‘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

‘Death in Midsummer’ by Yukio Mishima, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

A story about loss and the weird ways that each of us deal with our own personal grief. This story stayed with me not only because the loss suffered is so huge, but because of the detached, almost analytical way the main characters think about it. The weeks of rituals and customs surrounding death in Japan further compound the sense of oddity and alienation. And although the characters appear detached the prose is elegant and poetic.
Memory sometimes makes hours run side by side for us, or pile one on another.
From Death in Midsummer and Other Stories, Penguin, 1966, download it here