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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 328

"Patriotism" is a short story about the marriage of two young Japanese people whose passion for each other is matched only by their loyalty to their country and its emperor. Yukio Mishima follows their marriage through the few months it endured and locates their personal experience within the tumultuous political events that occurred in Japan in the 1930s.

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Takeyama, a young military officer, has married Reiko, who is fully committed to the solemn responsibility of being an officer's wife. They both are devoted to the emperor, keeping his picture in a shrine in their home. She has agreed to die with him if he must give his life for their country. The young couple is passionately in love, and Mishima emphasizes the depth of their erotic attachment; sometimes, when Takeyama arrives at home, they make love immediately, before he even takes off his uniform.

The couple's ritual suicide takes place in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt. In the actual event, a treasonous cadre of more than a thousand officers stormed multiple sites, attacking the prime minister and other officials. The aborted coup lasted four days before the responsible parties were rounded up and executed.

Takeyama was not one of the mutineers, but he had to report for duty; meanwhile, Reiko (who had not heard from him) hears on the radio that his unit members have been denounced; his unit had anticipated that he would remain loyal, so they had kept him in the dark about their plans.

When he returns home, he is determined to do the honorable thing and die rather than be forced to attack the men he had commanded. Reiko agrees to kill herself as well, and they carefully prepare for the ritual: taking a bath, making love, and writing a note. Takeyama kills himself first, performing the ritual disemboweling with a knife, but Reiko must help him slit his throat because he is too weak. She follows by slitting her own throat.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 916

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 and rushes out of the house, not to return until late on the twenty-eighth. Reiko finds out about the mutiny on the radio and spends the two days preparing her personal belongings for death if her husband does not return. As the mutineers are isolated, the names of men in Takeyama’s unit are denounced on the radio.

At sunset on February 28, Takeyama returns, pounding at the door. He is tired, wet, and dejected. His comrades did not let him in on the plot, and he fears being placed in an impossible situation: “I shall be in command of a unit with orders to attack them. . . . I can’t do it. It’s impossible to do a thing like that.” The only resolution to his dilemma is suicide.

Reiko instantly recognizes his unstated decision. Both suddenly feel at peace as they realize what the other is thinking. They resolve to commit suicide that night. The rest of the story describes in vivid detail their careful preparations for a proper ritual suicide. It is important that no irregularity occur. Takeyama trusts his wife enough to know that he can die first, knowing that she will follow. A suspicious husband would kill his wife first.

First they take a bath and drink sake, filled with anticipation. Takeyama reflects that his death will be without glory, yet he will be on the “frontline of the spirit.” In a very erotic scene, Takeyama notices Reiko’s physical beauty for the last time, lingering over her naked body. She has smooth arms and delicate fingers, swelling breasts, and a soft but resilient stomach. As his kisses trace her body, she, too, wishes to have one last look at his body. Modesty has prevented him before, but now he surrenders himself to his wife. His naked skin glows as the muscles stand out, befitting a soldier of the emperor. Seeing his firm stomach, about to be cut open with the silent sharp blade of the sword, she covers it with kisses. They make unrestrained love for the final time, ecstasy and death blending into one emotion. Finally falling back from each other, Takeyama and Reiko lay on their backs with their fingers entwined.

They put on clean clothing and prepare their suicide notes. Takeyama writes boldly and simply, “Long Live the Imperial Forces.” He then undoes his uniform collar for the coup de grace and exposes his bare stomach for the sword. Reiko watches in a bridelike white gown as her husband plunges his sword deep into his left side. He then slowly draws it sideways to his navel. Despite his agony, he continues until the entrails burst out, spilling into his lap with a raw smell. Reiko suppresses an urge to rush to his side. When he has trouble cutting his throat, she moves through the blood that has spilled out to loosen his collar. Finally the sword blade pierces his neck and Takeyama escapes his agony.

Reiko withdraws to tidy the house and herself, releasing the door bolt so their bodies will be discovered before they begin to rot. Placing herself by her husband’s side, she uses her family dagger to slit her throat, choking on the warm blood and sharing his pain.

Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188

Patriotism by Yukio Mishima is a short story based on an insurgence that occurred on February 26, 1936. Approximately 1500 First Division military personnel raided the houses of politicians, including the prime minister. They took control of various areas in Tokyo. The uprising lasted for four days and insiders, under the orders of the state, stopped the actions of the rebellious officers. The organizers of the attempted coup were executed.

In Patriotism, the author venerates ritual suicide. Mishima writes about 31-year-old Lieutenant Takeyama Shinji, who performs seppuku on himself to avoid choosing between the emperor and his comrades in the military. The emperor had instructed him to fight against his friends. Shinji’s 23-year-old wife, Reiko, performs the same ritual after her husband’s death.

In narrating Shinji’s story, the author conveys to the reader the importance of patriotism. Upon discovering that his fellow soldiers are mutineers, Shinji goes back home and informs his wife. To avoid choosing sides, they decide to kill themselves. After Shinji performs the ritual, he leaves a note reaffirming his support for the Imperial Forces. Reiko’s note shows her acceptance of death and fate.

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