The Youths of the Restoration, by Yukio Mishima
"But I believe that it is this year that will be the year in which magnificent, refreshing, and genuinely Japanese “Youths of the Restoration” will appear one after another."
The Youths of the Restoration
The Incident Outside Sakurada Gate1 was a great turning point in the Tokugawa bakufu’s loss of authority. Among the eighteen heroes, Arimura Jizaemon, who joined as the only samurai of Satsuma domain2, himself slew Chief Minister Ii, sustained severe injuries and fell on his own sword, was twenty-three at the time.
Even after the Meiji government was established, those who attended Cabinet meetings were in their thirties and forties, and a fresh spirit was overflowing.
It was not, like now, a suffocating society of the elderly as far as the eye can see3. The characteristics of societies of the elderly are that they are cowardly in everything they do, are cautious to the point of inaction4, and bluff only with their words. It is natural that youths with more vitality than they know what to do with should come to dislike such a society, and it is not incomprehensible that they should be disgusted by a mere glance into the future at the long and monotonous ladder of seniority.
I apologize for speaking of myself, but as a result of rebelling against always being kept down for being young, in embrace of my youth, I have had the tendency of irrationally acting young and engaging in eccentric behaviors.5 I will not calm down if I do not do so. In a society where one gains by acting old, even if you gain anything it’s worthless. It is also a characteristic of societies of the elderly to be swarming with such cunning and sly prematurely old youths6.
Speaking of the youths of the Restoration, naturally there were also scum among them, but an image of genuinely Japanese7 Japanese, unparalleled in their integrity, wagering their lives for action in which they believe, and burning with a passion for reform of the state comes to mind. They were above all Japanese. On the other hand, while they may be burning with a passion for reform of the state, the people of the National Federation of Students’ Self-Government Associations8 do not seem genuinely Japanese at all. Their language9 is not at all Japanese10. Further, one feels none of the manliness of youth in those towel-masked figures, and they look like they are going to do petty theft, or, put more nicely, help with a big cleaning job. Youths who think that such things are cool have already lost the genuinely Japanese aesthetic sense. The inside of the so-called “Liberated Zones” are full of wastepaper and are exceedingly filthy, and because the Pure People of the Divine Land11 could not possibly have lived in such Liberated Zones, it must be that regions intended for foreigners to live in are called Liberated Zones.
But I believe that it is this year that will be the year in which magnificent, refreshing, and genuinely Japanese “Youths of the Restoration” will appear one after another. It is clear that Japan cannot continue like this, the filth of the 23 years of the postwar has built and built up, and in the shadows of economic prosperity spiritual scrap heaps have accumulated. The year has come for we in the prime of life12 to join the youth and, fearlessly, step by step, embark on the construction of a new Japan.
January 1st of the Forty-Fourth Year of the Shōwa Era (1969)
桜田門外の変 Sakuradamon-gai no Hen. This refers to the assassination of Chief Minister Ii Naosuke (1815-1860), who was hated for carrying out purges of sonnō-jōi activists, outside Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle. This brought an end to the period known as the Ansei Purge in English and 安政の大獄 Ansei no Taigoku in Japanese.
Satsuma domain roughly corresponds to present-day Kagoshima Prefecture, which is on Kyūshū. The well-known Saigō Takamori was also from there. The other eighteen participants hailed from Mito domain, in present day Ibaraki Prefecture.
石橋を叩いて渡らず Ishibashi wo tataite watarazu. Lit. “they strike a stone bridge without crossing,” from the idiom 石橋を叩いて渡る Ishibashi wo tataite wataru, which indicates extreme caution.
Translated liberally. いつまでたっても「若い、若い」と頭を押さえつけられるのに反発した結果、「ああ、この通り若いよ」と、ムリヤリ若がって奇矯な行動に出て来た傾きがあるのである。Itsu made tatte mo “wakai, wakai” to atama wo osaetukerareru no ni hanpatsu shita kekka, “aa, kono tōri wakai yo” to, muriyari wakagatte kikyō na kōdō ni dete kita katamuki ga aru no de aru.
若年寄 Wakadoshiyori, literally “young elderly.”
大和言葉 Yamatokotoba. In this case, Mishima is likely referring to both Sino-Japanese and Japanese words in distinction to Western loanwords.
神州清潔の民 Shinshū Seiketsu no Tami.