Short story by Yukio Mishima.
*translated from the Japanese by Geoffrey W. Sargent
On the twenty-eighth of February, 1936 (on the third day, that is, of
the February 26 Incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Konoe
Transport Battalion–profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his
closest colleagues had been with the mutineers from the beginning, and
indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking
Imperial troops- took his officer’s sword and ceremonially disemboweled
himself in the eight-mat room of his private residence in the sixth
block of Aoba-cho, in Yotsuya Ward. His wife, Reiko, followed him,
stabbing herself to death. The lieutenant’s farewell note consisted of
one sentence: “Long live the Imperial Forces.” His wife’s, after
apologies for her unfilial conduct in thus preceding her parents to the
grave, concluded: “The day which, for a soldier’s wife, had to come,
has come. . . .” The last moments of this heroic and dedicated couple
were such as to make the gods themselves weep. The lieutenant’s age, it
should be noted, was thirty-one, his wife’s twenty-three; and it was
not half a year since the celebration of their marriage.
Those who saw the bride and bridegroom in the commemorative
photograph–perhaps no less than those actually present at the
lieutenant’s wedding–had exclaimed in wonder at the bearing of this
handsome couple. The lieutenant, majestic in military uniform, stood
protectively beside his bride, his right hand resting upon his sword,
his officer’s cap held at his left side. His expression was severe, and
his dark brows and wide gazing eyes well conveyed the clear integrity
of youth. For the beauty of the bride in her white over-robe no
comparisons were adequate. In the eyes, round beneath soft brows, in
the slender, finely shaped nose, and in the full lips, there was both
sensuousness and refinement. One hand, emerging shyly from a sleeve of
the over-robe, held a fan, and the tips of the fingers, clustering
delicately, were like the bud of a moonflower.
After the suicide, people would take out this photograph and examine
it, and sadly reflect that too often there was a curse on these
seemingly flawless unions. Perhaps it was no more than imagination, but
looking at the picture after the tragedy it almost seemed as if the two
young people before the gold-lacquered screen were gazing, each with
equal clarity, at the deaths which lay before them.
Thanks to the good offices of their go-between, Lieutenant General
Ozeki, they had been able to set themselves up in a new home at
Aoba-cho in Yotsuya. “New home” is perhaps misleading. It was an old
three-room rented house backing onto a small garden. As neither the
six- nor the four and-a-half-mat room downstairs was favored by the
sun, they used the upstairs eight-mat room as both bedroom and guest
room. There was no maid, so Reiko was left alone to guard the house in
her husband’s absence.
The honeymoon trip was dispensed with on the grounds that these were
times of national emergency. The two of them had spent the first night
of their marriage at this house. Before going to bed, Shinji, sitting
erect on the floor with his sword laid before him, had bestowed upon
his wife a soldierly lecture. A woman who had become the wife of a
soldier should know and resolutely accept that her husband’s death
might come at any moment. It could be tomorrow. It could be the day
after. But, no matter when it came–he asked–was she steadfast in her
resolve to accept it? Reiko rose to her feet, pulled open a drawer of
the cabinet, and took out what was the most prized of her new
possessions, the dagger her mother had given her. Returning to her
place, she laid the dagger without a word on the mat before her, just
as her husband had laid his sword. A silent understanding was achieved
at once, and the lieutenant never again sought to test his wife’s
In the first few months of her marriage Reiko’s beauty grew daily more
radiant, shining serene like the moon after rain.
As both were possessed of young, vigorous bodies their relationship was
passionate. Nor was this merely a matter of the night. On more than one
occasion, returning home straight from maneuvers, and begrudging even
the time it took to remove his mud-splashed uniform, the lieutenant had
pushed his wife to the floor almost as soon as he had entered the
house. Reiko was equally ardent in her response. For a little more or a
little less than a month, from the first night of their marriage Reiko
knew happiness, and the lieutenant, seeing this, was happy too.
Reiko’s body was white and pure, and her swelling breasts conveyed a
firm and chaste refusal; but, upon consent, those breasts were lavish
with their intimate, welcoming warmth. Even in bed these two were
frighteningly and awesomely serious. In the very midst of wild,
intoxicating passions, their hearts were sober and serious.
By day the lieutenant would think of his wife in the brief rest periods
between training; and all day long, at home, Reiko would recall the
image of her husband. Even when apart, however, they had only to look
at the wedding photograph for their happiness to be once more
confirmed. Reiko felt not the slightest surprise that a man who had
been a complete stranger until a few months ago should now have become
the sun about which her whole world revolved.
All these things had a moral basis, and were in accordance with the
Education Rescript’s injunction that “husband and wife should be
harmonious.” Not once did Reiko contradict her husband, nor did the
lieutenant ever find reason to scold his wife. On the god shelf below
the stairway, alongside the tablet from the Great Ise Shrine, were set
photographs of their Imperial Majesties, and regularly every morning,
before leaving for duty, the lieutenant would stand with his wife at
this hallowed place and together they would bow their heads low. The
offering water was renewed each morning, and the sacred sprig of sasaki
was always green and fresh. Their lives were lived beneath the solemn
protection of the gods and were filled with an intense happiness which
set every fiber in their bodies trembling.
Although Lord Privy Seal Saito’s house was in their neighborhood,
neither of them heard any noise of gunfire on the morning of February
26. It was a bugle, sounding muster in the dim, snowy dawn, when the
ten-minute tragedy had already ended, which first disrupted the
lieutenant’s slumbers. Leaping at once from his bed, and without
speaking a word, the lieutenant donned his uniform, buckled on the
sword held ready for him by his wife, and hurried swiftly out into the
snow-covered streets of the still darkened morning. He did not return
until the evening of the twenty eighth.
Later, from the radio news, Reiko learned the full extent of this
sudden eruption of violence. Her life throughout the subsequent two
days was lived alone in complete tranquility and behind locked doors.
In the lieutenant’s face, as he hurried silently out into the snowy
morning, Reiko had read the determination to die. If her husband did
not returns her own decision was made: she too would die. Quietly she
attended to the disposition of her personal possessions. She chose her
sets of visiting kimonos as keepsakes for friends of her schooldays,
and she wrote a name and address on the stiff paper wrapping in which
each was folded. Constantly admonished by her husband never to think of
the morrow, Reiko had not even kept a diary and was now denied the
pleasure of assiduously rereading her record of the happiness of the
past few months and consigning each page to the fire as she did so.
Ranged across the top of the radio were a small china dog, a rabbit, a
squirrel, a bear, and a fox. There were also a small vase and a water
pitcher. These comprised Reiko’s one and only collection. But it would
hardly do, she imagined, to give such things as keepsakes. Nor again
would it be quite proper to ask specifically for them to be included in
the coffin. It seemed to Reiko, as these thoughts passed through her
mind, that the expressions on the small animals’ faces grew even more
lost and forlorn.
Reiko took the squirrel in her hand and looked at it. And then, her
thoughts turning to a realm far beyond these childlike affections, she
gazed up into the distance at the great sunlike principle which her
husband embodied. She was ready, and happy, to be hurtled along to her
destruction in that gleaming sun chariot–but now, for these few moments
of solitude she allowed herself to luxuriate in this innocent
attachment to trifles. The time when she had genuinely loved these
things, however, was long past. Now she merely loved the memory of
having once loved them, and their place in her heart had been filled by
more intense passions, by a more frenzied happiness. . . . For Reiko
had never, even to herself, thought of those soaring joys of the flesh
as a mere pleasure. The February cold, and the icy touch of the china
squirrel, had numbed Reiko’s slender fingers; yet, even so, in her
lower limbs, beneath the ordered repetition of the pattern which
crossed the skirt of her trim meisen kimono, she could feel now, as she
thought of the lieutenant’s powerful arms reaching out toward her, a
hot moistness of the flesh which defied the snows.
She was not in the least afraid of the death hovering in her mind.
Waiting alone at home, Reiko firmly believed that everything her
husband was feeling or thinking now, his anguish and distress, was
leading her–just as surely as the power in his flesh–to a welcome
death. She felt as if her body could melt away with ease and be
transformed to the merest fraction of her husband’s thought.
Listening to the frequent announcements on the radio, she heard the
names of several of her husband’s colleagues mentioned among those of
the insurgents. This was news of death. She followed the developments
closely, wondering anxiously, as the situation became daily more
irrevocable, why no Imperial ordinance was sent down, and watching what
had at first been taken as a movement to restore the nation’s honor
come gradually to be branded with the infamous name of mutiny. There
was no communication from the regiment. At any moment, it seemed,
fighting might commence in the city streets, where the remains of the
snow still lay.
Toward sundown on the twenty-eighth Reiko was startled by a furious
pounding on the front door. She hurried downstairs. As she pulled with
fumbling fingers at the bolt, the shape dimly outlined beyond the
frosted glass panel made no sound, but she knew it was her husband.
Reiko had never known the bolt on the sliding door to be so stiff.
Still it resisted. The door just would not open.
In a moment, almost before she knew she had succeeded, the lieutenant
was standing before her on the cement floor inside the porch, muffled
in a khaki greatcoat, his top boots heavy with slush from the street.
Closing the door behind him, he returned the bolt once more to its
socket. With what significance, Reiko did not understand.
Reiko bowed deeply, but her husband made no response. As he had already
unfastened his sword and was about to remove his greatcoat, Reiko moved
around behind to assist. The coat, which was cold and damp and had lost
the odor of horse dung it normally exuded when exposed to the sun,
weighed heavily upon her arm. Draping it across a hanger, and cradling
the sword and leather belt in her sleeves, she waited while her husband
removed his top boots and then followed behind him into the “living
room.” This was the six-mat room downstairs.
Seen in the clear light from the lamp, her husband’s face, covered with
a heavy growth of bristle, was almost unrecognizably wasted and thin.
The cheeks were hollow, their luster and resilience gone. In his normal
good spirits he would have changed into old clothes as soon as he was
home and have pressed her to get supper at once, but now he sat before
the table still in his uniform, his head drooping dejectedly. Reiko
refrained from asking whether she should prepare the supper.
After an interval the lieutenant spoke.
“I knew nothing. They hadn’t asked me to join. Perhaps out of
consideration, because I was newly married. Kano, and Homma too, and
Reiko recalled momentarily the faces of high-spirited young officers,
friends of her husband, who had come to the house occasionally as
“There may be an Imperial ordinance sent down tomorrow. They’ll be
posted as rebels, I imagine. I shall be in command of a unit with
orders to attack them. . . . I can’t do it. It’s impossible to do a
thing like that.”
He spoke again.
“They’ve taken me off guard duty, and I have permission to return home
for one night. Tomorrow morning, without question, I must leave to join
the attack. I can’t do it, Reiko.”
Reiko sat erect with lowered eyes. She understood clearly that her
husband had spoken of his death. The lieutenant was resolved. Each
word, being rooted in death, emerged sharply and with powerful
significance against this dark, unmovable background. Although the
lieutenant was speaking of his dilemma, already there was no room in
his mind for vacillation.
However, there was a clarity, like the clarity of a stream fed from
melting snows, in the silence which rested between them. Sitting in his
own home after the long two-day ordeal, and looking across at the face
of his beautiful wife, the lieutenant was for the first time
experiencing true peace of mind. For he had at once known, though she
said nothing, that his wife divined the resolve which lay beneath his
“Well, then . . .” The lieutenant’s eyes opened wide. Despite this
exhaustion they were strong and clear, and now for the first time they
looked straight into the eyes of his wife. “Tonight I shall cut my
Reiko did not flinch.
Her round eyes showed tension, as taut as the clang of a bell.
“I am ready,” she said. “I ask permission to accompany you.”
The lieutenant felt almost mesmerized by the strength in those eyes.
His words flowed swiftly and easily, like the utterances of a man in
delirium, and it was beyond his understanding how permission in a
matter of such weight could be expressed so casually.
“Good We’ll go together. But I want you as a witness, first, for my own
When this was said a sudden release of abundant happiness welled up in
both their hearts. Reiko was. deeply affected by the greatness of her
husband’s trust in her. It was vital for the lieutenant, whatever else
might happen, that there should be no irregularity in his death. For
that reason there had to be a witness. The fact that he had chosen his
wife for this was the first mark of his trust. The second, and even
greater mark, was that though he had pledged that they should die
together he did not intend to kill his wife first–he had deferred her
death to a time when he would no longer be there to verify it. If the
lieutenant had been a suspicious husband, he would doubtless, as in the
usual suicide pact, have chosen to kill his wife first.
When Reiko said, “I ask permission to accompany you,” the lieutenant
felt these words to be the final fruit of the education which he had
himself given his wife, starting on the first night of their marriage,
and which had schooled her, when the moment came, to say what had to be
said without a shadow of hesitation. This flattered the lieutenant’s
opinion of himself as a self-reliant man. He was not so romantic or
conceited as to imagine that the words were spoken spontaneously, out
of love for her husband.
With happiness welling almost too abundantly in their hearts, they
could not help smiling at each other. Reiko felt as if she had returned
to her wedding night.
Before her eyes was neither pain nor death. She seemed to see only a
free and limitless expanse opening out into vast distances.
“The water is hot. Will you take your bath now?”
“Ah yes, of course.”
“And supper . . . ?”
The words were delivered in such level, domestic tones that; the
lieutenant came near to thinking, for the fraction of a second, that
everything had been a hallucination.
“I don’t think we’ll need supper. But perhaps you could warm some sake?”
“As you wish.”
As Reiko rose and took a tanzen gown from the cabinet for after the
bath, she purposely directed her husband’s attention to the opened
drawer. The lieutenant rose, crossed to the cabinet, and looked inside.
From the ordered array of paper wrappings he read, one by one, the
addresses on the keepsakes. There was no grief in the lieutenant’s
response to this demonstration of heroic resolve. His heart was filled
with tenderness. Like a husband who is proudly shown the childish
purchases of a young wife, the lieutenant, overwhelmed by affection,
lovingly embraced his wife from behind and implanted a kiss upon her
Reiko felt the roughness of the lieutenant’s unshaven skin against her
neck. This sensation, more than being just a thing of this world, was
for Reiko almost the world itself, but now—with the feeling that it was
soon to be lost forever–it had freshness beyond a]l her experience.
Each moment had its own vital strength, and the senses in every corner
of her body were reawakened. Accepting her husband’s caresses from
behind, Reiko raised herself on the tips of her toes, letting the
vitality seep through her entire body.
“First the bath, and then, after some sake . . . lay out the bedding
upstairs, will you?”
The lieutenant whispered the words into his wife’s ear. Reiko silently
Flinging off his uniform, the lieutenant went to the bath. To faint
background noises of slopping water Reiko tended the charcoal brazier
in the living room and began the preparations for warming the sake.
Taking the tanzen, a sash, and some underclothes, she went to the
bathroom to ask how the water was. In the midst of a coiling cloud of
steam the lieutenant was sitting cross-legged on the floor, shaving,
and she could dimly discern the rippling movements of the muscles on
his damp, powerful back as they responded to the movement of his arms.
There was nothing to suggest a time of any special significance. Reiko,
going busily about her tasks, was preparing side dishes from odds and
ends in stock. Her hands did not tremble. If anything, she managed even
more efficiently and smoothly than usual. From time to time, it is
true, there was a strange throbbing deep within her breast. Like
distant lightning, it had a moment of sharp intensity and then vanished
without trace. Apart from that, nothing was in any way out of the
The lieutenant, shaving in the bathroom, felt his warmed body
miraculously healed at last of the desperate tiredness of the days of
indecision and filled–in spite of the death which lay ahead–with
pleasurable anticipation. The sound of his wife going about her work
came to him faintly. A healthy physical craving, submerged for two
days, reasserted itself.
The lieutenant was confident there had been no impurity in that joy
they had experienced when resolving upon death. They had both sensed at
that moment-though not of course, in any clear and conscious way–that
those permissible pleasures which they shared in private were once more
beneath the protection of Righteousness and Divine Power, and of a
complete and unassailable morality. On looking into each other’s eyes
and discovering there an honorable death, they had felt themselves safe
once more behind steel walls which none could destroy, encased in an
impenetrable armor of Beauty and Truth. Thus, so far from seeing any
inconsistency or conflict between the urges of his flesh and the
sincerity of his patriotism, the lieutenant was even able to regard the
two as parts of the same thing.
Thrusting his face close to the dark, cracked, misted wall mirror, the
lieutenant shaved himself with great care. This would be his death
face. There must be no unsightly blemishes. The clean-shaven face
gleamed once more with a youthful luster, seeming to brighten the
darkness of the mirror. There was a certain elegance, he even felt, in
the association of death with this radiantly healthy face.
Just as it looked now, this would become his death face! Already, in
fact, it had half departed from the lieutenant’s personal possession
and had become the bust above a dead soldier’s memorial. As an
experiment he closed his eyes tight. Everything was wrapped in
blackness, and he was no longer a living, seeing creature.
Returning from the bath, the traces of the shave glowing faintly blue
beneath his smooth cheeks, he seated himself beside the now
well-kindled charcoal brazier. Busy though Reiko was, he noticed, she
had found time lightly to touch up her face. Her cheeks were gay and
her lips moist. There was no shadow of sadness to be seen. Truly, the
lieutenant felt, as he saw this mark of his young wife’s passionate
nature, he had chosen the wife he ought to have chosen.
As soon as the lieutenant had drained his sake cup he offered it to
Reiko. Reiko had never before tasted sake, but she accepted without
hesitation and sipped timidly.
“Come here,” the lieutenant said.
Reiko moved to her husband’s side and was embraced as she leaned
backward across his lap. Her breast was in violent commotion, as if
sadness, joy, and the potent sake were mingling and reacting within
her. The lieutenant looked down into his wife’s face. It was the last
face he would see in this world, the last face he would see of his
wife. The lieutenant scrutinized the face minutely, with the eyes of a
traveler bidding farewell to splendid vistas which he will never
revisit. It was a face he could not tire of looking at–the features
regular yet not cold, the lips lightly closed with a soft strength. The
lieutenant kissed those lips, unthinkingly. And suddenly, though there
was not the slightest distortion of the face into the unsightliness of
sobbing, he noticed that tears were welling slowly from beneath the
long lashes of the closed eyes and brimming over into a glistening
When, a little later, the lieutenant urged that they should move to the
upstairs bedroom, his wife replied that she would follow after taking a
bath. Climbing the stairs alone to the bedroom, where the air was
already warmed by the gas heater, the lieutenant lay down on the
bedding with arms outstretched and legs apart. Even the time at which
he lay waiting for his wife to join him was no later and no earlier
He folded his hands beneath his head and gazed at the dark boards of
the ceiling in the dimness beyond the range of the standard lamp. Was
it death he was now waiting for? Or a wild ecstasy of the senses? The
two seemed to overlap, almost as if the object of this bodily desire
was death itself. But, however that might be, it was certain that never
before had the lieutenant tasted such total freedom.
There was the sound of a car outside the window. He could hear the
screech of its tires skidding in the snow piled at the side of the
street. The sound of its horn re-echoed from near-by walls. . . .
Listening to these noises he had the feeling that this house rose like
a solitary island in the ocean of a society going as restlessly about
its business as ever. All around. vastly and untidily, stretched the
country for which he grieved. He was to give his life for it. But would
that great county, with which he was prepared to remonstrate to the
extent of destroying himself take the slightest heed of his death? He
did not know; and not matter. His was a battlefield without glory, a
battlefield where none could display deeds of valor: it was the front
line of the spirit.
Reiko’s footsteps sounded on the stairway. The steep stairs in this old
house creaked badly. There were fond memories in that creaking, and
many a time, while waiting in bed, the lieutenant had listened to its
welcome sound. At the thought that he would hear it no more he listened
with intense concentration, striving for every corner of every moment
of this precious time to be filled with the sound of those soft
footfalls on the creaking stairway. The moments seemed transformed to
jewels, sparkling with inner light.
Reiko wore a Nogoya sash about the waist of her yukata, but as the
lieutenant reached toward it, its redness sobered by the dimness of the
light, Reiko’s hand moved to his assistance and the sash fell away,
slithering swiftly to the floor. As she stood before him, still in her
yukata, the lieutenant inserted his hands through the side slits
beneath each sleeve, intending to embrace her as she was; but at the
touch of his finger tips upon the warm naked flesh, and as the armpits
closed gently about his hands, his whole body was suddenly aflame.
In a few moments the two lay naked before the glowing gas heater.
Neither spoke the thought, but their hearts, their bodies, and their
pounding breasts blazed with the knowledge that this was the very last
time. It was as if the words “The Last Time” were spelled out, in
invisible brushstrokes, across every inch of their bodies.
The lieutenant drew his wife close and kissed her vehemently. As their
tongues explored each other’s mouths, reaching out into the smooth,
moist interior, they felt as if the still-unknown agonies of death had
tempered their senses to the keenness of red-hot steel. The agonies
they could not yet feel, the distant pains of death, had refined their
awareness of pleasure.
“This is the last time I shall see your body,” said the lieutenant.
“Let me look at it closely.” And, tilting the shade on the lampstand to
one side, he directed the rays along the full length of Reiko’s
Reiko lay still with her eyes closed. The light from the low lamp
clearly revealed the majestic sweep of her white flesh. The lieutenant,
not without a touch of egocentricity, rejoiced that he would never see
this beauty crumble in death.
At his leisure, the lieutenant allowed the unforgettable spectacle to
engrave itself upon his mind. With one hand he fondled the hair, with
the other he softly stroked the magnificent face, implanting kisses
here and there where his eyes lingered. The quiet coldness of the high,
tapering forehead, the closed eyes with their long lashes beneath
faintly etched brows, the set of the finely shaped nose, the gleam of
teeth glimpsed between full, regular lips, the soft cheeks and the
small, wise chin . . . these things conjured up in the lieutenant’s
mind the vision of a truly radiant death face, and again and again he
pressed his lips tight against the white throat-where Reiko’s own hand
was soon to strike-and the throat reddened faintly beneath his kisses.
Returning to the mouth he laid his lips against it with the gentlest of
pressures, and moved them rhythmically over Reiko’s with the light
rolling motion of a small boat. If he closed his eyes, the world became
a rocking cradle.
Wherever the lieutenant’s eyes moved his lips faithfully followed. The
high, swelling breasts, surmounted by nipples like the buds of a wild
cherry, hardened as the lieutenant’s lips closed about them. The arms
flowed smoothly downward from each side of the breast, tapering toward
the wrists, yet losing nothing of their roundness or symmetry, and at
their tips were those delicate fingers which had held the fan at the
wedding ceremony. One by one, as the lieutenant kissed them, the
fingers withdrew behind their neighbor as if in shame. . . . The
natural hollow curving between the bosom and the stomach carried in its
lines a suggestion not only of softness but of resilient strength, and
while it gave forewarning of the rich curves spreading outward from
here to the hips it had, in itself, an appearance only of restraint and
proper discipline. The whiteness and richness of the stomach and hips
was like milk brimming in a great bowl, and the sharply sh8ip of the
navel could have been the fresh impress of a raindrop, fallen there
that very moment. Where the shadows gathered more thickly, hair
clustered, gentle and sensitive, and as the agitation mounted in the
now no longer passive body there hung over this region a scent like the
smoldering of fragrant blossoms, growing steadily more pervasive.
At length, in a tremulous voice, Reiko spoke.
“Show me. . . . Let me look too, for the last time.”
Never before had he heard from his wife’s lips so strong and
unequivocal a request. It was as if something which her modesty had
wished to keep hidden to the end had suddenly burst its bonds of
constraint. The lieutenant obediently lay back and surrendered himself
to his wife. Lithely she raised her white, trembling body, and–burning
with an innocent desire to return to her husband what he had done for
her–placed two white fingers on the lieutenant’s eyes, which gazed
fixedly up at her, and gently stroked them shut.
Suddenly overwhelmed by tenderness, her cheeks flushed by a dizzying
uprush of emotion, Reiko threw her arms about the lieutenant’s close
cropped head. The bristly hairs rubbed painfully against her breast,
the prominent nose was cold as it dug into her flesh, and his breath
was hot. Relaxing her embrace, she gazed down at her husband’s
masculine face. The severe brows, the closed eyes, the splendid bridge
of the nose, the shapely lips drawn firmly together . . . the blue,
cleanshaven cheeks reflecting the light and gleaming smoothly. Reiko
kissed each of these. She kissed the broad nape of the neck, the
strong, erect shoulders, the powerful chest with its twin circles like
shields and its russet nipples. In the armpits, deeply shadowed by the
ample flesh of the shoulders and chest, a sweet and melancholy odor
emanated from the growth of hair, and in the sweetness of this odor was
contained, somehow, the essence of young death. The lieutenant’s naked
skin glowed like a field of barley, and everywhere the muscles showed
in sharp relief, converging on the lower abdomen about the small,
unassuming navel. Gazing at the youthful, firm stomach, modestly
covered by a vigorous growth of hair, Reiko thought of it as it was
soon to be, cruelly cut by the sword, and she laid her head upon it,
sobbing in pity, and bathed it with kisses.
At the touch of his wife’s tears upon his stomach the lieutenant felt
ready to endure with courage the cruelest agonies of his suicide.
What ecstasies they experienced after these tender exchanges may well
be imagined. The lieutenant raised himself and enfolded his wife in a
powerful embrace, her body now limp with exhaustion after her grief and
tears. Passionately they held their faces close, rubbing cheek against
cheek. Reiko’s body was trembling. Their breasts, moist with sweat,
were tightly joined, and every inch of the young and beautiful bodies
had become so much one with the other that it seemed impossible there
should ever again be a separation. Reiko cried out. From the heights
they plunged into the abyss, and from the abyss they took wing and
soared once more to dizzying heights. The lieutenant panted like the
regimental standard-bearer on a route march. . . . As one cycle ended,
almost immediately a new wave of passion would be generated, and
together–with no trace of fatigue–they would climb again in a single
breathless movement to the very summit.
When the lieutenant at last turned away, it was not from weariness. For
one thing, he was anxious not to undermine the considerable strength he
would need in carrying out his suicide. For another, he would have been
sorry to mar the sweetness of these last memories by overindulgence.
Since the lieutenant had clearly desisted, Reiko too with her usual
compliance followed his example. The two lay on their backs, with
fingers interlaced, staring fixedly at the dark ceiling. The room was
warm from the heater, and even when the sweat had ceased to pour from
their bodies they felt no cold. Outside, in the hushed night, the
sounds of passing traffic had ceased. Even the noises of the trains and
streetcars around Yotsuya station did not penetrate this far. After
echoing through the region bounded by the moat, they were lost in the
heavily wooded park fronting the broad driveway before Akasaka Palace.
It was hard to believe in the tension gripping this whole quarter,
where the two factions of the bitterly divided Imperial Army now
confronted each other, poised for battle.
Savoring the warmth glowing within themselves, they lay still and
recalled the ecstasies they had just known. Each moment of the
experience was relived. They remembered the taste of kisses which had
never wearied, the touch of naked flesh, episode after episode of
dizzying bliss. But already, from the dark boards of the ceiling, the
face of death was peering down. These joys had been final, and their
bodies would never know them again. Not that joy of this intensity-and
the same thought had occurred to them both-was ever likely to be
reexperienced, even if they should live on to old age.
The feel of their fingers intertwined–this too would soon be lost. Even
the wood-grain patterns they now gazed at on the dark ceiling boards
would be taken from them. They could feel death edging in, nearer and
nearer. There could be no hesitation now. They must have the courage to
reach out to death themselves, and to seize it.
“Well, let’s make our preparations,” said the lieutenant. The note of
determination in the words was unmistakable, but at the same time Reiko
had never heard her husband’s voice so warm and tender.
After they had risen, a variety of tasks awaited them.
The lieutenant, who had never once before helped with the bedding, now
cheerfully slid back the door of the closet, lifted the mattress across
the room by himself, and stowed it away inside.
Reiko turned off the gas heater and put away the lamp standard. During
the lieutenant’s absence she had arranged this room carefully, sweeping
and dusting it to a fresh cleanness, and now–if one overlooked the
rosewood table drawn into one corner–the eight-mat room gave all the
appearance of a reception room ready to welcome an important guest.
“We’ve seen some drinking here, haven’t we? With Kano and Homma and
Noguchi . . .”
“Yes, they were great drinkers, all of them.”
“We’ll be meeting them before long, in the other world. They’ll tease
us, I imagine, when they find I’ve brought you with me.”
Descending the stairs, the lieutenant turned to look back into this
calm, clean room, now brightly illuminated by the ceiling lamp. There
floated across his mind the faces of the young officers who had drunk
there, and laughed, and innocently bragged. He had never dreamed then
that he would one day cut open his stomach in this room.
In the two rooms downstairs husband and wife busied themselves smoothly
and serenely with their respective preparations. The lieutenant went to
the toilet, and then to the bathroom to wash. Meanwhile Reiko folded
away her husband’s padded robe, placed his uniform tunic, his trousers,
and a newly cut bleached loincloth in the bathroom, and set out sheets
of paper on the living-room table for the farewell notes. Then she
removed the lid from the writing box and began rubbing ink from the ink
tablet. She had already decided upon the wording of her own note.
Reiko’s fingers pressed hard upon the cold gilt letters of the ink
tablet, and the water in the shallow well at once darkened, as if a
black cloud had spread across it. She stopped thinking that this
repeated action, this pressure from her fingers, this rise and fall of
faint sound, was all and solely for death. It was a routine domestic
task, a simple paring away of time until death should finally stand
before her. But somehow, in the increasingly smooth motion of the
tablet rubbing on the stone, and in the scent from the thickening ink,
there was unspeakable darkness.
Neat in his uniform, which he now wore next to his skin, the lieutenant
emerged from the bathroom. Without a word he seated himself at the
table, bolt upright, took a brush in his hand, and stared undecidedly
at the paper before him.
Reiko took a white silk kimono with her and entered the bathroom. When
she reappeared in the living room, clad in the white kimono and with
her face lightly made up, the farewell note lay completed on the table
beneath the lamp. The thick black brushstrokes said simply:
“Long Live the Imperial Forces–Army Lieutenant Takeyama Shinji.”
While Reiko sat opposite him writing her own note, the lieutenant gazed
in silence, intensely serious, at the controlled movement of his wife’s
pale fingers as they manipulated the brush.
With their respective notes in their hands–the lieutenant’s sword
strapped to his side, Reiko’s small dagger thrust into the sash of her
white kimono–the two of them stood before the god shelf and silently
prayed. Then they put out all the downstairs lights. As he mounted the
stairs the lieutenant turned his head and gazed back at the striking,
white-clad figure of his wife, climbing behind him, with lowered eyes,
from the darkness beneath.
The farewell notes were laid side by side in the alcove of the upstairs
room. They wondered whether they ought not to remove the hanging
scroll, but since it had been written by their go-between, Lieutenant
General Ozeki, and consisted, moreover, of two Chinese characters
signifying “Sincerity,” they left it where it was. Even if it were to
become stained with splashes of blood, they felt that the lieutenant
general would understand.
The lieutenant, sitting erect with his back to the alcove, laid his
sword on the floor before him.
Reiko sat facing him, a mat’s width away. With the rest of her so
severely white the touch of rouge on her lips seemed remarkably
Across the dividing mat they gazed intently into each other’s eyes. The
lieutenant’s sword lay before his knees. Seeing it, Reiko recalled
their first night and was overwhelmed with sadness. The lieutenant
spoke, in a hoarse voice:
“As I have no second to help me I shall cut deep. It may look
unpleasant, but please do not panic. Death of any sort is a fearful
thing to watch. You must not be discouraged by what you see. Is that
Reiko nodded deeply.
Looking at the slender white figure of his wife the lieutenant
experienced a bizarre excitement. What he was about to perform was an
act in his public capacity as a soldier, something he had never
previously shown his wife. It called for a resolution equal to the
courage to enter battle; it was a death of no less degree and quality
than death in the front line. It was his conduct on the battlefield
that he was now to display.
Momentarily the thought led the lieutenant to a strange fantasy. A
lonely death on the battlefield, a death beneath the eyes of his
beautiful wife . . . in the sensation that he was now to die in these
two dimensions, realizing an impossible union of them both, there was
sweetness beyond words. This must be the very pinnacle of good fortune,
he thought. To have every moment of his death observed by those
beautiful eyes–it was like being borne to death on a gentle, fragrant
breeze. There was some special favor here. He did not understand
precisely what it was, but it was a domain unknown to others: a
dispensation granted to no one else had been permitted to himself. In
the radiant, bridelike figure of his white-robed wife the lieutenant
seemed to see a vision of all those things he had loved and for which
he was to lay down his life–the Imperial Household, the Nation, the
Army Flag. All these, no less than the wife who sat before him, were
presences observing him closely with clear and never-faltering eyes.
Reiko too was gazing intently at her husband, so soon to die, and she
thought that never in this world had she seen anything so beautiful.
The lieutenant always looked well in uniform, but now, as he
contemplated death with severe brows and firmly closed lips, he
revealed what was perhaps masculine beauty at its most superb.
“It’s time to go,” the lieutenant said at last.
Reiko bent her body low to the mat in a deep bow. She could not raise
her face. She did not wish to spoil her make-up with tears, but the
tears could not be held back.
When at length she looked up she saw hazily through the tears that her
husband had wound a white bandage around the blade of his now
unsheathed sword, leaving five or six inches of naked steel showing at
Resting the sword in its cloth wrapping on the mat before him, the
lieutenant rose from his knees, resettled himself crosslegged, and
unfastened the hooks of his uniform collar. His eyes no longer saw his
wife. Slowly, one by one, he undid the flat brass buttons. The dusky
brown chest was revealed, and then the stomach. He unclasped his belt
and undid the buttons of his trousers. The pure whiteness of the
thickly coiled loincloth showed itself. The lieutenant pushed the cloth
down with both hands, further to ease his stomach, and then reached for
the white bandaged blade of his sword. With his left hand he massaged
his abdomen, glancing downward as he did so.
To reassure himself on the sharpness of his sword’s cutting edge the
lieutenant folded back the left trouser flap, exposing a little of his
thigh, and lightly drew the blade across the skin. Blood welled up in
the wound at once, and several streaks of red trickled downward,
glistening in the strong light.
It was the first time Reiko had ever seen her husband’s blood and she
felt a violent throbbing in her chest. She looked at her husband’s
face. The lieutenant was looking at the blood with calm appraisal. For
a moment- though thinking at the same time that it was hollow
comfort–Reiko experienced a sense of relief.
The lieutenant’s eyes fixed his wife with an intense, hawklike stare.
Moving the sword around to his front, he raised himself slightly on his
hips and let the upper half of his body lean over the sword point. That
he was mustering his whole strength was apparent from the angry tension
of the uniform at his shoulders. The lieutenant aimed to strike deep
into the left of his stomach. His sharp cry pierced the silence of the
Despite the effort he had himself put into the blow, the lieutenant had
the impression that someone else had struck the side of his stomach
agonizingly with a thick rod of iron. For a second or so his head
reeled and he had no idea what had happened. The five or six inches of
naked point had vanished completely into his flesh, and the white
bandage, gripped in his clenched fist, pressed directly against his
He returned to consciousness. The blade had certainly pierced the wall
of the stomach, he thought. His breathing was difficult, his chest
thumped violently, and in some far deep region, which he could hardly
believe was a part of himself, a fearful and excruciating pain came
welling up as if the ground had split open to disgorge a boiling stream
of molten rock. The pain came suddenly nearer, with terrifying speed.
The lieutenant bit his lower lip and stifled an instinctive moan.
Was this seppuku?–he was thinking. It was a sensation of utter chaos,
as if the sky had fallen on his head and the world was reeling
drunkenly. His will power and courage, which had seemed so robust
before he made the incision, had now dwindled to something like a
single hairlike thread of steel, and he was assailed by the uneasy
feeling that he must advance along this thread, clinging to it with
desperation. His clenched fist had grown moist. Looking down, he saw
that both his hand and the cloth about the blade were drenched in
blood. His loincloth too was dyed a deep red. It struck him as
incredible that, amidst this terrible agony, things which could be seen
could still be seen, and existing things existed still.
The moment the lieutenant thrust the sword into his left side and she
saw the deathly pallor fall across his face, like an abruptly lowered
curtain, Reiko had to struggle to prevent herself from rushing to his
side. Whatever happened, she must watch. She must be a witness. That
was the duty her husband had laid upon her. Opposite her, a mat’s space
away, she could clearly see her husband biting his lip to stifle the
pain. The pain was there, with absolute certainty, before her eyes. And
Reiko had no means of rescuing him from it.
The sweat glistened on her husband’s forehead. The lieutenant closed
his eyes, and then opened them again, as if experimenting. The eyes had
lost their luster, and seemed innocent and empty like the eyes of a
The agony before Reiko’s eyes burned as strong as the summer sun,
utterly remote from the grief which seemed to be tearing herself apart
within. The pain grew steadily in stature, stretching upward. Reiko
felt that her husband had already become a man in a separate world, a
man whose whole being had been resolved into pain, a prisoner in a cage
of pain where no hand could reach out to him. But Reiko felt no pain at
all. Her grief was not pain. As she thought about this, Reiko began to
feel as if someone had raised a cruel wall of glass high between
herself and her husband.
Ever since her marriage her husband’s existence had been her own
existence, and every breath of his had been a breath drawn by herself.
But now, while her husband’s existence in pain was a vivid reality,
Reiko could find in this grief of hers no certain proof at all of her
With only his right hand on the sword the lieutenant began to cut
sideways across his stomach. But as the blade became entangled with the
entrails it was pushed constantly outward by their soft resilience; and
the lieutenant realized that it would be necessary, as he cut, to use
both hands to keep the point pressed deep into his stomach. He pulled
the blade across. It did not cut as easily as he had expected. He
directed the strength of his whole body into his right hand and pulled
again. There was a cut of three or four inches.
The pain spread slowly outward from the inner depths until the whole
stomach reverberated. It was like the wild clanging of a bell. Or like
a thousand bells which jangled simultaneously at every breath he
breathed and every throb of his pulse, rocking his whole being. The
lieutenant could no longer stop himself from moaning. But by now the
blade had cut its way through to below the navel, and when he noticed
this he felt a sense of satisfaction, and a renewal of courage.
The volume of blood had steadily increased, and now it spurted from the
wound as if propelled by the beat of the pulse. The mat before the
lieutenant was drenched red with splattered blood, and more blood
overflowed onto it from pools which gathered in the folds of the
lieutenant’s khaki trousers. A spot, like a bird, came flying across to
Reiko and settled on the lap of her white silk kimono.
By the time the lieutenant had at last drawn the sword across to the
right side of his stomach, the blade was already cutting shallow and
had revealed its naked tip, slippery with blood and grease. But,
suddenly stricken by a fit of vomiting, the lieutenant cried out
hoarsely. The vomiting made the fierce pain fiercer still, and the
stomach, which had thus far remained firm and compact, now abruptly
heaved, opening wide its wound, and the entrails burst through, as if
the wound too were vomiting. Seemingly ignorant of their master’s
suffering, the entrails gave an impression of robust health and almost
disagreeable vitality as they slipped smoothly out and spilled over
into the crotch. The lieutenant’s head drooped, his shoulders heaved,
his eyes opened to narrow slits, and a thin trickle of saliva dribbled
from his mouth. The gold markings on his epaulets caught the light and
Blood was scattered everywhere. The lieutenant was soaked in it to his
knees, and he sat now in a crumpled and listless posture, one hand on
the floor. A raw smell filled the room. The lieutenant, his head
drooping, retched repeatedly, and the movement showed vividly in his
shoulders. The blade of the sword, now pushed back by the entrails and
exposed to its tip, was still in the lieutenant’s right hand.
It would be difficult to imagine a more heroic sight than that of the
lieutenant at this moment, as he mustered his strength and flung back
his head. The movement was performed with sudden violence, and the back
of his head struck with a sharp crack against the alcove pillar. Reiko
had been sitting until now with her face lowered, gazing in fascination
at the tide of blood advancing toward her knees, but the sound took her
by surprise and she looked up.
The lieutenant’s face was not the face of a living man. The eyes were
hollow, the skin parched, the once so lustrous cheeks and lips the
color of dried mud. The right hand alone was moving. Laboriously
gripping the sword, it hovered shakily in the air like the hand of a
marionette and strove to direct the point at the base of the
lieutenant’s throat. Reiko watched her husband make this last, most
heart-rending, futile exertion. Glistening with blood and grease, the
point was thrust at the throat again and again. And each time it missed
its aim. The strength to guide it was no longer there. The straying
point struck the collar and the collar badges. Although its hooks had
been unfastened, the stiff military collar had closed together again
and was protecting the throat.
Reiko could bear the sight no longer. She tried to go to her husband’s
help, but she could not stand. She moved through the blood on her
knees, and her white skirts grew deep red. Moving to the rear of her
husband, she helped no more than by loosening the collar. The quivering
blade at last contacted the naked flesh of the throat. At that moment
Reiko’s impression was that she herself had propelled her husband
forward; but that was not the case. It was a movement planned by the
lieutenant himself, his last exertion of strength. Abruptly he threw
his body at the blade, and the blade pierced his neck, emerging at the
nape. There was a tremendous spurt of blood and the lieutenant lay
still, cold blue-tinged steel protruding from his neck at the back.
Slowly, her socks slippery with blood, Reiko descended the stairway.
The upstairs room was now completely still.
Switching on the ground-floor lights, she checked the gas jet and the
main gas plug and poured water over the smoldering, half-buried
charcoal in the brazier. She stood before the upright mirror in the
four-and-a-half-mat room and held up her skirts. The bloodstains made
it seem as if a bold, vivid pattern was printed across the lower half
of her white kimono. When she sat down before the mirror, she was
conscious of the dampness and coldness of her husband’s blood in the
region of her thighs, and she shivered. Then, for a long while, she
lingered over her toilet preparations. She applied the rouge generously
to her cheeks, and her lips too she painted heavily. This was no longer
make-up to please her husband. It was make-up for the world which she
would leave behind, and there was a touch of the magnificent and the
spectacular in her brushwork. When she rose, the mat before the mirror
was wet with blood. Reiko was not concerned about this.
Returning from the toilet, Reiko stood finally on the cement floor of
the porchway. When her husband had bolted the door here last night it
had been in preparation for death. For a while she stood immersed in
the consideration of a simple problem. Should she now leave the bolt
drawn? If she were to lock the door, it could be that the neighbors
might not notice their suicide for several days. Reiko did not relish
the thought of their two corpses putrifying before discovery. After
all, it seemed, it would be best to leave it open . . . She released
the bolt, and also drew open the frosted-glass door a fraction. . . .
At once a chill wind blew in. There was no sign of anyone in the
midnight streets, and stars glittered ice-cold through the trees in the
large house opposite.
Leaving the door as it was, Reiko mounted the stairs. She had walked
here and there for some time and her socks were no longer slippery.
About halfway up, her nostrils were already assailed by a peculiar
The lieutenant was lying on his face in a sea of blood. The point
protruding from his neck seemed to have grown even more prominent than
before. Reiko walked heedlessly across the blood. Sitting beside the
lieutenant’s corpse, she stared intently at the face, which lay on one
cheek on the mat. The eyes were opened wide, as if the lieutenant’s
attention had been attracted by something. She raised the head, folding
it in her sleeve, wiped the blood from the lips, and bestowed a last
Then she rose and took from the closet a new white blanket and a waist
cord. To prevent any derangement of her skirts, she wrapped the blanket
about her waist and bound it there firmly with the cord.
Reiko sat herself on a spot about one foot distant from the
lieutenant’s body. Drawing the dagger from her sash, she examined its
dully gleaming blade intently, and held it to her tongue. The taste of
the polished steel was slightly sweet.
Reiko did not linger. When she thought how the pain which had
previously opened such a gulf between herself and her dying husband was
now to become a part of her own experience, she saw before her only the
joy of herself entering a realm her husband had already made his own.
In her husband’s agonized face there had been something inexplicable
which she was seeing for the first time. Now she would solve that
riddle. Reiko sensed that at last she too would be able to taste the
true bitterness and sweetness of that great moral principle in which
her husband believed. What had until now been tasted only faintly
through her husband’s example she was about to savor directly with her
Reiko rested the point of the blade against the base of her throat. She
thrust hard. The wound was only shallow. Her head blazed, and her hands
shook uncontrollably. She gave the blade a strong pull sideways. A warm
substance flooded into her mouth, and everything before her eyes
reddened, in a vision of spouting blood. She gathered her strength and
plunged the point of the blade deep into her throat.