Passion, Rebellion, and Sad ending: The Life Story of Mishima Yukio

Mishima Yukio Biography

Early Life

Mishima Yukio, or originally known as Kimitake Hiraoka, was born in the 14th of January 1925. He is one of the most controversial icons in all of Japan. He is known as an artist of many crafts as he spent most of his life as a writer, playwright, actor, model, and director. He was born in the town of Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan.

He came from quite an influential family. His mother was the daughter of the principal of Kaisei academy who was a scholar of Chinese classics. His father was a government official in Tokyo. He was a descendant of the daimyo of the Shishido in the Hitachi province and had very close relations with Prince Arisugawa Taruhito in his paternal side. Interestingly, he was a direct descendant of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is said that many of his works and ideas were based on his rough experiences in his childhood. He grew up under the care of his grandmother. He was always kept inside the home and played alone. He was never allowed to play sports or play games with other young boys his age did, instead, he was left to play with female cousins inside the house. It was also quite well-known that his grandmother had interesting bouts of violence, which was always alluded to many of his works and pieces.

At the age of 12, he was sent back home to his father who was a firm believer of military discipline. He forced his son to be just like the other boys his age. His father was often disappointed by his son’s effeminate interests (probably influenced by his formative years). However, it was unclear whether these interests simply involved his love for literature and writing or it was something else.

Education and Early Career

Being a part of a wealthy Japanese family, Mishima was sent to Gakushuin. This was one of the most prestigious schools in the country and was popular for Japan’s elite and nobility. In this school, his love for the arts was made evident. He started reading and learning about classical authors from Japan and the world which included Oscar Wilde, Michizo Tachihara, and more.

He could finally write stories at the young age of twelve. He also had an interest in writing waka during his early years but fully converted to prose later on. In his lifetime, he had made dozens of world-renowned novels with his last manuscript submitted for editing on the day of his death. Many of his works reflected his experiences just like his story Tabako, showing his experiences in bullying. These experiences in school were also used as inspiration to write his work Shi o Kaku Shonen ‘The Boy Who Wrote Poetry’ later on.

During the Second World War, he received a draft notice to join the army but was subsequently declared unfit for service after a misdiagnosis of tuberculosis. With a Lieutenant father, it was clear that literature was not in his future. He was then given a role in the Finance Ministry of the government – a role that is sure to give him a future of comfort. However, he later resigned due to severe exhaustion.  

Later Life and Career

Most of his work revolved around his ideas and beliefs about the post-war constitution. He was a firm believer in the traditional discipline and virtues of early Japan. He thought, quite explicitly, that the post-war society of Japan focused too much on materialism. For him, there are only two ways to reform Japan – through the restoration of the Emperor or through the military (samurai) means.

During this time, he formed his own militia despite not being a military man which he called Tatenokai. This is made up of hundreds of students who swore to protect the emperor – people who shared the same views as him. It was difficult for many conservative Japanese people to accept the fate of Japan post-war. So it was understandable that he had firm believers and followers.

Attempted Coup and Death

On the 25th of November in the year 1970, Mishima along with four of his Tatenokai went to the headquarters of the Japan self-defense forces in Tokyo. They captured the commander-in-chief of the eastern command, barricaded the doors, and presented a list of his demands. Among his priority is to rally up forces, and inspire a coup d’ Etat, against the post-war constitution of Japan. He wanted to rally up the people to stand against the government and bring back the Emperor to full power. To do so, he had recited a well-written speech at the balcony of the commandant’s office to an audience of thousands of Japanese soldiers.

By signed Kunikazu Utagawa (歌川 国員), pupil of Kunisada [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, his views were not reflected and upon finishing the speech it was clear that his attempts were a failure. The soldiers jeered and ridiculed him – a clear sign that they did not share his sentiments. Upon his return to the commander’s office, he committed seppuku – a samurai ritualistic suicide. For the Japanese samurai, it is better to die this way than to die at the hands of an enemy. In history, it was performed by warriors who have committed a crime or some shameful deed.  It is a process by which a sharp sword or knife is taken to the abdomen to cut it open. If the person does not die immediately, a helper is there to help. The role of the helper is to behead the samurai who committed seppuku before officially killing himself.

What is interesting about his death is that many critics could pinpoint a few pieces of evidence that his ritual death was more out of a passion for drama than an attempt towards nationalism. One factor is that he had been planning this coup attempt for a year prior and there are some hints that could be seen from ‘death poems’ that he wrote in the months prior the incident. He even left a sum for the legal defense of his living Tatenokai. He also made sure that all his personal affairs were taken care of before his death.

Some of his close confidantes had indicated that the author had always been fantasizing about a dramatic death and had long dreamed of ritual suicide. A troubled thought indeed, but no one can know for sure what goes on in his head before he expired. Should he be hailed a martyr for this death? There can be so many answers to that one question.

The Works of Mishima Yukio

Mishima Yukio's Books

Mishima Yukio’s Confessions of a Mask

This is one of author’s most erotic book and was one of his earlier pieces. It was written in 1949 and was one of the timeliest pieces at the time where homosexuality was a taboo topic still. The concept of the book revolved around how the main character created a false identity (thus a mask) that he presents to the world. It is a strange coming-of-age novel that explores how a young boy struggles with his homosexual urges but is faced with the hardcore principles and norms set by Japan’s conservative society. Many critics have actually claimed that this book is a clear autobiography of Mishima’s life and that it reflects many of his thoughts and struggles growing up.

By 朝日新聞社 (『アサヒグラフ』 1948年5月12日号) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mishima Yukio’s Spring Snow (The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy)

The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy is made up of four novels and is considered as his last pieces before his death. It was chronologically published between 1969 and 1971. The story does not revolve around the main character’s (Shigekuni Honda) exploration on the successive reincarnations of one of his friends (Kiyaoki Matugae and his lover Satoko Ayakura). 

Mishima Yukio’s Short Stories

Mishima Yukio’s Patriotism

This work was published in 1966 and it is a short story that explores the life of Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama, his wife Reiko, and their popular suicide in the late 1930s. It is unsure whether the characters were fictional, but it is said that the story revolves around the Ni Ni Roku Incident. There is an eerie similarity of the events of this story and the author’s death. 

Mishima Yukio Films

He was a known director but he did not make any famous films that made it to mainstream media. However, there are a number of films where he was a star actor including ‘Afraid to Die’ in 1960, ‘The Rite of Love and Death Patriotism’ in 1966. His earlier works include Jumpaku no yoru in 1951 and Fudotoku Kyoikukoza in 1959 – both of which were unreleased outside of Japan. His last movie appearance was in ‘Tenchu!’ released in 1969.

Mishima Yukio Plays

He was a versatile writer. He is known to switch between traditional and contemporary theatrical literature. He had plays like Madame de sade which is all contemporary in style. However, he also had classical works for Noh and Kabuki. Despite writing classical pieces, he usually introduces interesting twists where he includes modern settings in classical work. This is a refreshing surprise for many people who are accustomed to the originals. His talent and works even garnered him a nomination for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963.

Mishima Yukio Acting and Modelling

Many historians note that Mishima was obsessed with ‘the cult of the body’. He liked exploring what the eros and this was clear in many of his works. He was also known to be quite fond of his looks and the concept of beauty. This is why there are many photos of him showing his muscles and his body. There were many interviews as well where he is quoted that he does not want to die old and ugly. He is also quoted that he admired the samurai who performed hara-kiri who remain with made up faces even in death – probably one of the influences of his dramatic death.

The Legacy of Mishima Yukio

Mishima’s Marriage and Family

With his upbringing, there were signs that show that Mishima is not up to the norm. He was a sickly young boy who prefers books over sports. He was even among the very few who were able to steel away from serving in the war. He clearly did not identify with just a single gender. Later on in his life, he declared that he was a homosexual. Despite that, he chose to enter marriage – dedicated to becoming the model husband every Japanese woman should have. He also had two children.

Famous Mishima Yukio Quotes

There are many works of Mishima Yukio that best describes his works and ideas. Many of his famous quotes revolve around beauty, homosexuality, foolishness, and more. It is also clear that there are many quotes where he expressed his interest in darkness, death, and more – a clear indication of his struggles and troubles.

By Lotosesser [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

One particular line that somehow reflects his life and his thoughts would be “living is merely the chaos of existence”. It seemed that he had a troubled and confused life. He was torn between what he truly wanted and what the society believed was right. To his last breath, he opposed the norm trying to fight for what he believed was right.

His famous last words were “Tenno Heika Banzai” or long live his Imperial Majesty – but this is what the public knows. Based on the reports of his followers, he exclaimed that he was not heard quite well before he committed hara-kiri.

Works dedicated to Mishima Yukio

Mishima Yukio Literary Museum

Also known as Mishima Yukio Bungaku-kan, this is the home of the writer’s hand-written manuscripts, his life, his belongings and more. There are letters, portraits, paintings, notes, and more located in this museum. There is even a big library inside and a reading room which is open to the public. This is for people who wish to learn about the golden age of Japan’s literature, the journals that Mishima founded and wrote for, and more.

Mishima Yukio on Goodreads

For those who wish to read about his works before purchasing his books may see reviews on the Goodreads website. There are synopsis and summaries available on that website for most of his works. Most of his works which were translated into the English language are reviewed on this website. There are also translated books available in certain online shops and local bookstores.