At the moment on You Tube in booktubia everybody seems to be reading something Japanese whether it be manga or Kazuo Ishiguro or Haruki Murakami. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of their works but Remains of the Day and 1Q84 (Books 1-3) stare me down every time I pass my bookshelf. So in honour of all this love for Japanese literature I decided to read something from long ago, something that I’d read in high school my senior year. It’s Patriotism by Yukio Mishima.
Patriotism is a novelette packed with poignant and intense images. Disguised in simple packaging, with its stark white cover splattered with a few drops of blood, it looks as if someone really did bleed on it. The purity and straightforwardness of the cover echoes the story. A lieutenant in the Japanese army, Shinji Takeyama decides to commit suicide, seppuku after learning that his friends have become mutineers. Since he knows his duty will be to hunt them down and to kill them, he is torn between his duty as lieutenant and friendship. Reiko, his wife, follows him in this sudden tragic act, for loyalty and devotion are the roles of Japanese women who are married to soldiers. Shinji and Reiko end their lives together in a ritual that evokes passion, devotion, and patriotism.
“ON THE TWENTY-EIGHTH of February 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Kanoe Transport Battalion-profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers in the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops-took his officer’s sword ceremonially disemboweled himself in the eight-mat room of his private resident in the sixth block of Aoba-cho, Yotsuya Ward. His wife, Reiko, followed him, stabbing herself to death.” (Patriotism, p. 3)
The scene is set and we are read about the few hours that pass before Shinji and Reiko’s tragic end. We start hearing about their wedding day. The descriptions depict their differences and how they complete each other. “Shinji is described as strong, severe looking, wide-eyed, standing protectively next to his bride. Whereas, Reiko is described as round soft eyes, beautiful, sensuous, and refined.” (Patriotism, p. 5) They complete each other perfectly. The narrator contemplates that people will look at their wedding picture when they are found after their suicide and think that maybe they were cursed; that their union was too good to be true.
The suicide is an orchestrated ritual that will mesmerize you and shock you. They seem to be acting as methodical robots toward their death but it’s clear that their love for each other is deep and passionate. They perform simple everyday tasks before the end trying to kindle the bit of life they have left. Not once does Reiko question her husband’s decision but soldiers on steadfast, while adding last-minute touches to the dramatic finale.
The images in this novel are striking and symbolic, all on a back drop of white and red like the cover of the book. Mishima takes the reader through this horrid ritual but makes it appear to be art at its perfection. Disturbing. The attention to detail is consistent with Japanese art and culture. The images of red pouring over the pages will invade your serenity. The color red symbolises hardiness, bravery, strength, like in the Japanese flag. The color white in the Japanese flag stands for peace and honesty, which Shinji and Reiko both find in patriotism. In essence, that is nothing more than being loyal.
Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), born Kimitake Hiraoka, was one of the most prolific Japanese writers of the 20th century. He was a short story writer, novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and critic. Some of the principal themes he wrote about were sexuality, political change, and death. Having been nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for literature, it is believed he lost in 1968 because of his right-wing activities. Mishima was a jack-of-all-trades because he was a body builder and model as well. His death is probably just as well-known as some of his great work because he committed suicide, seppuku, after a failed coup d’état. Patriotism contains a lot of who Mishima was and what he believed in.
Genre: Japanese Literature/Novelette/Cultural/Philosophy
Edition: A New Directions Pearl
My rating: * * * *