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Mishima and Militarism

In response to:

Writer, Rightist or Freak? from the December 11, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

I have been reflecting a little over the review by Hidé Ishiguro of the two Mishima biographies which you published in your issue of December 11. She is not correct in describing me as the Tokyo correspondent of the London Times. Ishiguro is also mistaken in stating that Mishima’s last tetralogy, his last major work, has five volumes.

Slips apart, I think that your reviewer, like many Japanese with comfortable backgrounds, more or less committed to the status quo in their country, will not look at Japan as it is. This is not a “pacifist” country! Come on now! Japan has one of the largest defense budgets in Asia, is protected by the US and has a whole chain of American military bases; like England Japan is under the military sway of America. And there are those in the ruling conservative party and in business, especially the Mitsubishi group, who want continued, steady, unspectacular rearmament; they are getting it. “Pacifist” indeed! Mishima himself had a little, fascistic private army of less than 100 souls; it was trained by the Japanese armed forces at their elite camp on Mt. Fuji. It is as if some crackpot had had the facilities of Ft. Worth or Sandhurst put at his disposal.

The Tatenokai—the little army—was trained with firearms. No other civilian group has ever received that kind of reception from the armed forces in Japan since 1945! According to Mishima the deal had been set up with Yasuhiro Nakasone, the head of the armed forces Agency, and now one of the key figures in the Liberal Democratic Party; Mishima was also friendly with Prime Minister Sato and his right-hand man, Shigeru Hori. These three, directly or indirectly—the details have not been published—were instrumental in getting Mishima into the embrace of the armed forces. All very “pacifist”! I am not saying that the Japanese are at heart a militaristic lot but it won’t do to ignore what Mishima called the “cloven hoof” in a piece that he wrote at my prompting in late 1969 for The Times.

Ishiguro says that I treat my subject with a lack of “tender feeling.” In a way she is right; I did stand back from Mishima during his life and after; he was a formal person and hard to get to know. It was not easy to relax with him in the way that one does with a close friend. He did not in fact have any close friends, no kokoro no tomodachi. He was intimate with his mother and that was it. At the same time your reviewer is again fudging a point; of course I cared for Mishima. That is what my whole book is about! Ishiguro simply declines to look at evident truths. She starts her review by describing Mishima’s death in some detail and winds up at the end informing us that it wasn’t important! Well, which? She can’t have it both ways! The death scene was in fact a truly horrible affair, an absolute butcher’s shop that annihilated all that had gone before; Mishima’s whole romantic aesthetic, if you like, boiled down to two heads propped on a carpeted, sodden floor on the sunny early afternoon of November 25, 1970. Ishiguro tells us that the books were more important than their author’s death. But what is she trying to compare? It’s very hard to sympathize with this kind of literary attitude towards actual death.

Henry Scott Stokes

Paris, France

Hidé Ishiguro replies:

It was careless of me to refer to Mishima’s last work as consisting of five volumes. It is of course a tetralogy. I described Mr. Stokes as the correspondent of the London Times because the jacket of his book says that he became friends with Mishima when he was chief of the Tokyo Bureau of the London Times; it does not say what he does now. My apologies if I was wrong.

Mr. Stokes’s suggestions about my background and my being committed to the status quo in Japan are quite untrue, but not worth quibbling about. It seems more relevant to respond to his comments on pacifism and Mishima.

One would not only misunderstand Japanese society, but also utterly fail to see the provocative nature of Mishima’s actions during the last decade of his life, if one were to suppose that Japan were a nation in which the military have high status and power, where people frequently committed ritual seppuku in public, or often shouted “Long live the Emperor.” It was because this kind of false image of Japan is widely held in the West that I drew attention to the pacifist character of Japanese society. I was referring to the facts that the Japanese are extremely anxious to keep the military under civil authority; that a large majority of people want to preserve the present constitution which forbids Japan to have any forces that engage in external combat; and that the “self-defense” force, whose legality has been challenged, has a very low social status. The ruling conservative “Liberal-Democratic” party has been trying to amend this constitution, which Mishima derided for its hypocrisy. It has failed to do so, not only because it cannot get the two-thirds majority required in parliament, but also because it knows that many of its own voters support the constitution.

The constitution has unfortunately not stopped the defense budget from increasing steadily and surreptitiously. For although the proportion of Japan’s national income spent on defense is one of the lowest in the world (0.8 percent of its GNP as compared to 6.2 percent in the US, 4.9 percent in the UK, 3.1 percent in India, and 1.7 percent in Switzerland), the absolute sum it spends is now about seventh in the world. But the constitution has at least kept Japanese troops from any involvement in Korea and Vietnam (even though Japanese industry made dubious profits from these wars). The pacifism of the voters is the reason why the Japanese defense budget is not even bigger than it is despite the sinister aims of politicians like Nakasone or certain industrial interests to which Stokes lightly refers, and despite the pressure of the Western allies to increase Japan’s share of defense. Every Japanese politician knows how sensitive an issue defense can be at election time.

It is deplorable that Mishima’s private army was allowed to receive training in the self-defense force camp. The official explanation given was that any private citizen can legally apply and be trained (other groups had already done so), I do not trust the official answer, but on the whole the association with Mishima’s private army caused negative publicity for the defense force more than anything else—not a fortunate thing for the forces, which always have a hard time recruiting enough members.

I join Stokes in deploring the fact that the absolute sum which Japan spends on defense is bigger than that of any other Asian nation with the exception of China. But let’s see it in perspective. If one compares Britain and Japan, which are both overcrowded industrial nations suffering from recession, the average income per head in 1974 was $2,300 for Britain and $2,800 for Japan, while the defense expenditure per head was $150 for Britain and $40 for Japan. Germany, with a similar recent history and geographical position adjacent to the communist states, spent almost three times more, and France more than twice more. I fear that the attitudes of Westerners who see militaristic danger in Japan, even when their governments spend much more on defense themselves, intensify the under-current of dangerous nationalism in Japan which I mentioned in my review. As Mishima said, the London conference of 1930, which allotted Japan a naval power ratio of three to five with the US and five with Britain, created a great rallying point for the nationalists in prewar Japan who persuaded the people of the perfidy of the two Western powers and their interest in maintaining their domination in Asia.

Japan is obviously under the US military umbrella. The problem of military bases has been a complex one for the Japanese left. They could clearly object to the exclusive link with the US. But if neutralism is not allowed, then some kind of international umbrella has been thought to be preferable to a big buildup of Japanese forces. The present manpower of the Japanese forces is 236,000 as compared to, for example, 420,000 in the South Korean force.

I talked at length about Mishima’s death because I believed that much nonsense had been written about it which required correction. I do not think as Stokes does that it was something horrible “which annihilated all that had gone before.” It was a natural sequel to the many acts Mishima had been carrying out, and an understandable consequence of his aesthetics which led him to prefer the intentionally awful to the accidentally mediocre. His aesthetics were not romantic.

Of course death is an important incident, the manner of which can reflect our character and beliefs. But suppose that the only English writer known widely abroad were the late Joe Orton, and this primarily because of the violent manner of his death. (I say this as a great admirer of his plays.) I wonder what an Englishman abroad would feel if he were constantly told, in effect, that “I know at least one English writer, because I heard of his extraordinary death. Do you think that masochism and necrophilia characterize the British spirit?”

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