John Nathan’s biography of Yukio Mishima

This is a book by John Nathan, a memorable book for me. were the very first Japanese literature I had ever read.
I had been rereading Colin Wilson’s sequel to “The Outsider” , entitled “The Misfits”, in which he writes about Yukio Mishima.
I had met Yukio Mishima with my parents, exactly about a month before he committed ritual suicide.
This was at a party in Tokyo.I was in Tokyo for about a month in 1970. This was the only time during my elementary school years that I went to Japan.

The day before we all flew back to New York, the photographer Kishin Shinoyama had a party and Mishima was sitting in the back room. He had many photographs taken of himself in various characters and poses, and he was asking my mother which photographs she liked. I still remember Yukio Mishima and his voice as he talked in that room that night.

He was the first Japanese writer I have ever read, although it was in a translation by John Nathan. Yukio Mishima’s main influences were Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Jean Cocteau, George Bataille and many other Western writers from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. His influence from these Western writers is what makes reading his books easier than other books written in Japanese. At the very center of his influences are these writers, and he adopted many Japanese classics using his influences from these writers. He seems Japanese on the surface, and he understands its culture, but I often feel that he and Shuji Terayama were the best writers in adopting Western influences into the Japanese language. Shuji Terayama, who was also a film director and a playwright was once influenced by Mishima’s way of adopting Western literature. Both can make the sound of the Japanese language quite beautiful and musical.

Colin Wilson sees Mishima as someone who was a social misfit at the start, but had slowly began to put on an act.
He began posing as some kind of an extreme “patriot” that was quite different from the writer character within him.

The journalist, Ian Buruma wrote, “Mishima was in almost every respect an oddity, and it is dangerous to think to see him as typical of anything…Dandies are life’s practical jokers who must fool people into thinking they are something they know themselves they are not. They are like exhibitionists who feel alive only when they are watched.”

He was quite apolitical to begin with. As an observer, he always said that the leftists and the student activists in the 60s in Japan were saying things that are the same as the rightists. I believe this is very much the truth.

I remember the student protests in the States were more about making the country more democratic, whereas much of the leftists in Japan were protesting against the US as American imperialism. Many Japanese who went to the US or Europe and was unsuccessful especially at communicating with the people there, returned to Japan to become Anti-American political activists. Since becoming right-wing was not seen as ‘cool’, some hid their thoughts in the back of left-wing ideology. But when one sees that it was Stalinism, Maoiim of the Cultural Revolution, one sees that it was leaning towards totalitarianism, instead of something like “Woodstock” which was an expression of freedom and democracy.

The following is an excerpt from a short dialogue that I edited from the very end of “The Decay of Angels”,, the work he delivered to his publishers, just a few hours before his suicide.

————From “The Decay of Angels”—————–
“I came here sixty years ago.”
“Memory is like a phantom mirror. It sometimes shows things too distant to be seen, and sometimes it shows them as if they were here.”
“But if he didn’t exist, and she didn’t exist, who knows perhaps I too didn’t exist.”
“That too is as it is in each heart.”
“You have been kind enough to come all this way. I think you should see the south garden. I will take you there.”
“It was a bright, quiet garden, without striking features. Like a rosary rubbed between the hands, the shrilling of cicadas held sway.
There was no other sound. The garden was empty. He had come to a place that had no memories, nothing.
The noontide sun of summer flowed over the still garden.”

This quite reminds me of the following quote from Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
The end of “The Decay of Angels” was the last act that Yukio Mishima wrote for the character he was acting out.


From The Guardian article:
“Learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. ”
“When presented with English words containing either of these sounds (‘l’ and’ r’), brain imaging studies show that only a single region of a Japanese speaker’s brain is activated, whereas in English speakers, two different areas of activation show up, one for each unique sound.
For Japanese speakers, learning to hear and produce the differences between the two phonemes in English requires a rewiring of certain elements of the brain’s circuitry. ”
“We know that people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. Canadian studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and the onset of dementia are diagnosed later for bilinguals than for monolinguals, meaning that knowing a second language can help us to stay cognitively healthy well into our later years.”

From Ian Buruma’s “The Missionary and the Libertine”

From Ian Buruma’s “The Missionary and the Libertine”- A book of essays. The book is dedicated to Donald Richie.
From V.S. Naipaul’s India (1991):
Democracy is always a messy process. Many people in India fear this mess. The novelist, V.S.Naipaul fears it too. He is an orderly man. But he does not make a fetish of order. Disorder is an inescapable consequence of India’s awakening. This may be another reason why so many “progressive” Third World intellectuals see Naipaul as a reactionary figure; for it is they, the admirers of Mao and Kim Il Sung, who make a fetish of order, and it is Naipaul who has the deeper understanding of the social forces that progressives claim to despise—perhaps because they are themselves still in the grip of those forces.

The fetish of order is something many progressives, in East and West (or, if you prefer, North and South), have in common with many conservatives. Mao Tse-Tung of China was much admired by conservative leaders such as Henry Kissinger, Edward Heath and Georges Pompidou. They were impressed by the discipline Mao imposed. Many saw a unified society of busy bees, all expressing great confidence in their leaders, all working in serried ranks toward a glorious collective future. Some even saw the regimentation of China as a mark of superior civilization, so unlike our own disorderly world. Left-wing Indian intellectuals admired China so much that they developed an inferiority complex about messy, chaotic India.
What all these admirers chose (and, alas, often still choose) to overlook was that China’s order was the order of a slave state. It is said that Mao, however much blood still sticks to his waxy hands, restored pride to the Chinese people. If so, it was only to the “People”, and not to people that he gave this pride. The price for Mao’s proud banners was the virtually complete destruction of Naipaul’s universal civilization, which did exist in China: the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect and so on. In this respect, despite all the subcontinent’s problems, China should take a leaf from India’s book.

What makes Naipaul one of the world’s most civilized writers is his refusal to be engaged by the “People”, and his insistence on listening to people, individuals, with their own language and their own stories. To this extent he is right when he claims to have no view; he is impatient with all abstractions. He is interested in how individual people see themselves and the world in which they live. He has recorded their histories, their dreams, their stories, their words.
As we know, the first thing that leaders or worshipers of the “People” do is to rob people of their words, by enforcing a language of wood. Naipaul’s characters, most of whom talk at considerable length, never speak a language of wood. In his interviews, Naipaul insists on details: he wants to know how things smelled, felt, sounded, looked—especially looked. And where it concerns ideas, he wants to be told how they were arrived at: not just what people think, but how they think. This is also the method of his own writing.

individuality is ignored when identity is asserted. – 日本語訳は下記にあります。

Quotation from Robert Anton Wilson:

Every ideology is a mental murder, a reduction of dynamic living processes to static classifications, and every classification is a Damnation, just as every inclusion is an exclusion. In a busy, buzzing universe where no two snow-flakes are identical, and no two trees are identical, and no two people are identical—and, indeed, the smallest subatomic particle, we are assured, is not even identical with itself from one microsecond to the next-every card-index system is a self-delusion. “Or, to put it more charitably,” as Nietzsche says, “we are all better artists than we realize.”

It is easy to see that the label “Jew” was a Damnation in Nazi Germany, but actually the label “Jew” is a Damnation anywhere, even where anti-Semitism does not exist. “He is a Jew,” “He is a doctor,” and “He is a poet” mean, to the card-indexing center of the cortex, that my experience with him will be like my experience with other Jews, other doctors, and other poets. Thus, individuality is ignored when identity is asserted.

At a party or any place where strangers meet, watch this mechanism in action. Behind the friendly overtures there is wariness as each person fishes for the label that will identify and Damn the other. Finally, it is revealed: “Oh, he’s an advertising copywriter,” “Oh, he’s an engine-lathe operator.” Both parties relax, for now they know how to behave, what roles to play in the game. Ninety-nine percent of each has been Damned; the other is reacting to the 1 percent that has been labeled by the card-index machine.
From the appendix to Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s book “Leviathan”

Kirk Allen’s fantasy


In a few weeks, many people in Japan will post something about the atom bomb. There is an interesting real story about one of the major physicists who led the actual designing and making of the first atom bombs, which were tested and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of WW2. This story has nothing to do with the morality of whether the atom bomb is good or bad. ‘Hiroshima’ is too often used as a tool to unite the leftists and the rightists under the slogans of either nationalism or some kind of moral preaching, of which I am tired of hearing. I’m writing this story here in the hope that others may find it interesting and can learn something about human psychology from it.
The novelist and journalist, Colin Wilson writes about him in his book “The Devil’s Party”, a book mainly about cult leaders such as Charles Manson and Asahara Shoko. He is introduced as ‘Kirk Allen’, a pseudonym, Allen was a genius as a scientist.He looked normal, but it became apparent that he might be suffering from a peculiar form of delusional insanity. He thought that his true identity was as a ruler on Mars. He had been a section chief at Los Alamos Laboratory, where the atom bomb was developed, when his director sent him to a psychiatrist named Robert Lindner.
‘Kirk Allen’s fantasy developed from a trauma that he suffered as a child. He had spent his childhood in Hawaii, and his parents had left him completely in charge of a Polynesian nurse. When he was 12 years old, and was beginning to show the first signs of adolescence, she started to seduce him, while at the same time making him feel that it was something furtive and forbidden. Because he was not yet at the age, when he could understand and control his sexuality, the result was similar to that of a girl who is sexually abused at a young age and becomes terrified of sex. One of the differences between male and female sexuality is that the male sexuality is active, not passive. A boy often dreams of situations where he takes the lead or of a situation where a woman he admires yields to him. Because the governess used Allen almost as a sex toy, she turned this situation upside down. Any hint of sexual demand would make him flee. He developed a powerful imagination as a substitute for the self-esteem that is induced in most males by sexual conquest.
Sexual feelings could produce a revulsion in him, and he would find himself sitting at his desk on Mars, dressed in robes of his high office. Whenever a crisis develops, the unconscious mind would rise and create a waking dream to protect him and send him out to be the ruler of Mars.
“Have I discovered the secret of transportation?”, he would ask his psychiatrist.His psychiatrist, Lindner felt that Allen’s trip to Mars had a reality that the human imagination seldom achieves. What happened next was equally surprising. Lindner was also a fan of science fiction and H.G.Wells. He found it easy to enter into Kirk’s fantasy world. Soon, Lindner became just as obsessed . The Martian language would drift into his head, and not go away. It began to influence the doctor’s thoughts and behavior. He became completely sucked into Allen’s fantasies. Lindner began to feel that perhaps Allen had possibly developed some peculiar faculty that may be latent in all human beings.
Then one day, Allen told him, “It’s a lie! All of it.”
For weeks, he had not been making any trip to Mars, but was only inventing the material that Lindner wanted to hear.
When his doctor began to share his delusions, it became obvious to Allen that it was all a delusion and that he dragged his psychiatrist into it. Without intending to, Lindner had cured his patient, and the patient had also cured his doctor.

This story tells me a lot about the power of imagination. While it is true that biological factors such as a healthy body does make people of both sexes more attractive, it is the imagination that is the real driving force in both love and sex. Real love may be the feeling of that you and another person are One. But the power of a runaway imagination can ruin all our lives. You’ve all heard of many messed up stories of love and sex. The trauma Allen suffered made him develop his imagination in unusual ways. It also takes a lot of imagining skills to be able to help create the first atom bomb. This is the secret life of one brilliantly successful scientist.
– written by Ayuo

Outside Society (日本語はこの下記にあります) by Ayuo

“If you never leave your native culture, you’re bound by it forever without realizing it. If you ask a person about their culture it’s like asking a fish about water, what can they say?”(Donald Richie)

Outside Society
Musical Theater Piece based on the Prose of Donald Richie and Angela Carter,
Script by Ayuo
Music composed by Ayuo.

Ayuo: vocals, ukulele, electric violin
Christopher Yohmei Blasdel: shakuhachi
Tatsuo Kondo (近藤達郎): keyboards
Mika Kimula(きむらみか): vocals

Place: Last Waltz (Shibuya).

Date: September 25, 2014
Time: 19:00
¥3000 + one drink charge

The prose of both Richie and Carter gives us a blueprint on how to live freely as outsiders in the present age with its rise of worldwide nationalism and the redistribution of national boundaries. The compositions are meant to be a hymn in praise to the passionate yet detached and objective outsider.
As Richie writes in Viewed Sideways, “I have learned to regard freedom as more important than belonging.”

Donald Richie came to Japan in 1947, and lived mostly in Tokyo till his death in 2013. A scholar of the Japanese films, he introduced such directors as Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Masahiro Shinoda, and Hiroshi Teshigahara to western audiences. He also wrote about music and literature, and among his friends were Yukio Mishima, Toru Takemitsu, Daisetsu Suzuki and many others.
I had seen him in concerts, movie theaters and parties, and had some of his books from the time I was going to middle school in New York City. However, it was not until last year that I began to read many of his later writings, and I felt a profound sympathy with that much of what he wrote about Japan. He chose to live as a foreigner, an outsider in society, for it is the position where one can see life the most objectively. This is the freedom from not belonging to a nation. “I became a one-member society., consistent only to myself and forever different from those who surround me. I now doubt the very existence of this “national identity,”(Donald Richie).It occurred to me that I had to make a music theater piece out of his writings.
In the center of the music theater piece is an episode from Angela Carter’s short story “The Flesh and the Mirror” performed as a dance piece. Angela Carter is a Scottish-English writer who came to live in Tokyo in the 1970s.
Japan is a world where many things that appear to be Western are not at all Western because unlike many other countries, it never had the experience of becoming a colony. In Japan, Western culture was adopted on the surface. “The Flesh and the Mirror” is about a woman from England who comes to Japan to be with her Japanese lover, but she slowly finds herself feeling that she has come to a nightmare dream world. This is what many foreigners, as well as most Japanese raised abroad would face, when they come to Japan.Today, we see nation-states collapse and fall apart all over the world. My answer to live in the coming age, would be to live as an outsider. I personally see these pieces to be like the hymns for the coming age. – Notes by Ayuo