Yukio Mishima Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Mishima was a writer of great power, whose life became a performance, ultimately a tragic performance. At the time of his suicide, he was widely regarded as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Early Life

Yukio Mishima was born Kimitake Hiraoka in Tokyo, Japan, on January 14, 1925. His father was Azusa Hiraoka, a senior official in the Ministry of Agriculture. His mother was Shizue (Hashi) Hiraoka. Because of his father’s position, the boy was able to attend the prestigious Gakushuin (the Peers’ School). He proved a fine scholar and was cited for excellence by the emperor himself. During his schoolboy days, his complex nature was already evident. He was a gentle, bookish child, with a delicate constitution. Nevertheless, he was drawn to stories that portrayed the valiant deaths of warriors or their ritual suicides. This fascination with ritualized death persisted throughout his work and life.

Mishima began to write at an early age and was publishing short stories in the magazine Bungei Bunka (literary culture) before the age of sixteen. In 1944, he entered the University of Tokyo to undertake the study of law. He was graduated in 1947, but his education was briefly interrupted by his conscription into the army in February, 1945. He saw no action in the closing months of the war, and his period of active service was short. Still, it was to affect him profoundly in the years to come. In Taiyō to tetsu (1968; Sun and Steel, 1970), he describes the process by which his personal philosophy of physical prowess and the beauty of violent death began to emerge as he underwent the rigors of military training. In 1947, he received a position in the Ministry of Finance, but he resigned it in the following year to devote himself exclusively to writing.

Life’s Work

While he was still a schoolboy, Mishima met Yasunari Kawabata, who was to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. The elder writer not only served as a literary influence but also became a lifelong friend. Mishima’s decision to use a pseudonym may have been prompted by the subject matter of his first, and very successful, novel, Kamen no kokuhaku (1949; Confessions of a Mask, 1958), an autobiographical tale of a shy, sensitive young man who is wrestling with his homosexual and sadomasochistic impulses. Critics have suggested that this novel set the tone for the rest of Mishima’s fiction: He had adopted not only a new name but also a new personality. Henceforward, he would mask his timidity, vulnerability, and aestheticism with an arrogant, even a provocative, persona. While retaining the love for fine prose and for the Japanese and Western classics that he had shared with Kawabata, he began to affect a strident manliness. He sought the ideal of male beauty and, through a regimen of weight lifting, transformed his puny physique. He studied boxing and karate until he achieved proficiency in both. He made himself into an excellent swordsman and imbibed deeply the tradition of the samurai.

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mishima produced a succession of critically acclaimed novels, including Shiosai (1954; The Sound of Waves, 1956), Kinkakuji (1956; The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, 1959), Utage no ato (1960; After the Banquet, 1963), and Gogo no eikō (1963; The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, 1965). On June 1, 1958, he married Yoko Sugiyama. He eventually became the father of two children—a daughter, Noriko, and a son, Iichiro.

Mishima was prolific in genres other than the novel. He wrote many short stories, most of which are uncollected or collected in Japanese editions only. A collection in English translation, Death in Midsummer, and Other Stories, appeared in 1966. Among the stories in this volume is one of Mishima’s most celebrated, “Yūkoku” (“Patriotism”), the haunting and prophetic story of a young army officer and his wife. When a group of his close friends rebel against their military command, he is torn by his loyalty to them and to the nation. As an honorable alternative, he chooses a warrior’s...

(The entire section is 1740 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Yukio Mishima was born Kimitake Hiraoka, the son of a government bureaucrat. Mishima’s life was unusual from the outset. His physically ill grandmother, Natsuko, virtually kidnapped the firstborn of her son Azusa and his wife, Shizue, sequestering the child in her quarters. The young Mishima lived with her, enduring that strained situation. When he was ready for the seventh grade, however, she allowed him to move back to his parents’ section of the house. Mishima said that as early as the age of five, he learned to prefer an imaginary world, often of violence, to the real world. As early as the age of four he was to begin a pattern of falling in love with pictures in books. A favorite picture was of Joan of Arc, whom he assumed to be a male. Mishima candidly reported that his first erotic arousal occurred when he was looking at a photograph of Guido Reni’s portrait of Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows.

Mishima attended the exclusive Peer’s School in Tokyo. He was too young for the draft in early World War II but was called up later, only to fail the physical, and so returned to work in the aircraft factory where he had been employed. Fame was to come to him following the publication of the novel Confessions of a Mask. He complemented his writing of plays and novels by creating his own persona, pursuing bodybuilding and mastering English. Mishima visited the United States on a world tour, which included Latin America and Greece, in 1951...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Kimitake Hiraoka, who began using the pseudonym Yukio Mishima in 1941, was the son of a middle-class government official who worked in Tokyo. When Mishima was less than two months old, his paternal grandmother, Natsu, took the boy to her living quarters; his mother, Shizue, felt helpless to protest, and his father, Azusa, appeared to be totally subjected to his mother’s will.

In 1931, Mishima was enrolled in the Gakushin (the Peer’s School), a school attended largely by young aristocrats. In due time, he was graduated at the head of his class and received a silver watch from the emperor personally at the imperial palace. By this time, his literary gifts had already become evident, and “Hanazakari no mori” (“The Forest in Full Bloom”) was published in 1941.

In 1946, Mishima entered the Tokyo Imperial University to study law. After being employed for a time at the Ministry of Finance, he resigned in 1948 to devote full time to writing. The publication of Kamen no kokuhaku (1949; Confessions of a Mask, 1958) established him as a literary figure.

The 1950’s were eventful years in Mishima’s life. During this decade, he produced several novels, two of them major successes. He also traveled to the United States, Brazil, and Europe, and his visit to Greece in particular was a highlight because of its classical associations. During these years, Shiosai (1954; The Sound of Waves, 1956), a...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born Kimitake Hiraoka in 1925, the eldest son of a government bureaucrat, Mishima (who took the pen name of Yukio Mishima in 1941) was reared largely by his grandmother Natsuko, a woman of artistic tastes and neurotic temperament. During his childhood and early adolescence, Mishima, by his own admission, spent much of his time in a kind of fantasy world. He pursued his studies at the Gakushuin (Peers School), where he began to write, in a highly precocious manner, for the school literary magazine. Mishima’s interest in European, particularly French, literature began during this period. Graduated from the Peers School in 1944, he was not drafted and was able to begin his studies at Tokyo University. In 1947, he began working at the Ministry of Finance but soon resigned on the strength of his early literary successes to devote his full energies to writing. As his novels became more and more successful, he turned as well to writing for the stage, where he met with both critical and popular success.

Mishima made his first trip abroad during 1951 and 1952, visiting the United States, Europe, and Brazil. These visits gave him both another sense of the world and an increasing understanding of the appeal that his works had in translation for readers outside Japan.

Mishima married in 1958 and remained close to his wife and two children until his death twelve years later. At the same time, his strenuous cult of bodybuilding and his growing association with what came to be his own private army, the Tatenokai, suggest a homoerotic side of his nature first revealed in his early writings.

Mishima embarked on the composition of his tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility, while engaging in military maneuvers with his private army. To many critics and readers in Japan, Mishima seemed to have become something of a right-wing extremist, and by 1970, he had made the decision to kill himself upon completion of the manuscript of the fourth and final novel of the series. On November 25, 1970, after making a speech to the Self-Defense forces, he committed ritual suicide in the traditional Japanese manner.

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Yukio Mishima (mee-she-mah), whose name at birth was Kimitake Hiraoka, was born in Tokyo, Japan, on January 14, 1925, to a family descended from samurai nobility. His father was Azusa Hiraoka; his mother, Shizue Hashi Hiraoka. Kimitake, who took the name Yukio Mishima when he began to write in 1941, was a frail child who, perhaps because of his lack of physical prowess, became enamored at an early age with the warriors of feudal Japan who followed bushido as a code of conduct. Bushido, which means “way of the warrior,” stressed self-sacrifice, indifference to pain, control of both mind and body, and loyalty to the Japanese emperor. Mishima came to live and die by this code. Reared largely by his grandparents...

(The entire section is 902 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Yukio Mishima has been compared to the American author Ernest Hemingway in his masculine code of violence and death, to the British author D. H. Lawrence in his mystical sense of primitive impulses, to the French author André Gide in his candid treatment of homosexuality, and to the great Japanese writers of the past.

Yet Mishima is always uniquely himself. His way of combining beauty and death, his peculiar eroticism, and his conservative political and social views make him unlike any other author, and while he often repels his readers, he just as often fascinates them. While every age produces very good writers, it produces very few geniuses. Mishima was such a rarity—a writer of genius.

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Yukio Mishima (mee-shee-mah) was a writer of great power—widely regarded in his last years as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature—whose life became a performance, ultimately a tragic performance. He was born Kimitake Hiraoka in Tokyo, Japan, the son of Azusa and Shizue (Hashi) Hiraoka. His father was a senior official in the Ministry of Agriculture. The boy was an outstanding scholar at Gakushuin (the Peers’ School), where he was cited for excellence by the emperor himself. He was a gentle, bookish child, with a delicate constitution, who was drawn, nevertheless, to books that portrayed the valiant death and ritual suicides of the warrior. He began to write at an early age and was publishing short stories in...

(The entire section is 857 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Born Kimitake Hiraoka, Yukio Mishima was born into an upper-class family and raised primarily by his possessive grandmother who was a...

(The entire section is 994 words.)

Yukio Mishima Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Yukio Mishima was born as Hiroka Kimitake in Tokyo, Japan, in 1925. His ancestors were of the upper samurai class, and his grandmother...

(The entire section is 509 words.)