Hidden Among the Leaves: Yukio Mishima and Hagakure

I found that the way of the Samurai is death.”

– Yamamoto Tsunetomo

FOR many people, the name Yukio Mishima will always be synonymous with violence and self-destruction. However, this modern-day Samurai warrior was also a great advocate of life and believed that one’s character and physique should be developed to the fullest possible extent. By far the largest influence upon Mishima’s short and eventful life was Hagakure, but what do we know about this famous eighteenth-century Japanese text and what was Mishima’s own attitude towards it?

Hagakure, meaning ‘hidden by the leaves’ or ‘hidden leaves’, is a selection of 1,300 anecdotes that were dictated to a young Samurai over a seven-year period by his respected master, Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719). As a young child, the great and venerable Tsunetomo – who was the youngest of two boys and three girls – had found himself under the direction of Nabeshima Mitsushige (1632-1700). The latter was the great-grandson of the noble warlord, Nabeshima Naoshige (1538-1618), who had fought against the Tokugawas clan before switching sides and then finding himself embroiled in a dangerous stalemate with his powerful neighbours. When Naoshige died at the age of eighty-one, he was succeeded by his son, Nabeshima Katsushige (1580-1657), who had followed in his father’s footsteps by accompanying Naoshige on the second invasion of Korea before going on to lead 34,000 men in the attack on Hara Castle that formed part of the Shimabara Rebellion between 1637 and 1638. Katsushige’s son, Tadashige, died of smallpox when he was just twenty-three years old, so it was Mitsushige – Katsushige’s grandson – who eventually came to inherit the fiefdom.

Whilst performing his influential role as third daimyo, or territorial lord, on the island of Kyushu in the part of Japan now known as Saga Prefecture, Mitsushige rejected the brutal militaristic adventurism that had dominated the lives of his forefathers and, instead, wrote poetry and encouraged Samurai warriors to educate themselves. Nevertheless, Mitsushige was also a very capable governor and, by the time Tsunetomo was born in 1659, had ruled as a feudal lord for a period of two years. Mitsushige soon took the boy under his wing and Tsunetomo, a bright and intelligent student, excelled in the field of Japanese literature.

Curiously, Mitsushige was also strongly opposed to ritual disembowelment (seppuku) and Tsunetomo, respecting the fact that his lord had already prohibited this traditional Samurai practice in 1661, refrained from committing suicide and accompanying his master in death when Mitsushige died in 1700 and, instead, retired to a secluded hermitage at Kurotsuchibaru where he shaved his head and became a Buddhist priest. His wife, meanwhile, became a nun. By this time, Tsunetomo – who had studied in his 20s under the direction of a Zen master known as Tannen (d. 1680) and a Confucian scholar called Ishida Ittei (1628-93) – was now forty-two years of age and was rarely ever seen by the residents of nearby Saga Castle. In 1708 he wrote a book of instruction for his adopted son, Gonnojo, entitled Gukenshu (A Collection of My Humble Opinions). Meanwhile, in March 1710, Tsunetomo began receiving a frequent and enthusiastic visitor by the name of Tashiro Tsuramoto (b. 1678). This young Samurai was to become Tsunetomo’s confidant until 1717, meticulously copying down the priceless utterances of what was to eventually become known as Hagakure. His work done, Tsunetomo died just three years after the completion of Hagakure itself.

The text, as William Scott Wilson explains, is not

a well-thought-out philosophy, either in the sense of containing a closely reasoned or logical argument, or in terms of subject matter. On the contrary, it contains an anti-intellectual or anti-scholastic bent throughout, and being a record of a seven-year span of conversations, the subject matter varies considerably, ranging from the author’s deepest feelings concerning the way of the Samurai to discussions on the implements of the Tea Ceremony or how a certain mansion acquired its name.[1]

Hagakure was never designed to appeal to a large audience and was kept secret by the Nabeshima clan for a period of one hundred and fifty years until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Then, as Japan became increasingly more nationalistic during the 1930s, Hagakure was re-published in various editions and considered by many to represent yamato-damashii (“the unique spirit of the Japanese”). Its popularity continued during the Second World War, but as Japan was plunged into atomic chaos millions of copies were destroyed to prevent it falling into the hands of the Occupational authorities:

This book, like all others made much of during the war, came to be thought of as a loathsome, ugly, evil book, a tainted book to be wiped from memory, tied roughly in bundles, and consigned to the rubbish heap.[2]

The book’s appeal to a man of the calibre of Yukio Mishima is obvious. Tsunetomo spent much of his life reflecting upon the nature of death, something which Mishima, more than two hundred years later, did himself in the rapidly changing environment that was twentieth-century Japan. Mishima, of course, also wrote his own commentary on Hagakure, something that remains truly invaluable to those of us who wish to enter the complex mindset of this great and defiant man who declared war upon the negative and transient values of the modern world.

Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan was first published in August 1967, just three years before the author’s tragic suicide at the Self-Defence Force Headquarters in Tokyo. Mishima’s book is divided into three main sections and the first of these, the Prologue, is extremely autobiographical in tone and seeks to examine Hagakure in relation to the author’s own life. During his childhood, we are informed, the young Mishima was inspired by two main works: Raymond Radiguet’s Le Bal du Comte d’Orgel and The Collected Works of Akinari Ueda. The first of these was a French thriller, but Mishima identified most with the author himself:

I was drawn to the genius Radiguet, who at the tender age of twenty had died leaving the world such a masterpiece, and I who was almost certainly destined to go to war and die equally young in battle superimposed my own image on his. Somehow he became my personal rival and his literary achievements a landmark to be reached before I died.[3]

Mishima’s penchant for Akinari Ueda (1734-1809), on the other hand, a Japanese writer and poet who was active during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, is more difficult to explain:

Quite possibly I had come to nurture within me as my ideal image of Japanese fiction Akinari’s conscious anachronism and the exquisite artistry of his short stories, which seemed to me like burnished jewels.[4]

But Mishima soon grew out of his earliest literary mentors and neither Radiguet nor Akinari could match the unbridled passion he felt for Tsunetomo’s Hagakure after he had first discovered the text during the war and then continued to carry it around with him for the last twenty-five years of his life. Hagakure, a source to which many Japanese people turned throughout the darkest years of the country’s history, appealed to an outsider like Mishima as a result of its anachronistic character, expression of loneliness and strong personal morality.

In an article entitled “Writer’s Holiday”, published in 1955, Mishima discusses Hagakure‘s great humanity, arguing that it contains far more than just a desire to return Japan to a feudal system. The book, he says,

is brimming with the exuberance and freedom of people who lived under the restrictions of a rigid social morality. This morality lived in the very fabric of the society and its economic system. It was the one premise to their existence, and under this premise all was a glorification of energy and passion. Energy is good; lethargy is evil.[5]

Unsurprisingly, Mishima also defends the fanatical tendencies that one finds in the text, suggesting that in no way can the warrior ethos be discussed in normal terms. In other words, therefore, Mishima believes that nothing whatsoever that is said by Tsunetomo can be taken too far and that different rules apply:

The practical ethics for daily living taught by Hagakure might be called a man of action’s belief in expediency.[6]

Mishima makes a distinction between the extravagant refinement that prevailed during the Genroku Hoei Eras of 1688-1704 and 1704-1709, and the great fastidiousness, defiant will and uncompromising courage of the true Samurai.

The most famous quotation from Hagakure is “I found that the way of the Samurai is death” and Mishima, in a typically frank and honest display of realism, believes that this is the result of Tsunetomo

expressing his Utopianism, his principles of freedom and happiness.[7]

Mishima greatly admires Tsunetomo’s idealism, but suggests that Hagakure is too potent for most people and that many fall by the wayside in their efforts to apply his methods to their own lives. The destiny of the warrior, both great and tragic, is inevitably torn between the poles of happiness and misery. Only self-abandonment and fidelity to what Mishima describes as the “passage of time” can bring the Samurai total satisfaction and fulfilment in death. The destiny of Mishima himself was seen through to the very end and it is hardly surprising that he should come to expect and admire the same approach in others.

The weapon of choice for Mishima, at least prior to his death, was the power of the written word. Hagakure, he claims, is the “womb of my literary oeuvre”, a fine testimony to the motivational impact that Tsunetomo had on his life and work. Nevertheless, Mishima also appreciates that there is often a conflict between action and art:

The suspicion I had harboured for years, that there was inevitably something cowardly lurking beneath the surface of all literature, was articulated.[8]

Hagakure inspired Mishima to explore the “Combined Way of the Scholar and the Warrior”, a doctrine that had been outlined during the two hundred years of peace secured by the Tokugawa shogunate between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The doctrine, unique for its time, attempted to account for the fact that in peacetime the Samurai must devote himself to literature and the arts. Mishima’s interesting thoughts on art strike a fine balance between the dynamic and the contemplative:

I am convinced, however, that art kept snugly within the bounds of art alone shrivels and dies, and in this sense I am no believer in what is commonly called art for art’s sake. If art is not constantly threatened, stimulated by things outside its domain, it exhausts itself. Literary art takes its materials from life, but although art is thus the mother of literature, it is also her bitter enemy; although life is inherent in the author himself, it is also the eternal antithesis of art.[9]

So Mishima, that giant of Japanese literature who went on to win the Shinchosha Literary Prize of 1954 and the Yomiuri Literary Prize of 1957, had found the justification that he needed. Those familiar with Mishima’s novels, essays and plays, of course, are quite aware that he was no passive intellectual.

The second chapter of Mishima’s book, My Hagakure, examines Tsunetomo’s work in light of its enduring legacy and continuing importance for those living in the modern world. Mishima is particularly concerned with the demise of traditional Japanese aesthetics and what he regards as the negative influence of Western fashion, most notably that created by the French designer, Pierre Cardin. These sentiments may sound rather irrelevant in a book committed to an examination of Hagakure, but Mishima attempts to draw a contrast between the old Japan and that of the post-war period:

Japan began to transform herself into exactly the condition that Hagakure had foreseen. There were no longer any Samurai in Japan, there was no war, the economy was reviving, all was overflowing with a mood of peace; youth was bored.[10]

As a result, therefore, young men had become infatuated with Cardin’s fashions. As stated above, however, this was not the first time that Japan had descended into a period of cultural degeneracy and Mishima compares it to the aforementioned Genroku Period of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries, which affected Japanese men

not only in clothing but extending even to the design of the swords they carried, their sword guards, and the dagger attached to the scabbard, a fashion for ornateness and dazzling splendour captivated the hearts of men. One look at the showy appurtenances and splendid pastimes depicted in the genre scrolls of Moronobu Hishikawa (ukiyoe artist of the early Edo Period) is enough to imagine the luxury of that age, influenced by the sumptuous culture of the merchants and townsmen.[11]

Japanese men in the late-twentieth century, too, also enjoyed a fascination with style and fashion, and this death of the traditional male spirit was something that Mishima greatly loathed. We see from Hagakure, too, that similar things were happening in the eighteenth century:

Furthermore, during the last thirty years customs have changed; now when young Samurai get together, if there is not just talk about money matters, loss and secrets, gain, clothing styles or matters of sex, there is no reason to gather together at all.[12]

Mishima, despite being homosexual, also laments the feminisation of the male type and blames this state of affairs on American democracy. But the roots of this process, he argues, can also be found in the pages of Japanese history:

When, breaking away from the rough-and-tumble masculinity of a nation at war, the Togugawa bakufu had secretly established its hegemony as a peaceful regime, the feminisation of Japanese males immediately began.[13]

The evidence, according to Mishima, can be found in the ukiyo prints that were produced in the eighteenth century by Harunobu Suzuki. The visual dynamics appeared to severely diminish or underplay the differences between males and females, with the facial expressions and costumes making it difficult to ascertain the precise gender of those shown. Again, Tsunetomo laments a similar decline of masculinity in Hagakure:

According to a certain person, a number of years ago, the late Matsuguma Kyoan told this story: In the practice of medicine there is a differentiation of treatment according to the Yin and Yang of men and women. There is also a difference in pulse. In the last fifty years, however, men’s pulse has become the same as women’s. Noticing this, in the treatment of eye disease I applied women’s treatment to men and found it suitable. When I observed the application of men’s treatment to men, there was no result. Thus I knew that men’s spirit had weakened and that they had become the same as women, and the end of the world had come. Since I witnessed this with certainty, I kept it a secret.[14]

Tsunetomo goes on to explain that when it came to beheading, the men of his age were beginning to lose their nerve and that their general lack of military prowess meant that a man was more likely to cut his own thigh in order to pretend that he had acquired a scar in the heat of battle and thus impress his more credulous associates.

Mishima also criticises those whom he refers to as “expense account aristocrats”. In other words, he is making a clear distinction between a mercenary who fights simply for money and a true warrior who is chiefly motivated by the age-old principles of honour, courage and loyalty. He also makes a few additional comments which, given the prevalence of the base celebrity culture of our own time, are very timely indeed:

Today, baseball players and television stars are lionized. Those who specialise in skills which will fascinate an audience tend to abandon their existence as total human personalities and be reduced to a kind of skilled puppet. This tendency reflects the ideals of our time. On this point there is no difference between performers and technicians.[15]

Mishima, following the example of Tsunetomo, believes that it is wrong for a Samurai, in particular, to use a particular skill or art-form as a means of earning money. One’s status, in other words, is completely devalued in the way that someone born into the Aryan caste system and rebelling against one’s true vocation in life would be violating or transgressing his or her own dharma (right action).

In the modern age, Mishima tells us, “one may neither live beautifully nor die horribly” and people are therefore forced to compromise:

The human instinct for survival, faced with a decision between life and death, normally forces us to choose life. But we must recognise that when a human being tries to live beautifully and die beautifully, strong attachment to life undermines that beauty. It is difficult to live and to die beautifully, but it is equally difficult both to live and to die in a thoroughly horrible way. This is the lot of mankind.[16]

From Mishima’s perspective, those who wish to live and die beautifully are essentially heading towards an ugly death, whilst choosing to both live and die horribly, on the other hand, ultimately leads to a beautiful existence. This ties in very nicely with Tsunetomo’s remark about the way of the Samurai representing death, because when faced with a life or death situation one should always – according to Hagakure – choose the latter option.

The next topic under discussion is romantic love. Mishima, echoing the sentiments of the great intellectual and scholar, Bunso Hashikawa (1922-1983), believes that Hagakure is the only example of Japanese classical literature that has developed a logical analysis of romantic love itself. The key, he tells us, is secrecy and true love must always remain undeclared:

The art of romantic love as practised in America involves declaring oneself, pressing one’s suit, and making the catch. The energy generated by love is never allowed to build up within but is constantly radiated outward. But paradoxically, the power of love is dissipated the instant it is transmitted.[17]

Passion, says Mishima, is effectively curtailed and this results in an inability to sustain relationships or rekindle love itself:

Until the war, youth were able to distinguish neatly between romantic love and sexual desire, and they lived quite reasonably with both. When they entered the university, their upperclassmen took them to the brothels and taught them how to satisfy their desire, but they dared not lay a hand on the women they truly loved.[18]

The fulfilment of one’s carnal desires, then, is considered to be the only manner in which to preserve the traditional ideal of romantic love. Mishima attributes this theory to the fact that the physiology of the male cannot endure without an outlet for his sexual frustrations. However, it seems rather unfair to suggest that all men are polygamous by nature. Using Hagakure to support this idea, Mishima goes on to say that love is reinforced through dying and that death accentuates the purity of the romantic ideal.

Hagakure, for Mishima, is a medicine for man’s beleaguered soul. The peace and complacency that characterises the modern world must therefore be healed through death. Tsunetomo himself wrote that human freedom results in misery and dissatisfaction and that war is the only form of cleansing that can overcome such suffering. For Mishima, meanwhile, we live in

an age in which everything is based on the premise that it is best to live as long as possible. The average life span has become the longest in history, and a monotonous plan for humanity unfolds before us.[19]

Once he has secured a wife and a home, the average man has effectively removed all the excitement and spontaneity from his life and all that awaits him in the future is boredom, frustration and dull repetition. The debilitating effects of the increasing decline of masculinity can be seen in the twenty-first century, with rising suicide rates and a growing underclass that has never had any reason to seek employment.

As a result, Mishima is adamant that the so-called “death impulse” must eventually come to fruition and that political systems that favour state socialism inevitably create dissent and rebellion once people become disillusioned with the original values and ideals. The welfare state, a mainstay of peacetime and stability, always seeks to crush the remaining vestiges of individuality and self-expression, often resulting in totalitarianism and brutal repression. For Mishima, man has an equal capacity for both resistance and surrender:

One might redefine these as the impulse to be free and the impulse to die. The manifestation of these impulses, no matter how political the form it assumes, is like an electric current that results in a difference in electrical charge – in other words, from the fundamental contradictions of human existence.[20]

The Second World War resulted in the fulfilment of the death impulse that Mishima describes, but life and freedom were severely repressed. With the arrival of economic prosperity, however, the tendency towards the death impulse has increased dramatically and is poised to explode. Mishima’s remarks are very similar to the crucial, underlying dichotomy that existed between the Apollonian and Dionysian poles within Ancient Greek society. Whenever things became too stagnant and conservative, therefore, the Dionysian spirit – straining at the leash – was always there to sweep away the prevailing air of complacency and revitalise the national spirit.

For those who feel repulsed or exasperated by Mishima’s celebration of war and conflict, it is wise to remember that the principles of Hagakure – to which Mishima devoted his entire life – were not simply intended for the denizens of the eighteenth century, they can and must be applied to every historical epoch:

The occupation of the Samurai is death. No matter how peaceful the age, death is the Samurai’s supreme motivation, and if a Samurai should fear or shun death, in that instant he would cease to be a Samurai. It is for this reason that [Tsunetomo] puts such emphasis on death as his fundamental motivation to action.[21]

At the same time, Mishima was only too aware that war had been outlawed in twentieth-century Japan and this meant that the men who served in the country’s National Defence Force, which was designed for combat, had become obsolete.

Hagakure, then, has lost none of its relevance. However, since the eighteenth century the overwhelming fear of death has grown immeasurably:

We simply do not like to speak about death. We do not like to extract from death its beneficial elements and try to put them to work for us. We always try to direct our gaze towards the bright landmark, the forward-facing landmark, the landmark of life.[22]

By pushing death into the subconscious realm, of course, the death impulse is heightened significantly. According to Mishima:

We are ignoring the fact that bringing death to the level of consciousness is an important element of mental health.[23]

We need to remain fully conscious of our mortality throughout our lives, not continually sweep it beneath the carpet in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. If death is always in our minds, therefore, we have a greater appreciation of life and it begins to acquire a greater sense of meaning.

In The Forty-Eight Vital Principles of Hagakure, Mishima turns his attention to both Yamamoto Tsunetomo himself and the nature of his text. He informs us that Hagakure was previously known as Recorded Words of the Hagakure Master. On the origin of the word Hagakure itself, Mishima tells us that one theory is

that it was chosen to convey the atmosphere of a poem by the priest Saigyo (poet-monk of the late Heian and early Kamakura periods), included in the Sanka wakashu.[24]

The Sanka wakashu is a collection of Saigyo’s best poetry and one of his verses, entitled “Sent to a Lover When a Few Blossoms Linger”, refers to several flowers being hidden among the leaves. Another theory, however, relates to Tsunetomo’s hut – known as Choyoken, or Eaves of the Morning Sun – also being hidden amongst the leaves. Further speculation holds that Hagakure is either named after the leaves of a fruit tree belonging to Tsunetomo, or the trees that could be found in the grounds of nearby Saga Castle.

Mishima goes on to repeat the details surrounding the life of Tsunetomo that I included at the beginning of this chapter, although he does make an interesting comparison between the manner in which Tashiro Tsuramoto wrote down the words of his master and the production of Gespräche mit Goethe (Conversations with Goethe) that was first published in 1836 by Johann Peter Eckermann (1792-1854).

Mishima believes that Hagakure bears three main characteristics. The first of these, “A Philosophy of Action”, places a strong emphasis on the book’s subjectivity. Action, we are informed, is the function of subjectivity itself and the role of death is to bring action to its inevitable conclusion:

The philosophy of Hagakure creates a standard of action which is the most effective means of escaping the limitations of the self and becoming immersed in something greater.[25]

He also attempts to explain how Hagakure‘s analysis of action is far removed from the Machiavellian philosophy that is common in the Western world. Indeed, the latter is a system

in which an outsider arbitrarily combines element a and element b, or manipulates power a and power b. [Tsunetomo’s] is exclusively a subjective philosophy, not an objective one. It is a philosophy of action, not of government.[26]

Despite its fundamentally indoctrinating nature, Mishima warns against Hagakure being interpreted as a political text and, instead, believes that it should be viewed as a set of guiding principles containing practical knowledge that can be universally applied.

The second characteristic that Mishima attributes to Hagakure, “A Philosophy of Love”, reinforces the comments he made earlier in relation to the contrasting values of carnal desire and romantic love. In Japan, he says, there always existed a tradition of passion combined with sexuality (koi), but never a tradition of love (ai). The Greeks, on the other hand, made a distinction between love (eros) and a love for mankind (agape), although eros went beyond the original notion of carnal desire and evolved, by way of Plato (423-347 BCE), into the purification of an idea through reason. Agape, on the other hand, was a purely spiritual love and was later incorporated within Christianity. The problem, however, for Mishima, lies in the fact that the European approach to love has always presented eros and agape as opposing concepts, so therefore when people in the West profess a purely non-sexual love for their country in the form of agape, something which is completely non-existent in traditional Japan, there is a fundamental difference between the European example and the Japanese tendency to combine both eros and agape. The love and affection shown towards the Emperor, for example, really was like falling in love and it is little wonder that the imperial family was worshipped and adored to such a great extent:

This concept is based on a firm belief that that which emanates from pure instinctive sincerity leads directly to an ideal to strive for, to die for if necessary.[27]

The third characteristic of Hagakure, “A Living Philosophy”, is discussed at some length and Mishima has no qualms when it comes to his acceptance of the fact that Tsunetomo’s work is riddled with contradictions. One of them, for example, maintains that whilst a Samurai must choose a swift death in a moment of crisis – as discussed earlier – he also needs to consider what he could be doing fifteen years into the future. Mishima attributes this literary inconsistency to the fact that Tsunetomo has no conception of time:

Time changes human beings, makes them inconsistent and opportunistic, makes them degenerate or, in a few cases, improve. However, if one assumes that humanity is always facing death, and that there is no truth except from moment to moment, then the process of time does not merit the respect we accord it.[28]

If time is irrelevant, therefore, it is believed that the Samurai will try to live every day as though it were his last.

As the title of this chapter suggests, Mishima’s discussion of Hagakure‘s third characteristic amounts to no less than forty-eight points. The first, “In Praise of Energy”, explains that a man can never possess too much energy and that a rejection of modesty is vital for the Samurai in his pursuit of positive action. Tsunetomo himself believed that the skill and training of a warrior is completely useless if he is not prepared to use it.

In “Decision”, Mishima reminds us that a Samurai must be resolute when faced with a crisis and, if necessary, always prepared to die:

If a man holds death in his heart, thinking that whenever the time comes he will be ready to die, he cannot possible take mistaken action. When a man takes mistaken action, [Tsunetomo] believes it must be in failing to die at the proper time. The proper time does not come along often, however. The choice between life and death may come only once in a lifetime.[29]

Mishima is aware, however, that Tsunetomo did not die in action and that he passed away in his sleep, but he considers this to be the work of nature and not an act of self-will. Hara-kiri, on the other hand, or ritual suicide, involves a conscious decision to sacrifice one’s own life in order to defend one’s honour. Death, therefore, is an act of nihilistic deliberation and results in the ultimate form of liberation.

The third principle is “Delicacy”. According to Hagakure, offering advice is something that must be done in a very careful, measured and diplomatic manner:

For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying the things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as brining shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.[30]

Mishima endorses Tsunetomo’s thoughts by pointing out that offering advice never functions as a truly effective social tool and that

nine times out of ten it makes people lose face, crushes their will, and creates a grudge.[31]

It is never explained why this is so, suffice it to say that Mishima agrees with Tsunetomo’s analysis of human psychology and the damage that can often result from sseeking misguided or incorrect counsel.

“Putting Principles Into Practice” explains how Mishima developed the ability to stifle a yawn in public by licking his upper lip, as Tsunetomo recommends in Hagakure. Given the strict codes of social etiquette that govern Japanese culture, this process is designed to stave off embarrassment and thus avoid being chastised by one’s fellows.

When discussing “Tolerance”, the fifth principle, Mishima notes that Hagakure is perfectly reasonable and understanding when dealing with those who fall into error. Tsunetomo’s metaphorical tale about a fish living in waters that are far from clear and often needing to hide amongst the seaweed for protection, is Hagakure‘s way of explaining that it is not always necessary for a Samurai to indicate that he has noticed the shortcomings of another. The strict asceticism that characterised traditional Japan prior to the Second World War was often tempered by a more tolerant attitude:

The Hagakure philosophy, which stresses the virtue of spontaneous action and bold decision, is a far cry from the bureaucratic ethic of frugality of palace maids inspecting the corners of a lacquer container to salvage one last grain of rice.[32]

Ironically, and as the author contends, in contemporary Japan that tendency to overlook the mistakes of others has gone too far and resulted in what Mishima regards as “a black fog” of moral degeneration:

That is not tolerance; it is merely laxity. Only when they are founded on strict rules of morality can overlooking and pretending not to hear qualify as human virtues; when these morals have collapsed, overlooking and not hearing may become inhuman vices.[33]

Turning his thoughts towards the issue of “Women”, Mishima believes that a female should remain at home and devote herself to the care and attention of her husband and children. He also compares Hagakure‘s position on women with the values of Ancient Sparta:

The man, however, went out and had love affairs with beautiful young men, or deported himself with prostitutes or his educated concubine-slaves, the hetaera. This is a good approximation of [Tsunetomo’s] views on women.[34]

The section on “Nihilism”, a tendency attributed to Mishima by several of his biographers, examines Tsunetomo’s comments about marionettes. Indeed, Hagakure makes it perfectly clear that humans lack free will and that they are to be regarded as mere puppets. Mishima explains why Tsunetomo adopts this stance:

At the very core of his personality is a deep, penetrating and yet manly “nihilism”. He scrutinises each moment to extract the meaning of life, but at heart he is convinced that life itself is nothing more than a dream.[35]

Mishima’s eighth principle, “The Objectivity of Righteousness”, comments on Tsunetomo’s belief in moral relativity. As a means of determining whether one’s actions are morally correct in relation to someone else, therefore, Hagakure recommends that a third party must be brought in to make the final judgement:

Purity of action is the purity of subjectivity. But if action can be based on righteousness, one must be able to test the purity of its righteousness by another method; in other words, by an objective standard.[36]

Judging actions independently, then, or in isolation from everything else, is insufficient because it cannot determine the nature of righteousness and this must lead to a consultation with someone who is not directly involved.

In “How To Run Your Life”, Mishima follows the example of Tsunetomo by insisting that even the most trivial and seemingly unimportant matters are taken extremely seriously. But nonetheless, Hagakure still makes a distinction between major beliefs and those of a comparatively minor nature, so that

at the moment of decision to act they may be carried out effortlessly, spontaneously. Minor beliefs are the philosophy that governs the trivia of day-to-day existence.[37]

Taking this approach, of course, however insignificant it sounds, is good practice for the most important decisions in life.

“Preparation and Decision” looks at the importance between theory and practice, thought and action. One cannot choose the hour of one’s death, Mishima argues, but one can certainly be prepared for it.

The eleventh principle is “Constant Resignation to the Perpetual Threat of Death”. Here, Mishima quotes from the Hagakure at some length, noting the pertinent comments that Tsunetomo makes in relation to the Samurai’s immaculate appearance and good personal hygiene. Taking care of oneself is vital, because the threat of death is always present in the life of the warrior and to be caught off-guard brings dishonour.

“Proper Behaviour at a Drinking Party” sounds fairly straightforward, at least until we learn that the average social gathering in modern Japan often results in severe drunkenness and, predictably, great embarrassment for all concerned. Even Hagakure, back in the eighteenth century, expressed a similar concern with destructive and compromising behaviour of this kind and Tsunetomo believes that excessive drinking leads to failure. For the Samurai, in particular, consuming too much alcohol can leave one vulnerable and unprepared in the face of the unexpected.

Moving on, in “A Morality of Appearances” Mishima deals with some comments made by Ruth Benedict in her 1946 work, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, in which she argues that Japanese civilisation is based on a “morality of shame”. Mishima accepts that it is important for the Samurai not to feel shame in the presence of his enemies, but that it is something which is concerned with external appearances:

The Samurai has no choice but to defend his honour and his morale by constant anticipation […] The Samurai’s conscience takes the form of the enemy itself. Thus, the essential characteristic of Hagakure is not an introspective morality but a morality concentrating on external reflection.[38]

Mishima discusses which moral approach – external or internal – has had the most success, using the example of Christianity to explain that whilst Catholics are answerable to the Church, their Protestant counterparts are accountable to themselves as individuals. Mishima believes that when man has to bear such a huge moral responsibility, it can result in extreme neurosis. Appearances, therefore, are very important, because even if someone is suffering on the inside they must demonstrate to others that they are still capable of shouldering the burden:

This view of morality, since it is physiologically based on the special vanity peculiar to men, is perhaps the supreme male view of morality.[39]

The notion of doing things to excess, which is recommended by Hagakure, is only very briefly discussed by Mishima in “A Philosophy of Extremism”. In fact Mishima shows that he wholeheartedly approves of extreme methods by quoting from Hagakure itself:

Although the Mean is the standard for all things, in military affairs a man must always strive to outstrip others […] In the stories of the elder warriors it is said that on the battlefield it is said that if one wills himself to outstrip warriors of accomplishment, and day and night hopes to strike down a powerful enemy, he will grow indefatigable and fierce of heart and will manifest courage.[40]

In his section on “The Education of Children”, a subject that Mishima discusses at some length, the author notes that whilst English children destined to become young gentlemen are trained to deal with social situations in later life, American offspring are encouraged to participate in conversation and express their opinions at a very young age. Samurai children, on the other hand, are never deliberately exposed to fear in the way that Western children are warned about the dark or made to feel nervous about loud noises or certain weather conditions. Practices of this kind, according to Hagakure, are quite senseless and always lead to timid children growing into timid adults. Interestingly, Mishima compares the liberal development of the Samurai child with the free-thinking education discussed in Emile by the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). He also adds that if

children are allowed to grow up freely in a child’s world without being threatened or unduly punished by their parents, they will not become cowardly or introverted.[41]

Mishima also criticises the rise of the domineering mother-type and boys who are so extraordinarily pampered that it leads, ultimately, to the exclusion of the father. This, he tells us, contributes to the feminisation of the male and the eventual dismantling of the father-son relationship.

“Sincerity in Human Relations”, Mishima believes, is essential when it comes to communicating with others. This follows Tsunetomo’s own thoughts from Hagakure, which suggest that one can only tell how sincere people really are when one becomes ill and has to depend upon others for support. Likewise, if someone helps a friend when he or she is suffering from a sickness, they should not be forgotten once the ailing individual has recovered.

The subsequent section, concerning “The Proper Time to Fire a Servant”, repeats Hagakure‘s belief that it is wise to continue to employ an inept servant, even after he has committed an indiscretion, and only dismiss him at the start of the following year.

“Man and Mirror” allows Mishima to elaborate upon the idea that men need to examine themselves regularly and that mirrors can be used as an aid to introspection. Hagakure notes than a man with an intelligent face, for example, is looked upon with suspicion, and that the correct expression is one that is reverent, stern and self-assured. Mishima explains:

Reverent” requires a humility that inspires trust in others, while “sternness” hints at an air of austerity and aloofness. What is needed to reconcile and bind together these two opposing elements is a serene, unflappable calm.[42]

Tsunetomo says much the same about cerebral types when he is quoted in Mishima’s discourse “On Intellectuals”:

Calculating people are contemptible. The reason for this is that calculation deals with loss and gain, and the loss and gain mind never stops. Death is considered loss and life is considered gain. Thus, death is something that such a person does not care for, and he is contemptible.[43]

Mishima adds that whilst our modern interpretation of an intelligentsia did not exist in eighteenth-century Japan, the country still had a class of Confucian scholars that gradually came to resemble something very similar. The philosopher, he says, tries to concoct elaborate theories in order to conceal his hatred and fear of death, whilst modern humanism – however benevolent and sympathetic it appears – is merely used to conceal the fact that someone does not wish to die in the place of another.

The next topic in Mishima’s commentary on Hagakure is “Mania for Death”. His disparaging remarks about intellectuals are followed up by a call to action. Tsunetomo, he says, is

not simply endorsing fascism. His ideal is the purest form of action, which automatically subsumes the virtues of loyalty and filial piety. But human action does not always take a predictable course.[44]

Mishima is referring to Hagakure‘s thoughts on the power of the fanatic, a man so infused with the spirit of an idea that none can prevent him from undertaking a particular course of action. As suggested above, this is the kind of anti-intellectualism that has often been associated with Fascism. However, this is because the intellect – as opposed to instinct – is usually absent whenever immediate action is required and therefore interferes with the kind of pre-ordained action that has, according to Mishima, been instituted by God.

Mishima begins section twenty-one, “Words and Deeds Alter the Heart”, with a few thoughts about the superior nature of Greek philosophy:

It is a common mistake these days to believe that words and deeds are the manifestations of conscience and philosophy, which in turn are the product of mind or heart. It is our common error to believe in the existence of heart or mind, conscience, thought, and abstract ideas, even when they are not directly revealed in conduct. However, for a people like the Greeks who trusted only in what they could see with their own eyes, this invisible heart or mind does not exist at all.[45]

Hagakure, meanwhile, suggests that both heart and mind can only really be known and understood by studying a person’s words and actions. Cowardly words, for example, lead to a cowardly heart and not the other way around. “The slightest flaw in word or deed,” Mishima tells us,

causes the collapse of one’s philosophy of life. This can be a hard truth to bear. If we believe in the existence of the heart or mind, in order to protect it, we must watch what we say and do. By taking meticulous care over the slightest word or deed, one will become unimaginably rich in new-found inner passion, and the heart will bear un-dreamed of fruit.[46]

Even verbal expressions of fear and slight exclamations of pain, according to Hagakure, diminish the reputation of a man in the eyes of his comrades.

The “Personal Advancement” of the Samurai is also very important, because developing the right skills is something that is only fortified later on by the arrival of the necessary strength and courage to see them through. In this sense, Tsunetomo favours the late developer. In “More Advice on Employing Servants”, on the other hand, Mishima simply repeats Hagakure‘s comments about the importance of praising one’s social inferiors and communicating with them on a regular basis.

“Spiritual Concentration” looks at the difference between Tsunetomo’s belief in the good Samurai as a finished article, and the less important issue of technical skill. It is important to have the necessary skills, of course, but it is also a question of maintaining the right perspective and Hagakure does not seek to encourage the Samurai to relegate his skills to the point that they become a mere function. The true emphasis, then, must be on the warrior as a well-rounded figure and not as a narrow specialist who can only excel in one particular field of expertise.

Given that Mishima has already criticised those periods of peace that have made both Western and Japanese societies weak and complacent, “The Language of a Peaceful Era” reiterates those views in relation to the Samurai always remaining true to himself:

One who in wartime employs rough and manly words appropriate to an age of war and in time of peace words appropriate to peacetime, is not a Samurai. It is essential for a Samurai to maintain logical consistency, and if one must show valour in one’s action during times of chaos, then one must demonstrate equal valour in words during a peaceful age.[47]

“Never a Word of Weakness” is compared to passages twenty-one (“Words and Deeds Alter the Heart”) and twenty-five (“The Language of a Peaceful Era”). The words are taken from Hagakure:

A warrior should not say something faint-hearted even casually. He should set his mind to this beforehand. Even in trifling matters the depths of one’s heart can be seen.[48]

“Contempt for Technical Skill”, which appears to conflict with the remarks made in section twenty-two (“Personal Advancement”), repeats Tsunetomo’s insistent belief that the warrior who concentrates solely on technical proficiency is virtually useless.

One of the largest passages in Mishima’s book, “Imparting and Receiving Moral Instruction”, sets out the insurmountable generation gap which, in Japan, means that older people are always considered superior to those who are younger. This means that

Young people who have reluctantly accepted the instruction of their elders no longer have the opportunity to receive instruction by the time they themselves are in a position to instruct their juniors. Thus spiritual stagnation begins, “arterio-sclerosis” sets in, and the result is large-scale resistance to social change.[49]

It is only in times of adversity, Mishima argues, that the views and opinions of young people have been sought and respected. Tsunetomo notes, for example, that during the Meiji Restoration a man who was over thirty years of age sometimes became obsolete once his own instruction had come to an end and, unless he found a youth whom he could instruct himself, soon fell into bad habits.

In “Harmony and Humility”, we are informed that Hagakure seems to have contradicted itself once again. Previously, of course, we were informed that excess is something to be celebrated, but here the text comes out in praise of social etiquette and restraint. Mishima explains:

When [Tsunetomo] gives us such bits of random practical advice, he often contradicts himself most shamelessly. This is part of the strange charm of Hagakure.[50]

And then we arrive at section thirty, which concerns the Samurai’s approach to “Age”. Tsunetomo points out that beyond forty years of age, a man cannot rely on brute strength alone and must begin to rely on strength of character:

According to the person and the rank, though a person has passed the age of forty, if he has no vitality, he will get no response from others.[51]

In order to avoid confusion, however, Mishima clarifies this point further:

What is “strength”? It is not to be carried away by attempts at wisdom. It is not to go overboard in judgement. [Tsunetomo] knew what it was like to watch patiently while his motivation to action was crushed by wisdom and judgement. And he had seen many people lose their strength as they reached the age of discernment, so that even their newly gained wisdom and judgement were rendered ineffectual. If one gains wisdom only at the age of forty, one must retain the strength to put it to use.[52]

“Adversity”, which is possibly the shortest section in Mishima’s work, explains that one must never lose heart when things do not always proceed as expected. “Secret Love”, meanwhile, looks at the superior value of unrequited love. If, on the other hand, love blossoms to the extent that it reaches fulfilment, the Hagakure tells us that it is diminished. This may seem like a rather strange and alien concept to the average Western mind, but Mishima exaplains why Tsunetomo takes such a view:

The stature of love has become insignificant, and undeclared love is rare. Love is losing its scope; lovers are losing the courage to surmount obstacles, the revolutionary passion to change social morality; love is losing its abstract meaning. In concrete terms, the lover loses the joy of having won his love and the sorrow of having failed to win her: he loses the wide spectrum of human emotion, the power to idealise the object of his affection.[53]

The object itself, therefore, is also lessened considerably and each has a negative effect on the other.

Mishima’s interesting discussion of “Epicureanism”, a philosophical notion based on the materialistic teachings of Epicurus (341-270 BCE) and founded around 307 BCE, is centred around the ideas contained in Walter Pater’s 1885 novel, Marius the Epicurean. In Japan, the book soon became a best-seller and trod a fine line between hedonism – said to be the ultimate realisation of Epicurean values – and stoicism. Mishima attempts to explain why:

Suppose you have a date with a certain girl and spend a night at a hotel with her. The next morning, feeling somehow let down, you go to the earliest show at the movie theatre. What you feel then, barely able to suppress a yawn while watching a grade-B movie, is no longer hedonistic pleasure. Hedonism is keeping in one’s heart the strict rules peculiar to hedonism and taking care never to overstep them.[54]

But whilst this sounds rather odd, given the licentious behaviour that most people associate with hedonism itself, Mishima believes that Epicureanism is not connected to carnal pleasure because once a pleasure is satisfied it immediately fades into obscurity. The idea, then, is to perpetuate the feeling of pleasure as far as possible, so that one can live a truly happy and contented life. Meanwhile, the connection between Epicureanism and Hagakure can be found in the way that Tsunetomo advises his readers to live for the moment and focus entirely on one’s own beliefs and nothing else.

“The Times”, in which Mishima examines Tsunetomo’s analysis of the period in which Hagakure was written, argues that nothing can resist the flow of time. In the words of Hagakure itself,

although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation. This is the mistake of people who are attached to past generations. They have no understanding of this point.[55]

The thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth sections of Mishima’s commentary, “Samurai Valour I” and “Samurai Valour II”, merely quote Tsunetomo. The first deals with the importance of becoming – at least in one’s own mind – the best warrior in Japan, and the second with the fanaticism required to achieve it.

“Once Again, Nihilism”, which marks a return to the subject previously discussed in Mishima’s seventh instalment of the forty-eight principles of Hagakure, deals with Tsunetomo’s thoughts on the ultimate futility of energy and action. Hagakure‘s insistence, in other words, that we humans are mere puppets able to perform a few basic tasks and that our lives inevitably lead to ruin and meaninglessness. The similarities between Mishima’s thoughts on nihilism and those of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), are discussed at length by Roy Starrs in his Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima (1994).

Mishima then attempts to account for the Samurai tendency to use “Cosmetics”, something which must be distinguished from the vanity of modern youth. In the Taisho Period (1913-1925), for example, warriors used Pompeiian cream to ensure that their appearance was in keeping with the Samurai tradition. But there are more significant and important reasons for using cosmetics:

Men must be the colour of cherry blossoms, even in death. Before committing ritual suicide, it was customary to apply rouge to the cheeks in order not to lose life colour after death. Thus the morality of not being ashamed before one’s enemy requires that one beautify one’s appearance just before death, taking precautions to preserve the robustness of life.[56]

The morality that Mishima is referring to, of course, is tied up with aesthetics:

What is beautiful must be strong, vivid, and brimming with energy. This is the first principle; the second is that what is moral should be beautiful.[57]

The subsequent section, “How to Hold a Meeting”, is based on an extract from Book Two of Hagakure, in which Tsunetomo suggests that people should be invited along to important gatherings on a purely individual basis. This, he says, is to safeguard against people opposing the decisions made during the event itself. Mishima, however, has nothing further to add.

The passage dealing with “Shinto”, Japan’s indigenous religion dating from 712 CE, notes that the religion’s belief that death and blood represent forms of defilement that must be ritually cleansed with water, is in direct opposition to the way of the Samurai. Mishima, however, tells us that there is a theory that water replaced death as a great cleansing agent and that the Samurai can hardly avoid blood and death when he is on the battlefield. Hagakure, too, despite continuing to respect Shintoism as the country’s most traditional form of spirituality, is adamant that warriors must never compromise with the ancient taboos that often surround this religion.

In “Epicureanism Again”, Mishima simply repeats the idea that the way of the Samurai is death and alludes to Hagakure‘s thoughts about human existence being short and that life itself is there to be lived to the utmost. Tsunetomo, it seems, liked to spend much of his life sleeping. This simple pleasure, therefore, is firmly in keeping with the Epicurean spirit.

The same views about life and pleasure are expressed in “Tension”, although in this case Mishima applies them to the destiny of the warrior:

If for the sake of moral goals a man always strives to live beautifully, and if he considers death as the ultimate standard of that beauty, then all his days must be a continuum of tension.[58]

Similarly, Hagakure says that dignity can also be found in the aggressive persona of the warrior. Someone who lives close to violence and aggression, therefore, is always walking in the midst of beauty.

As for the concept of “Dignity” itself, Mishima defines it as

the outward manifestation of inviolable self-respect; it is what makes a man a man. It is the firm belief that one would rather die than be despised by others. And the expression of such an attitude in social conduct inevitably causes people to keep their distance.[59]

“Egotism” – not to be confused with the ‘egoism’ of the West – is a different matter and Hagakure, we discover, insists that a man who abstains from idle gossip about others whilst remaining tight-lipped about those whom he admires, always retains his independence.

The next topic in the commentary is “Effeminacy”. It has been suggested that Mishima himself was rather effeminate in some ways, despite the masculine path that he set out for himself in later life. But here he openly condemns the kind of unmanly passivity that was already spreading throughout Japan when Tsunetomo was dictating Hagakure to his young disciple. As Mishima himself says:

Beauty is not beauty for the sake of being loved. It is a beauty of strength, for the sake of appearances and to avoid losing face. When one tries to be beautiful in order to be loved, effeminacy begins. That is spiritual cosmetics. And in this day and age, when even bitter medicine is encased in a sugar coating, people will accept only what is palatable and easy to chew. The needs for resistance to the currents of the age is the same now as then.[60]

According to Mishima, “The Proper Attitude in Human Relations” must be based on self-respect. This, in light of Hagakure‘s warnings about not visiting one’s friends or neighbours unexpectedly.

Mishima does not comment on the section he calls “Pride”, believing that Hagakure speaks for itself:

There are two kinds of dispositions, inward and outward, and a person who is lacking in one or the other is worthless. It is, for example, like the blade of a sword, which one should sharpen well and put back in its scabbard, periodically taking it out and knitting one’s eyebrows as in an attack, wiping off the blade, and then placing it in its scabbard again.[61]

A person who keeps his sword on display at all times, therefore, will simply drive people away. At the same time, of course, if a warrior keeps his sword hidden for too long it will become rusty and his reputation will begin to decline accordingly.

“The Benefits of Time” concedes that human existence is very limited, but also looks at some of the positive aspects connected with longer life:

From one point of view, whether you die at twenty or sixty life is the same ephemeral wisp. From another point of view, however, time beneficently bestowed on this survivor a cool and penetrating wisdom and knowledge of human life that one who dies at twenty will never know.[62]

Longevity, therefore, brings with it a sense of understanding about the more important things in life, so whilst Tsunetomo’s Hagakure preaches a message of nihilism it also continues to offer sound practical advice. Remaining healthy in life, too, is vital because it actually helps to prepare the way for a good death:

Carried this far, [Tsunetomo’s] philosophy of death changes into a philosophy of life, but at the same time it reveals a still deeper nihilism.[63]

Thus concludes the forty-eighth and final part of Mishima’s segment on “The Living Philosophy” of Hagakure, itself part of the three characteristics.

The last chapter in Mishima’s book is entitled The Japanese Image of Death and the author notes that a book called Le Mort by the French novelist, Paul Bourget (1852-1935), recommends that soldiers going off to fight take with them a copy of Hagakure. Furthermore, Mishima’s chapter examines four key aspects of death in light of Tsunetomo’s attitude towards the Samurai tradition. The first of these, “Death According to Hagakure and Death for the Kamikaze Suicide Squadrons”, says that whilst Japan has often borrowed her philosophy of life from the country’s European counterparts, nothing can rival the nation’s own innate philosophy of death. He compares the fearless Kamikaze pilots of World War Two with the Samurai warriors discussed by Tsunetomo:

The suicide squadrons were called the most inhuman method of attack, and after the war the young men who had died in them were dishonoured. However, the spirit of those young men who for the sake of their country hurled themselves to certain death is closest in the long history of Japan to the clear ideal of action and death offered in Hagakure…[64]

Mishima accepts that some of these pilots will have been forced into actions of this kind, but he is convinced that they still represent the epitome of the quintessential Japanese warrior. The Traditionalist author, Julius Evola (1898-1974), agrees:

Japan has offered an example, unique in its kind, of the coexistence of a traditional orientation with the adoption, on a material plane, with the structures of modern technological society. In the aftermath of World War II, a millenary continuity was shattered and an equilibrium lost, thus marking the disappearance of the last state in the world that still recognised the principle of the “solar” regality of pure divine right.[65]

Following on from this, in “There is No Distinction Between Chosen Death and Obligatory Death”, Mishima suggests that deep within Tsunetomo,

who was forbidden to commit suicide at the death of his daimyo, there remained deep tidepools of nihilism after death receded and abandoned him. If man is not perfectly free to choose death, he cannot be completely coerced into it. Even in the case of capital punishment, the extreme form of obligatory death, if the condemned tries to resist death spiritually, it ceases to be a simple obligatory death. Even death by a nuclear bomb, that overwhelming death by coercion, to the victims themselves was death by destiny.[66]

He goes on to explain that there is often a paradoxical dimension to death. In the case of suicide, for example, which appears to be an expression of free will, fate is often the determining factor. Similarly, a fatal illness – which seems to render people completely helpless – can sometimes be the result of an individual bringing the illness upon themselves. As Marguerite Yourcenar explains in her 1980 work, Mishima: Vision of the Void:

In the Hagakure, however, it is less a question of facing death on a firm footing than of imagining it as one of many events, whose shape we cannot foresee, in a world of perpetual movement of which we are all a part.[67]

Returning to the issue of the Kamikaze pilots discussed earlier, Mishima says that

no one has the right to say of Hagakure and the special suicide squadron that death for one is death by choice and death for the other is by coercion. The distinction can only be made in the cool, grim reality of an individual facing death; it is a question of the human spirit in the ultimate state of tension.[68]

The third part of this chapter, “Can One Die for a Just Cause?”, takes this argument even further by suggesting that opposition to specific military actions – such as the Vietnam War, for example – inevitably allows for a sense of conditional self-righteousness in the individual and Mishima abhors such a distinction:

as long as human beings carry on their lives within the framework of a nation, can they really limit themselves to such righteous objectives? And even without taking the nation as a premise for existence, even when one lives as an individual transcending the nation, will one have the opportunity to choose to die for a just goal for humanity?[69]

What Mishima means by this, is that self-righteousness of this kind is a man-made concept and has no place when it comes to remaining loyal to the nation itself. Deciding whether or not a cause is just, he says, is irrelevant because actions can be condemned years later by those who write the history books. “The fact that we are still alive,” says Mishima

may mean that we have already been chosen for some purpose, and if life is not something we have chosen for ourselves, then maybe we are not ultimately free to die.[70]

Finally, “No Death is in Vain” states that the most important aspect of death is purity of action. As Tsunetomo points out in Hagakure:

We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaining one’s aim is a dog’s death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.[71]

Mishima explains how the traditional view differs to the contemporary attitude towards death:

Accomplishing one’s mission, in modern terms, means to die righteously for a just cause, and Hagakure is saying that on the point of death one is by no means able to evaluate the justice of the cause.[72]

Human beings, he contends, will always find some excuse for prolonging their existence, but Mishima believes that it is better to die gloriously than to continue to live the inferior and ignoble life of the unfulfilled coward.

To conclude, then, by seeking to expand upon the eternal wisdom and fortitude that is found among the pages of Hagakure, Mishima’s efforts to transpose the values of the Samurai into the twentieth century and beyond must be seen as a worthy attempt to return Japan to its traditional past. Those living in the West today and who are now witnessing the impending twilight of their civilisation, would do well to incorporate the esteemed principles of Hagakure into their daily lives.


1. William Scott Wilson (Ed.); “Introduction” in Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, William Scott Wilson [Ed.], (Kodansha International, 2000), p..21.

2. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan (Souvenir Press, 1977), p.4.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Yukio Mishima; “Writer’s Holiday” (1955) quoted in Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.7.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., p.8.

8. Ibid., p.10

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p.15.

11. Ibid., pp.16-17.

12. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.40.

13. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.18.

14. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., pp.29-30.

15. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., pp.20-21.

16. Ibid., pp.21-22.

17. Ibid., pp.22-23.

18. Ibid., p.23.

19. Ibid., p.24.

20. Ibid., p.25-26.

21. Ibid., p.27.

22. Ibid., pp.28-29.

23. Ibid., p.29.

24. Ibid., p.34.

25. Ibid., p.39.

26. Ibid., pp.39-40.

27. Ibid., pp.41-42.

28. Ibid., p.43.

29. Ibid., p.45.

30. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.27.

31. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.47.

32. Ibid., p.50.

33. Ibid., pp.51-52.

34. Ibid., p.52.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid., p.53.

37. Ibid., p.54.

38. Ibid., pp.59-60.

39. Ibid., p.61.

40. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.45.

41. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.64.

42. Ibid., p.66.

43. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.50.

44. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.69.

45. Ibid., p.70.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid, p.73.

48. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.56.

49. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., pp.75-76.

50. Ibid., p.77.

51. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.65.

52. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.77.

53. Ibid., p.79.

54. Ibid., pp.80-81.

55. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.74.

56. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.84.

57. Ibid.

58. Ibid., p.90.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid., pp.91-92.

61. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.91.

62. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.93.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid., p.101.

65. Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World (Inner Traditions International, 1995), p.236.

66. Ibid., pp.101-102.

67. Marguerite Yourcenar; Mishima: Vision of the Void (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987), p.131.

68. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.103.

69. Ibid., p.104.

70. Ibid.

71. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, op.cit., p.23.

72. Yukio Mishima; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, op.cit., p.105.


Evola, Julius; Revolt Against the Modern World (Inner Traditions International, 1995).

Mishima, Yukio; Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan, Kathryn Sparling [Trans.], (Souvenir Press, 1977).

Morris, Ivan; The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1975).

Nitobe, Inazo; Bushido: The Soul of Japan (Kodansha International, 2002).

Nukariya, Kaiten; The Religion of the Samurai: Courage, Loyalty, Sincerity, Self-Control (Axiom Publishing, 2009).

Rankin, Andrew; Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide (Kodansha International, 2011).

Ross, Christopher; Mishima’s Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend (Harper Perennial, 2006).

Sansom, George; A History of Japan, 1334-1615 (Stanford University Press, 1961).

Sansom, George; A History of Japan, 1615-1867 (Stanford University Press, 1963).

Starrs, Roy; Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima (University of Hawaii Press, 1994).

Stokes, Henry Scott; The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1985).

Tsunetomo, Yamamoto; Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, William Scott Wilson [Ed.], (Kodansha International, 2000).

Yourcenar, Marguerite; Mishima: A Vision of the Void (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.