By Paukhansuan Sonna
This short story was published in the Feb. 2019 edition of Live Ideas. View it HERE.
I landed in Haneda airport sometime around noon. Light showers had followed our descent but gently dissolved by the time we landed. Though the journey had eclipsed, I was still processing how false beliefs of mine were mangled in just one sitting. When the clouds peeled back, I finally appreciated Japan in her full glory. Throughout the war, I had assumed Japan was nothing more than a samurai’s wasteland, a country brimming with myth and little substance. In all sincerity, I have never seen another country like her. The lush hills and sacred grounds unmarred by the war were more tantalizing than the paintings I’d seen years prior. But as I filed through the airport, I noticed it was almost indistinguishable from the one I had left in Great Britain. If you remove the language and the people and allow the structure to speak for itself – it would spew western ideas.
I’ve always been too ashamed to share or even express these private musings. They could only be awakened by someone far more enlightened and attuned to beauty than me. Even now as I write this testimony, I am humbled by the void of my past life. It’s a rather long story, but my journey to this point has not been without great suffering and toiling. I’ve wondered endlessly how people could find inklings of joy and satisfaction in this life. Insofar as I could tell, my life has been an abject failure. A psychologist friend from my days at St. Andrews told me he believed we secretly measure success upon how many childhood dreams we fulfill. I am sure his view was disassembled and butchered before a dissertation committee, which, ironically, strengthens his point. Regardless, many friends in my life have dissolved into mist clouds, demonstrating that the only true companions of mine are my pen and paper. I’ve already reached some 900 pages of writings on matters of my heart. I wonder why my soul hasn’t cascaded upon itself.
“Jean!” I called out.
We were out on the streets, cars honking and people clamoring for their rides. A man in an eggshell blue suit noticed me. He removed his shades, and I saw his face. It was Jean in all his unhinged prestige. While studying at St. Andrews, I became friends with him, and, unlike me, he finished his education and went on to be an ambassador and writer. His father had the proper connections to facilitate such a hedonistic lifestyle. When our hands met, I was surprised that a man of such magnitude and strength imparted a surprisingly gentle touch. His handshake was almost weak enough to be considered insincere.
“Daniel, it’s good to see you. It’s been so long.” He said.
“It has, Jean. It has.”
His face tightened with concern. “Here, let my friend take your bag. I’m sure you’re exhausted. You left at three in the morning and stayed on that plane for so long.”
“Oh, it’s fine.” I lied. “I can carry it. I packed light anyway.”
He bit his lip and chuckled. “Well, I guess that’s typical of you. You know, Daniel, you’re meeting an interesting fellow. I can tell you that much.”
“I certainly wouldn’t want you to spoil him.”
Jean nodded and allowed me inside his Cadillac. We sat together in the back while his servant took the wheel. I gazed out at the rain pattered window one last time as we left the airport and ventured deeper into the heart of the city. In all his braggadocios fervor, Jean wanted to guide me through Japan and flaunt his grasp of the language. He always presented new knowledge as if it were his original invention – as if he conjured such truths from his unknown past life. Yet when I began practicing my interviewing skills on him, asking questions only a true native of Japan would know, he only offered basic rebuttals and relayed the other questions to his driver.
“Say, Norio, what does it truly mean to be Japanese now?” Jean asked the driver.
He gazed back at us with a childish grin on his face. “We love peace and progress.”
Surprisingly enough, the boy spoke perfect English.
I was expecting breaks in his sentences and a voice unlike a westerner’s. Yet he spoke as well as me and Jean. It was dawning upon me how naïve and unfortunately narrow my view of the world is in comparison to its true face.
Indeed, other realities emerged from our ride together. For example, I envied Jean’s life, his job and his unshakeable life prospects. Throughout our ride, I never felt as if he spoke to me as an equal, but merely a pet. And by the time we arrived at the embassy, he informed me I would be needing better clothes to approach someone like Mishima.
“Isn’t he polarizing?” I asked.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, what difference does it make how I dress? Who am I impressing? He isn’t the people’s national treasure.”
“Daniel, you’re changing for his sake – not Japan’s.”
I shook my head back and forth. “Must I? I think I’m fine.”
“Enjoy my courtesy, Daniel. You seem much too tense for an interview. This is Christian charity.”
A pompous giggle left his throat. “Come follow me.”
We entered the embassy, an office building frothing with officials and random Japanese citizens. Everyone was bustling aimlessly with as much coordination and consistency as a beheaded chicken. Secretaries wandered around with stamps and official documents; cigarette smoke littered the air like perfume; the walls were disheartening mute colors devoid of any hint of dynamism. In all honesty, I wanted peace and quiet, a semblance of home in this “British” embassy. I instead found myself utterly alienated in the place I thought to be an extension of home.
As we paced up to his office, Jean informed me he had a suit tailored for my arrival.
“How did you get my measurements?”
“Oh, I called a few days ago and your secretary informed me you were away. I couldn’t wait much longer, so I demanded your measurements.”
“And she gave them to you?”
“Daniel, I’m a friend. Suzanne knows that.”
Jean opened the door to his office where one of his maids had already rested the suit on an ivory table. It was beautiful: a midnight color three-piece suit with a crimson lapel only adding to its unfathomable grandeur. The wool coat I had on became a staple of embarrassment as I stood before something so divine. My eyes landed on Jean’s crooked smile.
“Do you like it?”
I nodded. “Yes, it’s wonderful. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
My eyes grew wide and fastened upon each detail. There were no misplaced threads like the suit I bought in India. There were no flaws or imperfections I could even imagine across its mythical threads.
“Was this made in a factory?”
Jean looked hurt. “Oh, no. I only give friends the best of what I have. This was made by one of the finest textile connoisseurs in Japan.”
I didn’t anticipate this much luxury or sophistication. I didn’t expect this much hospitality from Jean’s unusually cold gaze.
“Well, I shall leave you to try it on.”
He paced out of the room and gently closed the door – just enough so that I could hear every priceless wooden interlocking piece snap together as a seal over my fate. I first removed my glasses, then carefully slid my hands under the spine of the coat. As I raised it to my body, I could feel the smoothness of each fiber and see the luster of every thread. The sun’s rays bounced off the suit’s surface like how light dances off the surface of water. My eyes and senses craved being enveloped in this symbol of prestige and completion. When I turned to the mirror, I looked like a different man. I didn’t know that I could look upon my reflection for a few pithy seconds and love every detail of my person.
Without my permission, Jean entered. “Wow! I told you it would be a match! So, what do you think?”
“I appreciate this, Jean. I really do.”
“I’m glad. Well, I’ll have your quarters prepared. There’s some food in the lobby if you’d like some. Anyway, you have an interview to attend.”
“Yes. Thank you, Jean.”
For a moment, I was tempted to believe Jean was my friend, but it had been an eternity since I felt such a brotherly connection with someone. While he guided me down the steps to my chauffeur, I couldn’t help noticing how many people were carelessly lending their eyes across my body. There was something titillating about being desired, of having something no one else had. It had been so long since I felt satisfied with my materiality, and this feeling solidified as I entered my vehicle.
I unbuttoned my suit, allowing myself some freedom before confronting my interviewee. I sifted through my files on this man, and what The Underground wanted from me. They wanted a full profile of this Mishima fellow – his background, his desires, his politics, his religion, his plans… My mind created webs and avenues of possible conversations, ways to approach him.
“So, you’re heading to Yukio’s?” A woman’s voice asked.
My eyes wandered up to the driver’s side and to the Japanese girl behind the wheel.
I nodded. “Yes, I am. Sorry, my name is Daniel Godwin. You are?”
“Aiko. Nice to meet you, Daniel.”
For the first twenty minutes of the ride, I was writing potential questions and preparing a road map of subjects. I didn’t care in the slightest for Aiko’s input. With all due respect, I viewed her as a mere cog turning the wheel of my destiny ever closer to Mishima’s. Yet, a magnetic force was radiating off Aiko’s body and weening me to speak. So, I started a conversation. “Aiko, tell me about yourself.”
“Um, what do you want to know?”
“Well, how did you get this job?”
“My parents are the Japanese consuls for Britain. And, I actually don’t ‘work’ at the embassy.”
“Oh, so you aren’t a…”
“- a commoner? Yeah, you can look at it that way. I’m good friends with Jean. Since I got out of school early, he invited me to drive you around.”
“Seems a little informal of him.”
“Hey, I’m doing my best. This is my first day on the ‘job.’”
Whilst chuckling at her joke, I suddenly felt a jerk from the brakes and Aiko’s gasp. Some loose cattle had scurried our path and almost grazed the bumper. She began laughing hysterically and honked at the disheveled farmer passing by. “Everyone should get a car, Dan. This is so unnecessary.”
I found my pet name off-putting. We barely knew each other.
For the rest of the ride I tried to silently read other newspaper clippings on Mishima. He had recently released a book titled Spring Snow about a boy who falls in love with a girl destined to marry the Emperor’s son. As I read through the French review of the article, I couldn’t help but feel a welcoming sense of melancholy pulsate throughout my body. Another article, in Japanese with English notes on the side, revealed that Mishima had controversial political aspirations. He had formed his “Shield Society” based on preserving the samurai spirit of Japan and due to his fidelity to tradition, the military allowed his group to train on their premises. He’s a romantic, I naively concluded.
“Have you read any of his writings?” Aiko asked.
“No, I haven’t.”
“It’s interesting… I hope he doesn’t scare you away.”
“He’s something of an extremist.”
My heart sunk a little from Aiko’s words. It seemed as if everyone had an impression of him, which made me wonder how objective our first meeting would be. Certainly, it is a rule of collegiality not to have preconceived notions of others. Freedom, I thought, is the best way of assessing authenticity.
“How original is that opinion?” I forthrightly asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re young and impressionable. I’m sure you’re sharing the mainstream opinion your parents and teachers have told you.”
She curtly replied, “I’m sure it’s correct.”
“And, tell me, how much do you know about Japanese high culture?”
“Well, I think I’m part of it.”
“Right, right.” I nodded and contemplated another question. “So, have you ever met this Mishima fellow?”
“And you have an opinion already?”
“What’s your point, mister?”
I chuckled. “My point is that I’m trying to be objective.”
“Right. That’s what you westerners believe.”
I was baffled by her comment. Even though she seemed agreeable with western culture, she betrayed it on a whim. Regardless, I kept my mouth shut and waited until we arrived at Mishima’s complex. The farmlands gave way to a bustling metropolis, and as we climbed in altitude, we reached the kempt suburbs ever so shy of the city. Aiko opened my door and I stepped afoot on what I rightly presumed to be his property. I was surprised by the elegance of his home. There was a garden at the center, surrounded by an impenetrable wall and winding leaves. There stood a balcony outside the master bedroom with a table and chairs procured for our interview. I’m sure Mishima also had breakfast up there – perhaps he even wrote his novels atop that elevated view. The house looked so western for a man supposedly keen on keeping the Japanese tradition alive. He was labeled a right-wing nationalist and hyper-conservative, by some, yet his home revealed anything but. As I stepped out of the car with my briefcase, tape recorder, pen and paper, Aiko wished me well.
“Hope you come out alive.” She teased.
I nodded and grinned back. Perhaps I had been egregiously rude to her on the way here. I wanted to apologize but felt too embarrassed to confess error. As I approached the gate of Mishima’s compound, I gazed at my watch, hoping I wasn’t too early or late. That’s when I saw him for the first time – not just a profile but a full person. He wore a black low-collar shirt, short sleeves, a necklace, white slacks and a tight belt around his waist. His body was magnificent. The Japanese tend to be a modest people, meaning I missed a grand detail about his physique. His chest was ripe with bronze energy, and his arms were toned like the statue of David. Yet as he came closer, his height dwindled. Mishima was a tiny man, I realized, only 5’1”. I was about a foot taller than he but when he opened the gates, his intense eyes overwhelmed me. Mishima’s presence and figure imbued him with the mythos of Zeus.
“Welcome. Welcome.” He said.
He had a distinct voice. It was akin to a nasal hum, a voice on such a high and sophisticated octave I could have mistaken it for a duchess’. Nonetheless, there was a beauty to his voice. There existed an accent, no doubt, but also a confident grasp of the English language. I later learned he was adept in multiple languages, including French and German. When the gates finally opened, and our spirits mixed, I felt exposed. I felt like a gladiator entering the ring with a force unbeknownst to mankind’s common sensibilities of power and strength. Mishima was a unity of mind and body, an utter master of his contradictions and stories.
“It’s an honor, sir.” I sputtered.
He grinned softly without looking directly at me. “I’m sorry, but I find your suit very captivating. You’re friends with Jean, no?”
“Oh, yes. Jean’s a good friend of mine.”
Mishima chuckled and retained his smile as he replied, “Only Jean can get suits like that. Come, let me show you my home.”
The sun casted an electric ether over our conversation. It would peek through Mishima’s library of trees and peer over his walls just to catch fragments of our poetic exchange. As I ventured up his front steps and into his house, I released my mind of all I had heard prior. I wanted to give an artist like Mishima a fresh opportunity to conjure an image on a canvas so blank that only the thickest colors could leave their mark. He allowed me to rest my briefcase on his sofa and offered me some tea.
“Oh, sure. That sounds lovely.”
“I must apologize though. I only have Hojicha, a more traditional kind of tea.”
Before he finished his trek to the kitchen, he turned and asked, “Fitting?”
“Well, everyone considers you a traditionalist of sorts.”
Emotions left his person, leaving only pure thought upon his face like the veil of a bride. “I don’t consider myself a traditionalist, Daniel. I consider myself a realist, an artist.”
“Mishima, if you don’t mind, may I see how you make Hojicha? And please continue your thought.”
“Hojicha is a very crude process. If you want to see it, then be my guest.”
Mishima grabbed a porcelain Horoko pot and rested it on the burning stove. The Horoko pot was made from one consistent form with no noticeable breaks or combination of other parts. It was shaped much like a tobacco pipe, except the mouth of the pot was much larger. After I memorized each detail of the simple piece, Mishima gathered a handful of spindly leaves and placed them in the pot.
“Usually, I would stoke this over charcoal or something more primitive. However, I don’t want you to think I’m ‘too traditional’.” He chuckled and continued, “Many people think I do not have a sense of humor or the capacity to laugh. I think my intensity is, however, my more authentic side. In Japan, everyone wears masks. They think the civilized and peaceful person is the true individual. But, we’ve grown tired of it.”
“And, that’s why you think you’re a realist? You think you embrace your identity more authentically than the ordinary person?”
“That is what you say.” He replied.
The tea demanded his attention as he held the Horoko pot and gently guided the leaves in its mouth. They were growing darker with each passing moment, and he told me that they should appear reddish by the time they’re ready for serving. After finishing the tea leaves and placing them in cups of steaming water, he continued his original musings.
“Many people are surprised that I live in such a western style home. They would imagine that my criticisms of Japan’s westernization would force me to occupy a hut somewhere in the countryside. Economic progress is good, but we have grown bored of it. Japan, in my eyes, has become ugly. I cannot recognize it anymore.”
“And, does that bring you sadness?”
He handed me a cup and waited until I took my first sip before sipping his own. “Sadness can be a powerful emotion. It need not be a disarming feeling that robs us of our strength. In my writings, I present a view of beauty some find frightening.”
“Frightening? Why do they think it frightening?”
As he answered my question, he led me up to his balcony for fresh air. While I registered his response, I couldn’t help but notice all the western candles and paintings adorning his home. I made a mental note to myself to ask him later what these works mean to him – if there exists any order to his design. “I believe beauty can be a violent thing. It can overwhelm and destroy. It has a sense of reverence that commands – even possesses – the beholder. I tell my actors in my Kabuki plays not to view their sentiments as dualities or dichotomies – black and white. I tell them to express tenderness and wrath simultaneously to create a more authentic, more true sense of human nature.”
“Right. And what do you think about those who think you’re a right-wing nationalist?”
“I think they are as radical as I am. I am concerned with what they represent, however. I spoke to a crowd of university students who deplored my writings and political views. Many of them were young men who complained I had no coherent politic or worldview. Yet, in my army, my shield society, there are many young men who grasp its coherence and train alongside me.”
He opened the door to his balcony and welcomed the blinding rays of sunlight. They bled through the open spaces of the door and became just as overwhelming and oppressive as his view of beauty. We sat across from one another and gazed over his garden, his abode, the “palace” of Mishima. I summoned my recorder and notes, supplying Mishima the proper knowledge that our official interview would begin shortly. He stared blankly into the soul of the air before him, preparing his mind and body for whatever questions may emerge. I pressed the necessary few buttons on the recorder and once the wheels of the tape began rolling, he knew the interview had begun.
“I am here with the renowned and infamous personality Yukio Mishima. Mishima has been considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times, has participated in numerous public appearances regarding his art and politics, starred in and directed his own films, written, say, 13 books and continues to perplex the world with his mind. Mr. Mishima, thank you for joining The Underground.” He nodded, and I continued. “Mishima, I want to begin with your childhood and any details no one else may know. What’s the side of Mishima we’re missing?”
He sighed, contemplating a heavy and satisfactory response. “I was raised mainly by my grandmother. She was in poor health and wanted me by her side, tending to her pains and anguish. My mother felt powerless in her presence and could not take me home. Many would be tempted to say my childhood was only gloom and loneliness. They would be right in one sense, but my grandmother also introduced me to Kabuki and exposed me to the arts. Growing up, I was a frail and gentle boy who loved poetry and literature. My schoolmates sometimes mocked me for this. For some time, even, I was a poor student. It took finding a writing society and avenues of expression to be liberated. Moreover, my father thought such artistry was only for homosexuals – not ‘true’ men.”
“Right, right.” I held my fingers to my lips, formulating my next question. “Would you describe yourself as an optimist or a pessimist?”
“A staunch pessimist!” He slammed his fist on the table, then recoiled in laughter. “I steer on the side of pessimism. I think optimism – like that of the young people – has been largely destructive.”
“How do you mean?”
“I don’t think idealism is bad. Many people think I’m too idealistic about our feudal past, and perhaps I am. There is a kind of optimism that destroys ideals and leaves a void. I think the optimism towards embracing the western world and the defeat of our beliefs has made us soft and feminine. We will eventually grow tired of this revolution and begin to rot.”
“Isn’t that a lonely position to be in?” I cleared my throat. “The position of the critic and pessimist?”
“It depends really. If you desire the affections of others, then you will feel lonely. I only desire the affection of those I deem worthy of making me feel so dependent.” His face fluttered for a moment, as if his thoughts had shocked him with shame, and he reached over to pause the recording. “Forget the last line.”
“Is there something wrong?” I asked, somewhat offended.
“I’ve already thought about these questions, answered many of them.” He stared out over the high wall of his confines and to the blue skies yonder. His right hand began scratching the side of his face, as if there was a thought tickling to be freed. That’s when Mishima faced me and said with dead clarity, “You know, I’ve run out of stories. I can’t bring myself to write anymore, and I can sense the end coming near.”
“The end of my career, my art.”
“And, what will become of you?”
“I suppose what becomes of all men.” He rose out of his chair and leaned forward on the balcony railing. “My life is writing, theater, body and action. If I cannot write, then I have no life. And if the writing disappears, so too does theater. I think I am only body and action now.”
I stood by him. “What do you mean by body and action?”
“Record this.” He waited for me to fumble out my recording device. “The body is a form of art. It can be constructed, broken, and perfected. But, it cannot return to its original perfection like a broken sentence or botched drawing. I have paraded my body like the driver of a fine sports car. It has made its master pleased. But, what happens when the car’s engine unwinds and fades into dust? It is thrown away and forgotten.”
“Pardon me, are you talking about natural deterioration or suicide?”
He nodded his head as if I was finally grasping his tangible words. “Do you think elderliness is beautiful?”
“I think there’s elegance in aging – yes.”
“No, I mean the body of the elderly.”
I felt uncomfortable. “Of what relevance is that?”
A boyish grin contorted his face. “It is of no relevance to them, and that is why they allow themselves to decay into ugliness.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is aesthetics, Daniel. You and I live in a world festering a flagrant disregard of honor, beauty and brutality. Don’t you see how empty our current modes of living are? No one wants to die for some higher ideals, some intangible form of nationhood, and they find that life is ugly. We need death. We need to cherish its power and cleansing. Do you believe this?”
His words struck me as both a madman and poet. At first, the literary side of my brain was processing his vision with full clarity and homeliness, while the ethical or perhaps civilized side of me shuddered before his imposing eyes. I will never forget the intensity of his gaze as he made those comments – how the wind flourished through his attire like waves shattering upon contact with a rocky shore. Mishima held the railing as if he were preparing for my criticism. My words, he must’ve thought, have the power to sweep him into the atmosphere and into the coldness of the universe.
In more succinct idiom – I was stunned.
And he noticed my novice reaction to his philosophy. He popped his knuckles and played with the joints in his hands. “Tell me about yourself, Daniel. I want to know how you see the world.”
“How do you mean?”
“I remember how terrified I was to show the world my true face.” He began pacing and softly collecting each word of his solemn memoir. “As a young man, I found the thought of bloodshed and destruction inviting. But, when it came time to register for the Imperial army, I faked an illness. I considered it a great tragedy to watch my schoolmates and friends die so honorably in battle for the sake of our Empire’s ideals while I remained secluded as that same pitiful, pretty boy my grandmother raised. Thus, those experiences with art, violence and my body made me who I am. So, what made you?”
My throat had almost completely dried over the course of our conversation. I paused the recorder as I fetched some tea for my thirst. Meanwhile, Mishima, unmoved, stared over the horizon and into the heart of industrial Japan with utter stillness and, dare I say, grace. By the time I finished my tea and recovered my voice, he had already pounced upon his subject of interest – me.
“I guess I can tell you about my life.” I consented. “I was raised in the English countryside in a dreamy small town. Most of my young life was spent at the grammar school where my mother and father were both teachers. They were educated, and I was fortunate in that regard. I traveled once to London with my father as he was a travelling minister of sorts, and I saw what civilization truly looks like. At that moment, I felt terribly inferior. I guess that feeling has motivated my entire life. It made me desire high culture and esteem.”
“Inferiority is not the motivator of your life. It was a catalyst of something deeper.”
“Right. I suppose you’re right.” I stared blankly as my fingers danced around my right ear. “I guess I’ve always desired to be superior and praised. I’ve always wanted to get high marks wherever I dwell, either educationally or socially.”
“I can tell you went to some esteemed European university. You try hard to cover your country accent and the mannerisms of your past.”
“Well, isn’t that what you’ve done with your body and alternate persona? Mishima is just a construction of some ideal, isn’t he?”
He chuckled. “The difference between me and you, Daniel, is that I chose to embrace my true principles after enduring humiliation. You abandoned yours.”
“Does that make you better than me?”
“It makes me more honest. My first major published work, aside from the ones of my childhood, was Confessions of a Mask. For so long I had existed in this mirage of decency and civility. But, the terrifying reality of who we are dwells beneath the surface like a hunter pursuing his prey. I think the point of my art and my life is to expose the masks of others. I’ve chosen to live with my contradictions ‘on my sleeve’.”
“Fine. Then let me tell you the authentic me – Daniel Godwin. I was born and raised to two educated parents who wanted me to follow a boring, traditional lifestyle. They wanted to remain the sole conductors of my life, and I refused. Upon that refusal, I felt as if I had lost the very mooring that had kept me afloat all those years. When my schoolmates realized how vulnerable I was, they humiliated me. Therefore, I chose the one avenue that made me superior to them – academia, education, culture. Yes, I hate it and I wish I was free to be myself, whatever that means, but it is the only way to choke the life out of my enemies. And the enemies aren’t just the schoolboys of my adolescence but also the snobs of the universities and presses I ventured into. My enemies are the lovers who humiliated my affections and stomped my heart into an embarrassing spectacle of invalidation and suffering. My enemies are the intellectuals and poets who undermine and siphon every connection of mine to the sheltered and serene life I want on some faraway land. That’s who I am – someone raging and bickering at the world with the façade of strength only a child could amass.”
Mishima looked at me with sympathetic eyes. His brows were soft and defined like he was the same child under his grandmother’s care. There was a glint of humanity shining from his soul, and it made me want to recoil. Here I had exposed myself before a man who could very well laugh and stomp my soul further into the hell I psychologically and spiritually constructed. Instead, he reached out his hand as a friend would in offering another his sympathies.
“Come with me.”
We ventured out into his garden and around a shrine he had dedicated to some ancient Japanese god. He sat on the fresh grass and I reluctantly joined him as we stared at the altar. My eyes went to the altar and then back on him, wondering if there was some deeper meaning he would conjure.
“Thank you, Daniel. You surrendered yourself when you told those emotions. You’ve hidden them for a long time.”
“Yes.” I inhaled the soothing cool breeze. “You’re right, Mishima. You’re right about everything. We need something radical to happen, something to beckon us back into action and poetry.”
“Oh, there is a way.” He said. “You have to create those moments and live a life so intimately united with that poetry.”
“You know, Mishima, I’m not sure I have much of a story or profile to write on you. My recorder has been off most of the time.”
“I can type some statements this evening and give them to you tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds splendid.” I rose to my feet and gazed at my watch. “I’m sorry that I wasted your hour on this interview.”
He remained still, only staring deep into the hollow spaces of the shrine. He gathered his thoughts before finally saying, “It will be my last major work.”
We both went to the gate in silence and with a heavy feeling in our chests. When I had finally made it through the open mouth of the gate, we shook hands and I told him I treasure his words. He nodded and said nothing more. By the time I reached Aiko, she had already noticed I wandered like a ghost.
“He must’ve gotten into your head.” She sighed and got into the car.
For the rest of the way, I chose to bathe in the silence of the ride. My time with Mishima was so pitifully brief, yet undeniably meaningful. I knew I had to meet him again soon. I couldn’t just let my heart leap out of my mouth and not have him there to help me find it again. A deep dependency anchored me to his words and philosophy. On our way back to the embassy, I had Aiko stop at a bookstore and I bought as many of his books as they had immediately available. For the rest of the ride and even on my bed in the embassy, I couldn’t stop. I went through chapters and pages like a string of light travelling through open space. Mishima had set me ablaze and I couldn’t remain still. If he were a religion, I would have worshipped him.
I don’t even remember falling asleep. I just remember opening my eyes to Jean’s maids knocking on my door, notifying me it was time to move. That morning I knocked my pores with a cold dose of water and continued until I felt myself alive again. When I looked in the mirror, I saw how hollow and dull my face had become. It was as if that reading session had absolutely absorbed my entire being and left me prone for a new spirit to become incarnate in my bones and flesh. These thoughts, however, left my mind as I was having breakfast with Jean. He was smoking a cigar and the smell was simply overpowering to me. My eyes sweltered, and I struggled to offer my opinions on Mishima in the face of Jean’s destructive pleasure.
“So, who is Mishima?” He would ask.
I would blithely respond, “A very interesting fellow indeed.”
And that would be the furthest extent of our sophisticated inquiry. Afterwards, I awaited Mishima’s arrival, so I could exchange a final few words and receive his correspondence. I waited for perhaps an hour, trying to read in the hellish lobby of the embassy. When an hour had passed, and I was just moments away from having to leave for my flight, I asked the front desk if they had received anything. The secretary, a beautiful young woman, handed me the document from Mishima and then struck a conversation with me.
“I’m sure you will finally expose him.” She said with a careless smile.
I looked upon her with utter disdain and condemnation. As I walked away, I could feel every old desire of mine for affection and tenderness melt before my raging passion for life. When I read through the documents, however, I found myself disappointed at how mute and secretive Mishima was about his life. He revealed his political opinions, which were much more interesting, but his personal dramas were either only touched upon or tossed aside. That’s all they wanted to really hear from him – not his actual story or innermost heart. They wanted his opinions as if he were a machine that delivered entertainment for their consumption and nothing more. I believed there was something intrinsically valuable about him and that his words were basic goods like justice and wisdom.
Jean eventually found me and had his driver take me to the airport. We said some final insincere words and continued down our paths. I was devastated that I was leaving Japan after only being there for a day. Her presence and secrets are enough to endure generations and man’s destruction. I only had but a brief taste lather upon the surface of my tongue while my soul longed for the whole. Entering the airplane and flying away into the golden embrace of the sun was tragic. It felt as if the child within me was leaving a friend whom I should know I will see again but is nevertheless filled with remorse upon departure. I filtered through my notes and listened to the recording of my interview with Mishima, listening to his voice like it were the branch from which the rest of my life would spring. I read through his documents once more and found a small note I had missed. It read: It was a pleasure to be in your company. Perhaps we will meet again.
I held onto those words with a blind faith that we would meet one another again. But, weeks went by as I sat in my dreary office in The Underground. I couldn’t tolerate the egocentrism and brashness of the people around me, or dining with old schoolmates who were now ever more concerned with themselves. I began to see the fakeness of the modern world as everyone alluded to ideals and their corresponding traditions, then sought to debunk and discredit them for their sentimentality. I went on dates with a few women and when I told them about my experiences with Mishima and the intimate details of my life, I saw them fade away into their own worlds. Those rejections and unreturned passions left a wound in my heart that could not be filled with romantic affection. I went to the gym after those rejections and began testing my body. It didn’t take long for me to realize how broken and untreated my physique was in comparison to Mishima’s, but I still wanted to become a man like him. I wanted to live for something that would be worth dying for.
After finishing my reports for The Underground, I would rush to finish my letter to Mishima. I had my secretary organize days that worked for the both of us and arranged to meet him once more before the end of the year. My heart danced at the thought of finally seeing him again without the inauthenticity of work and assignment lingering near. It seemed as if everything was in order, and I would soon escape this terrible escapade of decay and mediocrity.
But, my hopes crumbled one day when my secretary received a letter from his estate. They told me that a change of plans had emerged, and he would no longer be available. To top off that disappointment, the editor notified me that they would shelf my article until perhaps a more appropriate time, preferably when Mishima would write his next book.
I eventually stopped going to the gym and began going on dates again, this time bowing to every word of the woman who would eventually become my wife. Suzanne probably would not have cared for Mishima. She was a simple secretary who didn’t care for the intricacies of art and the sublime. No, she was the kind of woman I only married to satisfy the wishes of my parents. I had proposed to her only a few months after dating and our wedding was ripe for plucking. It was during that time that I read something in the Japanese newspaper to which I subscribed.
MISHIMA COMMITS SEPPUKU AT ICHIGAYA
I read the rest of the story in an electrified shock. He had entered the building with some of his pupils, pretending to have innocent business in the general’s office. He then held the general and another man hostage as his pupils barricaded the door with crude supplies from the office. A spectacle had emerged, and 1,000 troops surrounded the building. He stepped out onto the roof and proclaimed that the emperor must be restored to his rightful position. The writer of the article mentions that it was unfortunate he could not be heard clearly over the ruckus of the troops and helicopters. After finishing his speech and saluting the emperor, he entered the office and disemboweled himself. His pupil was so shaken that he could not behead his master and required the help of another to finish the tradition. That pupil then committed seppuku in dismay at his failure.
I immediately bought tickets and left for Japan again, this time under much more unfortunate circumstances. It only occurred to me once I stepped off the plane why Mishima cancelled our next engagement and what he meant by saying that the document he wrote me was his last major work. It was haunting to say the least.
A memorial had been dedicated to Mishima and people rested flowers before his image. They would bow and walk away; and, some cried while others looked confused on what any of this meant. The papers were obsessed over this incident. Everyone was trying to uncover why he had done such an obscene and egregious act. Some papers postulated he was merely seeking attention, but more claimed it was a political stunt for some higher purpose. It could very well be the case that both of those hypotheses are true, but I thought more deeply about it. From the brief time we shared, I meditated upon what such a brutal and nasty death could accomplish. A soft voice spoke to me and it whispered that perhaps this death was just a completion of his art and a satisfaction of his life’s work. In that instance, he had fully formed himself into a curated piece that had to be paraded and ultimately finished with the unity of pen and sword. Yes, that theory seemed to make more sense to me. But, it didn’t settle the uneasiness and pain brimming beneath my cold exterior.
I felt obligated that night to lay down my life like he did and salvage something from my pitiful existence. I went to my hotel room with a ceremonial dagger and tried to enact my own seppuku. I wanted to see what it would have been like for Mishima in those final moments. As I held the dagger before my bare stomach, I felt sheer terror as my innards squirmed from the mere thought of writhing in such a fashion. Tears began to brim down my face like droplets of blood, and the blade fell from my hand. I simply could not understand how someone so beautiful and immeasurable could end themselves so suddenly.
He had become an obsession and idol of all the things I have ever striven for – authenticity and self-mastery. And, in the face of his death, I could not help but admire how he satisfied his vision. He did not shudder away from this terrible fate like he had prior to the war. But, amid my praises, I thought about what it would have been like had he died in the war and acted upon his convictions. We would have never met. And, I thought about how our next meeting could have been. I wept at the mere thought of how for the first time in my life I had felt heard and understood by someone else and that person had chosen death as the means by which they would satisfy their purpose. All at once, the ugliness of the world invaded my privacy and I had to leave.
My stomach growled for some food, so I went to a diner and ordered a sizeable dinner for myself. On the side, I had the same Hojicha tea Mishima had made me. As I ate away at my meal, I saw Aiko sitting not too far away. Our eyes met, and I invited her to join me. We exchanged a few soft glances, stories of the past few months and then I asked her what she thought of Mishima. She looked across the table with sullen eyes and I knew at that moment she had finally delved deep into his philosophy. There was a warmth in her gaze that allowed me to know I was finally understood. I felt my heart move towards her in full honesty.
[…] I’m here with Suan Sonna, who is the author of the short story “Mishima in Love,” which appeared in our first edition back in February. I’ll let Suan start by just telling us […]