Name at birth: Kimitake Hiraoka
Yukio Mishima is one of the most widely-read Japanese authors of the 20th century, due in part to his dramatic suicide in 1970. Born in Tokyo, Mishima studied law and was a civil servant before turning to writing exclusively. Over his career he was incredibly prolific, a writer of novels, short stories, plays and political and literary criticism, beginning in the late 1940s. Nominated for the Nobel Prize three times, his most famous books include Gogo no eiko (1965, translated as The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea), Kinkakuji (1956, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and the tetralogy Hojo no umi (1965-71, The Sea of Fertility). His personal life got just as much attention as his writing: after a 1952 trip to Greece Mishima began a strict regimen of body-building, and he became keen on photographing his chiseled physique in poses reminiscent of the death of the Christian martyr St. Sebastian. He also became obsessed with loyalty to the emperor and formed his own small army, called the Shield Society. On November 25, 1970, he delivered the complete manuscript of the last work in his tetralogy, then proceeded with four followers to the headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defense Force, where he read a "manifesto" and then committed seppuku (ritual disembowelment), after which one of his compatriots chopped his head off. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest Japanese writers of the 20th century, but other critics have dismissed his work as examples of egocentric decadence.