Patriotism by Yukio Mishima: Characters & Themes

Instructor: Kelly Mallari

I have taught Language Arts for 4 years and served as a Professor for ENG 101 and GLS for more than 3 years. I am a licensed teacher with a B.A. in English Literature, International and Global Studies, and Religious Studies. I have a M.A. in Global Studies.

Yukio Mishima's short story 'Patriotism' is a story detailing the life of Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama and his role in a cou de tat. Discover how the main characters in the novel create a narrative that shapes the idea of honor and devotion to one's country.

To Each His Own

'Patriotism' is a word many of us are familiar with. You may feel it upon meeting a veteran, during special occasions like the Fourth of July, or it may be something you feel daily. For Japanese author Yukio Mishima, patriotism has always been a complex feeling that manifests itself differently. The feeling of patriotism can affect others differently--some feel the need to protect their country, while others feel that defense is not a proactive measure. When feelings of patriotism mingle with one's own sense of justice, trouble typically arises.

Yukio Mishima, author of Patriotism

In Mishima's short story Patriotism, we see what happens when this overwhelming need to be patriotic leads to terrible events--namely the Ni Ni Roku Incident, which was an attempted coup against the Japanese government by several Imperial Japanese Army officers in 1938. The characters in Mishima's short story, key players of the Ni Ni Roku Incident, become entangled in their own sense of justice.

Japanese marines being sent to Tokyo during the Ni Ni Roku Incident in 1938
Japanese marines during incident

Characters in 'Patriotism'

While the short 50 page story offhandedly mentions officers, most significantly General Ozaki whom brought the couple together, the story's events are centrally focused on Lieutenant Shinji and his wife's clinging ideals to a patriotic lifestyle of ancient Japan that ends in ritualistic suicide.

Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama - Shinji is a thirty-one year old lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army. The story details the events following Shinji's role in the events leading up to the Ni Ni Roku event. Shinji, prior to the story's exposition, has just married his lovely young bride Reiko. Reiko, the quintessential Japanese wife, immediately tells Shinji that she's prepared to sacrifice everything for him--including her life. This pleases him because Reiko is sincere and earnest in her role as a subservient female. For Shinji, his role in the Imperial Forces becomes a part of his life. When he learns that a coup d'etat, or uprising and subsequent takeover, is being completed by his comrades, it becomes too much for him to endure. The choice between being a patriot and being a friend becomes an internal struggle that eats away at Shinji. Overcome with agony at the thought of Imperial troops killing their fellow brother in arms, Shinji decides ceremonial sacrifice is the only way to relieve his pain. Shinji commits suicide and is joined in the ceremonial seppuku, or a ritualistic form of suicide through disembowelment in Japanese culture, by his wife Reiko.

Reiko Takeyama - Reiko is the wife of the Lieutenant and holds her husband and her role as a dutiful housewife supreme. Raised by a family that instilled honor, duty, and love of country in Reiko's mind--the 23 year old girl decides that she must serve in her role as a the dutiful wife no matter what. Reiko relates this sentiment to her newly-wedded husband, Lieutenant Shinji. Reiko's resolve to sacrifice herself is soon put to the test as Shinji decides that seppuku is the only means of handling the coup d'eat. Pleased with Reiko's 'education,' which he credits himself in nurturing, Reiko asks permission to join her husband in the seppuku and is granted permission. Reiko disembowels herself shortly following Shinji's own seppuku.

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