Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Yukio Mashima's short story, Patriotism, tells the story of the three-day struggle (between February 26 and February 28 in the year 1936). This struggle was the rebellion of a select group of young officers in the Imperial Japanese Army. The rebellion itself was the result of factionalism in the Japanese army dating from the late nineteenth century (Japan's Meiji period).
The third-person narration tells the story of Takeyama Shinji, a member of the imperial army who is asked to fight against his friends, the insurgents. He explains to his wife:
"They’ve taken me off guard duty, and I have permission to return home for one night. Tomorrow morning, without question, I must leave to join the attack. I can’t do it, Reiko."
Reiko sat erect with lowered eyes. She understood clearly that her husband had spoken of his death. The lieutenant was resolved. Each word, being rooted in death, emerged sharply and with powerful significance against this dark, unmovable background. Although the lieutenant was speaking of his dilemma, already there was no room in his mind for vacillation."
The lieutenant announces to his wife that he plans to "cut his stomach" in the ritual of Japanese seppuku (a suicide by disembowelment, originally practiced by samurai in order to preserve honor for themselves and their family in death). The lieutenant's wife announces that she plans to join him, at which point he asks that she first bear witness to his suicide. Despite these plans on which the couple are resolved,
"There was nothing to suggest a time of any special significance. Reiko, going busily about her tasks, was preparing side dishes from odds and ends in stock. Her hands did not tremble. If anything, she managed even more efficiently and smoothly than usual. From time to time, it is true, there was a strange throbbing deep within her breast. Like distant lightning, it had a moment of sharp intensity and then vanished without trace. Apart from that, nothing was in any way out of the ordinary."
The author, Mashima, imparts a somber mood to this unusual scene. It invites the reader to consider what is normal behavior of the part of those who know their death is imminent.
The death is described with vivid and emotive imagery as follows:
"The pain spread slowly outward from the inner depths until the whole stomach reverberated. It was like the wild clanging of a bell. Or like a thousand bells which jangled simultaneously at every breath he breathed and every throb of his pulse, rocking his whole being. The lieutenant could no longer stop himself from moaning. But by now the blade had cut its way through to below the navel, and when he noticed this he felt a sense of satisfaction, and a renewal of courage."
The remainder of the scene is described in similarly graphic fashion, with his wife's suicide following the lieutenants. The short story's poignancy is enhanced by the circumstance attending it's author's legacy; Yukio Mishima himself performed seppuku after his own failed attempt at a coup in 1970.