Mishima's Toy

Here is an excerpt from Yukio Mishima's autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask (Kamen no Kokuhaku, 1949; English translation by Meredith Weatherby, published 1958), which seems to echo many of the concerns of this blog, specifically the eroticism of male-on-male combat as deriving in part from the sexually mature male anatomy and in part from cultural ideals of "heroism"--as well as the "corrective" influence of one's imagination and talent for fantasy.

For over a year now I had been suffering the anguish of a child provided with a curious toy. I was twelve years old. 
This toy increased in volume at every opportunity and hinted that, rightly used, it would be quite a delightful thing. But the directions for its use were nowhere written, and so, when the toy took the initiative in wanting to play with me, my bewilderment was inevitable. Occasionally my humiliation and impatience became so aggravated that I even thought I wanted to destroy the toy. In the end, however, there was nothing for it but to surrender on my side to the insubordinate toy, with its expression of sweet secrecy, and wait passively to see what would happen. 
Then I took it into my head to try listening more dispassionately to the toy's wishes. When I did so, I found that soon it already possessed its own definite and unmistakable tastes, or what might be called its own mechanism. The nature of its tastes had become bound up, not only with my childhood memories, but, one after another, with such things as the naked bodies of young men seen on a summer's seashore, the swimming teams seen at Meiji Pool, the swarthy young man a cousin of mine married, and the valiant heroes of many an adventure story. Until then I had mistakenly thought I was only poetically attracted to such things, thus confusing the nature of my sensual desires with a system of esthetics. 
The toy likewise raised its head toward death and pools of blood and muscular flesh. Gory dueling scenes on the frontispieces of adventure-story magazines, which I borrowed in secret from the student houseboy; pictures of young samurai cutting open their bellies, or of soldiers struck by bullets, clenching their teeth and dripping blood from between hands that clutched at khaki-clad breasts; photographs of hard-msucled sumo wrestlers, of the third rank and not yet grown too fat--at the sight of such things the toy would promptly lift its inquisitive head. (If the adjective "inquisitive" be inappropriate, it can be changed to read either "erotic" or "lustful.") 
Coming to understand these matters, I began to seek physical pleasure consciously, intentionally. The principles of selection and arrangement were brought into operation. When the composition of a picture in an adventure-story magazine was found defective, I would first copy it with crayons, and then correct it to my satisfaction. Then it would become the picture of a young circus performer dropping to his knees and clutching a bullet wound in his breast; or a tight-rope walker who had fallen and split his skull open and now lay dying, half his face covered with blood. Often at school I would become so preoccupied with the fear that these bloodthirsty pictures, which I had hidden away in a drawer of the bookcase at home, might be discovered during my absence that I would not even hear the teacher's voice. I knew I should have destroyed them promptly after drawing them, but my toy was so attached to them that I found it absolutely impossible to do so.
Later in the novel, Mishima describes his protagonist's discovery of Guido Reni's 17th-century painting of St. Sebastian in an art book, and then parenthetically cites Magnus Hirschfeld, who in late 19th-century Germany pleaded the cause of homosexual normalcy and rights and whose writings were gathered and burned by the Nazis in the 1930s. Note: Hirschfeld used the word "invert" to refer to people sexually attracted to people of their own sex.
It is an interesting coincidence that Hirschfeld should place "pictures of St. Sebastian" in the first rank of those kinds of art works in which the invert takes special delight. This observation of Hirschfeld's leads easily to the conjecture that in the overwhelming majority of cases of inversion, especially of [congenital] inversion, the inverted and the sadistic impulses are inextricably entangled with each other. 
Pictures: (1) Yukio Mishima (bodybuilder and actor as well as author) with a katana (long sword) in a photograph by Tomatsu Yato in his book Young Samurai: Bodybuilders of Japan (published in 1967 in the United States); (2) and (3) other pictures from Yato's book (not Mishima); (4) and (5) photos of wrestlers and acrobats of 19th-century Japan; (6) detail from an old photo of members of the Meiji swim team in loin cloths at the bridge; (7) Guido Reni's painting of Sebastian; and (8) Mishima's recreation of the Sebastian pose for photographer Eikoh Hosoe, ca. 1963.


  1. Mr Mashima explains well the "maturing" experience. Sumo wrestlers never did anything for me and I did not know there was a stage where sumo wrestlers were not fat. That I would like to see. The first encounter I had with "St Sebastian" was in my teens in a Sword and Sandal movie. It was hot. For sure I am inverted and has to be congenital but it was Tarzan movies, mostly, seen at an early age that I can remember being aware of the "inversion."

    1. It was Tarzan for me too, Jason.

  2. Mishima, St. Sebastian, Repeats of Robert Conrad Being Tied Up On Wild Wild West and World Class Championship Wrestling With The Von Erichs.

    1. yes, i enjoyed the masculine heroics of robert conrad and the von erichs- especially when they battled against heels. especially enjoyed when the heels beat up on the heroic muscular good boys.


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