Yukio Mishima publicly committed suicide after failing to overthrow the government

Yukio Mishima publicly committed suicide after failing to overthrow the government

On a crisp November morning in Tokyo, four members of a right-wing nationalist group, calling themselves the Tatenokai, approach the headquarters of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. One of them is a prolific author, once considered for the Nobel Prize, and widely hailed as one of the most important Japanese writers of the 20th century. His most famous series of novels, The Sea of Fertility, was finished on a seaside vacation as he planned his own dramatic suicide.

Since the fall of the Japanese Empire in World War II, the country has been denied its own army. Instead, the JSDF (Japanese Self-Defense Forces) perform peacekeeping missions and disaster relief. Mishima viewed the organization as yet another example of Japan's fall from its own culture. Lamenting the rise of Coca-Cola in Japan, General Douglas McArthur, and the dimming glow of the Emperor's sun, he longed for the olden days of "bushido", a time when nationalism, honor and dignity seemed so simply bound together.

Mishima did not apologize for Japan, nor its crimes in World War II. He sought the restoration of its glory, like all far-right nationalists, he saw only the ideal - never the flaws. And so Mishima and his group of Tatenokai, upon entering Tokyo's JSDF headquarters, the symbol of Japan's military subjugation to America, took General Kanetoshi Mashida hostage at 11 a.m., on November 25th, 1970. By noon of that day, he was dead, decapitated by his own men.

Yukio Mishima seppuku coup nationalist bushido samurai Credit: Getty

Mishima and his men were led to the General's office. An aide asked about the swords they carried. "These are just for ceremonial use," Mishima assured him. Once inside General Mashida's office, Mishima's plans took shape. He revealed his sword, a symbol of national pride, and declared: "Look at this fine Japanese sword I have."

As General Mashida gawked at the blade, the Tatenokai surrounded him, and tied him down to his chair. General Mashida cried out for help, and his aides stormed the office. The Tatenokai, however, with their swords already drawn, cut them apart with ease. Eight men were stabbed and wounded, bleeding around the bound General, as Mishima made his demands.

The author said that he wanted to address the Defense Forces from the balcony, and threatened General Mashida's life if he refused to comply. The aides outside the door, listening in on the hostage situation, decided to cooperate with the Tatenokai. In the city square outside the headquarters, 1,000 JSDF soldiers assembled their ranks. The stage was set for Mishima's speech.

Yukio Mishima seppuku coup nationalist bushido samurai Credit: Getty

Mishima decried the Japanese constitution from the balcony, calling for the Emperor to return to total power. He draped banners. He called the current state of Japan absolutely "spineless", furious that his country was denied the right to wage its own wars. He called the JSDF weak, and condemned them all in the thunderous language of fascism.

The soldiers below were irritated. They screamed at him, mocking and yelling, jeering his name and otherwise refusing to listen. Some tried to climb up and rip apart the banners he had raised. An entire crowd below the headquarters was amassed in total rejection of Yukio Mishima. The seething tides of screaming voices didn't bother Mishima, as he continued his speech, until finally it grew too unruly for him to continue.

Frustrated, Mishima announced: "I am going to shout 'Banzai' for the Emperor." He then vanished from the balcony, returning to General Mashida's office, where the General remained bound.

Yukio Mishima seppuku coup nationalist bushido samurai Credit: Getty

Mishima and his men spared no time in their execution, the ritual of seppuku, also known as harakiri, a specific form of suicide practiced by dishonored samurai. Before General Mashida's eyes, the famed author Yukio Mishima pressed a dagger into his stomach, cutting a straight line across his body as one of his men brought a sword down upon his neck, decapitating him.

His executioner then grabbed the bloody dagger from Mishima's stomach, and stabbed himself with it, while a third member of the Tatenokai cut his head off. The surviving members of the attempted coup neatly placed the two severed heads upon the carpet, and untied General Mashida, in a hazed stupor.

As is customary for a samurai, he wrote a poem before his death. It reads:

"A small night storm blows
Saying ‘falling is the essence of a flower’
Preceding those who hesitate"

Mishima did not hesitate. Now, his thirty-four novels, fifty plays and scattered poems all constitute the compendium of an artist who lived as his values dictated, and was mocked, rejected, and killed himself for the sake of his own rejected values. He would rather die than face a post-war Japan, and in his sacrifice, made himself a caricature of the absurd.