Before Yukio Mishima married his wife-to-be Yoko Sugiyama he made it clear to her that there were two things in his life that he expected her never to interfere with : his writing and his bodybuilding. "Sun and Steel" is a short memoir written by Yukio Mishima about his bodybuilding and physical training activities.The book was first published in 1968. The book length essay was started in late 1965 and appeared over a three year period in a magazine called "Criticism" founded by a friend of Yukio Mishima's the right-wing literary critic Takeshi Maramatsu.During the last ten years of his life Yukio Mishima would be obsessed with bodybuilding.He practiced a rigorous program of weight lifting along with boxing and kendo (a form of fencing with bamboo rods).Physical training was an integral part of his daily routine.
"Sun and Steel" is about Mishima's search for personal identity during the last ten years of his life. The book traces the personal evolution of Yukio Mishima from the introverted adolecent recreated in his novel "Confessions of a Mask" into the man that he would eventually become by the end of his life.The book relates Mishima's desire and pursuit to become a "man of action".This idea resurfaces in much of Mishima's writing and activities during the last years of his life.Mishima had a strong desire to be known and regarded as a "man of action". During the last month of his life Yukio Mishima had an exhibit of his literary career at a department store in Tokyo.Mishima organized the exhibit by using the metaphor of four rivers of his life.The rivers were called "writing","theater","body",and "action".The first two "rivers" dealt with Mishima's career as a novelist and a playwright.The "river of the body" dealt with Mishima's passion for bodybuilding and how that activity changed his awareness of his earlier life.The last river "the river of action" dealt with Mishima's awareness as a "warrior" and his desire to become a "man of action".Mishima believed that the river of body and the river of action flowed into one another.The two are strongly connected in the book "Sun and Steel".Throughout the book Mishima talks about how the act of physical training created in him a distaste for words and the corrosive effect that words had had on him.According to Mishima that when a man related to the outside world solely through "the body" all men became exactly alike because their bodies were designed to do the same exact thing.Mishima wrote in "Sun and Steel" that the male body by its very nature exists in a form that rejects existence and that this is a universal experience amongst all men(page 11 Sun and Steel).Throughout "Sun and Steel" Mishima professed a strong desire to finally be just like other men. He felt the need to discard the sensibility that had compelled him to write many of his earlier works such as "Confessions of a Mask" because in these works he set himself apart from other men and had been contaminated by the corrosive power of words.
A recurrent idea that surfaces again and again in "Sun and Steel" is the corrosive power that words had been able to excercise over Yukio Mishima's during his earlier earlier life.Mishima confesses in "Sun and Steel" that he was aware of words before he was aware of "the flesh" and that the awareness of the flesh would only come many years later.One of the reasons given by Mishima for this situation in "Sun and Steel" is that words were a replacement for the physical body that he had always wanted to have.The ideal of heroic beauty had always eluded him and that is why he pursued the beauty of words instead.But according to Mishima the ideal that a beauty of words seeks to recreate is at best an imitation of the real world, where the beauty of the hero's body is the real thing. Throughout most of his life Mishima refused to understand that the world of the body and the world of words were interwined. Mishima recounts in "Sun and Steel" that it wasn't until 1952 when he was traveling abroad on the deck of a ship that he started to percieve himself as a physical being made of flesh for the first time. He was in his mid thirties at the time and already one of Japan's most celebrated writers.This incident would shape the direction of his life for next ten years.
Perhaps the most central idea in "Sun and Steel" is Yukio Mishima's definition of "tragedy".Mishima describes tragedy as " when a perfectly average sensibility momentarily takes on to itself a privleged nobility that keeps others at a distance and not when a special type of sensibility vaunts its own special claims. It follows that he who dabbles in words can create tragedy,but cannot participate in it. It is necessary,moreover,that the 'privileged nobility' finds its basis strictly in a kind of physical courage."(page 14 Sun and Steel). The tragic hero according to Mishima's own definition is "the man of action". "Men of action" would impress Mishima greatly over the years. Samurais, soldiers, princes being killed in battle all had the power to fire his imagination ever since boyhood. Many people who knew Mishima confessed that he had a strong distaste for people who he regarded as being overly intellectual. "Sun and Steel" is filled with dialogue about how "the corrosion of words" damages the integrity of "the man of action". This sensibility became even more noticeable after he became committed to his physical training program.
"Sun and Steel" and "Confessions of a Mask" form a very powerful autobiographical document about Yukio Mishima.In many respects the two books complement one another."Sun and Steel" continues where "Confessions of a Mask leaves off. "Confessions of a Mask" deals with the first thirty years of Mishima's life. "Sun and Steel" deals with the last ten years of his life and gives answers as to Yukio Mishima's behavior during that time. The events of the last day of his life are much more understandable after reading "Sun and Steel". The man who emerges from the pages of "Sun and Steel" is very capable of doing what Mishima did on the last day of his life and about as different from the narrator in "Confessions of a Mask" as night is to day. Mishima's becoming "a man of action" was the logical consequence of the last ten years of his life and the product of the lifestyle that he had embraced.In many ways Mishima was living the life of a soldier.He subjected himself to a gruelling form of self-discilpline in addition to all the obligations that his writing career entailed. Although he didn't arrive at the idea of a samurai's death for himself until the end of 1966, he had been moving in that direction since the mid 1950's.
Mishima's militaristic lifestyle had started to affect his writing by the late 1960's. In 1969 "Spring Snow" and "Runaway Horses" were released in book form.Despite the fact that "Spring Snow" had sold 200,000 copies in two months the literary establishment or "the Bundan" as they are known in Japan had nothing to say about the novel. Mishima had been falling out of favor with them for some time.The right-wing nature of both his writing and his political views had alienated him from most of Japan's literary circle who tended to be more sympathetic to the left in matters of politics.Also his shocking public persona made him the subject of ridicule among his peers.One example of this was his decision to pose for a book of photographs entitled "Torture by Roses".The book had photos of Mishima stripped naked to the waist.On its publication, many of Mishima's most ardent critics felt that the writer was finally "going off his head at last". By the time "Sun and Steel" was first published Mishima had been alienated from most of the literary establishment in Japan with the exception of his mentor and long time friend Yasunari Kawabata.He was associating with people whose politics were to the right of the political spectrum, which in Japan during the late 1960's would have been a minority of the country's literary critics and intellectuals.
By the end 1966, the goal of Yukio Mishima's life had become to acquire all of the attributes of the warrior.Since 1961 Mishima had been searching with no success for what he would call "his plan for life", or in other words a way of ending his life in a way consistent with his beliefs. It was important to Mishima that he should die like the tragic heroes that he so admired.Mishima believed that in order to die like a hero, the hero had to be above all else young and had to die as a result of physical courage.He was quickly approaching middle-age and he realized that if he didn't act soon he would be just another old man who took his own life.
Shorthly after 1966 Mishima found the origins of his "plan for life" in an old samurai practice known as "Bunburyodo"."Bunburyodo",which translates into "the dual way of literature and the sword" is the process by which samarai were expected to cultivate both the martial and literary arts in equal proportion.In reality most samurai were unable to live up to this rigorous goal, but it was considered the cultural ideal.Mishima's had a very specific idea of what his form of "bunburyodo" would be.He focused much of his attention and energies on finishing his long literary project , the four book set "The Sea of Fertility". In 1966 the book's first volume was still being written. With every stage that his literary project "Sea of Fertility" moved closer to completion,Mishima equally sought ways to realize his ultimate goal of "dying as a warrior" or as a "fighting man". In the autumn of 1966, Mishima completed "Spring Snow",book one of the "Sea of Fertility" series. Shortly afterward he applied for permission to begin training at one of the Japan's military bases. Mishima began training at the base in 1967 the same year that his private army was formed. He had finally begun the military part of his "plan for life".
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