Confessions of a Mask

Author: Yukio Mishima
Translator: Meredith Weatherby
U.S. publisher: New Directions
ISBN: 9780811201186
Released: January 1958
Original release: 1949

Yukio Mishima’s second novel Confessions of a Mask was originally published in Japan in 1949. It quickly became a bestseller and is considered to be one of Mishima’s first major literary success. Following his later novel The Sound of Waves, Confessions of a Mask was also Mishima’s second novel to be translated into English. In 1958, Meredith Weatherby’s translation of Confessions of a Mask was first published by New Directions. Many of Mishima’s works includes strong autobiographical elements, but this is particularly true of Confessions of a Mask. Mishima was my introduction to Japanese literature, and so I have a particular interest in him and his work; I have slowly been making my way through Mishima’s novels and biographies available in English. And because Confessions of a Mask is semi-autobiographical and was Mishima’s breakthrough novel, I was particularly interested in reading it. Due to its themes of homosexuality and sadism, Confessions of a Mask was somewhat controversial but it was also extremely successful upon its release.

Ever since he was a child Kochan had poor health. The first son born to his family, his grandmother was particularly controlling and overprotective of him. Because of this, growing up he had very little interaction with other boys his own age. In middle school, Kochan would come to realize that his health and family situation weren’t the only reasons he was an outsider—he was attracted to the masculinity and strength of other young men, not just as fellow classmates, but as objects of desire. In addition, his fantasies were filled with blood, death, and torment. Struggling with his feelings, Kochan tries to act as though he is like everyone else, lying to himself and to others. When he was older he even managed to develop a complicated relationship with a young woman in an effort to appear normal. But as close as they become, Kochan is never able to completely suppress his dark sexual desires for other men. Unable to fit into society despite his efforts every day is a constant and painful reminder that he is different. Hiding behind a mask of decency he puts on for the sake of others, keeping his sexuality a secret, he is out of sync with the rest of his world.

While reading Confessions of a Mask I was frequently reminded of Osamu Dazai’s 1948 novel No Longer Human. Both books include autobiographic elements. The novels also both feature a protagonist who pretends to be something that they are not as a sort of self-defense mechanism. Their very natures keep them separated from the society around them. I found plenty to personally identify with in both novels. Although Confessions of a Mask and No Longer Human share many similarities, they also have their differences. For one, Confessions of a Mask doesn’t seem to be nearly as filled with overwhelming despair as No Longer Human is. However, Kochan’s struggles and personal turmoil are still incredibly difficult. Confessions of a Mask is also much more erotically charged than No Longer Human. Kochan’s intense desire and need for normalcy is just as potent as his desire and yearning for other young men. These needs conflict with each other but are both extremely important to Kochan and who he is.

Confessions of a Mask is a very apt title for the novel because it is just that, Kochan’s confessions. In it he bares his soul completely, admitting to himself and to others the true nature he hides behind a carefully crafted public persona. Confessions of a Mask is written in the first person; Kochan is very aware of his audience and even addresses the readers directly. His admissions are told almost stream-of-conscious. Occasionally he drifts off onto tangents, but his thought process is easy to follow. Because of this, Confessions of a Mask feels immediate and intensely personal. Kochan is very frank about his sexual desires and fantasies, revealing their violence and his inability to control them. Kochan’s battle between what society expects of him (and not just in terms of his sexuality but his entire being) and accepting who he really is (something he will probably struggle with his entire life) is captured brilliantly. Confessions of a Mask left a huge impression on me.

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  1. Reading Confessions of a Mask was one of my first introductions to Japanese Literature too and reading your review makes me want to re-read it again soon.

    It’s interesting to read your thoughts juxtaposing the novel with Dazai’s No Longer Human, have you read John Nathan’s biography of Mishima?, If I remember correctly he recounts Mishima’s account of meeting Dazai, which is quite funny.

    • What an introduction! (Mishima’s Spring Snow was among the first that I read.) I can definitely see myself reading Confessions of a Mask again. I found it to be a very potent work.

      It’s been a while, but I have read Nathan’s biography. He does mention Dazai and Mishima meeting—and Mishima deliberately telling Dazai to his face that he didn’t like his writing. Quite a scene.

      A new Mishima biography, Persona by Naoki Inose with Hiroaki Sato, is scheduled to be released by Stone Bridge Press next month. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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