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  • Yuki Tejima

Yukio Mishima's Letter-Writing Class

At the beginning of any year, there are so many things I’m sure I’m going to do.

I will start running again, do yoga daily, maintain a writing routine, start a diary, cook more at home, and I’m going to read a book a day…and oh yes, I’m going to handwrite a letter to someone each week.

You know where this story leads, don’t you?

In a blink it’s mid-January and I haven’t been running in a few days because of a business trip, I can never make it to yoga class in time or I’m too tired by 7:30pm, and my ‘writing routine’ looks more like frantic typing at 11:45pm in an effort to get the writing done that day.

And those letters?

Well, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of seasonal letter comes after the nengajo (New Year postcards), and whether it’s rude to send cards out now when I’ve completely missed the holiday card boat?

So. No letter yet. Not a one.

But, I thought, I could still write that blog post I’ve been meaning to write since reading Yukio Mishima’s novel, Yukio Mishima Letter-Writing Class, last November.

I did post about it here.

The 1968 book itself is a light and humorous novel consisting entirely of letters between five characters in their 20s and 40s, with lots on their mind regarding love, money, betrayal, pregnancy, marriage, friendships, a color TV.

It’s all very non-Mishima, an entertaining circus of outspoken, humorous Japanese personalities. The writing is of course subtle and brilliant, with each character bringing a distinct voice to the mix.

I can imagine the extraordinary effort required of the translator (perhaps explaining why there is currently no translation), trying to capture every nuance tucked snugly between the lines of the impassioned letters.

I won’t attempt that.

I might, however, attempt a translation of an excerpt at the end of the book (in a section separate from the novel) where the author shares some letter-writing advice.

Remember that the tone of the book is a break from Mishima tradition - it’s comedy with a straight face.

Now, the excerpt.

Translated by me in a non-official capacity.

The first and most important thing in letter writing is this.
Do not get the recipient’s name wrong. If you get the person’s name wrong, it cancels out all of the thoughtful words you have taken the effort to lay out in the letter.
There are many complicated names (kanji characters) in the world. But there is nothing more irritating than someone sending a letter with your name spelled wrong. I receive many letters, but when someone who claims they study literature has misspelled my name, I begin to doubt his sensitivities as a scholar of literature.
Next, when writing a letter, it is essential to begin writing based on the premise that the recipient has no interest in you, or anyone else. This is crucial.
To know the world is to know that humans are not capable of maintaining deep interest in people outside of themselves. The only times they become heavily invested is when there is something in it for them. It’s crucial to understand this bitter, bitter philosophy in the deepest recesses of your soul.
The “something in it” doesn’t always have to involve money. It can include honor, or sexual desire.
A recipient pays close attention to a letter only for the following reasons:
1. Large Amounts of Money
2. Honor
3. Sexual Desire
4. Emotion
Nothing else.
Now, the first three are very clear in their intention. But the fourth encompasses a great many things.
When I say emotion, it includes every human emotion. It includes humor.
Thoughtful, non-calculating letters that move the recipient fall into the fourth category.
Knowing people have no interest in what you have to say, however, the fourth type of letter is the most difficult to write.
Using words and only words to move another person requires great writing technique. You can write passionately, but if the recipient does not share that same passion, the letter is headed straight to the waste basket. I receive many letters from female readers that fall into this category.
When you understand that every person is concerned only with their own goals and well-being, and that caring about other people is the exception and not the rule, your letters will start to come alive, and you will be able to write letters that truly move people.
- Yukio Mishima, Yukio Mishima Letter-Writing Class

Sounds easy enough. (Right.) Now, let’s just go and write those letters! 😉

Thank you for reading to the very end.

See you again soon!


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