The Temple of the Golden Pavilion: Yukio Mishima

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Yukio Mishima
Ivan Morris (Translator)

I first visited Kinkakuji 13 years ago. Since then, due to work, I've been back another 10 times or more. For anyone who hasn't been, it is undoubtably beautiful and surrounded by a lovely stroll garden, and far too crowded from dawn to dusk to allow any deep contemplative appreciation for which it was built. And, it isn't the real thing. I mean, it is a real thing, but it's not the original and I remember that day thirteen years before, discovering this for the first time and being disappointed. If this isn't the original, it's not as special. I felt that without the years seeping into the wood it lacked something, and in Kyoto, with hundreds of older temples and shrines, the gold wasn't worth the price of admission. Then I had one last thought. Since all the history is lost from the wood, then it isn't that history that matters anymore. What mattered for me (at the time, as learning more about Kyoto history changes things a bit) was the story of the man and the act that destroyed all that history. It was from this thought that I learned about Hayashi Yoken, the young monk who started the fire, and from here I learned about a writer named Yukio Mishima who had written up his version of the event in a book that I immediately ordered.

So, that's my history with the place and the book and it led me begin embracing Japanese literature, and in a way, without that first visit I may never have begun this little project of mine right here.

The information available about Yoken on the internet is limited. Even in Japanese the authorities appear to have protected this disturbed young man, and so all we and all Mishima had is a little information and a lot of speculation. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is Mishima's speculative attempt to create some sense out of this amazing situation.

For those who don't know the basic story, a shy troubled young man becomes an apprentice monk at Kinkakuji. For some reason this relationship ends with the young man burning down the temple that survived wars, both civil and modern. Mishima creates his story with the basic assumption that this young man had been brought to a point of hating beauty and from this idea he presents his stuttering confused and tormented young Mizoguchi. Using a different name seems fair, as in many ways this character is as much Mishima himself as any part of Yoken.

The book touches on many of Mishima's repeated themes, such as sexuality and it's connection to a young boy's mother, as well as the dangers and confusion of people attempting to either become something they aren't or at least create a mask that makes it appear that they are they thing and then the terrible results of such continuous stress on a psyche.

As with much of Mishima's work, this can be a tough book, both in stye and subject. I wouldn't describe it or much of Mishima's work to be enjoyable as such, but would say that it's terribly important and importantly insightful as well. As I read more and more of Mishima's work (I've read about 1/2 of the English available as of this time, and hope to finish most of his cannon this year) I think that in a way I am completing a puzzle with the final picture being a scrawny young weakling who became a bodybuilder and a shy stutterer who became a voice of his people and a secret poet who became a writer who many felt to be one of the best in the world. All of these things are shown in the writing, but of course the final piece is the success, the bodybuilder, the beloved writer who chose became a martyr. As Mizoguchi begins his fire, it's hard not to see Mishima pulling out his sword.

Recommended very much for anyone who wants to put that puzzle together along with me, but it's a long journey.

Need More Mishima?