Yukio Mishima: Biography, Books & Quotes

Instructor: Krista Langlois

Krista has taught language arts for 14 years. She has a master's degree in teaching and loves researching, reading, and introducing others to the wonders of literature and language.

Yukio Mishima is one of Japan's most celebrated authors. This lesson weaves together a brief overview of his life, his works, and quotations that provide insight into this talented and conflicted man.

Yukio Mishima

A graduate of the University of Tokyo, Yukio Mishima wrote prolifically. He was nominated for three Nobel Prizes in literature but never won. Some call him a hero; others a coward. Some question his motives while still others hold him in the highest regard. One thing that no one disputes is his brilliant writing. Dead at only 46, he had already written over hundreds of works. If, at the end of this lesson, you are left with questions, keep this in mind: In 2013, Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima was published at over 800 pages and still leaves readers questioning.

Early Life

Born Kimitake Hiroaka in 1925 Tokyo, Mishima's grandmother took him from his parents as a child. Jealous of outside influences, she allowed Mishima no time with other boys, to go outside, or even see his mother except for scheduled breast feedings. She was violent and morbid, and most biographers trace Mishima's fascination with death to her. Her influence is found in all of Mishima's writing, as he once said:

''From beginning until the end, my novels are always related with death.''

Returned to his family at 12, he was well educated, sickly, and small. His father, a disciplinarian, worked to create the masculine son he wanted. He destroyed Mishima's manuscripts, insisting that writing was feminine. Supported by his mother, Mishima continued writing.

Yukio Mishima is the pen name of Kimitake Hiroaka
Yukio Mishima

Writing Life

Among his first stories, Forest in Bloom was so good that teachers recommended publication. To keep schoolmates from teasing him, teachers created the pen name Yukio Mishima. But, he would not escape, and two of his stories, The Cigarette, and The Boy Who Wrote Poetry reflect the scorn he received. Again, having to choose between his masculine and feminine identity, he continued writing. He would seek the masculine side the rest of his life, though, as reflected in Sun and Steel: ''When I lifted a certain weight, I was able to believe in my own strength. I sweated and panted, struggling to obtain certain proof of my strength.''

Mishima would struggle with the ideas of masculinity all of his life
mishima with cat

Mishima said that after reading Hans Christian Anderson's Rose Elf, in which a young lover, bending to smell the rose given him by his love, is stabbed and beheaded, he knew his ''...heart's leaning towards death and night and blood would not be denied''.

His first novel, Thieves shows these dark themes in its two aristocratic protagonists, both drawn to suicide. In his semi-autobiographical novel, Confessions of a Mask, a man must hide his homosexuality in order to fit into society, a life lived in darkness.

He traveled, and this gave him the opportunity to use contemporary events in his writing as he did in the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a fictionalized account of the burning of a famous temple, and After the Banquet for which he was sued for invasion of privacy! The themes of darkness, conflicting ideals, death, and violence are found throughout Mishima's works. In a break from his usual writings, Beautiful Star delves into science fiction. A group of people believes they are aliens sent to save mankind, and another believes they must initiate a nuclear war. Even in science fiction, darkness and struggle of opposing ideals stand out.


Mishima was obsessed with purity and patriotism. He wanted to recapture the dignity of Japan in the face of its new found democracy and restore divinity to its emperor. He began lifting weights and studying the samurai way. He formed his own militia, the Tatenokai, made up of college students. He trained them in martial arts and physical discipline.

Mishima once said ''Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.''

Around the age of 30, Mishima began lifting weights
weight lifting

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