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20th Anniversary of Celebrated Novelist’s Spectacular Suicide

November 24, 1990

TOKYO (AP) _ Twenty years after celebrated novelist Yukio Mishima’s spectacular hara- kiri, the dream of a resurgent Japanese imperialism he died espousing seems as distant as ever.

″I can’t think of a single lasting effect (his death) had,″ said Donald Richie, a cultural critic who has lived in Japan four decades.

Mishima, regarded as one of the leading Japanese authors of this century, scandalized the nation when he committed ritual disembowelment at a Tokyo military base Nov. 25, 1970, at age 45.

Just minutes before his suicide, Mishima and four young members of his small, private militia took a general hostage and demanded that troops stationed at the base hastily assemble on the parade ground.

In a speech from a balcony parapet, he urged the soldiers to arms to regain glory for the Japanese military and the emperor. He also denounced the postwar constitution that renounces war and limits the emperor’s role to state symbol.

Ending his failed, heckled speech with the cry, ″Long live the emperor 3/8″ Mishima hurried indoors, stripped to his loincloth and plunged a foot-long dagger into his lower abdomen, cutting crosswise. The horrific suicide ended when one of the youths decapitated Mishima with a sword.

Japan had hardly seen such ritual suicide since the immediate aftermath of World War II, and there were immediate worries that Mishima’s actions could help revive the militarism that launched the horrifying Pacific War.

But his appeals went unheeded by all except a small fringe of right-wing extremists. Today, the revived militarism he advocated appears more unlikely than ever.

The widespread opposition to a recent government proposal to deploy troops overseas for the first time since World War II ″certainly suggests that his notions of re-establishing the Imperial Army ... do not have popular support in the country,″ said J. Victor Koschmann, a visiting history professor at the Stanford Center in Kyoto.

The lukewarm public interest in this month’s enthronement of Emperor Akihito also indicates little support for reviving the prewar status of monarch as a ″living god″ to be fanatically worshipped.

″Other than a small fringe, for whom he’s still a cult figure of sorts, I just don’t think (Mishima) has that broad an appeal,″ Koschmann said.

The anniversary is passing mostly in embarrassed silence, although one right-wing group will hold a rally Sunday to be followed by a march through Tokyo to the base where Mishima committed suicide. Only a few thousand are expected to attend.

Some newspapers and magazines have carried articles and photographs on Mishima in the days before the anniversary, and at least six books on Mishima have been published recently.

Mishima’s novels, plays and short stories are known for reflecting the conflict between the encroaching West and traditional Japanese values, a conflict that Mishima felt intensely himself.

The works often reveal an obsession with beauty, death and suicide.

Among his best-known novels are ″Confessions of a Mask″ (1949), a partly autobiographical account of a boy’s self-awakening that includes themes of homosexuality found in many of Mishima’s later works. Another popular novel was ″The Temple of the Golden Pavilion″ (1956), an examination of what led an ugly young monk obsessed with the beauty of a Buddhist temple to burn it down.

Mishima’s works are widely studied among literature students at Japanese universities.

″I think that people like Mishima because his novels create a strong sense of Japanese traditional beauty,″ said Jiro Kawamura, a literature professor at the Tokyo Metropolitan University.

″He is a very problematic, important novelist, but I don’t think he is a great novelist,″ said Kawamura. ″His work is full of rhetoric. He is not a genius.″

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