Silk and Insight: A Novel

Silk and Insight: A Novel

Silk and Insight: A Novel

Silk and Insight: A Novel


An important contribution to Japan's postwar literature and politics, this early work by Yukio Mishima, one of twentieth-century Japan's greatest novelists, is based on the strike which took place in the mid-1950s at Omi Kenshi, a silk manufacturer not far from Kyoto. Mishima's characters are fascinating and thoroughly believable, and the events described faithfully reflect the management/labor tensions of that period.

Superbly translated by Hiro Sato, this is one of the last works of Mishima to be translated into English. It remains a fascinating work of literature and an excellent piece of social commentary on the transformation of Japanese business from the old paternalism -- which was by no means all that benevolent -- to a new world where labor unions were as active as any social institution in enhancing their image


Hiroaki Sato

The novel Kinu to Meisatsu (Silk and Insight), whichMishima Yukio (1925-1970) wrote in 1964, is based on the strike that took place ten years earlier, in 1954, at Ōmi Kenshi, a manufacturer of silk thread and fabric. This "human-rights strike," which lasted for 106 days, from June 4 to September 16, and drew into it outside labor unions, government agencies, banks, and other textile manufacturers, is often described as the most significant of its kind in the history of Japan's postwar labor movement. Several historical developments converged to produce this landmark event.

First, silk, along with cotton fabric, was Japan's top export commodity from the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912) until the outbreak of the Pacific War. At times accounting for 40 percent or more of the total export, it was the principal financing basis of the Meiji policy of fukoku kyōhei, "enriching the nation and strengthening the military," which required enormous expenditures for importing and building warships and other military matériel. in view of the fate that awaited the Japanese navy, indeed, the simple saying, Kinu to gunkan, "Silk and warships," which the title of Mishima's novel echoes, has a ring both proud and poignant.

Such heavy dependence on export earnings made silk particularly vulnerable to foreign dealers' speculation, requiring the producers to hold costs to a minimum at the best of times. This, in turn, led to the employ-

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