Touring the Ministry of Defense -- and Yukio Mishima's last moments

Touring the Ministry of Defense -- and Yukio Mishima's last moments

Nearly 40 years after nationalist and novelist Yukio Mishima’s spectacular ritual suicide, his legacy -- and his sword marks -- live on as part of Japan's Ministry of Defense tours
yukio mishima
yukio mishima
Thanks to Yukio Mishima, the Ichigaya Memorial Hall, built in 1934, managed to see bloodshed and militaristic drama even after WWII came to a close.

The former headquarters of Japan's Self-Defense Forces is known today as the Ichigaya Memorial Hall and housed within Japan's Ministry of Defense. The landmark structure, which dates back to June 1937, most-famously serves as a living memory of famed writer Yukio Mishima's final moments.

A testament to Mishima's final act

On November 25, 1970, Mishima attempted a coup d'état, taking the Japan's Self-Defense Forces' commandant hostage and asking the troops to rise up under his lead to restore the emperor's political power. Soon realizing his words failed to inspire the troops, Mishima returned to the office and committed samurai-style ritual seppuku self-disembowelment. The consummate provocateur, Mishima went out in the most dramatic and shocking style possible.

Tours now bring visitors to that very wood-paneled, high-ceilinged office where Mishima fought off soldiers trying to free his hostage. The door still shows three clear cut-marks from Mishima's sword.

Trials and tribulations

Ichigaya Memorial Hall was also the setting of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Between 1946 and 1948 the Tribunal saw several of Japan's military leaders sentenced to death for instigating the war or being responsible for atrocities committed during the conflict. The men who were hung include General Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister for most of the wartime period.

Where the defendants once stood to await their verdicts, glass cases now display ceremonial uniforms from Japan's Imperial era, as well as photos and letters from ordinary soldiers and sailors stationed out in far-flung outposts. Other mementos -- a calligraphy weight and a serviceman's canteen -- are poignant reminders of the human loss during the conflict.

Modern facilities

Visitors to the Ministry are toured around the honor guard squares in front of the buildings that house the Defense Intelligence Headquarters, research and development facilities, barracks blocks and communications centers. There is also a presentation in a theater and a small museum that showcases the capabilities of the three arms of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. And for those who may want to take something home from their tour, the base coffee bar sells military equipment and military-themed souvenirs -- everything from camouflage hats to underpants, boots, regimental badges and cookies with soldiers' smiling faces on them.

Ministry of Defense: 5-1 Ichigaya honmura-cho, Shinjuku-ku, tel. 03 3268 3111 (Ext. 21904)

Tours last around two hours and are held twice a day, from 9:10am and 1:10pm, Monday to Friday, but not on national holidays. Visitors are required to bring an identity card and make a reservation in advance by phoning the Public Affairs Division of the Japan Defense Ministry at 03 3268 3111, extension 20303.