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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Yukio  Mishima

Yukio Mishima 1925to –1970

One of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century; also a poet, playwright, actor, director, bodybuilder, and right-wing militia leader. As a child, he was removed from his immediate family and kept isolated by his domineering grandmother for several years. When he returned to his parents at age 12, his disciplinarian father tried to quash his “effeminate” interest in literature. Nevertheless, he continued to write, impressing his teachers and alienating him from his schoolmates. In 1949, under the pen name Yukio Mishima, he published his second novel, Confessions of a Mask. It was a semi-autobiographical account of a homosexual boy fascinated by death and violence, who grows up to feel he must wear a metaphorical mask to fit into society. The novel was a great success, and brought Mishima worldwide acclaim at the age of 24. He would go on to wear many “masks” throughout his life, carefully cultivating his public persona from then on. Through weight training, and later through martial arts such as kendo, he transformed himself from a frail intellectual into a bodybuilder. He took up modeling and acting, eventually directing some of his own films, and even sang a film’s theme song. In 1958, he entered into an arranged marriage and had two children, while continuing to visit gay bars and enjoying gay relationships. And throughout this time, he remained a prolific writer, penning the novels The Sound of Waves and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, writing plays for Kabuki and Noh theater, as well as short stories, essays, and poems. Three times he was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and only barely lost in 1968 to a fellow Japanese author. That same year, Mishima formed the Tatenokai, his own private militia. Mishima had been developing a nationalist ideology that promoted traditional Japanese values and the reinstatement of the Emperor, angering both the left and the right in the process. Mishima himself was descended from Japanese aristocracy, and he fashioned himself as a modern samurai. In November 1970, Japan was stunned when Mishima and four of his militia members tried to stage a coup d’état, ending with Mishima taking his own life through traditional seppuku. He had been fascinated with ritual suicide long before the event, and it’s been suggested that the coup was merely a pretext to stage his own poetic death. Whatever the motivation, it was a shocking end to one of the more complex and enigmatic literary figures in modern history.

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