Author Yukio Mishima contributed an opinion piece to The Asahi Shimbun in January 1968, about three years before he committed suicide at the Self-Defense Forces’ camp in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district.

The article began: “To tell the truth, I do not really like the word ‘patriotism.’”

Although he was considered a hero by the right wing for his ritual suicide by disembowelment, Mishima seemed to have an abhorrence for the state’s attempts to stir patriotic fervor.

“This word reeks of government initiatives,” he wrote. “There is something obtrusive about it. What inevitably provokes antipathy lurks at its bottom.”

The article generated a sense of aversion in one student involved in the right-wing movement.

“Mishima-san shouldn’t have written such a stupid article,” Kunio Suzuki, who went on to found a new right-wing group called Issuikai, thought to himself at the time.

Suzuki believed children should be imbibed with a spirit of patriotism, even forcibly, through education.

In the ensuing years, he sang the “Kimigayo” national anthem more than 10,000 times and hoisted the Hinomaru national flag more than 10,000 times.

While he proudly thought of himself as being more patriotic than anyone else, in his 2016 book “‘Aikokushin’ ni Ki wo Tsukero” (Beware of “patriotism”) Suzuki wrote, “I now understand what Mishima said (in 1968).”

In recent years, Suzuki has been denounced as a “traitor.”

He was criticized for comments such as, “An imposed Constitution that guarantees freedom is better than a self-enacted Constitution that does not” and “There is nothing good if a nation upholds a set of thoughts.”

His house even became the target of an arson attack.

What is patriotism?

“Looking back on my own life, I am aware of the dangers of ‘patriotism,’” Suzuki wrote. “I realize that love (for one’s country) can trigger reckless behavior.”

Suzuki, a unique writer who refused to think within the ideological framework of either the right or the left, died recently. He was 79.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 29

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.