The most notable legal case involving homosexuality in Japan took place two decades ago, and it had to do with Yukio Mishima—the man of letters who bewildered the world in 1970 by choosing to die by seppuku, accompanied by a young man, in a meticulously staged spectacle. I, long a resident of New York City, didn’t notice the lawsuit until a decade ago, and I did then only because I was working on a book about Mishima—to be exact, expanding and reshaping an existing biography by Inose Naoki that I had initially taken on as a translation. The extensive adaptation was necessary because the original did not do full justice to the man who resembled his U.S. contemporary Gore Vidal in “the range, variety, and publicness of the career,” as Vidal himself put it.

The lawsuit was brought by Mishima’s daughter Noriko...

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