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Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a…
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Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend

by Christopher Ross

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The search for the sword used by an underling to behead the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima in a grandiose gesture of homoerotic nationalism becomes an exploration of some of the fascinating bits of Japanese culture.

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  MusicalGlass | Sep 8, 2014 |
Surpassingly rich and delicate. Rather than a book about a person or his writing, this is a book about Japanese character and it's expression in life and in death. An essential adjunct to any biography of Mishima, but it is also one of a handful of books that gives some real insight into Japanese culture and history. Like Tal Streeter's 'The Art of the Japanese Kite', or Sherrill's 'Dog Man' this book focuses on one very small aspect of Japan, but in doing so illuminates a whole culture. Highly recommended. ( )
  nandadevi | Apr 14, 2014 |
This book recounts in part the author's search for the sword that the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima used to commit seppuku in 1970. However, the book is also an account of the authors' own interest in Japanese martial culture, an investigation of violence in the collective Japanese psyche, and a biography of Mishima himself. The main problem of the work is that it doesn't explore any one topic enough to be cohesive. What it does retain is an eerie sense of the unknowable, a quality that most all writing about Mishima, his death in particular, seems to possess. The multitude of topics explored, while perhaps being the main drawback of the book, is an effective enough garnish on the near mystical subjects of Mishima's death and the author's search for the sword. A similar but far shorter work on the subject of Mishima's seppuku is the paper "I Cut Off the Head of Yukio Mishima" by John-Ivan Palmer, which would be of interest to readers of this work and those with an interest Mishima and his grandiose death. ( )
  poetontheone | Aug 18, 2012 |
If I remember correctly, I first came across Christopher Ross' Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend while looking for biographies of Yukio Mishima. While Mishima certainly plays an important role in the book, Mishima's Sword isn't exactly a biography but still promised to be an intriguing read. First published as a hardcover in 2006 by Da Capo Press, and later as a paperback in 2007, Mishima's Sword was included in the Kiriyama Prize's 2007 list of notable books. Part biography, part memoir and part travelogue, with a healthy dose of philosophical musing, Mishima's Sword is an interesting book. Most likely it will appeal to those who, like me, are already interested in Mishima or in Japanese swords and swordsmanship. It also provides an outsider's look into Japanese culture in general, including glimpses into some of its shadier aspects. I was intrigued to see what Ross would have to say about it all.

On November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima, one of Japan's most prominent authors, committed seppuku in the office of General Mashita at the headquarters o the Self Defense Force in Tokyo. A sword that he had received as a gift several years earlier was used as part of the ritual suicide and went missing after the incident. Decades after Mishima's death, Christopher Ross travels back to Japan, having previously lived there for a few years, in order to attempt to better understand Mishima and his actions and perhaps even track down the missing sword. Ross doesn't have much information to go on and discovers that many people are reluctant to even discuss Mishima. Once he realizes this he turns his attention to learning more about Mishima's sword, hoping to have more success with this aspect of his journey. His search leads him to some very interesting places indeed.

After a brief introductory section called "Death in Tokyo," Mishima's Sword is divided into two main parts: "Primary: Word(s)" and "Secondary: (S)word." Although Ross' search for Mishima and the sword are obviously closely linked, "Word(s)" focuses on his pursuit to understand Mishima while "(S)word" concentrates on his efforts to discover more about the sword. Also included in Mishima's Sword is a selected bibliography of works by and about Mishima as well as works on bushidō and Japanese swords. A glossary of Japanese terms used throughout the book is also provided. There's no index, which is somewhat unfortunate, but then again Mishima's Sword isn't exactly meant to be a reference work. It's more of a memoir, and an engaging one at that. But I still wished that I could navigate it a little more easily when I wanted to look up specific information.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mishima's Sword and found it to be both immensely engaging and readable. Ross' tale isn't told in a strictly linear fashion; the narrative consists of a collection of connected thoughts, musings, and diversions. While it is not always clear how a particular digression or tangent is relevant to the work as a whole, they are always interesting. Sometimes the only clue is to be found in the end notes which. I would recommend reading these anyway because they contain important and often fascinating information. While it is not necessary to enjoy Mishima's Sword, I was glad that I had previously read one of Mishima's biographies (Mishima: A Biography by John Nathan) as it helped to put the parts of the book dealing with Mishima into better context and perspective. At times, Mishima's Sword almost seems to read like a novel. While this makes the work approachable, to some extent it also occasionally feels as though the facts are being embellished. But overall I found Mishima's Sword to be very interesting and learned quite a bit while reading it.

Experiments in Manga ( )
  PhoenixTerran | Aug 12, 2011 |
Man, I've started and erased absolute essays on this book. I don't want to write a novel about a novel...but I probably could. One of poor colleagues saw me reading this book and asked, "What's it about?" Fifteen minutes later he was able to escape.

Short of it: Yukio Mishima was a world-renowned Japanese author and playwright. He wrote over forty novels, many essays and short stories, and about a dozen plays. He was obsessed with masculinity: not only his perfection of his physical body (he was an obsessive weight-lifter, tanner, and never looked less than pristine), but the qualities of the samurai: union of pen and sword. He felt that the masculine qualities of Japanese culture had been hidden after World War II, in lieu of more feminine traditions, such as flower arranging. He contends that this was done on purpose: to promote post-war Japan as a peaceful, feminized society. He forms a private army in order to reinstate the values of the samurai. In a dramatic plea to get his point across, he imprisoned a Japanese general and committed seppuku in the process of trying to overthrow the government.

See, writing that out seems so small and trite. This guy can WRITE. I know a wee bit about him from Paul Schrader's movie about his life, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. (One of my favorite movies. The score is by Philip Glass and the executive producers are George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.) But the author of this book (back to the review...) wanted to learn more about his life.

This book is about Christopher Ross's search for the sword that Yukio Mishima used to commit seppuku. This book is well-written and a fascinating read. It is the perfect mix of history, personal introspection, history of sword making in Japan, Ross's personal journey, and excerpts from Mishima's writings. There are some parts that I thought dragged (at one point, Ross goes back to England for a while and does things completely unrelated to Mishima...and I don't care!), but for the most part, it's a good read. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who has read and enjoyed one of his novels (try the Sea of Fertility tetraology...The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is incredible). I will probably read another of his books, armed with this new knowledge of Mishima's life. I really dig books that teach me something.

I am now going to shut up, even though I really want to go on and on about him. Excellent book, fascinating person, hooray. Done! ( )
2 vote anterastilis | Feb 24, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306815680, Paperback)

On November 25, 1970, the world renowned Japanese writer Yukio Mishima committed seppuku with his own antique sword. Mishima’s spectacular suicide has been called many things: a hankering for heroism; a beautiful, perverse drama; a political protest against Japan’s emasculated postwar constitution; the epitaph of a mad genius. Part travelogue, part biography, and part philosophical treatise, Mishima’s Sword is the story of Christopher Ross’s journey to find a sword and maybe an understanding of Mishima’s country. The cold trail the author follows inspires a tale of the most engaging-and occasionally bizarre-sort, with glimpses of the real Japan that is not seen by tourists, with digressions on, among other things, bushido and socks, mutineers and Noh ghosts, nosebleeds and metallurgy-and even how to dress for suicide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:23 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Like his best-selling 'Tunnel Visions', Christopher Ross blends travel writing, meditation and philosophical enquiry to create a mesmeric account of modern Japan, and the peculiar death that haunts it to this day.

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