Two bedside items in the hotel room: a card saying “If you want Massage, call Front Desk” and a copy of the New Testament. Chacun a son goût . . . and the customer is always right. Music wafts from the panels as a tiny boy brings in my suitcase— two of his size could fit into it—without a murmur. He is not ingratiating but proud; he eyes me as an equal.
Outside, Tokyo sprawls somber and steamy in the summer heat. Everything is gray or brown, a tangle of industrial cylinders and pipes nearby, wooden cottages beside them. Dull compared with the leaping reds and greens of Peking. Hardly a pretty city, and formless, without a center. But how purposeful. Each person, beaming and bowing, goes about his appointed duty, working hard yet still cheerful. Already I sense, and still do on departing, a power and vigor which call to mind “New World” as used when tired societies talk of rising societies. Stand in Tokyo, feel the buoyancy, the belief in itself, of Japan, and it seems that if the United States’s sense of mission has slackened, since Vietnam, Japan’s is surely (once more) beginning.
The sounds and smells of Japan! The tinkle of a wind-bell; Japanese laughter, sharp and brittle, a cascade of clicks like one of Nippon’s technical wonders. Japanese smells are oblique, austere, unlike the richer, lusher smells of Taiwan. Taipei smells of vegetation and stale food and dirt; Tokyo of chrome and gasoline and fresh tatami—the smells of modernity and development. More delicate smells are also found. The sandalwood of lanterns, almost intoxicating. And by night the Moorish aroma of tempura —though oddly blended with gasoline fumes.
Cities in China do not smell either like Tokyo or like Taipei. Modernity, in its bureaucratic Communist form, has muffled the agrarian lushness of Chinese smells in China today. Peking and Canton smell of plastic, paper, glue. How tempting, if wild, to build a minitheory of modernity around the smells of three kinds of East Asian city.
Japanese technical and organizational finesse can make the West seem comparatively preindustrial. Edward Bellamy’s vision, eighty years ago, of Boston as an organized social machine seems more likely to appear in Japan than in America. It is not only that taxi doors open and shut mechanically; that the time of day appears on the corner of TV screens; that you may telephone while speeding 200 kilometers an hour on a train. Social character somehow takes on the temper of the machine’s precision.
To Tokyo from Gotemba by bus. A table of fares in colored lights clicks around as the journey proceeds. Your fare is calculated by reference to a number designating the place where you got on. At each stop, lights flash and the fare opposite your number rises so many yen. Destination reached, you check the table, and without a word pass in the money. The driver, passive as a sphinx, has a tape recorder with all necessary announcements stored up in a sweet female voice.
In the railway Bellamy seems to have come true. Passengers wait in columns, at intervals along the platform, so that when the train stops, each door whistles open opposite a waiting column. The sallow, black-haired Japanese stand impassive, calm, and disciplined. Then they glide into the jaws of the train and are delivered, like packets of chips, to their destination.
Even the humblest operations are imbued with organizational rationality. Walking from the Oriental Institute, I pause to eat at a little stall. Calico squares, in the usual dirty brown color, each with a Chinese character on it advertising the wares, hang over a charcoal stove. Beef, liver, and chicken, in tiny pieces treated like precious stones, are cooked on skewers with fierce concentration by a man and his wife. He tends the skewers, she hands me a dish like a toy ashtray. I take one skewer after another, for they are succulent; the empty skewers go onto the dish. Eating, I wonder how they will know what to charge me. No need to worry! At the end, the grim and graceful lady gathers up my empty skewers from the tiny dish, and calculates the cost from the number, size, and type of the skewers. She writes 360 yen on a piece of paper, and for the first time looks up at me and demurely smiles as I pay her.
This precision notwithstanding, Tokyo is baffling and hard to navigate because of its gargantuan size. Some 27 million people live within a radius of sixty miles; 15 million within a radius of thirty miles. Japan, with Britain, is one of the most urbanized countries: three quarters of the population live in towns of 20,000 people or more. In 1955, 40 percent worked in agriculture; in 1965, 24 percent; and by 1975, the figure will be about 10 percent. Asia’s “peasant” image hides the fact that it is also the region of the largest and most numerous urban agglomerations. The world’s two largest cities are Asian
_— Tokyo and Shanghai—and while Europe (in
1967) had sixteen cities with more than a million people each, Asia had thirty-eight.
Dinner on a hot evening with a Japanese economist. As I sit, tormented, in the cross-legged position, dishes arrive on our “coffee table” from all sides, brought each time by a different waitress. K. sketches a picture of the social ills of Japan and the high promise of China. It is a frequent theme among Japanese left intellectuals. What the workingmen think is another question. Man does not live by promise alone, and millions of Japanese proletarians vote not for socialists or Communists but for the LiberalDemocratic Party of the present Prime Minister, Eisaku Sato.
As our debate evaporates, we prowl through this “night district” where certain of the Tokyo Establishment keep their second and third wives and come for extracurricular pastimes. These humble streets do not glitter externally; the charms are veiled by doors and fences. Along the narrow lanes black sedans with clean white covers over the seats are drawn up, like dark fish resting in the weeds. The drivers wait patiently, consoled to glimpse now and then a powdered beauty, lips crimson and hair jet black, shuffling along the dusty sidewalk. Dawn comes, superb in gentle gray and blue across the neon, and finds them still waiting. Inside the low brown buildings, bankers, industrialists, Liberal-Democratic politicians are at play; laden tables, steaming baths, beds.
What changes over recent years? Worries about the economy creep in, though Japan is still today’s economic wonder of the world. There are labor shortages (the birthrate, 3.5 percent in 1950, is now well under half that percentage, and the number of youths entering the labor force this year—1.2 million—is 20 percent less than in 1965); the problem of the environment rears up; there are gathering clouds of an international trade war that could pit Japan painfully against its key Western friends.
Family ties keep weakening; the individual Japanese is tending to cut loose from the familial obligations and restraints which bound his forebears. English advances as a tongue, yet with infinite difficulty; the Japanese find English harder than do the Chinese, and even today the English-speaking visitor has as much language trouble in Tokyo as in Peking. The motorcar, no less than in Europe and America, becomes the lethal cockroach of urban life. Exotic behavior, dress, and products—there is a rash of French boutiques—now spot Tokyo streets. Golf is much in vogue, and bowling, too. Interest in and awareness of Asia grow, though they start from a low level; there are, it is said, more scholars studying Asia in California than in Japan.
To ponder these last two points: The Japanese are good at mixing exoticism with prudent moderation. Capable of wild flights of night life, they yet know when to stop; discipline and authority remain features of the culture. A Japanese may celebrate with verve and panache, in such a tide of romanticism you forget he is a square businessman by day; but he will not neglect to go home and sleep, to wake up fresh and help increase the GNP next day.
On Southeast Asia, Japan has a jerky record. Historically more insular than the Chinese, the Japanese have not settled abroad to the same degree: there are no “Japantowns” to match the “Chinatowns” of Saigon, Bangkok, Djakarta, and half the major cities of the globe. Japanese intellectuals have no conception of an “Asian intellectual community”; they look instead to Europe and compare themselves with European counterparts. When Japan did “go into Asia” it was with bells ringing and lights flashing, an affair of plunder and terror. Today, many Japanese are ambivalent about the new, economic thrust of Japan into the region. Given the smugness in Japan about the rest of Asia, bad past experience, and the monthly-rising apprehension within Asia about Japanese power, it is hard to be sure that Japanese economic penetration will not lead to tensions and even conflict.
Ominously, sections of the left are almost as smug and implicitly imperialist about Asia as the rightists. Said an influential writer, who admires China and wants to see drastic social change in Southeast Asia: “I am doubtful that the revolution can come, in most cases, without outside stimulus to shock the society. It took outside assault to bring revolution to China.” One guess from where the outside stimulus in the 1970s and 1980s might come! Japanese “protection” of Korea; “tutelage” for Indonesia; “co-prosperity” with the Philippines? And there would be Japanese, apparently not only on the right, ready to pop up and defend a Japanese assault on Asia as “for Asia’s own good,” just as some of their parents did when Japan invaded China in 1931 and 1937.
Like the British. Japanese are practical in presenting food. They actually show you, by means of plastic models in the restaurant window, just what each dish looks like. Quite different from the French and Chinese, who, far from displaying the dishes, give them extravagant names that offer small clue to the contents. Someone whose grasp of the language is only fair can find a French or Chinese menu tough going. But the Japanese do not hide their cuisine behind allusive terminology; and they offer a sales model to bring the thing right down to earth. If French cooking is “synthetic,” German “eclectic,” and English “crudely empirical,” as Edward Bernstein once said, then Japanese cooking is most like English.
Lunch today at a noodle shop: bean curd, fish soup burdened with noodles, and (egg) cup after cup of sharp green tea. The restaurant is spacious and airy, unlike the many where diners line up in rows facing a hot plate, as if waiting to be made up in a theatrical dressing room. Dinner is elegant but unappetizing: almost-raw bean pods; dry, cold, shrunken fish, then raw fish; and tempura, with glistening batter tough as tinsel. These foods, especially the raw fish, call to mind what Churchill (according to Macmillan) once said at the Savoy in London when a dull and “crudely empirical” pudding was set before him: “Take this pudding away,” the old lion growled to the waiter, “it has no theme.” Bland, bare, undercultivated, many Japanese dishes have no theme.
Younger Japanese flock at night to coffee shops, where they perch gracefully on tiny stools and sip sodas as Western classical music plays. There is a buoyancy and straightforward charm about the ambience of these places, which is different from the either cynical or zany, either sad-subdued or obliteratingly noisy, ambience of youth places in the United States. Japanese coffee shops are also clean and smart, with superb service. The people are invariably neat and well polished, with sparkling eyes; the girls have Dresden shoulders and flawless complexions.
Their “alienation” seems less serious than that of substantial portions of American youth. For whatever they reject, oppose, or despise, they do not, like their American counterparts, hate their own country. If anything, they have fewer doubts about their worth as Japanese than those Japanese now in their thirties who were shaped during the years of the American Occupation. The country is politically divided, certainly. “No less so,” one newspaperman put it to me, “than the formally divided countries around us— Korea, Vietnam, China.” But I am struck as much by the underlying homogeneity; the pride in being Japanese; the deeply felt, if currently muted, nationalism of this country that on the surface, but maybe only on the surface, is so ready to please.
More substantial matters than cuisine bring Britain to the mind of a visitor in Japan. Both countries are insular, not easy of real access to the foreigner, holding him at a distance by the art of almost paralytic politeness. You could say of the British what Ichiro Kawasaki, in his disarming commentary Japan Unmasked, has said of his fellow Japanese: they are courteous to the point of being officious.
This civility often endears Japan to Britons. Is it due to a partly parallel social experience? Both are packed tightly into small islands. Both developed a rigid pattern of social skills and norms. Both have a strong sense of hierarchy, which goes along, however, and perhaps is made possible by, a rare homogeneity of population. Both are far removed from the character of melting-pot societies and from the cosmopolitanism and largess of continental peoples. Both possess a fundamental shrewdness and practicality; queen and emperor still reign and are honored in their sphere, but the domain of business is no less inviolate and sacred than that of royalty.
Both are traditionalist; they like to pour new wine into old bottles. Thus, after defeat in the War, the Japanese insisted their recovery take place within the Japanese system (the Chinese, by contrast, have responded to the various challenges of modernity by going whole hog, crying out for instant “death to the old”). Similarly, Britain poured her revolution, ultimately, into existing institutional vessels, keeping even the gaudy symbols of monarchy and House of Lords (the French, by contrast, in 1789 elaborately declared the old dead and bankrupt).
If Britain in the nineteenth century was both a land of tradition and the “workshop of the world,” by the end of the twentieth century Japan also may be both of those things.
Afternoon tea with an editor, in a plush boardroom high above central Tokyo. On the street below, as if on a different planet, an ultraright group is broadcasting, and Zengakuren, a leftist student organization, is collecting signatures against U.S. activity in Vietnam.
My host has been to both South and North Vietnam. He talks about the war; I watch his large, grave eyes and well-ordered hair. It is futile for an AngloSaxon to try and place him on a left-right political spectrum. He recalls, in the voice of a man telling epic tales, watching North Vietnamese peasants till the fields, constantly interrupted by American planes, which they shot at with rifles. Yet the landscape of his mind contains no Communist philosophy.
Discussing the United States and China, he says Japan “stands in the middle,” but adds that she is “not neutral”! His views are based as much upon cultural facts and values as on ideology. (A visit to East Asia reminds one how little weight Westerners give to cultural factors in international politics.) “To Americans war and peace are alternatives,” the editor says, “but not quite so to the Vietnamese. In the Chinese conception of yin and yang the two can go together and not be in contradiction.” He conjures an image of the war situation. “Vietnam is like a pond full of frogs. Someone is beating them with a stick. Many will die, many will remain—though of course it is technically possible to kill all the frogs. But how can the frogs live together? That is quite another issue, and the real issue.”
Later, a session with Mr. H., my old Chinese language classmate from Harvard, now in the Foreign Ministry and dealing with China affairs. He makes a crablike, sideways approach to the issues, in an effort to show that Japanese policy toward China, despite appearances, is totally different from that of the United States. The main difference lies in the nongovernmental relations which intertwine China and Japan; traders, students, ideological friends of China.
When we talk about the recent slight fluidity in China-U.S. relations, he points out with great stress that Japanese commitment to Taiwan is “not as firm as it may look; Japan has not decided to protect Taiwan at any cost.” I am left with the impression that there is uneasiness in the Japanese government about China-U.S. contacts, and that if something did blossom from them, Tokyo would not be backward in coming forward with a fresh China policy. How Peking would respond is another kettle of fish.
Strolling down from the China section of the Foreign Ministry to the lobby, we pass a new wing in process of construction. Can we take the extension to the building, I ask H., as a symbol of extension in Japanese international activity? Wreathed in enigmatic smiles, he winks and says: “You can say so.”
After each talk with a Japanese, I marvel how it can be that Japan is, or seems to be, allied firmly with the West. For few peoples are so alien to the West. More than that, Japan has done much to weaken the West’s position in the world. Only Germany can match Japan as an agent of war and revolution in the twentieth century; and it is war and revolution which have so grievously damaged what is known as Western civilization.
Japan’s victory over Czarist Russia in 1905 pushed Russia toward revolution. Her aggression and demands against China in the next decade were the midwife of Chinese nationalism and Chinese Marxism. Her assault on Manchuria in 1931 put a dagger to the heart of the League of Nations, noble expression of Europe’s ideal of a comity of nations. Her attack upon China from 1937 was one of the greatest reasons why the Chinese Communists beat the Chinese Nationalists and became the rulers of all China in 1949. Her military stampede through Southeast Asia in the early 1940s did more to destroy British, French, and Dutch rule in Asia than the most heroic national liberation movements could have done in ten times the same period of time.
What an irony, then, that Japan is the West’s chief ally in Asia. But is she; or if she is, for how long will this last? Of course, the West, and especially the United States, has greatly influenced Japan during the past quarter century. Yet how deeply, it is hard to tell.
Our train for Kyoto glides out without warning and within a minute is speeding. Jumbles of cottages on Tokyo’s outskirts are so tightly packed that their arrangement resembles that of Manhattan skyscrapers; but they arc wooden and low. And always somber brown or gray in color. We fly noiselessly past eel ponds, orange groves, tea farms, and rice fields crisscrossed with neat ridges. At mountain streams fishermen work; their garments rolled up above their thin shiny legs, they look like grasshoppers against the sunlight. Cars and other forms of mechanized power make the rural scene quite different from that of the rest of Asia. Everywhere, fantastic concentrations of people and activity.
The pace is slower in Kyoto; people wear a sense of the beauty around them and draw poise from it. In cafés and on trams, companions look right into each other’s face and eyes for lengthy periods and find
delight in looking; do Americans still do that? Walking down a fairyland of streets, wearing loose robes and red sandals, we see a car parked inside the front of a shop for the night. 1 gape at this further sign of the intensive use of space, but K. says: “It is not polite to look into other people’s houses.”
Kyotoites are proud and do not go out of their way to praise Tokyo. One man called the former Imperial Palace here the Imperial Palace, and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo the Temporary Imperial Palace. Such a pattern of thinking is not unique to Japan: a city of beauty and culture, the ancient capital slightly disdains the present capital, which is bigger and the hub of commerce and communications. Kyoto sees Tokyo the way Krakow sees Warsaw, the way Hue sees Saigon.
On a glorious morning, breakfast in a brown, quiet Zen Buddhist temple. Beside this serene monk I feel shabby. He has around him four exiles-fromAmerica, earnest devotees of an alien way. They are more Zen Buddhist than the Zen Buddhists. The Japanese priest seems merely sad when he beholds me and hears my crass opinions; that politics matters, that half a loaf is better than none. But the American converts brim over with contempt. We sit crosslegged and eat rice and a thick brown soup. The priest tells me nature is stronger than man and the world cannot be changed by human effort. Of the “Beat” people of the West, he observes: “They are like hares hopping around an airport tarmac, unaffected by the takeoff and arrival of the great machines of life.” Unaffected, yes, I remark, but also without effect on those all-too-crucial machines.
Curious about Japanese views on America’s approach to China, I talk to Japanese authorities on China who also visit the United States. They sit among Chinese books and papers in various universities and newspaper offices around Tokyo. Most of them got to know China as members of the invading Japanese Army or of the Japanese Occupation. Such background gives me pause. What effect does it have on their present thinking about China, and about the United States’s ill-fated attempt to do in Indochina what, in the opinion of many Japanese, Japan tried to do in China? Back to that in a moment.
It is a common view here that Americans know a lot about China but lack self-understanding of the American end of China-U.S. relations. “They talk,” a Tokyo economist said of American scholars, “as if the United States is not subject to history as other nations are. We told them the United States was falling into the trap Japan once fell into when it began to get involved in Vietnam, but they tossed it off—as if America were special.”
But I wondered as I listened to their criticisms of American observers how well they understood China themselves. Some Japanese assume they understand China, and there may be danger in the very assumption; especially since their past record is a mixture of aggression against China followed by half-conscious guilt (which seems a brittle base for a fresh attitude).
When the future is pondered, a further question arises. The interests of Japan and China are not the same and may clash severely if and when the United States substantially disengages from Asia. Japan will want to keep the social order in Asia as it is, for she is developing an enormous stake in it. As her power increases, China can be expected to challenge this status quo, for ideological reasons, and also because of simple power rivalry with Japan. Japanese commentators are acutely aware of this likely clash, and I cannot help thinking that their desire not to see China become too powerful colors their understanding of China today. The picture they sometimes offer, with pain and condescension, of a China culturally great but hopelessly unpractical and behind the times, is a gross caricature. However, it suits Japanese interests admirably. Japan does not want to see China back on the world stage as a great power, for one result would be a Chinese challenge to Japan’s position in Asia.
In a way some American observers of the Chinese scene are more detached from their subject and more objective (unlike in the past) than are Japanese observers. (Both are more detached than Russian experts, who today cater faithfully to irrational Russian fears of China.) I do not think that Westerners need have much awe about Japan’s understanding of China. Certainly not Frenchmen, for French commentators on China, few as they are, often have a more focused view of their subject than do Japanese.
At the end, whizzing out on the monorail to Haneda Airport, I think on Japan’s achievements and delightful buoyancy of spirit, but cannot reason away a nagging anxiety about Japan’s future relations with Asia and the West.
The 1970s situation in Asia looks less ideological than that of the 1950s or 1960s. More one of power politics, with four big nations, the United States, the U.S.S.R., China, Japan, thrown into increasingly uncertain patterns of relationship with each other. The alignments between these four could go any of several ways over the next decade. But the following scenario seems as likely as any.
Rivalry and hostility may well arise between Japan and China. Those who expect Peking and Tokyo to draw close or even ally cannot have studied current Chinese attitudes. Peking is deeply perturbed about Japan’s “militarization” and her spreading activities all over Asia. The Chinese press in 1970 put Japan alongside the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as one of China’s three enemies. Japan’s economic stake in Asia as presently organized may well put her into conflict with a rising China wanting to challenge this status quo. Within Japanese politics today, you see lines of division which mirror the centrality to Japan of the challenge of China. The triangle of powerholders—the Liberal-Democratic Party, industrialists, top bureaucrats—hope to keep China out of Asian politics as long as possible. But leftist opinion, notably the Socialist Party and intellectuals and students, is sympathetic to China, and shares some of the values behind Peking’s tirades against “U.S. imperialism” and “Japanese militarism.”
If U.S. disengagement proceeds far, Japan-China tension could intensify. Such tension could push Japan in a militarist direction and into a counterrevolutionary posture. Recall that Japan has been a great agent of war and revolution in the twentieth century. Past performance does not guarantee future repetition. But are not the same factors from past situations still present? Parts of East and South Asia are ripening for revolution. Japanese economic penetration, both the progress and the contradictions and resentments it gives rise to, could complete the ripeness. Japanese economic and geopolitical imperatives to expand further remain. They are indeed heightened by the psychological consequences of Japan’s war defeat. Japanese nationalism has been in the postwar years extraordinarily controlled, even repressed. But it is stirring again and there is a likelihood that it will stir more.
In this process Peking will be acutely interested. If the United States disengages, China will challenge the political order which the era of U.S. hegemony in Asia stabilized, or appeared to stabilize. Japan’s economic success took place within the comfortable conditions of this political order. As Tokyo moves to protect it (if the United States does not protect the Asian status quo, Japan will no doubt feel she must), China can be expected to throw her weight on the other side. She may seek to encourage political change, especially in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Whether there would result war, civil war, revolution, or tensions short of these depends on each national situation and how the big powers play their cards.
The last time Japan “expanded” into Asia the result was both war and revolution (notably in China). Russia was then the revolutionary citadel; the Chinese Communist Party was the struggling national liberation movement. If Japan does it again, the battlefield will this time be South Asia; the revolutionary citadel will be China. Japan and China will find themselves opposed, both as powers and as social orders, in South Asia, as Japan and Russia were opposed in North Asia.
And Russia? Much depends on American attitudes. If for any reason Japan and the United States should find themselves in severe tension, it seems that Japan might turn, faute de mieux, toward Russia. And Russia, if her nightmares about China do not abate, is likely to reciprocate. Economic considerations would from both sides reinforce security and power considerations. If Moscow and Tokyo were to line up, the United States would face a real threat in Asia, beside which Hanoi would seem like a schoolboy with a stone.
The United States was too sanguine about Japan in the 1930s. Is she once more? There could be few follies more costly than to believe that Japan will “take over our responsibilities in Asia.” Take them over she may seek to do; but in her own, not unknown manner, nobody else’s.
MISHIMA AND JAPAN
After I left Japan, the brilliant writer Yukio Mishima startled the world by committing hara-kiri in a Tokyo military headquarters. Because he praised imperial and military virtues, and gathered about him a Shield Society of youths in green uniforms who cultivated martial arts, some detect in Mishima’s sacrifice the first ripple of a new wave of Japanese nationalist militarism, reminiscent of the 1930s.
But Mishima’s hara-kiri is less a political than a literary death. He was not a Japanese chauvinist but a cosmopolitan. His Shield Society had neither the weapons nor the plans to stage the coup of which it was later accused. Indeed, the choice of Ichigaya military headquarters for Mishima’s final (and pathetic) protest against the “spinelessness” of the Army was, it turned out, quite arbitrary; the act spoke more of theater than of conspiracy. Mishima had no political program, and his political actions were not in proportion, as political actions must be, to the degree of support that could be mustered for them.
But even to speculate in these terms is a disservice to Mishima the artist. Read his novels, talk with Japanese who revere them, and the impression is strong that he died when and how he did because of an acutely personal view of life that he wanted to convey in both his books and his actions. His twin themes were sex and death. He yearned for what, in his novel Forbidden Colours, the character Shunsuke—a writer who works out his erotic obsessions vicariously by manipulating the life of a handsome youth—describes, just before he suicides, as “moments of the reconciliation of spirit and nature.”
Mishima’s cult of masculinity comprised, like a chord of two notes, both his erotic and his military fascinations. He wrote: “To samurai and homosexual the ugliest vice is femininity. Even though their reasons for it differ, the samurai and the homosexual do not see manliness as instinctive but rather as something gained only from moral effort.” Death preoccupies him because it is the only thing that transcends eroticism. The writer Shunsuké in Forbidden Colours, about to die by his own hand, laments that “beauty is bound by life and sensuality.” He sees that “the supreme moment must wait for death”; then “the action known as suicide and the expression of all that is life can come simultaneously.”
Of course there is scope for a pantheon of interpretations in the acute complexities of Mishima’s life and work. Yet no strand reasonably leads to political conclusions. Very possibly Mishima had resolved, long before the Japanese troops jeered at his political message, upon an early death. His great works seemed (to him) to be done; the last manuscript went to the publisher hours before his death. He did not want to let old age crib from him the physical beauty he prized. Suicide in the samurai manner was not a defeat or a protest, but a fulfillment. Was it not the supreme moment, which kaleidoscoped his view of life so dramatically that the world will attend, even more after his breathtaking death than during his eminent lifetime, the half-tragic, half-alluring message of his life and writing: the beauty of sensuality, and the transcendent sensuality and beauty of death? Not only was this hara-kiri less a political than a literary death, it was as much a universal as a Japanese death.
If all this is even partly correct, there is only the most indirect political significance in the bloody tableau of Mishima’s end. It reveals aspects of Japanese psychology: the strains of the generation that is neither wholly prewar nor wholly postwar; the quest for purpose which is a poignant motif in many Japanese lives. But politics is only in rare circumstances the recognizable flower of psychological roots.
To be sure, emotional hunger for militarism could give a nasty edge to Japanese nationalism. But militarism as a mood or ideal is not the issue upon which anxiety about Japan’s future turns. Nor is it rearmament, for the limited rearmament program announced by the government last October was almost inevitable, given the Nixon Doctrine and given the present jungle world of nations. The real issue is the direction of Japanese foreign and economic policies. It is here that all objective facts and trends suggest a coming rivalry and perhaps confrontation with an ambitious, iconoclastic China. In that context a mood of militarism could no doubt find its opportunity. And if Mishima had nothing like this in mind, that is not to say that vampires of the right may not try to twist Mishima’s cause into a political-military crusade. □