably say sports, but even if he does sports he does not at all past muster, and despite that he is full of airs of being skilled at and proud of his art; he will spend any amount of money on womanizing and luxurious meals, he will even pawn important documents; when it comes to company money and entertainment expenses he will use them liberally without a care; he will not give a single cent out of obligation; and in addition he tends to destroy his body, on top of eating and drinking a great deal he wallows in lust, it becomes as if he were filing away at his own lifespan, because he ends up in such a physical state as to become incapable of all perseverance, hardship, and tribulation, and consequently, his heart increases ever more in effeminacy and bitterness. He defines this as the coward, the cowardly warrior.

When peace and stability persist, we soon forget memories of the disturbances of war, and we forget how a man should be in an emergency. The Kim Hyi-ro Incident is a small local event, but one day all of us in Japan too may face the same fate as Kim Hyi-ro’s hostages in a greatly expanded form of that incident. However, that is ultimately an event in the realm of concept and fantasy, and in the Japan of reality there are no visible signs of that. And now the forces of women are distancing everything from the sense of crisis.

To avoid thinking about crisis is an extremely womanly way of thinking. Because a peaceful nest is necessary for women to fall in love, bear children, and raise children. Among women, the desire to live in peace is a necessity of life, and for that necessity of life anything can be sacrificed.

However, that is not how men think. It is men who prepare for crisis, and it is the powers of men that are necessary when crises that threaten the peace of women come. But women today have gained the confidence that they can protect their peace with their own powers. That is partly because they have rightly perceived that men are unreliable, and partly because they have ceased to encounter any brave men.

In the Japan of today, to adapt to the times, unlike in America under the wartime order, does not really mean a system of conscription. It is to walk a path that is useful for somehow getting by in the world and setting up a home and family of one’s own23. Then, what would it mean to not adapt to the times?

The Tri-Faction All-Japan Federation of Student Self-Government Associations24 is an extreme example, but even when they wave the stick the Anti-Subversive Activities Law is not really applied, and the problem is solved with a day or two of detainment. And even though the policemen are veterans of the riot police, there is no worry that they will come firing their pistols at you, so no matter how much you bravely attack, the strong opponent will play around with you without using powerful force. One may say that in that there is a relationship similar to that between a kindergarten and its nurse.

Consequently, if in present-day Japan there is no way for brave men to prove themselves, then there is also no worry that cowards might be exposed. In the end, courage is determined in life or death decisions, but we live at a point where such decisions never show themselves. It is easy to say in words that one would die for such and such or risk one’s life, but at present there are simply no opportunities to prove whether or not those are just words.

Each time I reread Budō Shoshinshū, I think that we must look elsewhere for the distinction that will show25 whether contemporary young “samurai” are brave men or cowards. What could that be? It is a single ethic of action that is always squarely maintained in both crisis and normal conditions. It is to return to the fundamental life of men, to maintain crisis in one’s mind and to order each and every single day of one’s daily life for the sake of that crisis.

When men find their reason for being in peace, they must aid what women do rather than what men do. If the crisis is one conceptual role given to men, then men’s lives, men’s bodies, must always be as tense as a bow drawn to its fullest extent in facing it. I feel that around town, I see far too many eyes lacking tension. However, that might also be my overanxiety.

When once the famous Italian novelist Moravia26 came by, he said this to me.

“Japan’s towns are overflowing with young men. And when you go around the countries of Southeast Asia, the most surprising characteristic when you come to Japan, is that those young people all look like warriors.”

What is Decorum27?

It is said that kendō begins with a bow28 and ends with a bow, but what one does after having bowed is strike the head of the opponent. This symbolizes the world of men well. Decorum is required for and in fact the prerequisite of battle. But, when it comes to which is more important, kendō in theory29 stresses decorum and etiquette30 the most. Why is that?

Just as chivalric battles have been so from of old, battles in the world of men first began with etiquette. Morality is naturally included in etiquette, but at the same time etiquette is the rules of the sport. A sport that does not follow rules is despised, and the battle itself ends in loss on a foul.

The aim of men’s decorum is not simply to obey the will of the opponent. However, despite the fact that it is decorum that is the first prerequisite that one must pass through, in our time the strange superstition prevails that the honest unreserved form of human beings works as is on the hearts of others. There are too many examples to list of people who, not knowing what sorts of traps American-style frankness conceals in business, are deceived by how Americans suddenly tap you on the shoulder and break out in a beautiful grin, become too frank themselves, and sustained unexpected losses in their work. That is because it is the ambitious who must be decorous. In human relationships too it is if one is usually decorous that one is thought to have bared one's soul and can win the trust of others when once alcohol comes in and one has pulled off a striptease. If one is always lax, then even if one shows one’s lax form no one will want to get close. For that reason there is decorum that preserves men’s dignity31. Only underneath that are the carefreeness and naturalness of human nature glimpsed, and there one wins the trust of others and simultaneously attains success in the battle of work.

I can only ever be astonished by how terrible the way people make phone calls lately is, but a lack of delicacy in grasping the feelings of one’s interlocutor in the way even a single small word is used has diffused throughout Japan.

For instance, this is a small thing, but it has become normal for TV or radio to say “we have decided to deliver32 your work” when they come to us novelists to request adaptation or performance. This word has also become normal among students. When in some school somewhere they do a student public performance of one or two days, my works are “delivered.” They are not midwives, and one does not “deliver" using a person’s works.

Such odds and ends of words are the most important part of decorum. If one takes decorum as a door, small usages of words are something like the oil put on its hinges. And now without being oiled the creaking and grating when the door opens and closes become unbearable. Not knowing words is one part of this. I was surprised by those like a certain student who came to my place, conversed for about an hour, and when about to go home looked around at his friends and said, “It’s about time, so why don’t we disturb33 him?” It seems that he meant to say “why don’t we take our leave34?”

It is a complete mistake to think that human sincerity is comprehensible to others as is. Human hearts leave portions unknown to one another in even the closest friendships and longest acquaintances. Words are the bridge that links them, but if that bridge does not have proper equipment sufficient to enable one to cross it, with handrails and ornamental tops, then it cannot be called a bridge.

That is decorum. The military is in that respect a world full of and hardened by stiff decorum. This decorum does not merely operate military life smoothly. Prompt human action and precise decorous manners are useful for making men look manly.

There is a larger gap between putting on a psychedelic appearance and making your body look soft and saying “ciao,” and giving a salute while standing at attention than between militarism and democracy. Because they present the two contrasting problems of the severance of communication and the smoothness of communication.

If we in our lives are entirely lacking in parts in which we act toward a combat aim like the military, then we have no need of decorum. And if we seek to rebel against society, become completely isolated and cut off all intercourse with people, then neither “good morning” nor “thank you” are necessary.

However, as things have worked out, even though the students doing the political movement are rebelling against government and authority, and even though they say things like “Hey, you” to university chancellors, among themselves they are fairly strict about hierarchy between seniors and juniors. Because where the human desire for dominion and power moves even slightly one learns naturally that decorum is required and that it is by being skilfully decorous that one will also be able to attain power.

Consequently, despite their being the revolutionary camp, they are scarcely inferior to the conservative camp in the strictness of their decorum in interpersonal relations. If you knew just how demanding scholars and professors who normally insult the government obscenely are of the most strict etiquette from their students in the office and just how much loss they are taking on by their tea-carrying assistants pouring tea badly, that would give you a clear impression.

Now, as is clear from this, the world of men resembles sports. As victory is contested on the basis of rules, the underlying35 struggle is to that extent concealed. However, because the world of women in this respect has little of the fundamental struggle, the struggle for power, it is on the contrary common for the rules of sports to be violated. Also because violating the rules of sports does not threaten one’s survival.

The strictness among wives at diplomatic missions abroad is because the women end up constructing an imitation of the world of men born of their receiving government appointments and going abroad as the wives of diplomats. This is as one often sees in the recently popular novels and plays that depict life in the inner palace36.

However, just as it is common for wives in normal households to be able to casually say the most horrible things to their husbands insofar as they use them as shields, they are often able to perfunctorily gloss over decorum without any harm coming to them as long as that excludes their husband’s job.

Decorum is in this way the armor that protects you. And one can say that people who have no need for those rules have no need for decorum. And whether one calls those people who have no need of decorum animals or the natural form of human beings depends on each person’s views.

Speaking of myself, I am a person who thinks that, just as a well-glued kataginu37 on a kamishimo38 is beautiful, what makes men beautiful is decorum.

I will never forget the refreshingness of the time when I once visited Kumamoto at the height of summer and, after having done kendō training with the boys at the famous Ryūjōkan dōjō, with sweat still dripping from our whole bodies, we sat in seiza, the boy of senior rank shouted the command, “Before the altar!” in a splitting voice, and we bowed before the altar. That was such a coolness as to tear the fabric of the summer heat all at once. I had the feeling that I saw a concrete example of just how beautiful decorum makes the young and how unappealing in comparison are the young who live in a world without decorum.

On The Body

The Japanese originally possessed the concept of the body only secondarily. If Japan had no Venus she also had no Apollo. It was only very late, with Utamaro’s39 drawings of women divers in the Edo period, that the beauty of the Japanese female body diverged from the sexless beauty of images of Kannon and gained true feminine sensuality.

But that does not mean that the Japanese did not love sensual women. Women from the Asuka Court40 to the Heian Court41 healthily enchanted people with voluptuous bodies. It goes without saying that the figures of women that appear in the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves42 bring to the imagination an unsophisticated charm, or the vivacious charm of village women in our day. That it seems that subsequently in the era of the Heian Court the female body became exceedingly frail and on the contrary malformed is the same as the Rococo Era of the French eighteenth century in the respect that culture attained full maturity and artificial feminine beauty was prized. It is said that the noblewomen of the Rococo Era, owing to clothing that tightly compressed the torso and the custom of extremely constraining clothes, were nothing other than grotesque when stripped naked.

But the difference between France and Japan, and by extension between Europe and Japan, lay in whether or not one was capable of conceiving of the body as a metaphor for something higher than the body. It goes without saying that in Greece there was the Platonic philosophy. We are first captivated by physical beauty but through that physical beauty come to be captivated by higher ideas. But the idea that one must pass through the gate of the beauty of the body in order to arrive at the end that is the ideas was the fundamental thought of Greek philosophy.

However in Japan on the other hand, on account of Buddhism rejecting this world and the body, not only was the body not valued as the body, it was never valued as the manifestation of something that transcends it. Put plainly there was no veneration of the body.

What the Japanese considered beauty was good looks, character, beauty in clothing, mental beauty, and in some cases the faint scent of perfume in the dark, like the beautiful women in The Tale of Genji. It is said even now that the Japanese are susceptible to the romantic, but they are a people that has been excited by airs rather than features. That on the basis of this national character and culture, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s literature began from the Western tradition of the veneration of the body and ultimately leaned toward the beauty of the female body full of faint shadows wrapped in the weight of an old Japanese silk kimono as in Ashikari is a truly Japanese transformation and may also be called the form of the inevitable return to Japanese tradition.

Even more neglected than the female body was the male body. The female body was at least the object of glorification. But as there were no feelings of veneration of the body in that glorification, it never attained the extremely minute symbolization and poetization of each part of the female body found in the Old Testament Song of Solomon. And what is more the male body was considered something to be hidden and wrapped in the mind. For a man to manifest gravity, his body had to be wrapped in clothing that displays gravity. There is naturally in this a great deal of Chinese cultural influence, but in Japan the display of the naked body was limited to rickshawmen and horsekeepers or the low-born and uneducated. This is a view found everywhere in premodern Asia. Muscular men were considered to be of low-class laborer origin, and the men to whom women were supposed to whisper words of love had to be frail and without muscle. Because to be manly the body requires training through labor and that labor was not something that aristocrats and the upper classes were supposed to engage in. One may say that the reason that the philosophy of action of the Japanese became so extremely spiritual lies here.

In Greece the body itself was considered aesthetic, so to beautify the body was thought to be synonymous with human and spiritual improvement. But in Japan, expert martial artists considered training in the techniques of martial arts themselves to be directly tied to spiritual values without any connection with beautifying the body.

We are unable to imagine what body Miyamoto Musashi had. He is seen only as a composite of superhuman technique as a martial artist and of the single aspect of a philosopher born out of an extraordinarily profound spiritual quest. The body that stood between them was considered as good as nonexistent.

I think that there is American influence in how this concept of the body of the Japanese changed fundamentally after the war. American society is not necessarily the restoration of the Greek spirit, but it is a society with an extreme cult of the body. Not only are American company presidents considered unqualified for the position if they are not above a certain number of feet, university students with uneven teeth are quite unfit for adult society, are unfit for the word “Smile!” that American society ceaselessly demands, so there are examples of university students with bad teeth getting full sets of false teeth at the urging of their parents.

With the increasing development of television from now on, as we turn to an era in which values will be divined by the instantaneous receipt of transmitted human images in visible form, even presidents will come to perform cosmetic surgery and become obsessed with television makeup. This is the natural conclusion of the American cult of the body. Whether you like it or not, a society in which the entire value of a person is determined by his visible impression must naturally lapse into a cult of the body. I think that this cult of the body is a degeneration of Platonism.

Even if what is visible is beautiful, it does not directly promise mental value. It seems that the Greek proverb that is said to be “The healthy mind is lodged in the healthy body” is a mistranslation of the Greek, and the correct translation is “Let the healthy mind be lodged in the healthy body.” This is also proof that observations on the inconsistency and conflict between the body and the mind have always troubled people since the Greeks.

The cult of the body inspires veneration of the body and simultaneously also contempt for the body and its reduction to  merchandise. Without the body going through the process of veneration, the beautiful are immediately sold and muddied by commercialism. The tragedy of Marilyn Monroe was that of the life of a woman whose beautiful body was thus sold piece by piece.

We are now standing in the midst of two extremes of culture. Within our minds, the Japanese spiritualism that disdains the body remains, and at the same time on the other hand the shallow cult of the body imported from America is spreading. And people are always unsure which to judge people by. I think that it is natural to arrive at the idea that even for men we must elevate the mind by possessing a perfect body and elevate the body by aiming for mental perfection.

What Oscar Wilde said in The Picture of Dorian Gray was considered a cowardly paradox at the time, but it is now true. His words meant to cure mental ailment by means of the body and bodily ailment by means of the mind, and to cure mental ailment of by means of the senses and to cure sensual ailment by means of the mind.

And the biggest reason that the body is misunderstood by people is that physical beauty is by any means inseparable from sensual beauty, and that therein lies not only the fate of humanity, but the fate of what people consider beauty.


On Loyalty

I am simply astonished by how careless young men these days are about being on time. And I am also just shocked by how often they break promises. Being on time and promises are on the whole not such important things in and of themselves. For example, Japan will not collapse just because a promise to meet at three is delayed until three thirty. And the Japanese stock market will not drop all at once just because someone forgot a promise to meet at five on Friday. Because while a student one is not conscious of oneself as one cog in society, and because even promises that are quite serious to oneself do not become motives for moving society.

Only people of this sort gradually awaken to the weight of their role in society and simultaneously take pleasure in overestimating it when they take up a job and become a passable member of society. Thus appear people who, while being window clerk types or in some humdrum rank and file position haphazardly throw their weight around. And the less they kept their promises and were on time as a student, the more likely they are to become on the contrary people who are satisfied with themselves as cogs in society.

Promises and being on time are not themselves important. We do not keep them because the world would end otherwise.

But the world of soldiers is different. Soldiers are meticulous about time because if they are not on time from the first they will lose in war. If our side is planning on occupying the opponent’s hill at 3:00 PM, it is because the commanding officer, having synthesized various intelligence, determined that the time is ripe, and, having considered the pace of the units that will be arriving there and the positioning of personnel and firepower, 3:00 PM was decided on, so if we are unable to repulse the enemy at that time that we set, we may be annihilated at the time set by the enemy. Military time is kept with a clear sense of purpose because lives depend on it.

But even if it is not so extreme an example as the military, actual society also moves according to time. In the case of society, there are numerous cases of losing contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars because of being thirty minutes late to a meeting, and there are also cases in which a research publication completed over the course of many years is snatched up by a competitor by only a slim difference of time.

And where there is a competition between a number of people for one thing, a contest of time always emerges, and the result of that time is structured to arrive at the contract, the “promise written on paper,” that most fussy of all promises. In the West this is generally called a contractual society, and written contracts regulate everything.

In Japan the only contracts that are fussy are those for tenants and apartment rentals. The verbal promises between us and Japanese publishers that suffice to put out the same book are in America written out as complicated pages long contracts stringing together fine print like crawling ants and anticipating all possible risks, betrayals, and breaches of trust. A society with no need for contracts would be heaven. Contracts are born of doubting people and defining human beings as wicked.

And it is the essence of contracts and laws to seal off at the outset all possible wickedness that may occur to the other party by promises while permitting all wickedness within the framework of those promises. But there is another view, the theory that in true modern contractual societies contracts are concluded when the will to mutual consent is pronounced, even without exchanging papers. That is, the ideal of the contractual society is that if the basic mentality of keeping contracts without exchanging papers were to diffuse it would run smoothly on its own, but difficult problems emerge from the fact that not all people are so wonderful.

But I do not mean to make the utilitarian argument that, since being on time and promises are so fundamental and socially important and regulate social life, we must consequently keep them. You punch in the time recorder at work. If you don’t that will have an impact on everything from your monthly job performance evaluation to your year-end bonus. This is the most practical form in which working hours and promises impact daily life. Consequently what is being kept is in fact not the spirit of the promise. What I mean to say is a question of loyalty. It is precisely because by nature being on time is in and of itself meaningless and promises are in and of themselves ephemeral that human loyalty is wagered on them.

Be he a Prime Minister or a beggar, there should be no difference in the importance of a promise once made. Because it is a question of one’s loyalty.

Ueda Akinari’s story “The Chrysanthemum Pledge”43 depicts the beauty of human loyalty through the tale of two exceptionally close friends, one of whom, in order to keep a promise of many years when it was no longer possible to make it to the promised place at the promised time in the human body, committed suicide and appeared before his friend in spirit. That promise itself is merely a question of friendship and loyalty, without either having anything to gain thereby. To stake one’s life on that thing from which one has nothing to gain may seem foolish, but my fundamental idea is that the essence of the promise lies not within the modern spirit of the contractual society, but within human loyalty. For each and every life, time is something that never recurs.

A day in June 1968 is both a day that will never come again for human history and at the same time also a day, a time, the moments of which will never recur for each individual. And we should in fact think of even the most trivial promise to meet on that day, be it for pachinko or gogo dancing, as being of great weight. It is tragic that it is in fact after youth has passed that one awakens to the weightiness of time and the urgent feeling that the time to have fun is now.

I wrote in my play Yuya that a businessman who invites his beautiful mistress, who is sad because her mother is gravely ill, to that year’s cherry blossom viewing against her will manages to do so under the pretext that it will cheer her up, but his thought is that that year’s flowers will never be repeated. It is a cherry blossom viewing at a certain peak in his life, and it is precisely there that her beauty will be manifested at its peak. Contained in that is the hedonistic assertion that her mother’s illness will then count for nothing. We must in fact keep promises and loyalty for the sake of even hedonism. Because pleasure is like the shadow of a bird. Once we have failed to grasp it, it flies away forever.

But the most normal form of the promise for the sake of pleasure is the date with the opposite sex. Although it is a promise for the sake of pleasure, various deceitful techniques of love have been used since the time of the Roman Ovid to stimulate, tease, and on the contrary heighten that pleasure, like both being just a little late, purposefully not coming at the promised time, or ostentatiously being late. But my thinking is that even in that it is right for it to be on the basis of loyalty. I have always hated women who do not keep their promises, however beautiful they may be. Because to my mind all pleasures arise on the basis of loyalty.


On Pleasure

The word pleasure is one that I first encountered in the children’s version of Arabian Nights when I was a child. I could not help but take an interest in that word, pleasure. Large banquets with women, delicacies, and alcohol — these are all things prohibited to children. Furthermore the characters are at times ready to risk death for the sake of pleasure.

Thus, the first impression of the word pleasure implanted in me was of a word signifying vague prohibitions. I did not really get it, but there was a certain core there. Even as a child I had the hazy premonition that it was connected to sex44. The riddle of the connection between sex and pleasure, why sex signified pleasure, was for a long time a mystery to me.

However, no one learns their first pleasure in life in a splendid atmosphere like that of Arabian Nights, at least in modern society. For men, sex appears not as pleasure, but as anxiety and fear, a feeling of isolation, and the assault of something incomprehensible and disconcerting. A long process is required for that to be connected to pleasure. Because in modern society money is taken to be first among the necessary conditions for the emergence of pleasure.

We probably seek to work, strive, and succeed in order to tie sex to pleasure. Because modern society constantly forces sex to become obligatory or cold and dead, and because to escape that and connect sex to that wonderful, magnificent pleasure, in the midst of that, we must first win in the harsh struggle for existence.

It looks as if young people today are intent on removing all elements of pleasure from sex. A story about a woman cohabiting with two men recently came out in a weekly magazine, and what that woman said about how she thought about human communication was truly terrifying. She said something that struck me, to the effect that in a world in which the weeklies are rumors about friends, television is the scenery of friends’ homes, and radio is conversation with friends, why would sex with others not be the same? I will have more to say about this later.

I recently saw a very good movie called Romeo and Juliet. I am always indiscreet and cannot stifle a yawn at Shakespeare on the stage and in film, but only this Romeo and Juliet film by Zeffirelli was without a moment of boredom, from scene to scene and action to action filled with and bound by the brilliance and spring of life. In it was narrated only one thing: passion. This is likely the first time that what Stendhal called “passionate love” was depicted in film to this degree. The fact that the leads were a sixteen year old boy and a fifteen year old girl may have had something to do with it, but they were impatient in long conversational exchanges, and when they looked one another in the face they immediately exchanged rapid kisses as if they were a beautiful pair of small birds. While there was no pleasure there, there was, on the other hand, passion. The best thing that youth can have with respect to sex is this blind, unknowing passion, which adults call beautiful because they have already forgotten the suffering that lurks in that passion.

With respect to sex, passion and pleasure are likely positioned opposite one another. Put extremely simply and schematically, one might say that the highest expression of the sex of the young is passion, and the highest expression of the sex of adults is pleasure. But the young today are trying to liberate sex from even passion. Pleasure costs money, and this is impossible for the young. Passion does not cost a cent, but requires readiness to stake one’s life. What remains to the young, who neither are ready to stake their lives nor have money, when they seek to taste sex is only a conceptual, peripheral nervous game like sex on the pill. It is inevitable that the young would come to feel some dissatisfaction with a society that can only offer them such enervated sex in the period of their most intense lust.

There are some adults who say that the present actions of the National Federation of Students’ Self-Government Associations are the inevitable result of the abolition of red-light districts, but that is wrong. When we had red-light districts, Japanese were still naïve. The young men who sought a sexual outlet through red-light districts simultaneously left open the possibility of passion and knew how to refine it. But when the source of passion has been closed off, we have no choice but to draw ever nearer to pleasure without money, that is, the pleasure of the sleeping pill. The approximation of all forms of sex to the trifling, if expensive, escapist pleasure that comes from taking those white pills may be called the most critical phenomenon of our time.

Then, what is pleasure? Compared to the countries of the West, Japan still preserves some Asian characteristics in pleasures, in pleasures that can be bought with money. The pleasure quarters are their pinnacle. I cannot go to the pleasure quarters with my own pocket money, but I have no occasions on which I can immerse myself in the refined and also totally meaningless fun of a rich evening of Japanese pleasure so much as when I am invited by others to first-class pleasure quarters. In the pleasure quarters, men are assessed according to status and money. The geishas divide men into three categories, customers, love customers, and lovers45. They serve customers pleasure, put out greater or lesser pleasure and passion for love customers, and for lovers they give out passion and in some cases their own money.

This wonderfully organized society of pleasure is gradually going extinct in Japan. The bars of Ginza no longer signify that refined pleasure. The atmosphere that those first-class pleasure quarters possess, that refined conversation, the extremely artificial makeup, clothing, and hospitality of the women, and the tasteful sophistication that transcends sexual allure of the aged geisha. These are the crucial elements that constitute pleasure.

People can indeed buy these pleasures with money. If one surrounds oneself with these four, one aged geisha, one mature geisha, one young geisha, and one child geisha, all the elements that women possess — charm, innocence, beauty, maturity, elegant malice, the fun of women that transcends sex — women from all angles surround one, and while drunk on high-quality alcohol in the midst of that kaleidoscope of sex, one can feel right in the midst of pleasure.

In Kyōto a respectable introduction is needed to enter good cafés. Introductions signify status and money. And too approach these forbidden pleasures, the young have no option but to become the lover of a geisha at some opportunity using the allure of their youth. I know a number of such young men.

It is not difficult to grasp the particular fun of becoming the lover of a geisha. It is the cynical fun of having seen society from its underbelly, the fun of, while having one’s eyes opened to the unsightly underbelly of authority and money power in this world, coming into contact with the true feelings of the women who ply such trades, and the most poisonous pleasure for a young man. Because young men who have gained confidence by becoming the lovers of geisha learn ahead of time the foolishness of living in respectable society. And, what is worst of all, because the pleasure of lurking in the underbelly of the pleasures of respectable society gained through authority and financial power is in fact the lowest dregs of pleasure, and ends up being the same as eating the leftovers of delicacies, that is the remaining cold beef and cold lobster left over by the guests at a luxurious buffet party held at a hotel. Even if there is some tastr of sincerity in them.


On the Sense of Shame

The sense of shame is normally said to be characteristic of women. This is now a distant legend, but, just as even Venus poses hiding her breasts, it was always thought that the virtues of women were cultivated through the sense of shame and that thereby their charms would pour forth.

But what was neglected was the male sense of shame. There have been no men as full of shyness46 as Japanese. That is an exaggeration, so as far as I can see, the Japanese and the English are the two groups of men with the most developed sense of shame in the world.

The affected unapproachable attitude of the English. The attitude that one will not say even a word to someone to whom one has not been introduced even if sitting facing one another for hours in the same train compartment. It surely in some respects stems partly from from John Bullesque arrogance, but it also partly stems from a sense of shame particular to the English. Among strangers, the English always take a step back, concentrate on listening, and open their mouths with composure once their opinion has been sought.

I feel the loss of the male sense of shame in postwar Japan more keenly than that of women. I am not just lamenting worldly trends. I myself am unconsciously gradually losing the male sense of shame under the influence of the times.

I noticed it at the time of my wife’s first delivery. I stayed at the hospital, anxiously wondering when she would give birth. When our child was finally born, I repeatedly called my father from a public phone booth to let him know that his first grandson had been born, but I forgot to insert a ten yen coin so it didn’t go through. When I finally remembered to inert it and got through to him, I was shocked by my father’s unexpectedly irritated voice. It seemed that my father was not at all happy about the birth of his first grandchild.

I later learned that my father had the truly old-fashioned sense of shame typical of men born in the Meiji era. It was embarrassing to him that his son would even go to the hospital for his wife’s delivery. It was even more embarrassing that he would phone in a flustered voice from the hospital. During their wives’ delivery, Japanese men were supposed to go out for drinks with friends or feign indifference while being worried internally. It seems that that was, distinct from contempt for women, rather an attitude of hiding embarrassment on the part of men born of fear, trembling, diffidence, and resistance to the purely female sphere. The men of the Meiji era did not consider it manly to walk side by side with a woman. There were quite a few men who always walked at a distance from women in order to avoid being thought a philanderer by society and even after marriage were embarrassed to walk next to their wives.

This is probably not just Japan. The general postwar trend is to consider what I just spoke of a Japanese feudal inheritance, but there was a similar case in an old American film that remains in my mind. I have forgotten the title, but it was a Gary Cooper movie treating the simple adventurous life of men in the Wild West. Gary Cooper ignored the repeated courtship of the strong-willed tomboy Jean Arthur, and although he loved her never showed it outwardly, and when kissed by her against his will wipes his lips with the back of his hand. In the final scenes, there was one in which Jean Arthur, having kissed the lips of the dead Gary Cooper, is provoked to a new sadness by the fact that the man would never again wipe his lips with the back of his hand. There is probably not a single idiot among the young people of Japan today who would rush to wipe their lips when kissed.

But this kind of male sense of shame was ultimately connected to manliness. Men and women each preserving their respective spheres and not openly expressing it no matter how attracted they were in their hearts was an indispensable element of love. This impacted every single emotive expression of people of the old type, and deliberately feigning hatred was considered the greatest expression of love. This is now only seen among elementary schoolers. Boys who thoughtlessly bully girls they are attracted to have unbeknownst to themselves already become Meiji centenarians at the age of six or seven.

Relations between the sexes have gained an artificial openness through the new American style of expressing their love for one another to the maximum extent. Even the female sense of shame is considered a feudal inheritance destructive of the equality of the sexes, and with the weakening of the female sense of shame the male sense of shame has also disappeared like breath on a glass surface. And at some point came the present so-called neutered age, when the men and women who so straightforwardly express themselves have both lost their valuable sexual symbols.

The sense of shame does not appear in just the sexual arena. The custom of the Japanese of saying things like “This is but a humble thing” or “This is an undelectable thing” when giving to others is gradually being lost.

American-style customs have become common. That is in precise correspondence with our living in an era in which individual freedom and rights have been expanded.

A time in which people loudly assert their immature and foolish opinions in the name of freedom of speech is also one in which prudence with respect to one’s opinions has been forgotten. People state their opinions — even political opinions without the slightest sense of shame.

Adults look joyously upon how postwar young people boldly state their opinions in response to questions as the new shape of the Japanese, but we had opinions of that sort in our youth. But in our youth, we had an inexpressible sense of shame, and were embarrassed and hesitant to expose our young, immature opinions before adults. In that, feelings of self-exaltation mixed with feelings of self-hatred, and simultaneously with great pride, fought with the difficult to abandon desire to correctly appraise oneself.

Looking at how young people today express their opinions, the lack of the sense of shame is connected to a lack of reflection. I once received a postcard saying, “The fact that you make twenty-odd mistakes of kana usage in writing on a single page despite being an author is a sign of great ignorance and lack of education. Correct this immediately.” This woman not only did not know of pre-reform kana usage, but did not try to reflect on her ignorance in the slightest.

But the sexual sense of shame is, according to Marquis de Sade, apparently merely a question of geography. Because in some countries women are embarrassed to show their breasts, in others their private parts, and in others their feet.

This is to the point that there is an anecdote that when Casanova complained to his friends about how the evening he spent failing to convince a woman in an Arab country to take off her black veil and let him steal a kiss was the disgrace of a lifetime, he was mocked for not knowing that although in that country they will never give their lips, they will readily allow acts with the lower body. In the case of Japanese women, too, in the time when they were once overflowing with the sense of shame, they on the contrary thought nothing of giving their children the breast in front of others and openly entered mixed baths.

The sense of shame does not merely impinge on body parts, but is a question of culture as a whole and also of the mind. I believe without any doubt that love will disappear along with the disappearance of the sense of shame. But on the other hand, so long as human beings exist, that sense of shame will doubtless appear in a different form in unexpected places.

I am considering studying the new sense of shame of hippies.


On Etiquette

A lady, the younger sister of the manager of a first-class hotel in Tokyo, who has been popular in elite society since before the war, demands ladies first of every man on account of her long time spent living abroad. When she ate Japanese cuisine at that hotel, despite the fact that it was a Japanese cuisine zashiki, she sat firmly in front of the alcove and was incensed that the food was not brought out to her first. This hotel is ruled by ladies first, so why do they have to put the food out for men first just for Japanese cuisine? This was her very serious question. She then issued strict orders to the hotel that even in the case of Japanese food, if there are women seated they must bring the plate out to the women first. But as far as I know, it is only at this hotel that plates are first brought out to women for Japanese cuisine.

My cousin too grew thoroughly sick of ladies first in New York. When leaving restaurants, he would fly into a rage at how he had to drape his coat over his wife’s shoulders and, while pretending to do so, strike his wife in the back with his knuckles. His wife complained that it was painful and distressing.

My wife and I have concluded an agreement. When we enter Japanese restaurants I go first, and when we enter Western dining rooms, my wife goes first. Which is to say that if you think of etiquette itself as a game it’s like nothing. And that game is a hassle because it is bound up with various questions of pride. It may seem that women are being respected when they go first or are loaded first into a car, but it is strange that not a single person has noticed and been incensed by the fact that they are not really being respected, but protected as the weak.

Western men are drilled from childhood, so the custom of naturally, automatically sheltering women on the side of buildings and placing themselves on the side of the road when walking with women is ingrained in them and so hardly requires conscious effort. This custom was fixed in the nineteenth century Victorian era, and created in an era in which people mainly rode in coaches. At the time even in London there was horse dung lying in the middle of the road and coaches kicked up mud as they moved. If men did not protect them, women might have stepped in horse shit or their long-hemmed dresses might have gotten mud on them. Thus by necessity men ended up walking on the side of the road.

Additionally, as is often said, during the American pioneering era, women were vanishingly few compared to men, so it is conceivable that the scarcity value of women as sexual objects was prized and ladies first accordingly took increasingly extreme forms. All the conditions that gave rise to this are lacking in Japan, and only the etiquette was imported. In the Japan of up until before the war something very similar to Ancient Greece, women guarding the home and men socializing outside the home without their housewives, was the norm. This is not just a Japanese custom, but one that is still very much alive in Spain. One may say that in Latin countries Anglo-American style formalized ladies first is not necessarily practiced.

But etiquette is etiquette. Insofar as the decorum of Western cuisine goes by ladies first, if you don’t let the hostesses go first things won’t go well.

Here the problem of tradition emerges. Women, particularly contemporary Japanese women, know that their liberation and freedom of action are entirely due to the destruction of tradition. Because it is thought that Japanese tradition oppressed women. Women have gained the ability to freely leave the home and be active due to Western-style, particularly American-style freedom. That being said, not all the West is so. In Central and South America women who walk alone after eight PM are still considered prostitutes. Women from good families cannot walk outdoors after eight PM without a male escort. But in modernized societies there are many women with jobs, so women walking alone at night comes to be recognized as natural. This is irrespective of tradition. Even if Japan had not lost the war, already before it women walking alone at night itself was never criticized morally. There were just cases in which the help of a man was necessary to walk through dangerous streets.

If it is a fact that both Japanese and Western traditions are being destroyed under the trend of free sex in developed countries, we must recognize that women, who are by nature conservative beings, stand at the spearhead of the destruction of tradition. But is that not a self-contradiction on the part of women? The group of new women called the Bluestockings once dominated the trends of late Meiji Japan. They cried out for women’s liberation and carried out a movement with the aim of women’s free love and free social activity from feudal restraints. It is of course on account of the policies of the American occupation that women gained the right to vote after the war, but even in France, one of the victor nations, women gained the right to vote late.

Japanese women were passive with respect to tradition so they have never played the role of defending it. It seems that that has subtly influenced even present etiquette. If women are really independent, why does the idea of independently defending tradition never occur to them?

If one does not defend tradition, it is destroyed by nature and never returns. Because men understand the significance of tradition, in a sense they have always independently taken the side of tradition, sought to practice it themselves, or felt powerfully obligated to defend tradition even if they thought it bad. I think that that is the reason why Japanese men have been shown as excessively conservative. But women have only ever sought a basis for their freedom and liberation in the direction of resisting these men and destroying tradition. But there is a paradox here. If they continue acting to destroy tradition, those women will end up persisting in the attitude of the time when they were passively bound by tradition even after it has been destroyed. But since there can be no standard of action in a void, women then began to ape Western traditions and demand these of men. The most clear example of this is that of the elite lady I spoke of at the outset. By adopting Western etiquette in Japanese cuisine, that lady made even the taste of Japanese cuisine unpalatable.

When the freedom and liberation of women were effected, not by their own power, but by that of the male American occupying army, by what means did women seek to demonstrate their power? Through the so-called women’s peace movement. That peace movement was entirely based on emotion, was run through with a series of hysterical cries like “No more wars” and “Don’t send our beloved sons to the battlefield” and on that account had the power to keep all logic at bay. But it is in fact only in the passive arena that women hold power by keeping logic at bay. The Japanese peace movement displayed the feminine flaw that, while being quite skilled at appealing to people through emotion, it was quite inept at moving forward through logic.

If they are really liberated, free, and independent women not just in etiquette, but in the peace movement and in political movements, I would like them to discover in and recreate new meaning from the tradition that once afflicted them, the tradition the victims of which they once were, in our time when there is no longer any risk of their becoming its victims, and voluntarily take up the role of showing the world the beauty of Japanese tradition.


On Clothing

Those who go to India can see that Indians are still stubbornly wearing saris. The sari is truly beautiful. When I see the figure of a woman in a sari appear in the lobby of a luxurious hotel, I at times marvel at its elegance and wonder whether the figure of high-class Greek hetairas appearing at banquets was like this. To foreign eyes, all folk dress is beautiful. But beauty and convenience are different things. What always surprises me in Indian Airlines is that the stewardesses wear saris. What will they do if that causes an accident? The sari may wrap around the legs and bring about the death of someone who would otherwise have lived. We must feel greater apprehension at the saris of Indian Airlines than we do when stewardesses wear long-sleeved kimono on Japan Airlines. But if airlines are enhancing the beauty of those women even more by provoking that sense of crisis in passengers, that is a hateful calculation.

The Japanese are a people unusually vulnerable to convenience. The Japanese felt no hesitation in abandoning traditional clothing because it is inconvenient out of veneration of the West in the Meiji era.

After the war, particularly for a time, kimono were all burned on account of the war, and it became rare to see men and women wearing them. Recently even men’s kimono have been revived. But it tended to be taken in as a new fashion with a newly exotic interest. It was no longer the old kimono as a grounded ancient sartorial custom. The women making their New Year’s rounds all started wrapping the same whitish Japanese clothing in the same white synthetic fiber shawls. And with respect to the way you put on a kimono, the culture of women putting on kimono by themselves was forgotten, and it came to be that women could no longer put one on without someone’s help. Men have also forgotten the natural, customary familiarity with wearing kimono and wear it with an artificial attitude of opposition to or leading the age. The sartorial custom of kimono has come to be mastered only as a sort of special professional uniform among a very limited number of professionals connected to tea ceremony, , and Kabuki. Taking just the tying of the obi, where the amateur’s immediately loosens, the professional ties it loosely with ease and it does not come undone no matter how much he moves.

It seems that with social stability and the settling of the economic situation people have gradually learned that the real fun of clothing is not in freely wearing whatever one likes in whatever circumstances one likes. The joy of clothing is in coercion. The beauty of clothing is in compulsion. Military uniforms show this most clearly, but at the same time skill and stylishness in wearing the tuxedo manifest where one must wear it.

I think the fact that the hippies have reduced all sartorial customs to play and made all fashions free and unencumbered by power, restraint, and habit, is related to the influence of tourism and the international exchange and standardization of exoticism between countries that are due to it. We are no longer surprised to encounter a Japanese woman wearing sari on the streets of Ginza. And having arrived in an era in which sartorial customs freely chosen in places where they have no tradition or history no longer give any surprise, we once again come to realize that clothing has meaning only in the midst of social compulsion. Seasonal changes of clothing were a strict custom in eras when the cycle of seasons strictly controlled sartorial custom. In the past, when July came around one had to wear awase no matter how cold it was. This custom was strictly maintained until my grandparents’ generation. Sartorial customs meant discipline, distinction, social compulsion, and even morality. The former custom of married women blackening their teeth is no different. The physical competence of women was demonstrated by that alone.

If we restrict the problem to men, we live in an era in which we have adopted rigid Western customs to the point where we cannot drink even alcohol without wearing ties and top class hotels and restaurants compel customers to stiff decorum. There was nothing like this just after the war. And the transplantation of such Western customs to Japan began with viewing all Japanese things as barbaric and has its roots in the early years of Meiji.

At the pools of first-rate Japanese hotels it is written that fundoshi and irezumi are prohibited. The prejudice that both are vulgar because they are purely Japanese shines through. Nevertheless, we cannot either gauge our daily lives by the proper, legitimate Japanese way of wearing a kimono. Naturally a double life arose and the kimono became like a luxurious second car for people bored of their suit hobby. In fact, suit tailoring is one thousand dollars at most, while there is no ceiling to kimono prices. It is not rare for one to cost three or four thousand dollars. The kurumegasuri that students once wore freely now cost four or five thousand dollars for a high quality piece, so students cannot wear them. I love kurumegasuri and went to quite a bit of trouble to have kurumegasuri kimono and Kokura hakama made. Because no one is going around looking for such traditional student clothing. In the past when things were shipshape, a man of my age would have been thought insane for wearing kurumegasuri kimono and Kokura hakama, but I believe that in a time like the present, when kimono themselves are so expensive that young people can no longer wear them, kurumegasuri and Kokura hakama are not strange even at my age.

Thus, kimono originally differed greatly in status in accordance with class and attendant differences in economic power. The managers of old inns could determine the buying power of a customer with a single glance at their kimono. Now that there are more young people who go to the length of going without books and economizing on food in order to spend money on clothes, it is quite difficult to judge people just by clothing. So people’s status symbols have shifted from kimono to cars or watches. Kimono are, as if to symbolize our classless society, in disarray. In the midst of all that, we are even able to savor the pleasure of class without being encumbered by class prejudices.

That is probably how young people who like to wear tuxedos feel. In fact, even tuxedos are supposed to have their own heavy history.

People who had to wear tuxedos could by no means wear jeans. And people who wore workman’s overalls could by no means wear tuxedos. Thanks to the classless society, we live in a world in which we can freely move between workman’s overalls and tuxedos. Both Japan and America today are structured such that for a night, for a moment, one can walk arm in arm with a woman in an evening or cocktail dress and savor the pleasure that the old upper classes did at the places where they had fun if one pays a greater or lesser amount of money.

But, alas, the people around one are all just fake members of the upper class. And in exchange for not being real members of the upper class, the people having fun in tuxedos and evening dresses have completely avoided the old, intricate, feudal shackles that afflicted the upper class.


On Seniority

I recently discovered some frightful words in famous nineteenth century French critic Sainte-Beuve’s essay collection Mes Poisons. They are as follows.

“Having seen failures, eccentricities, acts of madness and ignoble deeds among many esteemed individuals above the age of forty, it seems to me that, although youth may have its recklessness and rashness, it is serious and wise, while it is on the contrary in the latter half of life that we lose our way and become frivolous.”

No writing has given me such a shock of late. When I, who have always been the type to underline text that I like, see that I did not underline this book, it seems that it did not make any impression on me when I read it twenty years ago. But only now, after having passed the age of forty, have I realized the grave malice that these words possess.

Just what is seniority? Is it, as Sainte-Beuve would have it, when serious and wise youth pays respect to its elders who have lost their way and become frivolous? Today, when there is talk of a generational divide and the old relationship between teacher and student and heartwarming love and respect between upperclassmen and lowerclassmen have been largely abandoned, dialogue between youth and middle or old age never takes place without a severe gap.

The other day I participated in a big conference on the Tokyo University problem with fifteen or sixteen others, including professors, members of the Tri-Faction National Federation of Student’s Self-Government Associations, and alumni like myself. While the ever sincere professors spoke politely, saying, “We are considering your views and currently researching with care and in addition performing self-criticism,” the Tri-Faction NFSSGA guys were insulting and mocking them from across the table, all saying, “What the fuck are you talking about?” and “Don’t lie, you fucking morons!”

I could not stand by, so I said, “Since the students are trying to speak as equals, I would like for the professors to also speak to the students as equals. So stop speaking politely. If they say ‘fuck,’ please also say ‘fuck.’” The serious professors became livid and rapidly changed their tone, saying “In that case we’ll say so, but what the fuck is up with the attitude of you people?” I found this amusing.

The frightfulness of life is that there is no promise of maturation or development. However much cultivation and knowledge we accumulate, it is not a given that we will thereby obtain stability or comfort in life. Seniority seems to me to be a word that holds good where there is not such a large difference in age. Even among upperclassmen and underclassmen only one or two years apart in sporting clubs, the systematically maintained manners and decorum are a pleasing sight.

Particularly in martial arts, if manners between upperclassmen and underclassmen are at all lacking, you may be subjected to an old-fashioned beating. There are in that fear and the seniority maintained by an order of fear, but in contemporary society that sort of seniority of sporting clubs is apt to seem like a fiction. In the past, outside the harshness of seniority inside sporting clubs was the general social custom of respecting the elderly. The sporting club was one small reflection of a society built on a very long ladder of relations of senior and junior. But the elderly have now learned ways of flattering and deftly checking and dominating young opponents without just being respected. The juniors who have caught onto those techniques, meaning young men, have come to learn the structure of seniority merely as one technique in life with the idea of worldly benefit, utility to themselves, and success. But that isn’t limited to today. It has been this way since before the war.

Respect for the elderly is a characteristic of agricultural societies. Only experience holds weight when it comes to agricultural technique. One naturally comes to grasp with the accumulation of many long years that changes in climate, the determination of rich or poor harvests, the decision to plant, and all phenomena that seem irregular have laws. That is, the laws of nature appear over short periods to the observer only as the caprice of nature. Many years are required to transform that into laws, accumulate experience, and produce actual achievements in technique. That is, people must age.

The young probably heard old people say things like this and came to follow seniority and respect the elderly.

But in contemporary society it is not possible that the elderly know everything and the young nothing. The elderly may know the newest controversies in the entertainment world on television better than anyone else. My late wife’s eighty-something year old grandmother used to watch television all day, so I would always learn the names of the newest jazz and pop singers from her. She knew everything from their teenage private lives to their taste in food, that they liked tenpura and disliked anmitsu.

We live in a society that will be increasingly informatized in the future, so the role of waiting passively and intently for information may be left to the elderly. And with the progress of the society of technique, one aspect of the information society, the sphere of the young may expand more and more, while the technical knowledge of the old ages with each passing day before becoming useless. And because the utilization of information requires new technical knowledge, the information of the elderly who watch television all day may lose even its value as information. It is truly difficult to promote seniority in such a society.

Earlier I said that the seniority of upperclassmen and lowerclassmen separated by one or two years in sporting clubs is a fiction, but they are single-mindedly enduring their present suffering in the expectation of attaining that position the following year. When ordered by upperclassmen to sit in seiza for an hour, through the shin pain of sitting on a wooden floor, they are doubtless persevering in the expectation of one day making the following year’s freshmen taste that pain. This type of perseverance used to be seen in the military (that model of the classless society).

It may seem strange to call the military a model of the classless society, but prewar Japan was a class society from the peerage at the top to the commoners at the bottom. Only the military created a separate world in which classes were nullified with its peculiar strict hierarchy within a closed society. It seems that in Japan today, because the entire country has become a classless society, on the contrary a society of the old was immediately created after the war with age difference as just one hierarchy.

In the military, bullied new recruits persevered while dreaming of one day becoming officers and bullying new recruits themselves. Because if they did not support their seniors now, they would not be able to wield authority when they became seniors. But on the other hand, as I said earlier when that order of age itself has become unreliable as a result of social change, we may end up living in a world with nothing except the total freedom of each individual that NFSSGA promotes, let alone seniority. But I can say this with confidence. Whatever free world is created, it is certain that people will immediately tire of it and want to contrive ladders to climb up ahead of others and prove that the scenery before their eyes is much broader than that which those climbing up after them see. It is simply a question of whether that ladder is broad or narrow, of whether people can climb it in a horizontal row or can only climb it in one vertical column. Seniority is the morality of that narrow ladder, but however wide we may make that ladder, it will never reach the point of eliminating the desire of people for a ladder. There is no doubt that when seniority is no longer valued, it will be inverted and people will have to respect “youth” above all.


On Nerds47

When I was in senior high school — this was naturally during the war, stalwart militarist students once pointed the finger at us without mentioning our names during a speech contest and said that it is outrageous that in this critical moment for Japan nerds are still at this school, sallow-faced and absorbed in literature. I thought fuck off and hardened my resolve even more to live in literature, but I did not dream that twenty-odd years later I would be the one scolding nerds.

But I do not want to become like those who in that era scolded nerds while wearing power and war as protection. My desire to bring home, out of my own youthful psychology, just how sly a mental structure the nerd possesses is strengthening in response to the present diffusion of the nerd mentality throughout Japan. Just as the crab hides in his burrow, literature is the perfect job for seclusion in one’s safety zone. Because any excuse goes in literature, and because it can make any criticism on the premise that the world of literature has absolutely no connection to the real world. True nerds are those who abandon all interests and striving outside of literature and think nothing of inconveniencing others with their ideal lifestyle of an immorality and dissolution that are only permitted therein.

I have always felt the danger that literature itself would bring about the loss of morality. And I have seen over and over again the traps into which those who seek morality or life goals in literature unknowingly fall. So I know all too well the dangers of the fascination that literature holds for young men.

Because those who seek life goals in literature are people with some kind of dissatisfaction in their real lives. Without solving their real life dissatisfactions in real life, they seek out another world. They search for life goals or morality in literature with the idea that there is a chance of resolution there. Literature that meets that need is always second-rate. The crime is yet light and the harm small while young men are being affected by that second-rate literature. I will not name any authors, but such literature is available in all ages.

That literature is made to inspire a person toward higher mindedness. It is skillfully contrived to just slightly elevate average human morality, to show life in a slightly brighter light, and to deceive. The novelist teacher says clever things. He gives hope to heartbroken young men and to some degree the strength to start again to young men who have failed. And when they are thoroughly infatuated with a woman and in despair, he says, “Here’s what women are like” and gives them a slightly transcendent point of view. When they are suffering through poverty, he teaches that money isn’t everything in life, there are spiritual values. And when he thinks that he is a physical and mental weakling, he comforts them with the idea that the weaker one is the closer one approaches the truth of mankind. That is all the hand of a soft and in some cases harsh mother or teacher, and many people have awakened to life through acquaintance with such literature. Such literature is also always equipped with humor and vulgar charm, and things that schools do not teach, that fathers and upperclassmen do not say are deftly weaved in so as to grab the attention. To take the lowest example, one finds innumerable examples of this in literature that is said to be for young boys and girls. Girls begin to read that literature from the third or fourth year of elementary school and while their vague dreams crystallize into beautiful, innocent loves, they ultimately break on the wind and waves of the world, but they are given the courage to live vigorously.

But real literature is not like this. The danger posed by real literature is what I would most like to caution against in nerds. Real literature shows bluntly and without mincing words how full of frightful fate human beings are. However, it does not do so with frightening and threatening tricks like the exhibits at an amusement park haunted house. It teaches through extremely beautiful writing and description full of captivating charm that in this life an irredeemable evil lurks at the bottom of human nature. And the better the literature is the more painstakingly and insistently it teaches that mankind is irredeemable. And although religion is the next step if one seeks goals in life in it, “good literature” brings one to the most frightful precipice and abandons one there without bridging to the realm of religion. Consequently, those who awaken to the aforementioned life novels are rather better off, and those who come into contact with that frightful first-rate literature and are brought to the sheer precipice would be rather better off if they were able to create such literature with the powers of similar talents of their own, but without those powers and without even making any effort, they fall under the illusion that they arrived at that precipice by their own individual powers.

Various things are born of that illusion. They become the prisoners of the strange confidence that, although they are powerless, incompetent nerds incapable of changing or reforming this life, they are in a position to mock and laugh at all human beings, that because they gained that position through literature, even if they are immediately punched in a fight, despised by others, possess no sense of justice, cannot even admonish someone smoking on the train, cannot fight even if they see a man threatening a woman on a dark street, and have absolutely no abilities, they posess a certain “right to laughter” with respect to the world of human beings. And they turn a cynical eye to all things, mock all striving, immediately search for comical flaws in people who are doing something with all their might, ridicule sincerity and passion, and unconsciously acquire the right to scorn beautiful things that transcend humanity, vigorous, pure deeds that are the crystallization of the human spirit.

This attitude naturally manifests in the face and in clothing. Even from a group I can distinguish with one look young men who hold such ideas. The eyes of such young men are at a glance limpid, but in their depths they lack light and lack the innocent folly and animal power that are the most important things for young men. They have become a species of cryptogram.

It is not unreasonable that I, who know this poison of literature better than anyone, should have sought to turn away from it. Even when I try to turn away from it, literature persistently follows the professional man of letters that I am, but it is not either unreasonable that I should come to want to warn at least those who will not become professional men of letters of its evils. This is why I came to inveigh against nerds. It was only much later that I realized that it is possible to momentarily escape that bog of nihilism by doing kendō and waving around a bamboo sword. It was also much later, when I had almost passed half of my youth poisoned by the evils of literature, that I realized that the simplest actions can cure in some part that disease of literature. If possible I would like for young men carried away by zeal for literature to awaken sooner. And some number of them, people not influenced by the poisons of others, but by nature possessing frightful poisons in their own bodies, should go on to write a number of works as men of letters.


On Effort

As in the proverb “Effort makes genius”, it is often said that unpolished jewels will never be recognized if they remain unpolished. This maxim was considered a gem in the society of the cult of success. People made assiduous efforts and went on to become worldly winners by pushing others aside and flaunting their pitiful striving in a society in which the struggle for existence was fierce. We have not once doubted the value of effort, especially in Japan.

After the Meiji Restoration, Japan became a society in great flux. It had a class system of a sort, but it was not a rigid society like England. Any talented student could, according to his effort, enter a prestigious university and ultimately become Prime Minister, the president of a large company, or commander in chief of the military. In this sense postwar society has essentially not changed. The Japanese just ran around, made pitiful efforts, and built the third most prosperous nation in the world after the war. When Japanese see others putting in effort, they cannot remain idle, and the hundred million people concentrated in these narrow islands have moved all of Japan with their fierce struggle.

The in a sense democratic character of Japan is clearly manifest in the fact that the value of effort has not once been questioned. Because effort is of non-aristocratic character. In accordance with its tradition of gentlemanly education, the English aristocracy had an ingrained habit of scorning people who studied too hard or read too many books. The English aristocracy would enter Eton College and acquire basic education and knowledge as gentlemen, but that was a matter of the bare minimum. Beyond that they were required to devote themselves to all types of sport and concentrate on forming an aristocratic presence and the dominant character of the aristocrat. That is, rather than effort it was the ingrained and inborn that were valued.

“Effort makes genius” is so to speak the philosophy of the upstart and was on the contrary scorned as expressing the frantic effort to win social recognition of people from classes without money or status. The most clear example is the frantic effort of the black class, which has no footholds to society, to become world-class boxers. This English aristocratism is now a thing of the past and an abandoned way of thinking, but there is no harm in knowing that besides the idea that life is about effort there is also this other way of thinking.

I would rather like to clarify the distinction between leisure and effort. There are cases in which human beings find leisure more trying. Once people born into poverty have been released from the obligation to put in effort, like someone freed from possession by a fox, they are at a loss for what to do with themselves. People who over decades amassed modest efforts at a company or the government office and found only therein the morality of their way of life become living corpses at retirement. Our society visits this cruel tragedy on people every day. They pretend to look forward to spending the remainder of their lives in harmless hobbies like messing with the trees in their gardens, but for them that means that they want to go on amassing other useless efforts until they die because they really do not know of any way of dealing with the hollowness of a life bereft of effort. But in fact it is not making effort that is most trying. We must understand that the most unnatural trial and suffering as a human being lie in having an ability but being prevented from using it.

Recently, the ten second hundred meter world record was broken and a new record of 9.9 seconds set. In the view of some, rather than human effort, the sportsman’s effort to bring mankind closer to the animals has finally broken human limitations and brought him to 9.9 seconds. Now, if you were to tell this man who can run one hundred meters in 9.9 seconds to do so in 15 seconds, would that be easy for him? If you were to tell him not to run it once as a joke, but that he is absolutely prohibited from running the hundred meter in 9.9 seconds and that if he runs it in less than 15 seconds you’ll throw him in jail, what would happen? He would probably be unable to bear the pain and may even lose his mind. Man has the strange character that he is lively when using up one hundred percent of his abilities. But in the torture that is having those abilities trimmed and being permitted only to do things far below what one can lies a more frightful suffering than effort itself.

Our society almost never touches on the fact that it compels people of ability to run slowly on purpose, a torture peculiar to it resulting from basing morality on effort. Not only our intellectual capabilities, but our physical capabilities successively progress, and boys physically become adults at fifteen. Our society does not have opportunities for war in which it would be able to use those young men in the raw. Society is firmly bound by the iron law of gerontocracy. In a world like this, young men who can run it in ten seconds are all compelled to run it in seventeen or eighteen seconds. I find herein the other face of the lie of a society that made a morality out of only effort and construction, the power of society to compel human beings to the greatest trials and tribulations.

We must also consider the student movement from this standpoint. Because the world today is forcing on the youth as a whole a bourgeois morality that says to them, “If you run leisurely, maintain order, and obey the adult world a good life will be promised to you with certainty. You will have children and a beautiful wife, and we will get you a nice apartment. And one day we will hand over to you the right to rule this society. But you’ve gotta wait another thirty years for that. So for right now you’re gonna sit there and study and run slowly.” Naturally, students have effort to put in as students. A student who does not study is not a student. But the tempo of society as a whole demands of people who can run quickly that they run slowly, and of people who run slowly that they run quickly.

This is likely the fundamental cause of the deformations in contemporary Japanese society. On one hand, it has an abundance of energy that can run for long periods. This group is only taken lightly because they are young, yet we must not flatter them by saying that they all have spectacular abilities. But in accordance with the characteristics of Japanese society since Meiji they are also compelled to make effort. But no matter how much effort they put in, the walls of society will not be broken. As a truly painful consequence they acquire an adaptable morality that tells them they must run one hundred meters in 15 seconds. In that instant, the energy has itself abandoned the opportunity to manifest its true full power.

On the other hand, the age group that take thirty seconds, no, a minute to run one hundred meters, the so-called managers, have on their shoulders a burden that they cannot bear on their own. To deal with it alone, they are compelled to run one hundred meters in fifteen or sixteen seconds even if they overexert themselves, no, to run one hundred meters in about ten seconds even if that is impossible for them. Because “it’s too dangerous to leave to the young guys.”

Thus, while becoming half complacent, while carrying on a desperate lifestyle with the thought that life is about effort and that they’ve got to teach the young by example, they suddenly keel over of a heart attack or stroke.


« “Lectures on the Mind for Young Samurai” Dates of First Appearance in Pocket Punch Oh!”»

12 For Young Samurai — May 1969

1 What is the Brave Man? — June 1968

2 What is Decorum? — July 1968

10 On the Body — May 1969

3 On Loyalty — August 1968

9 On Pleasure — February 1969

5 On the Sense of Shame — October 1968

6 On Etiquette — November 1968

7 On Clothing — December 1968

8 On Seniority — January 1969

11 On Nerds — April 1969

4 On Effort — September 1968

<First Publication> For Young Samurai — Nihon Kyōbunsha — July 1969


筋道 sujimichi. Also reason, or the thread of an argument.2

Stendhal, real name Marie-Henri Beyle (1783-1842). French novelist beloved by our friends particularly for his novel The Red and the Black.3

修練 shūren. Also practice or discipline.4

かて kate. 5

感受性 kanjusei. Also sensibility, receptivity, susceptibility.6

The original phrasing of this sentence does not translate well into English. 彼の話によると敵襲の声に空を見ると、船の前方から敵機が数機、右を見ると右からも敵機が数機、うしろを見るとうしろからも敵機が数機、急激に襲ってきていた, kare no hanashi ni yoru to tekishū no koe ni sora o miru to, fune no zenpō kara tekiki ga sūki, migi o miru to migi kara mo tekiki ga sūki, ushiro o miru to ushiro kara mo tekiki ga sūki, kyūgeki ni osotte kite ita.7

精神棒 seishinbō. Short for 精神注入棒 seishin chūnyūbō, or spirit injection cudgels, these were cudgels used to physically discipline new recruits in the military. Mishima is saying that according to his source, they would beat rescued sailors.8

味を知る aji o shiru. Lit. to know the flavor.9

開拓 kaitaku. This word refers to pioneering in the same sense as the American pioneers, that is setting out to discover, clear, and develop new territories, markets, and so on, but it also has an older, and perhaps now forgotten, connotation of colonization or colonialism, from its use in the early Meiji period to refer to the colonization of Hokkaidō.10

中間層 chūkansō. Considering the context, this may be a translation of the German Mittelstand, but as it is uncertain I have adopted the most general English equivalent.11

芸術の政治化であり、政治の芸術化である geijutsu no seijika de ari, seiji no geijutsuka de aru.12

無責任の体系 musekinin no taikei. Mishima is here borrowing a phrase from Maruyama Masao’s famous 1946 essay, 超国家主義の論理と心理 Chōkokkashugi no Ronri to Shinri, which has been mistranslated into English as “The Theory and Psychology of Ultra-Nationalism” but should be understood as “The Logic and Psychology of Ultra-Nationalism.” The borrowing is likely a subtle rebuttal of Maruyama, who argued that prewar Japanese politics consisted of a system of irresponsibility in which each individual claimed, and to some extent genuinely believed himself, to be acting purely, first, out of patriotic motives, and second, on the basis of orders, authority, and duties handed down to him from a chain of individuals leading up to the Emperor. Maruyama’s claim is that this placement of ultimate authority and responsibility in the Emperor, who generally refrained from intervening in politics and was often used as a pawn by the various cliques in government, prevented the Japanese people and authorities from resisting the march to imperialism and war, as none of them held authority or responsibility for anything and could therefore not act on their own account to change the course of events. One can tentatively state that one aim of this essay was to refute Maruyama and put forward the view that the “system of irresponsibility” he blames for Japan’s wars of the 1930s and 1940s by nature could not have existed in Japan of that time precisely because it provided opportunities for war and adventure, but could not but come into existence after the war because the new society that Maruyama and his associates heralded had cut off all such opportunities.13

An incident that occurred on January 18-19, 1969, when students belonging to the New Left and to the All-Campus Joint Struggle Committees occupied Yasuda Auditorium and were subsequently defeated by the riot police.14

勇者 yūsha. Can also mean hero, but the usual terms for that are 英雄 eiyū and 豪傑 gōketsu.15

French actor, filmmaker and Handsome Thursday icon.16

ノーブル・サウェッジ(高貴なる野蛮人) nōburu sawejji (kōki naru yabanjin). Mishima uses the term in English and then translates it into Japanese.17

英雄類型 eiyū ruikei. Literally heroic type, heroic stereotype, hero type, hero stereotypes.18

The Genroku era (taken from the Genroku period, which lasted from 1688 to 1704, but generally also includes the preceding and following thirty years) was an era of great artistic, literary, and cultural production coinciding with the rise of the merchant class that saw the emergence of the great poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), and the great floating world storyteller Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693). It is also known as a period of great extravagance and moral corruption.19

大道寺友山 Daidōji Yūzan (1639-1730). Early- and mid-Edo period military strategist.20

武道初心集 Budō Shoshinshū. A text meant to introduce and explain the practices proper to the warrior. Variously translated as The Code of the Samurai and The Warrior’s Primer.21

不勇者 fuyūsha. Literally the man who is not brave, the unbrave man.22

何でもかんでも気随気ままが第一 nandemo kandemo kizui kimama ga daiichi.23

マイホーム mai hōmu. Refers to a home of one’s own, but has strong connotations of family and orientation toward home and family.24

三派全学連 Sanpa Zengakuren. One of the splinter groups of the nationwood radical left-wing student movement in the 1960s.25

現代の若い‟サムライ”が勇者か不勇者かを見る区別 gendai no wakai “samurai” ga yūsha ka fuyūsha ka o miru kubetsu. I have departed from the precise wording of this clause, as a literal rendering yields something close to gibberish.26

Alberto Moravia (1907-1990) Italian novelist.27

作法 sahō.28

rei. Can also refer to greetings, expressions of gratitude, and politeness more generally.29

建て前上 tatemaejō. Also officially, publicly, outwardly.30

作法・礼法 sahō ・reihō.31

威厳(ディグニティー) igen (digunitii).32

取り上げる toriageru. This word can refer to a midwife helping to deliver a child, to taking up or accepting something, to taking something away from someone, or to picking something up. Mishima uses the first meaning to make a joke about the inaptness of the word.33

お邪魔しましょうか ojama shimashō ka. This is a term used when entering someone’s home or office.34

おいとましましょうか oitoma itashimashō ka. One of many terms stated when departing from a superior or leaving someone’s office.35

根底にある kontei ni aru. Literally that is in or at the basis, fundament, bottom, root.36

大奥 ōoku. The inner rooms of the palace where the women and wives of the shōgun were housed.37

肩衣 kataginu. A sleeveless ceremonial robe with prominent shoulders worn by samurai men.38

kamishimo. The name for a type of Japanese formal male dress.39

喜多川歌麿 Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). Mid Edo-era ukiyoe artist.40

飛鳥朝 Asukachō. 600-709.41

平安朝 Heianchō. 794-1192.42

万葉集 Man’yōshū. Japan’s oldest poetry collection. Combiled by Ōtomo no Yakamochi 大伴家持 in the mid-eighth century.43

菊花の約 Kikka no Chigiri. One story in his Tales of Moonlight and Rain.44

sei. A word with many meanings including sex in the sense of the sexual act, sex in the sense of biological sex, and the modern neologisms sexuality and gender.45

kyaku, 客色 kyakuiro, 情人 iro. 46

Written 廉恥心 renchishin and glossed as シャイネス shainesu. The English term shyness doesn’t actually correspond to renchishin, which I translate here as the sense of shame, except partially in the immediately following example of the train car, but I have chosen to remain faithful to Mishima’s wording.47

The phrase Mishima uses here, 文弱の徒 bunjaku no to, has no suitable official English translation. I have taken the liberty of rendering it as “nerds,” which fails to capture the register of the original Japanese but captures the essential point: that of a group of people who neglect physical training to pursue letters, but in such a way that their writing is actively harmful to life.

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