On November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima, a brilliant author of more than forty novels, short-story collections, plays, and essays, committed suicide after leading a group of his private army, the Tatenokai (shield society), into the office of a general in the Japanese Self-Defense forces in Tokyo and holding the officer hostage while he tried to rally the troops to cast off their role as a merely defensive force and honor the emperor by returning to the ancient Japanese traditions of the warrior. Mishima knew that the attempt to rouse the army was doomed and had already planned his death as a penance for having led a failed coup. He killed himself by seppuku, ritual disembowelment. (Hara-kiri, the term for this method of death which is more commonly used in the West, literally means “belly cut.”) In the final act of seppuku, Mishima was beheaded by his best friend in the Tatenokai, who was then killed in the same fashion. Not only the literary world but also the global community was stunned by what seemed an insane act that ended a prolific artistic career.
Although the manner of Mishima’s death was shocking, his suicide at the age of forty-five would not have surprised a careful reader of his works. Only two years before his death, Mishima had published Sun and Steel, in which he outlined his views on death as the ultimate tragic experience and the perfect fulfillment of the life of the warrior and the artist.
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