In the autumn of 1956, Japan's most renowned literary critic, the 54-year-old Hideo Kobayashi, engaged in taidan ( a "conversation" to be published in a magazine) with 31-year-old rising literary star Yukio Mishima.

Early that year Mishima's novel, "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," had been published to widespread acclaim, following a series of best-selling novels such as "The Sound of Waves," that had already been turned into films. In the course of their discussion Kobayashi exclaimed to Mishima, "You are exceedingly talented!" — and with that, the official seal was placed on Mishima's meteoric rise to fame.

From the 1930s, Kobayashi (1902-83) had been the key figure in creating "literary criticism" as an independent art form. Before him, writing essays of criticism tended to be a sideline activity that prepared the ground for greater achievements, whether it was the Enlightenment critic Yukichi Fukuzawa putting his arguments for modernization into practice by setting up Keio University, or novelist Junichiro Tanizaki transmuting the pith of "In Praise of Shadows" into the prose of his monumental novel, "The Makioka Sisters."