Yukio Mishima on 'Hagakure': The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan

by Yukio Mishima

Other authorsKathryn Sparling (Translator)
Paperback, 1979




Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1979.


"La ética del samurái en el Japón moderno" es el ensayo que escribió Yukio Mishima sobre "Hagakure", el clásico de la literatura samurái, escrito en el siglo XVIII por Yamamoto Tsunetomo tras dejar las armas y convertirse en el monje budista Jocho. "Hagakure", traducido como "Oculto por las hojas", es un conjunto de dictados sobre el samurái ideal, muy popular en Japón hasta la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Fue una de las obras que acompañaron a Mishima desde niño y que dio sentido a su vida, viendo en ella una vía de protesta contra la sociedad japonesa que olvidaba sus valores tradicionales. "La ética del samurái en el Japón moderno" es un libro fundamental para comprender la obra literaria y la manera de pensar y actuar de Mishima. Éste hizo suya una de las máximas de Yamamoto: "Descubrí que el Camino del Samurái es la muerte", como "abandono de uno mismo como medio de conseguir la virtud". Terminó muriendo en 1970 practicándose el "seppuku", el rito tradicional del suicidio japonés… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member edwinbcn
In 1970, Yukio Mishima committed ritual suicide after a failed coup. The intentions of the coup, and Mishima's political views at the time, are hard to understand to Western readers, who have interpreted Mishima's actions as those of an irrational madman.

The Samurai ethic and modern Japan bring together four, rather disjointed essays or collections of notes, which may provide a cultural or philosophical underpinning for Mishima's ideas in the years leading to his death.

The book has the subtitle "Yukio Mishima on Hagakure. Hagakure refers to a compilation of commentaries published in Japan in the early Eighteenth Century as The Book of the Samurai. It seems that this book is predominantly associated with the warrior code, known as "Bushidō" or "the way of the warrior" with special emphasis on the warrior's readiness to die.

The meme of willingness to follow a lord in death originates in China, and was also found in the earliest annals of Japanese culture. The ancient tradition of xunsi (殉死) following a lord into the grave was outlawed in Japan as early as the Seventh Century BCE, but retained its fascination.

However, this "warrior code" must be seen in a much broader context of a practical and moral guide of the samurai. Over the centuries the class of samurai developed into a veritable form of aristocracy, and the Hagakure came to encompass a must broader life philosophy, similar to The Book of the Courtier.

The Samurai ethic and modern Japan are not a translation of the Hagakure, which is described as a much larger work in eleven volumes (p. 36). The four "essays" of very unequal length and scope, one of which merely indicated as an appendix, consists of notes which Mishima made for several undisclosed occasions. There is a lot of overlap between the four sections of the book, some repeating observations or ideas in exactly the same words. Rather than a volume of essays on Hagakure, the book should be seen as a scrapbook.

Yukio Mishima was a very well-read author, very well-versed in Western literature, as well. The scrap book forms a testimony to his long dedication to understand and apply the moral principles of the samurai code to his own life, to shape his life as that of a Japanese traditional gentleman. The code stresses dignity, appropriacy and honor. There are many references to links with Western culture, such as epicureanism, hedonism and nihilism. There are aphorisms and sections prescribing proper conduct with other people and on a variety of occasions. There are also many references to Chinese and Japanese culture, and references to other works interpreting Japanese culture, such as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

The Samurai ethic and modern Japan only contains Yukio Mishima's reflections on the Hagakure Analects, but offer no interpretations. Thus, while the book apparently tells the reader a lot about Japanese culture, by the end of the book one is no wiser as to Mishima's motives, or how elements of the books connect with episodes in his life and work.

The Samurai ethic and modern Japan seems mainly very interesting to the reader who is seeking to understand the Japanese Mind in general.
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