‘Acts of Worship: Seven stories’ is a collection of short stories by Yukio Mishima. The seven stories go from 1946-65, so are wide in their scope of his writing career. These seven stories are Fountains in the rain, Raisin bread, Sword, Sea and sunset, Cigarette, Martyrdom and Act of worship. This collection is named after the last story, but has been pluralised to show that it is a collection of stories related to this theme of worship and ancestors.
The first story is ‘Fountains in the Rain’. It is about a young couple: a man and a woman. The man has been nurturing their relationship for his ego, so he can leave her at the height of their love and empower himself with the act. He tells her that they are over, and she begins crying. He goes outside in the rain but she follows him, they end up by a fountain, and he says that she will never be able to compete with the fountain as she continues crying. He tries to leave and she asks him where he is going, he replies that it is none of her business because they are through, as he already said. She replies is that really what he said, she didn’t hear. The boy is in shock and stares at her, and asks her why she was crying then. She replies that the tears just came, there was nothing special about it. In an instant his entire plan of being with her just to leave her for his ego has been crushed. He then sneezes, and thinks to himself that he better leave soon or he will get a cold.
The second story is ‘Raisin bread.’ A young man named Jack goes to a party full of young people. Jack had previously tried to kill himself, and was now living vicariously, somewhat detached from his actual life: this is probably what allowed him to carry on living. He comes into contact with a man he already knows called Gogi who seems angry, he just sits there with a moody atmosphere with his muscle-bound body tense. He later rips the head off of a chicken just to show his muscles are actually impressive. Later, Jack is reading in bed and notices he is very hungry. The only thing left in the house is a moldy orange that has been eaten out by red ants, and a loaf of raisin bread. He begins eating the bread when Gogi turns up with his beautiful girlfriend, they start to have sex and Jack notices a lack of pleasurable noises, so he asks what is wrong. Gogi asks him to help, and Jack, while still eating his bread helps out by holding one of the girl’s legs and then he stares at a calendar lost in thought. He is then no longer needed and returns to his reading, but how he acted during helping sex and reading was identical: he was unaffected. Gogi leaves and the girl just lays on the floor playing dead, while Jack becomes overly aware of the tick-tock of a clock, probably wanting her to leave so he can carry on reading, but what difference would it make anyway when Jack is unaffected by all of these events. Jack is like the raisin in the bread loaf which was the only thing not eaten by the hungry ants of time.
The third story is ‘Sword‘. This short story is about a group of young men who are kendo practitioners. It follows a respected swordsman, and a fellow student who tries to replicate his image onto himself, but this leads to a conclusion where he has to contradict his presented image to his hero in order to avoid lying. Then the respected swordsman is found dead, it is not explained how he died. The story seems to be about hero worship, how it is good and how it can be dangerous and stupid, especially when it is performed by the young and naive.
The fourth story is ‘Sea and sunset‘. A man is journeying up a mountain with a young boy. The young boy is deaf and dumb. He is often bullied and excluded by his community. So, the man takes the boy with him to enjoy the view from the top. The man stops at the top and begins telling the deaf and dumb boy about a thing that happened to him many years ago. He explains that when he was in his home country, he had a vision of Christ telling him that he would be the one who would reclaim the Holy Land. He later told a young shepherd who fell to his knees after hearing the story and paid homage to him. He managed to get quite a following and they set off to take a ship to the Holy Land, but the ship docks at the wrong place and they are all sold into slavery. It was much after this that he ended up a free man in Japan and has stayed there ever since. He sits quietly looking at the sunset and the sea, when a bell rings to signal the ending of the day. He turns and sees the young deaf and dumb boy fast asleep, he was about to tell him they better return home now.
The fifth story is ‘Cigarette‘. In this story a young man is trying to act mature and cool, but in the process makes himself look immature and inexperienced. He attempts to ask a respected boy for a cigarette in front of everyone, this backfires when the boy actually gives him a cigarette and he ends up choking in front of the group while the boys laugh at him.
The sixth story is ‘Martyrdom‘. A rather odd story about a young feminine male who tries to get revenge for a book being taken from him, which results in being beaten up and then an odd romantic situation which confuses the entire confrontation. This ends in him being tied up like Saint Sebastian by a group of boys, when they return to the scene of the crime to see the dead body, it isn’t there anymore. He has escaped somehow, or like a Saint has he ascended to heaven?
The seventh and final story is ‘Act of worship‘. A professor invites a personal friend to come with him on a pilgrimage to a shrine. The professor is an older man and isn’t very talkative, while the personal friend is a female and a widow who couldn’t be considered beautiful. He goes to the shrine and buries a tag with a name on it, the name is a female name and the widow gets jealous, as the journey has made her slowly fall for him. The burying of the tag is in order to show proper respect, which is where the title of this story comes from: the act of worship, reverence for a dead loved one. This jealously is negated when he explains that the woman was his childhood sweetheart who died of heartbreak, but the widow doesn’t believe the story, but also doesn’t want to hurt him so she entertains the idea and agrees to write a poem about the childhood sweetheart’s beauty.