Japanese society has always been bound by tradition, and many of the traditions that are utilized influence the feeling of nationalism the Japanese people have. This was especially true in Japanese society before the Second World War and this paper looks specifically at the code of the samurai, seppuku, and arranged marriage. Other issues that will be touched upon included the historical background, cultural context, imagery, symbolism, character type, and stylistic devices that Yukio Mishima utilizes in his short story "Patriotism." These are all very important issues to look at, as Mishima's story gives a strong indication of what type of patriotic beliefs individuals had during this time. This was not only true of soldiers and other individuals that were expected to have these feelings, but of these soldiers families as well. In "Patriotism," Yukio Mishima used many different Japanese traditions to show how they influenced the feeling of nationalism.
The concept of arranged marriage still continues in many parts of the world today, and in Japan before World War II arranged marriage was extremely common (Pascale & Athos, 28). Often, the individuals that were to marry did not know each other before the marriage ceremony took place and marriages were arranged by the families of these individuals. It was believed, in time, that the husband and wife would grow to love one another but this was not considered as important as the respect that they had for each other and the duty that the wife had to the husband. The husband was always in charge and the wife was to defer to him in every aspect. She was expected to be polite, reserved, and quiet, and she was expected to do what was asked of her by the husband without complaint or criticism (Van Wolferen, 277).
In the story that was written by Mishima, the arranged marriage that took place was somewhat different. Even though the marriage was arranged and the couple were basically strangers before they got married, their feelings toward one another and the care that they took of one another was very evident. It seems as though they loved each other from the beginning and even if they did not love each other they understood and admired each other very much and cared for their marriage to a strong degree. The husband was a soldier, however, and when some of his best friends became insurgents and he was requested to fight against them he felt that he could not do it. After lying with his wife for the last time he took preparations to take his own life in an honorable manner. His wife wished to join him in this way and he believed at that time that he had chosen the proper wife because she wished to do this without question. When he told her what he had planned to do, she said only that she was ready and then stated "I ask permission to accompany you" (Mishima, 463).
In today's society, it may seem very surprising that a wife would choose to end her life simply because her husband was ending his, but in Japan at that time this was something that was widely respected (Van Wolferen, 282). Further respect of the wife was indicated by the husband because he was willing to let his wife be a witness to his suicide knowing that she would take her own life afterwards. This was generally not the way that suicides were carried out, since most husbands would insist on killing the wife first and then taking their own lives (463). This showed the depth of trust that this husband and soldier had for his wife in not feeling that she would change her mind after she saw him die. The most interesting part about this death was not the suicide, which basically followed the code of the samurai, and not seppuku, but the way in which the husband and wife went about their tasks and carried this out without feelings of grief or emotional pain. When the husband cut into his stomach he asked himself, "Was this seppuku?" (Mishima, 472). Seppuku is a ritual immolation that was practiced by Japanese people.
Most people have a difficult time wrapping their mind around the concept of an individual wishing to take his own life in this way and wanting his wife to witness it, secure in the knowledge that she would take her own life when it was over. This is not a concept that sits well with Western society and there are individuals that believe that any type of suicide is taking the coward's way out of whatever is coming next. However, in Japan before the Second World War this was not seen as a cowardly way out but a very honorable and respected way to die (Lebra, 299).
Both husband and wife made themselves presentable for what they called their "death face" (Mishima, 465) and the caring that they had for one another was very evident during this time. Once the wife had witnessed her husband's death, she went to another room in the home and made sure that her makeup and dress were appropriate for the world that she would be leaving behind, as well as for the world that she would be entering (Mishima, 474). She did not hurry about this, and once it was done she bestowed one last kiss on her husband before she used her dagger to take her own life. The story ends there and does not say much about what happened later. Whether the young couple was found shortly afterward and how others felt about their deaths and the way that they chose to end their lives is not discussed. Apparently, this is not something that Mishima felt was relevant.
What Mishima is instead trying to get across is the sacred bond that these two individuals had to one another and the extreme amounts of respect and dedication that they had not only to their country but to each other. The dedication to each other is obvious in the trust that the husband had in allowing the wife to watch his suicide and not killing her first, and in the trust that the wife had in the husband in being willing to join him in death in this way. The dedication to the country is something that is not as obvious to the reader at first, but the feeling of patriotism and nationalism creeps into the story even though it is not deliberately spelled out. Once the reader has a chance to get used to the idea that these individuals took their own lives, the husband because he could not do what was going to be asked of him the next day and the wife because she felt it was her duty to join her husband, the nationalism and love of country that these individuals display is actually very touching.
Even if the reader of the story does not agree with the way that these two people went about showing this, the understanding of the depth of feelings that these individuals shared for what they strongly believed in is something that cannot be ignored. The historical background of Japan has many instances of this type of deed. The code of the samurai generally involved disemboweling oneself in order to have an honorable death if there was a task that one could not perform for his superiors or if he had done something to dishonor himself or others (Benedict, 112). These individuals took their honor and their abilities, as well as their word, extremely seriously, and this is something that has carried over to modern-day Japan in many cases, although the suicide ideas that the samurai had are not so evident anymore.
This does not mean that there are no suicides in Japan, but the ritualistic and honorable suicide that was portrayed in Mishima's tale is not something that is generally seen any longer. Mishima does not talk that much about the historical background of Japan or the reasons that these individuals would choose this type of death, but some of the understanding of the historical background still comes through in the story. It is made very clear that this is something that is highly respected in society, or at least was highly respected at that time, and it is also made very clear that, had the wife not chosen to accompany her husband, it would have been a very dishonorable thing to do.
The culture of Japan at that time was much different than it is today and that culture has always been very different from Western societies. Western people do not generally see killing themselves as a way to escape dishonor that they may have brought to themselves or their families, although it is certainly likely that there are some individuals in Western society that have this opinion. For the Japanese culture, however, even today dishonor is something that is taken very seriously (Van…