Early in the morning on February 26,1936, about fifteen hundred officers and soldiers from the Japanese army’s First Division attacked the homes of the prime minister and other officials and occupied parts of central Tokyo. After four days, the mutineers surrendered to loyal elements of the army that were brought in to quell the uprising. Quick trials and executions of the ringleaders brought an end to the anarchy that had prevailed in the Japanese military since 1931. “Patriotism” glorifies the ritual suicide of Lieutenant Takeyama Shinji and his wife as he finds himself torn between loyalty to his unit, which has sided with the mutiny, and his loyalty to the emperor.
In Japan, seppuku, or ritual suicide, has been a time-honored means of escaping from capture or an irreconcilable conflict. More widely known in its vulgar form as hara-kiri (literally, belly-slitting) in the West, it is a painful way of dying meant to show the courage and tenacity of a samurai even in the face of defeat. Japanese culture does not have Christian prohibitions against suicide, so such a death can be seen as honorable, even admirable.
Only six months before the ill-fated mutiny, Takeyama married his twenty-three-year-old bride, Reiko. They lived in a modest house in Yotsuya, near central Tokyo. In Mishima’s story, a fictionalized account of their double suicide, the young bride makes a pledge on their wedding night to follow Takeyama in death because she had become the wife of a soldier. She does this silently by displaying a prized dagger that her mother had given her.
The marriage is as brief as it is passionate. They make love at night and sometimes as soon as Takeyama enters the house, still in his muddy uniform. However, this passion is depicted almost as a religious ritual, for even in sexual release “their hearts were sober and serious.” Each morning the lieutenant and his wife stand at the house shrine and bow to a tablet from Shinto’s most sacred shrine, Ise, and a photograph of the emperor and his wife.
Takeyama is not directly involved in the plot to overthrow the government. He is awakened on the snowy morning of February 26 by the sound of a distant bugle. He quickly puts on his uniform...
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