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Comparative Literature Studies 39.4 (2002) 272-281

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Understanding Yoshimitsu Yoshihiko's Mysticism

Akira Takahashi

His Life and His Ideas

The heart of philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom. It grows from a yearning for salvation during times of desperation, as existentialists typically understand. Some people may consider Yoshimitsu Yoshihiko's philosophy simply a secular work. On the contrary, he was an existentialist from the beginning of his philosophical pursuit, and his philosophy was based on the belief that God's salvation is extended to all human beings. His life of meditation started with the study of Thomas Aquinas based on Jacques Maritain's guidance, continued with a thorough examination of extensive literature including Pascal and French modern religious thought, then extended to modern metaphysics of German philosophy around 1933, and thus covered various fields such as epistemology, ontology, ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history, cultural philosophy, and finally metaphysics of arts.

Yoshimitsu was born October 13, 1904, in Kametsu-mura, Ohshima-gun, Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan. He was a sickly child in his elementary school days. He attended Kagoshima Prefectural Daiichi Middle School from 1917-1922. During his second year of middle school, his father died. At this age, he became speculative and started to go to a Protestant church, starting his philosophical and truth-seeking life which he followed consistently until his early death in 1945.

Yoshimitsu tells of the origin of his truth-seeking life in a poem titled "My Hortensius Experience," subtitled, "The first invitation to the grace of [End Page 272] God and truth." 1 He composed this poem sometime after his 40th birthday in 1944. He had fallen ill that summer, but on or around this birthday recovered and regained a faint gleam of hope for his future. Nonetheless, he was still bedridden at his home at Asagaya in Tokyo, so Father Heinrich Dumorin called at Yoshimitsu's house to administer Holy Communion. When Yoshimitsu showed this poem to Father Dumorin, the Father pointed out that a saint in the poem resembled Hortensius, who longed for truth in Augustinus's story "Confessinum libri tridecim." According to Yoshimitsu, the strange title of the poem came from this episode. This "Hortensius Experience" depicts his experience, which started from a bad dream he had during the second year of middle school and which culminated in his accepting Christianity during a Church Christmas celebration. The poem has four parts, depicting how the young lover of philosophy, under the guidance of God, alters the course of his life toward God. It was only natural when one considered Yoshimitsu's original character, and it meant he would live a life of prayer.

At the beginning of Yoshimitsu's second year in middle school, he believed that "the most reliable source of hope" was his brain. One day, however, he had a vision that his brain was squeezed out of him through "something like a huge syringe" by a "demonic giant." Thus he writes, "Recognizing that he could no longer anchor his hope of life on the brain, he began to think that he must secure, other than brain, something that cannot be stolen away by others." This may mean the end of love of fame. Having realized that one's brain is not reliable, Yoshimitsu began searching for other essential human qualities. While traveling home from school by ship, Yoshimitsu realized—through answering questions from his senior friend—that the ultimate fate of all humans is death. He confessed, "I was greatly shocked to find that I was living and studying for no purpose in my life." Here we notice his first uneasiness about death.

The same winter, Yoshimitsu's father died. Around that time, his friend Nakao Fumisaku, who was a high school student, wrote in a letter to Yoshimitsu, "Your object of study from now on must be a search for purpose of life and eternal truth." Thus, Yoshimitsu redirected his thoughts to the pursuit of eternal truth, and he clearly set his mind to take the first step towards the goal of "truth and purpose of life." The...


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