‘Three Million Yen’ is an erotic symbolic story by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima published in 1960. The story is a subtly erotic story about a young couple posing to be innocent characters where marriage and sex were concerned but earning their money through kinky sex games. Mishima was famous for highlighting sexual ardor in his literature. This story titled ‘Three Million Yen’ highlights the post-World War Two Japan, which had become highly consumerist as seen in the amusement park mentioned in this text and their high-tech supermarkets and malls. Mishima, in this story, seems to criticize the materialism of Japan and the fact that it changed into a capitalist country due to pressure from the West. This story also highlights the sexual desires of this young couple who will soon have to have sex and perform their erotic lovemaking openly in front of some rich housewives of Japan who wish to spend their reunion in this highly kinky way. The story is also about the enormous economic gap between the affluent and the middle-class in Japan, as seen through the housewives and the young couple, Kenzo and his wife, Kiyoko. ‘Three Million Yen’ exemplifies Mishima’s absorption in the more outré or shocking aspects of sex. The author neatly draws the contrasts between the childish innocence of Kenzo and Kiyoko when they visit the fun house and the queer way in which they are compelled to make a living. Let’s not forget that the reason for such an odd story is because of the personality of the writer. Yukio was tormented by hyper aestheticism and with visions of violence, suicide, and both hated and liked the westernization of Japan. Mishima was also plagued by a nationalist obsession, seen here in this story about Kenzo and Kiyoko.
The title of this story, ‘Three Million Yen’, comes from the fall of a top shaped like a flying saucer, on a packet of giant confectionary crackers made in the likeness of Japanese currency notes. Kenzo, the husband, thinks it is a sign of good luck for him and his wife where the prospect of their future child is concerned. Therefore, in the form of good luck, he buys three of the crackers, one for him, one for Kiyoko, and one for their future child, which they hope to beget in two years when they can afford the money to raise it. Kiyoko finds the whole idea of buying crackers a waste of money. An otherwise simple man, Kenzo wants the best for his wife and future family. Three crackers indicate three million Yen, which is the hope of this couple and all the Japanese middle class in post-World War Two Japan who wished to work hard and become rich in a newly developing and changing Japan. The million-dollar crackers in this story also act as a symbol for the heightening of sexual arousal, which at first seems like innocent romance. Later we realize to our shock that they were practicing, for their sexual performance in front of a bunch of affluent and demanding housewives. Mishima has a way of portraying everything done by Kenzo and Kiyoko as something erotic and sexual. From the moment they buy the crackers to them entering the ‘Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ cardboard aquarium ride and the Fun House, everything is a shocking image of the sex act or acts Kenzo and Kiyoko would be performing in front of the housewives. This shows Mishima’s tight plot and superiority in portraying his aesthetic eroticism.
The story’s beginning arouses our sympathies for Kenzo and Kiyoko, who were living a frugal life and saving for their future dreams and children. We see in them an otherwise organized couple who understand each other very well. Therefore, we are lulled into thinking that their presence there in the amusement park was for an informal meeting with a female friend and nothing else. Through his excellent prose, Mishima makes us think that since Kenzo and Kiyoko were Japanese, they were probably not working out as a romantic sexual couple and were here at the amusement park to enjoy themselves and probably get to know each other better. When we read about their amour in the cardboard aquarium, the fun house, and the biting of their crackers, we think that their sexual arousal is being indicated only for their own relationship, the innocent love of a young husband and wife. All this is debunked when we read about the older woman who sets them up like a pimp. Then we realize that:
- To earn money, the couple was willing to do anything required.
- They were used to having public sex with each other and probably practicing a bizarre way to get customers.
- They weren’t all that innocent, but they still had a mutual understanding where finances were concerned.
Until the meeting with the elderly pimp, most of the things and objects described are all subtly sexual. Here is a shortlist of the way Mishima has described the passion between the couple in such a way that not only does one feel uncomfortable about it but realizes how embarrassing it is for the couple per se:
- The crackers are like the sexual libido, which indicates that since Kenzo ate more of the crackers, he had a better time where his sexual arousal was concerned. Her patriarchally minded husband frequently ridiculed Kiyoko on this point.
- The close skin-to-skin proximity of the couple in the cardboard aquarium is like an ironic depiction of the fact that sex is natural, noisy, and something that people try to hide in the ‘dark’ but is as common as things seen in the daylight. This touching of the naked back of Kiyoko to Kenzo’s sweaty bare arm is an indication of Mishima’s obsession with skin and touch, which, however, worked very well in making him a much read writer.
- The fish seen in the cardboard and noisy aquarium like the shark, smaller fish, the angler fish, the octopus, are representations of the penis penetrating the vagina of the woman, the smaller fish the dispersal of the sperm, the receptacle of the female womb, and the warped up connubial bliss of a couple respectively.
- The Fun House or Magic Land was closer to home where Kiyoko’s sexual drive was concerned. Compared to Kenzo, Kiyoko was timid and frightened all the time. She looked for security in her sexual acts, represented very well in the fun house, especially in the leaning room. In the leaning room, Kiyoko sees her husband’s security in a room in their future home like the leaning room and so is ready to kiss him.
- The huge briefcase-sized butterflies, colorful flowers, and bees in Magic Land are representative of the woman’s vagina, orgasm, and fertility. The fact of their size is to show that sex stares at everyone in the face, and people should not be so perturbed by it.
- The wet dew of the scene on a balcony before Kenzo and Kiyoko meet the elderly lady indicates the wetness of the woman’s private region, which happens typically later in the sex act after a bit of ‘sexual heightening’. Kiyoko does not feel as aroused on the ground floor in the open parking lot as in the balcony of the amusement park near a partly traditional and partly Westernized restaurant. She mentions this to Kenzo, who rudely corrects her, saying that they were only ‘higher up’ and that was why she was feeling ‘cool’.
- The restaurant that Kenzo and Kiyoko investigate is symbolic of the mixing of the Western and Japanese culture in the mid-twentieth century, which would affect the lives of all Japanese in the coming decade. Either one accepted it as it came or was left out in the new culture.
Kenzo is a more dominating personality who gets aroused very quickly. He liked his wife Kiyoko’s timidness and the way she depended on him for almost everything. He ruled her in a certain way by making her carry his shirt because he preferred roaming around empty-handed in a vest. Probably he was doing so to get sexually aroused. On the other hand, Kiyoko was afraid of spending too much money than they needed and also about her sexual desires and passions. She, however, does have her own secret sexual life, as mentioned by Mishima in the text where he says that Kiyoko, when she was younger, used to have a private sexual life of her own in a shed which she used to play in. She is secretive about her sexual desires and fears that she could accidentally get pregnant in the heat of their passion. This is obvious in her statements in the cardboard aquarium, where she mentions that she ‘was afraid’.
The scene of the elderly lady pimp makes us realize the truth of their meeting. They, through sex, had to entertain some housewives at a reunion party. Apparently, money and the right connections could buy anything in Japan in the 1960s. The elderly pimp gives Kenzo and Kiyoko instructions to do their job well, promising that they would then get more affluent clients. Mishima mentions that Kenzo was in love with his wife and Kiyoko thought of no other man but Kenzo. That was probably why they could do what they did without repugnance or shyness. One reads in the introduction of the desires and sexual liberation of the rich housewives. They, bound by tradition, were trying to break free from the constraints of Japanese society. Mishima loved the sexual part of this change but not the total westernization. After reading ‘Three Million Yen’, we wonder about the divergent thoughts on this theme in the text.
The scene with the housewives is not mentioned. What is said in the climax of the story is the frustration of Kenzo and Kiyoko. The housewives were too stuck up, backward, and rotten. Kiyoko and Kenzo were also disappointed by the remuneration they received, which was five thousand yen, out of which three thousand yen was taken by the pimp. They were so frustrated not only sexually but also as workers in the sex or pornography line. Kenzo is the angrier of the two and realizes that his dreams of three million yen at this rate will never come true and that the good luck that he had received in the form of the flying saucer toy falling on the crackers was rubbish. Kiyoko tells him to break the last cracker, which represents their dream for their child. Kenzo tries to break it but fails. This indicates that they will continue at this job despite all the losses and unfairness of the world because they will always dream of one day having a child of their own. The story is unpleasant, shocking, and unique in its handling of the world of sex in modern-day twentieth-century Japan.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story titled ‘Three Million Yen’ by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. If you are interested in the short story analysis of another Southeast Asian writer, you can check out my review of My Thai Cat by author Pratoomratha Zeng. If you are interested in reading some of my award-winning novellas, you can check out Nirmala: The Mud Blossom and Amina: The Silent One. They are based on the horrendous life of two young slum-dwelling girls of Mumbai. I hope to read, review, and analyze more of Yukio Mishima’s short stories and novels soon. And I hope to read and analyze more short stories by Asian writers in the coming days.
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