Dojoji: One of Mishima’s Modern Noh Plays

Yukio Mishima is a revolutionary kind of author. Not only does he work in all kinds of references to and criticisms of Japan’s rapid modernization, but he uses Japanese tradition, mixed with contemporary themes and styles, to further drive home the point. In the collection, Death in Midsummer and Other Stories, Mishima uses the style of the Japanese Noh play to create an eerie and disturbing piece.

Noh is a traditional style of play that is still popular in Japan. Mostly performed by men, Noh uses rhythm, music, poetry, and highly stylized movements. Today, there are many professional and amateur Noh groups, and both men and women participate. The plays focus on aesthetic, and it seems to me that we might call them "melodramatic" in America, but I suppose I’d have to see many more to really make a guess about how US audiences would react. At any rate, it is easy to see why Mishima chose to write in the Noh form. According to a few different websites I visited, Noh was governmentally supported during the Tokugawa period, and it was the official performance art of the military. Knowing Mishima’s ties to and affection for the military and samurai class, it’s easy to understand why he would be compelled to write a play in the Noh style. During the Meiji Reform the Noh play fell out of favor, but troupes managed to keep together because of private sponsors. It is during and after the Meiji period that amateur Noh groups spring up.

Mishima’s play is called Dojoji, and takes place in a secondhand furniture shop. The Dealer has organized a private auction for some very rich customers. He is selling a giant wardrobe, big enough to fit a double bed in. The Dealer explains that the wardrobe is up for auction because it belonged to one of the rich families who "has gone down a bit in the world" since the end of WWII, so they must sell their furniture. The wardrobe is very impressive, and soon the bidding hits three million Yen. However, just as the bidding reaches a climax, a woman enters the scene, bidding only three thousand Yen for the wardrobe.

The Dealer and the rest of the audience ask her why she’s causing such a disturbance. The woman explains that she is Kiyoko, a dancer, and she knows the history of this particular wardrobe. It belonged to the Sakurayama family, and Mrs. Sakurayama allowed her lover, Yasushi, to live in it. Yasushi stayed there all day, every day, waiting to be called out by Mrs. Sakurayama. One day, Mr. Sakurayama heard a noise coming from the wardrobe, and he shot a gun into it over and over. Yasushi began screaming, and Mr. Sakurayama kept shooting "until the horrible screams finally died away and the blood came gushing through the crack under the wardrobe door."

After her story, nobody wants to buy the wardrobe, but all of the men want to take the beautiful Kiyoko out to dinner. The audience departs, but Kiyoko stays to try to purchase the wardrobe. The Dealer won’t let her have it for her low price, so she tells him more about the story. Yasushi was also Kiyoko’s lover, and she thinks he left her not because of Mrs. Sakurayama, but because Kiyoko is too beautiful. She describes her surplus of beauty as being a "cogwheel" that is missing in her "machine." It seems like a strange metaphor to me: Having too much of something is like not having it at all? It’s interesting, and what’s even more interesting is how far out of his way Mishima seems to go to put in some industrialist references.

He follows up with this reference by giving the Dealer a brief monologue about the futility of the industrialist’s goals and their "cheap gadgets." He says of the industrialists that "as long as they live, they’ll never grasp the simple fact that an article only acquires value as it gradually becomes old, obsolete, and useless." Antiques are the only valuable things – old things, traditional things. Mishima is very heavy-handed here: Respect his use of the Noh play; revere traditional Japan. During this lenghty interlude, the Noh music comes in. To strengthen Mishima’s point, the Dealer comments that the sounds come from a factory. Again, we see Mishima’s combination of tradition and progress. Also, we can fully interpret all of these messages into one that seems to fit Mishima’s feelings about modern Japan: Something must be ugly in order to be useful and desireable in modern society, but what should really be revered are old things.

Kiyoko, realizing the Dealer is not going to budge on his price, steals the key and disappears into the wardrobe. She locks herself inside so the Dealer can’t get her out. There is a light inside, and mirrors on each wall. Just after Kiyoko goes inside, the Superintendent runs into the shop. The Super runs Kiyoko’s apartment building, and he has heard from her friend, the Pharmacist, that Kiyoko had just stolen a vial of sulphuric acid. He is worried she’ll splash it on someone in a fit of rage. Once he realizes she’s inside the wardrobe, he and the Dealer worry she’ll disfigure herself with it because she has been talking for so long about how her beauty is her curse. The two hear scream and wilt because they think Kiyoko has done the horrible deed.

Kiyoko opens the door, and she has not damaged her beautiful face. She explains that she realized, looking at the infinite reflections of herself inside the wardrobe, that nothing would ruin her beauty. The loss of her one true love couldn’t do it, so how could anything else. She decides to leave the acid behind, and begins primping for her date with one of the rich men who had attended the auction before.

It’s a strange ending. When all is said and done, not much happens. But the journey is incredible. The play is both very sad and highly intriguing. I think it would be much better to see it performed, in Japanese, so I could get more of a sense of the musical, rhythmic nature of the play. But even without that aspect, it is easy to see where this play comes from in relation to Mishima. Mishima’s favorite things are in this play: issues of beauty, tradition, modernization, and progress; allusions to traditional, military forms of art; criticism of the nouveau riche in Japan. I’m enjoying reading Mishima’s work, and I look forward to much more of it.




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