Mishima's Sword
Christopher Ross
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Buy *Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend* by Christopher Ross online

Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend
Christopher Ross
Da Capo Press
272 pages
November 2006
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Yukio Mishima, one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, is perhaps unique in that more has been written about the manner of his spectacular death than on his literature.

In 1970, Mishima committed seppuku or hara-kiri, the Japanese tradition of suicide by disemboweling. Over the years, there have been many speculations and theories on why Mishima did what he did; no clear answer emerged. Now Christopher Ross who set out to understand Mishima, his life and experiences, may with Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend have shed light on the author's death. Says Ross,

Nihilism was, for Mishima, both a personal issue, an insight or even simply a nagging doubt that his life had meaning, and a more general concern, a manifestation of yukoku, a state of regret about the decline of spirituality of Japan. In Mishima's view nihilism was the inevitable result of abandoning the Emperor as a divinity, and hence as a centre of ultimate value, a source of immutable otherness: a focus of meaning in an otherwise meaningless world of transitory things. I began to wonder whether by his death Mishima hoped to stimulate a return to the values of a Cultural Emperor.
Ross, a travel writer clearly fascinated and awed by Japanese tradition starts his quest for the metaphysical and spiritual with the material and tangible: Mishima's sword, that which was used by his assistant to decapitate him (in hara-kiri, the man disembowels himself while a follower cuts off the head in a single stroke).

This journey takes him from Buddhist temples and press archives (for news clippings of the suicide) to museums and through history and the legacies of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Meiji emperor, and the fierce Samurai class. Interspersed are stories of Ross' own childhood and his love for Eastern martial arts, as are delvings into Mishima's life, his delicate health in his childhood, his homosexuality and his ultimate decision to end his life.

Ross does not find the sword easily, and when he does it is rusted and somewhat damaged. He is a bit disillusioned until realization dawns:

Mishima's sword, was, I realised, more real to me as an idea., an archetype for some quixotic grasp at a fantasy part, and didn't seem to need to exist as two feet or so of decaying edged steel.
The last thing that Yukio Mishima wrote before leaving his home to commit suicide was a short note : Human life is limited, but I want to live forever. Perhaps in these words more than in the sword lies the answer to the mystery of his death.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Shampa Chatterjee, 2007

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