The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project
"Patriotism" is a horrifying deeply disturbing work. It adds a coda to the famous lines from Keats
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
The greatest beauty lies in a pure death. Some might see the laughter of the Gods in this story, I see no laughing, not even Pan's, in the vision behind this story.
"Patriotism" is an erotically charged death driven story that either glorifies or shames horribly a very old revered way of life, that of the samurai. Or perhaps it does both at the same time, which is where its true power arises.
I have posted on several of Mishima's novels and five of his plays. (You will find background information on Mishima -1925 to 1970-Japan in my five prior posts on him), Mishima is firmly on my read everything that is translated list. Mishima's work has a great deal to teach us about Japanese culture, for better and worse. In my opinion the samurai culture that helped lead Japan into WWII is a under all the beauty and ritual a slave's religion. Of course, I take the additional step that this is overall a horrible flaw in the belief structure, whereas a believer feels that it is mandated by God that all obey God's overlord on earth, the Emperor. From duty to the Emperor an entire superstructure of obedience follows. It does not matter whether we like it or not. A true God Emperor does not require the affection of his subjects, only their obedience.
The story takes place in 1936 in the home of a 31 year old military officer deeply into the Bushido code of the Samurai and his 23 year old wife. They are recently married and feel great passion and love for one another. Mishima's depiction of their feeling for each other is very erotic and moving. I felt the heat and you will too, I think. The story opens with a caption on a commemorative photograph which tells us that a young army officer has been deeply shamed because some of his colleagues in the army have been involved in a mutiny against their commanders. He took no part in this episode but because other officers in his regiment did so it is now mandated that he commit ritual suicide. It is further mandated that his wife must also accept her death. Normally the husband will kill his wife before killing himself in order to insure she will in fact die. In this case the husband shows great trust and love for his wife by allowing her to witness the beauty of his own self disembowelment (very graphically described) and then kill herself with a special dagger used for female suicides. As I read this, I wondered what is the fate of children in cases like this (this couple is newly married and childless). I am assuming it is the duty of the father to kill his children before his own death but I am open to correction on this.
The story lets us see the real love the couple have for each other. I felt no cruelty in the motivation of the husband to have his wife die with him, only a very powerful love, carnal as well as deeply spiritual.
There is an unblinking account of what it feels like and the personal and physical power it takes to kill yourself by disemboweling. We are made to feel the knife slice through his entrails, we see the blood everywhere. In a very powerful scene both man and wife ritually bathe themselves before committing suicide. In a very very sad scene, we see the young wife putting on her makeup so she will have a proper appearance in the after world. You can feel the love as the wife thrusts the knife into her neck (it is not proper for a Samurai wife to die by self disembowelment -to put it delicately, it can be a very messy way to die.) She is concerned over the terrible mess others will have to clean up when their bodies are found.
There are no "punches pulled" in this story. It is a glorification of ritual suicide.
It is the things we love most that will ultimately destroy us. The only escape from this is a life without passion or love.