We Must Dream Of The Promise

On the 25th November, 1970 Yukio Mishima died in a ritual suicide. Mishima was a renowned Japanese writer and actor. He was also a right-wing activist who proposed that Japan should remain uniquely and unapologetically Japanese and resist any foreign influence, especially from America.

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In the West, any death from suicide is regarded as shameful and cowardly, and a clear signal that the deceased individual was too weak to live. However traditional Japanese culture maintains that suicide is ultimately brave and heroic, and anyone prepared to die in that way should command the highest respect.

Mishima`s dramatic exit from this world was an imitation of a Samurai warrior`s last stand. The Samurai were knights in ancient feudal Japan who enjoyed the patronage of the Shogun, the military rulers. Although Japan was officially ruled by an Emperor, his role was largely symbolic, all the main diktats were issued by the Shogunate.

There were absolutist and autocratic codes for everyone in society which covered dress and conduct. This was the way of life for every Japanese citizen for centuries.

However in the nineteenth century western explorers attempted to impose modern systems, but they were met with resistance. The Portuguese were welcomed and briefly tolerated when they introduced new techniques in gun manufacture but their presence became intolerable when attempts were made to convert the Japanese to Christianity.

The resistance against this became increasingly violent, Christians were tortured by various means, some were forced into boiling hot springs, others were plunged into vats of excrement or crucified.

However this did not prevent any further European exploration, but they were not wanted, Dutch traders arrived in the intervening years but they were exiled on a barren island. Eventually the Shogunate issued an order that no overseas trade should take place and every Japanese citizen was to remain on home soil.

The regime was fearful that the precious identity of Japan would disappear, any foreign ship attempting to enter Japan would have to confront thousands of armed Samurai.

This uncompromising vision of Japan’s golden age, evinced through Mishima`s stark prose has attracted praise and revulsion in equal measures, even in the western world which has divested itself of its own proud traditions. Admiration for ancient Asian traditions is a consequence of European fragility.

This seemed apparent nearly a hundred years ago, when the right-wing Italian philosopher Julius Evola began his writing career. He argued that tradition was integral to humanity’s survival and quoted ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts to back his arguments. However, like Mishima, his literary reputation has been overshadowed by his brief involvement with far-right politics.

It is now fashionable to decry writers who are deemed beyond the pale, only by virtue of holding supposedly unpalatable views in a more modern and enlightened age. Such thinking detracts from the power of literature to provoke and question.

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