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The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Japanese: 金閣寺, Kinkaku-ji) is a novel by the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. It was published in 1956 and translated into English by Ivan Morris in 1959.

Plot introduction

The novel is loosely based on the burning of the Reliquary (or Golden Pavilion) of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto by a young Buddhist acolyte in 1950. The pavilion, dating from before 1400, was a national monument which had been spared destruction many times throughout history, and the arson shocked Japan. The story is narrated by Mizoguchi, the disturbed acolyte in question, who is afflicted with an ugly face and a stutter, and who recounts his obsession with beauty and the growth of his urge to destroy it. The novel also includes one of Mishima's most memorable characters, Mizoguchi's club-footed, deeply cynical friend Kashiwagi, who gives his own highly individual twist to various Zen parables (koan).

Explanation of the novel's title

The temple's real name is the Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺), from the first two characters of the posthumous name of its builder, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. But the shariden or reliquary in its grounds, the Kinkaku, grew so famous that the temple became known as the Kinkaku-ji instead.

Plot summary

Childhood

The protagonist, Mizoguchi, is the son of a consumptive Buddhist priest who lives and works on the remote Cape Nariu on the north coast of Honshū. The boy lives with his uncle at the village of Shiraku (師楽), near Maizuru.

Throughout his childhood he is assured by his father that the Golden Pavilion is the most beautiful building in the world, and the idea of the temple becomes a fixture in his imagination. A stammering boy from a poor household, he is friendless at his school, and takes refuge in vengeful fantasies. When a naval cadet who is visiting the school makes fun of him, he vandalises the cadet's belongings behind his back. A neighbour's girl, Uiko, becomes the target of his hatred, and when she is killed by her deserter boyfriend after she betrays him, Mizoguchi becomes convinced that his curse on her has been fulfilled.

His ill father takes him to the Kinkaku-ji for the first time in the spring of 1944, and introduces him to the Superior, Tayama Dosen. After his father's death, Mizoguchi becomes an acolyte at the temple. It is the height of the war, and there are only three acolytes, but one is his first real friend, the candid and pleasant Tsurukawa. During the 1944-5 school year, he boards at the Rinzai Academy's middle school and works at a factory, fascinated by the idea that the Golden Pavilion will inevitably be burnt to ashes in the firebombing. But the American planes avoid Kyoto, and his dream of a glorious tragedy is defeated. In May 1945, he and Tsurukawa visit Nanzen-ji. From the tower, they witness a strange scene in a room of the Tenju-an nearby: a woman in a formal kimono gives her lover a cup of tea to which she adds her own breast milk.

On the first anniversary of his father's death, he is sent to Kinkaku-ji, where his mother visits him, bringing the mortuary tablet so that the Superior can say Mass over it. She tells him that she has moved from Nariu to Kasagun, and reveals her wish that he should succeed Father Dosen as Superior at Rokuon-ji. The two ambitions -- that the temple be destroyed, or that it should be his to control -- leave him confused and ambivalent. On hearing the news of the end of the war and the Emperor's renunciation of divinity, Father Dosen calls his acolytes and tells them the fourteenth Zen story from The Gateless Gate, "Nansen kills a kitten", which leaves them bemused. Mizoguchi is bitterly disappointed by the end of hostilities, and late at night he climbs Mount Fudo, looks down on the lights of Kyoto, and pronounces a curse: "Let the darkness of my heart [...] equal the darkness of the night which encloses those countless lights!"

Friendship with Kashiwagi

During the winter of that year, the Temple is visited by a drunk American soldier and his pregnant Japanese girlfriend. He pushes his girlfriend down into the snow, and orders Mizoguchi to trample her stomach, giving him two cartons of cigarettes in exchange for doing so. Mizoguchi goes indoors and obsequiously presents the cartons to the Superior, who is having his head shaved by the deacon. Father Dosen thanks him, and tells him he has been chosen for the scholarship to Otani University. A week later the girl visits the temple, tells her story, and demands compensation for the miscarriage she has suffered. The Superior gives her money and says nothing to the acolytes, but rumours of her claims spread, and the people at the temple become uneasy about Mizoguchi. Throughout 1946 he is tormented by the urge to confess, but never does so, and in the spring of 1947 he leaves with Tsurukawa for Otani University. He starts to drift away from Tsurukawa, befriending Kashiwagi, a cynical clubfooted boy from Sannomiya who indulges in long "philosophical" speeches.

Kashiwagi boasts of his ability to seduce women by making them feel sorry for him -- in his words, they "fall in love with my clubfeet." He demonstrates his method to Mizoguchi by feigning a tumble in front of a girl. She helps him into her house. Mizoguchi is so disturbed that he runs away, and takes a train to the Kinkaku-ji to recover his self-assurance. In May, Kashiwagi invites him to a "picnic" at Kameyama Park, taking the girl he tricked, and another girl for Mizoguchi. When left alone with the girl, she tells him a story about a woman she knows who lost her lover during the war. He realises that the woman she is talking about must be the same one he saw two years before through a window of Tenju Hermitage. Mizoguchi's mind fills with visions of the Golden Pavilion, and he finds himself impotent. That evening a telegram arrives at the university bearing news of kindly Tsurukawa's death in a road accident. For nearly a year, Mizoguchi avoids Kashiwagi's company.

In the spring of 1948 Kashiwagi comes to visit him at the temple, and gives him a shakuhachi as a present. He takes the opportunity to demonstrate his own skill as a player. In May he asks Mizoguchi to steal some irises and cat-tails for him from the temple garden. Mizoguchi takes them to Kashiwagi's boarding-house, and while discussing the story of Nansen and the kitten, Kashiwagi starts to make an arrangement, mentioning that he is being taught ikebana by his girlfriend. Mizoguchi realises that this girlfriend must be the woman he saw at Tenju Hermitage. When she arrives, Kashiwagi breaks up with her, and they quarrel. She runs away and Mizoguchi follows, telling her that he witnessed her tragic scene two years ago. She is moved, and tries to seduce him, but again he is assailed by visions of the temple, and he is impotent.

Enmity with Father Dosen

In January 1949 Mizoguchi is walking through Shinkyogoku when he thinks he sees Father Dosen with a geisha. Momentarily distracted, he starts to follow a stray dog, loses it, and then in a back alley he runs into the Superior just as he is getting into a hired car with the geisha. He is so surprised that he laughs out loud, and Father Dosen calls him a fool. Over the next two months Mizoguchi becomes obsessed with reproducing Dosen's brief expression of hatred. He buys a photograph of the geisha and slips it into Dosen's morning newspaper. The Superior gives no sign of having found it, but secretly places the photo in Mizoguchi's drawer the next day. When Mizoguchi finds it there, he feels victorious. He tears it up, wraps the shreds in newspaper with a stone, and sinks it in the pond.

As Mizoguchi's mental illness worsens, he neglects his studies. On 9 November 1949, the Superior reprimands him for his poor work. Mizoguchi responds by borrowing ¥3000 from Kashiwagi, who characteristically raises ¥500 of the money by taking back and selling the flute and dictionary he had given as presents. He goes to Takeisao-jinja (a shrine also known as Kenkun-jinja) and draws a mikuji lot which warns him not to travel northwest. He sets off northwest the next morning, to the region of his birth, and spends three days at Yura, where the sight of the Sea of Japan inspires him to destroy the Kinkaku.

He is retrieved by a policeman, and on his return he is met by his angry mother, who is relieved to learn that he did not steal the money he used to flee. Obsessed by the idea of arson, one day he follows a guilty-looking boy to the Sammon Gate of the Myoshin-ji, and is amazed and disappointed when the boy does not set it alight. He compiles a long list of old temples which have burnt down. By May his debt (with 10% simple interest per month) has grown to ¥5100. Kashiwagi is angry, and comes to suspect that Mizoguchi is considering suicide. On 10 June Kashiwagi complains to Father Dosen, who gives him the principal; afterwards, Kashiwagi shows letters to Mizoguchi that reveal the fact that Tsurukawa did not die in a road accident, but committed suicide over a love affair. He hopes to discourage Mizoguchi from doing anything similar. For the last time, they discuss the Zen story of Nansen and the kitten.

Final events

On 15 June, Father Dosen takes the unusual step of giving Mizoguchi ¥4250 in cash for his next year's tuition. Mizoguchi spends it on prostitutes in the hope that Dosen will be forced to expel him. But he quickly tires of waiting for Dosen to find out, and when he spies on Dosen in the Tower of the North Star, and seems him crouched in the "garden waiting" position, he cannot account for this evidence of secret shame, and is filled with confusion. The next day he buys arsenic and a knife in Sembon Imadegawa, a distant part of the city, and loiters outside Nishijin Police Station. The outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June, and the failure of Kinkaku's fire-alarm on 29 June, seem to him signs of encouragement. On 30 June a repairman tries to fix it, but he is unsuccessful, and promises to return the next day. He does not come. A strange interview with the visiting Father Kuwai Zenkai, of Ryuho-ji in Fukui Prefecture, provides the final inspiration, and in the early hours of 2 July Mizoguchi sneaks into the Kinkaku and dumps his belongings, placing three straw bales in corners of the ground floor. He goes outside to sink some non-inflammable items in the pond, but on turning back to the temple he finds himself filled with his childhood visions of its beauty, and he is overcome by uncertainty.

Finally he remembers the words from the Rinzairoku, "When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha", and he resolves to go ahead with his plan. He enters the Kinkaku and sets the bales on fire. He runs upstairs and tries to enter the Kukkyōchō, but the door is locked. He hammers at the door for a minute or two. Suddenly feeling that a glorious death has been "refused" him, he runs back downstairs and out of the temple, choking on the smoke. He continues running, out of the temple grounds, and up Mount Hidari Daimonji, to the north. He throws away the arsenic and knife, lights a cigarette, and watches the pavilion burn.

Characters

  • Mizoguchi
    • Mizoguchi's father
    • Mizoguchi's mother
  • Uiko, the girl who is "cursed" by him
  • Tsurukawa, his kind friend, a fellow acolyte
  • Kashiwagi, his evil friend, a student at Otani University
  • Father Tayama Dosen, the Superior at Rokuon-ji
  • Father Kuwai Zenkai, who visits (ch. 10)
  • the American soldier and his girlfriend (ch. 3)
  • the girl whom Kashiwagi tricks (ch. 5)
  • the girl from Kashiwagi's boarding-house (ch. 5)
  • the woman from Tenju Hermitage
  • the naval cadet (ch. 1)
  • the prostitute Mariko (ch. 9)

Literary significance and reception

The novel assured Mishima's reputation as a novelist, and its 1959 translation was instrumental in making his name known overseas.

Allusions and references

Structure of the pavilion

  • the ground floor, Hōsui-in, from which the Sōsei juts into Kyōko Pond
  • the middle floor, Chōondō
  • the top floor, Kukkyōchō

Allusions to other works

Allusions to actual history, geography and current science

The real story

The only detailed information in English on the arson comes from Albert Borowitz's Terrorism For Self-Glorification: The Herostratos Syndrome (2005), which includes translations of interview transcripts published in the book Kinkaku-ji Enjō (1979) by Mizukami Tsutomo, a novelist who had known the boy at school.

The acolyte's name was Hayashi Yōken, and the Superior's name was Murakami Jikai. The prostitute to whom he boasted was called Heya Teruko. Hayashi's mother threw herself in front of a train soon after the event. His sentence was reduced on account of his schizophrenia; he was released on 29 September 1955, the same year that the rebuilding commenced, and died in March 1956. (Borowitz comments that many accounts avoid giving the acolyte's name, perhaps to prevent him from becoming a celebrity.) The pavilion's interior paintings were restored much later; even the gold leaf, which was mostly all gone long before 1950, was replaced.

Mishima collected all the information he could, even visiting Hayashi in prison, and as a result the novel follows the real situation with surprising closeness.

Film, television, and theatrical adaptations

Film

Other

Unrelated works of the same name

  • Kinkaku-ji (1757-8), the fourth act (now performed alone) of a kabuki play by Nakamura Akei, Gion Sairei Shinkōki ("The Gion Festival of Faith"), which describes the revolt of Matsunaga Daizen against the Ashikaga family. It has been filmed, and is part of NHK's "Masterpieces of Kabuki" series.

References

External links

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