National | Regional voices: Chubu

From Yukio Mishima with love: Former lighthouse keeper reminisces about correspondence with novelist

Chunichi Shimbun

Michio Suzuki, 87, of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, met renowned novelist Yukio Mishima (1925-70) in March 1953 when he was working at Kamishima Lighthouse in Toba, Mie Prefecture.

Since then, they exchanged letters, nine of which Suzuki has kept for more than 50 years.

“(The letters were) like love letters. He was such a kind person,” Suzuki said.

Mishima visited Kamishima Island, located at the mouth of Ise Bay, twice — first in March 1953 and again during August and September of the same year — and published “Shiosai” (The Sound of Waves), one of his best-selling novels, the following year.

The novel depicts a romance between a fisherman and an ama (female diver) set on a fictional island in Ise Bay. Kamishima is believed to have been the island that inspired Mishima to base his story on. He was awarded the first Shincho Prize for the book, and several films have been made since it was published.

“He was pale-faced and I had the impression that he was an urban-style young man,” Suzuki said, recalling the time when he first met Mishima at the age of 21. “He called me with (the honorific suffix) san and behaved politely and sincerely.”

Out of curiosity, Suzuki tagged along with Mishima with a camera as he explored the island.

Suzuki said he doesn’t remember how they started exchanging letters. “Maybe I sent him photographs,” he said. The nine letters he kept are dated between March 20, 1953, soon after his first visit, and Nov. 19, 1965, five years before Mishima committed suicide.

In the first letter, Mishima talked about Suzuki’s task of keeping records of ships that pass by the lighthouse and sending telegrams so that cargo owners at ports nearby can start preparing. He wrote: “I like Kamishima Lighthouse much more (than other lighthouses) because of the records of shipping movements, which is fascinating.”

During his roughly one-week stay, Mishima repeatedly visited the lighthouse to watch Suzuki write in the log and send telegrams. “Maybe he liked that kind of solitary job,” Suzuki said.

Mishima, apparently having taken to Suzuki, asked him if it was alright to make Suzuki appear in the novel he was working on. But, after hearing that the novel was a romance, Suzuki politely declined the offer. Then Mishima told him later that he wrote about a young lighthouse watchman based on Suzuki in a play “Fune no Aisatsu” (Greetings at the Boat).

“I wanted to nurture that watch house, and you, with my poetic urge,” Mishima wrote in the letter.

“Since (the play) was not a romance, I wasn’t embarrassed but was happy that he wrote about me,” Suzuki said.

Suzuki sent letters with photographs when he got married and had a child. Their exchanges of letters continued until Mishima committed suicide. “He was a kind man who laughed wildly. I couldn’t associate him with suicide,” he said.

The nine letters were put on public display in July, after they were confirmed by Hideaki Sato, head of Mishima Yukio Literary Museum in Yamanakako, Yamanashi Prefecture, as examples of Mishima’s unpublished letters.

“The letters are written in a far too passionate way for those sent to a young man he met on an island,” Sato said. “Maybe he was trying to control his feelings toward Mr. Suzuki when he was writing them.”

“Telegrams reporting on passing ships appear also in his last work ‘Tennin Gosui’ (The Decay of the Angel). He must have been thinking of Mr. Suzuki until his last years.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Oct. 29.