‘Sword’ by Yukio Mishima, translated by John Bester

Mishima was my hero for a while. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Confessions of a Mask. It was only when I moved to Japan for a couple of years that I discovered his short fiction. ‘Sword’ centres on a group of young men taking part in a training camp for Kendo (Japanese fencing). After my own unsuccessful attempts at Kendo, I admired the world Mishima portrays even more: one of self-discipline, togetherness, striving for spiritual and physical perfection through martial arts. Yet these ideals lead to a tragic conclusion, not unlike the narrative Mishima ended up following in his own life.

First published in Japanese as ‘Ken’ in 1963. First published in English in Acts of Worship, Kodansha, 1989, also available from Flamingo, 1991