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Sun and Steel by J. Bester,Yukio Mishima

Author: J. Bester,Yukio Mishima
Book title: Sun and Steel
ISBN10: 0436281554
ISBN13: 978-0436281556
Publisher: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd (March 8, 1971)
Language: English
Pages: 104
Size PDF: 1635 kb
Size FB2: 1598 kb
Size ePUB: 1821 kb
Rating: 4.9 ✯
Votes: 825
Subcategory: World Literature

Sun and Steel by J. Bester,Yukio Mishima

A meditation on why a modern Japanese writer rejected the veracity of the word for the spiritual discipline of physical action, culminating in the gesture at the Self-Defense Force Headquarters in November 1970.
Reviews (7)
This book is a literary type that was once common in Japan, the self-obsessive partial memoir. But Mishima's style, tone, and content are absolutely unique.

He writes about the relation between world and word, body and mind or spirit. But to me, the most interesting aspect of this book, and Mishima's whole outlook is something that's often overlooked. It is this, he could not stand ugliness. He shrank from (his own perception of) ugliness as we would from a rabid rat. So then, how did he define beauty and ugliness? You may call it shallow but no matter, this book makes no apologies: beauty or ugliness lie in physical appearance, body and face.

To most of us there are many kinds of beauty, and maybe that multi-perception keeps us going - we see or imagine the beauty of inner virtue, selfless giving, artistic projection, humility or humor and so on. A wide expansive definition.

But there's room on your bookshelf for somebody who takes an uncompromising view: beauty is the beauty of your body and your appearance. While it can be crafted and guided by external method (who knows what Mishima would have thought of the cosmetic surgery craze now sweeping China), ultimately physical beauty to him is the only important projection of the soul.

The insanely monomaniacal American football coach Vince Lombardi once said "Winning isn't everything - it's the only thing". This book, despite all its meandering and subtle threads, is really saying just that, about beauty - it's the only thing. And Mishima, at mid-life, was losing all illusions about attaining or retaining any personal beauty.

Of course what sheds the interesting backlight on this book for most readers is Mishima's dramatic seppuku at Ichigaya Japan self-defense force headquarters. (Reminds me of the wit who stated, when informed of Sylvia Plath's suicide, "Good career move".) People read this book to try to unravel the mystery of it.

But in light of what I've said above, about beauty and Mishima's uniquely narrow definition of it, this book leaves no mystery to his action. Just as Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray slashed the ugliness accumulated on his horribly aging portrait, Mishima, lacking a magic painting, did just the same to his own body - sentenced it to death for the crimes of aging and ugliness.

It is entirely summed up by the following single line from 'Sun and Steel':

"I had already lost the morning face that belongs to youth alone."
An amazing man, his principals maybe extreme but necessary for modern man
Buyer beware: This edition is held together with a politician's promise. Save yourself the trouble and buy the hardcover - the text is, itself, a masterpiece.
Fast and Easy!
Sun and Steel is on its face a story about physical and ideological transformation through the realization and experience of bodybuilding and martial arts. For westerners in the post-Schwarzenegger world, "sun and steel" conjures images of ye olde California body-building culture, and Mishima's work has some aesthetic connection with that, too. However, it needs to be remembered that sun and steel in the Japanese context have very different meanings, referring both to the Japanese artistic and martial traditions and to Imperialism and militarism. While it is not the topic per se of this book, the meaning of the book is the conflation in Mishima's mind of these three things--the physical body, traditional Japanese aesthetics, and WWII-era totalitarianism. While it is not quite fair to call Mishima a fascist, one does need to answer the question of why Mishima's costumes for photos included loin clothes, swords, and modern military uniforms, but not traditional armor. Or why his books are about soldiers and martial artists but he didn't write historical novels of the Edo or Sengoku periods. Or why he studied karate, kendo, and iaido rather than enrolling in a traditional school of martial arts. Or why he took up western-style body-building rather than engaging in traditional Japanese physical culture. In discussing the Shield Society, his private army, Mishima described a triangular relationship between comrades and the Emperor, where the Emperor acted as a mystical bond between men. And in an interview, the headmaster of a school of traditional bujutsu described the emphasis on death as a modern and decadent misunderstanding of the samurai, who valued life, as they valued service and success over romantic death.

Sun and Steel is a fascinating book, eccentric if not unique. And it will probably be enjoyed by anyone seriously at odds with modern times. But it is not written by a true reactionary so much as by an aesthetic who remained true to the visions of his youth. Mishima's opposition is to the democracy that forcibly replaced the mid-20th century Imperial system, not to the modernity that supplanted Japan's traditional values, arts, and politics.

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