The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

BOOK: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
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The Temple of
the Golden Pavilion

YUKIO MISHIMA, born in Tokyo on January 14, 1925, was probably the most spectacularly talented young Japanese writer to emerge after World War II. Mishima's first novel was published in 1948, shortly after he graduated from Japan's prestigious University of Tokyo School of Jurisprudence.

Upon leaving the university, he secured a highly coveted position in the Ministry of Finance, but he resigned after just nine months to devote himself fully to his writing. From the time he put pen to paper until his widely publicized death in 1970, he was a very prolific writer, producing some two dozen novels, more than 40 plays, over 90 short stories, several poetry and travel volumes, and hundreds of essays. His mastery won him many top literary awards, among them the 1954 Shinchosha Literary Prize for his novel
The Sound of Waves.

Although critics are naturally divided on which of his many works is the ultimate masterpiece, Mishima himself regarded
The Sea of Fertility
to be his finest effort. He completed his last volume,
The Decay of the Angel,
on the day of his death by ritual suicide on November 25, 1970. Mishima's writings have been compared to those of Proust, Gide, and Sartre, and his obsession with courage mirrors Ernest Hemingway's.

Today, more than three decades since his death, Yukio Mishima remains one of the pivotal figures of modern Japanese literature.

The Temple of
the Golden Pavilion

by Yukio Mishima

Tokyo • Rutland, Vermont • Singapore


Japanese Series

This book has been accepted in the Japanese Series of the
Translations Collections of the United Nations Educational,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization

Originally published in Japanese as

Published by Tuttle Publishing
An imprint of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd.
By special arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York

© 1959 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without
permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer,
who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a
magazine or newspaper.

First Tuttle edition, 1956

ISBN 978-1-4629-0276-7

Printed in Singapore

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The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
is the fourth book to be published in America by Yukio Mishima-the most famous, gifted, and prolific young Japanese writer-who, at thirty-two, already has some fifty volumes of work—novels, stories, essays, poetry—to his credit in his own country.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion,
under the title
won an important literary prize in Japan, sold over 300,000 copies, and was made into a successful modern play. It has been translated by Ivan Morris, one of the skillful young translators who are, since the war, beginning to make a place for themselves in the niche so long occupied alone by the redoubtable Arthur Waley.

1 he three other works by Yukio Misnima which preceded
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
in America were entirely different in character. The first was a deceptively simple and brief novel of life and love in a Japanese fishing village,
The Sound of Waves.
The second,
Five Modern N
was a brilliant utilization of old No drama themes in contemporary settings, published with an admirable introduction by its translator, Donald Keene. The third was a novel,
Confessions of a Mask.
The present novel,
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion,
based on an actual occurrence in recent Japanese history, deals with the complex pathology and final desperate crime of a young Zen Buddhist acolyte, in training for priesthood at a Kyoto temple.

In 1950, to the distress and horror of all art-loving and patriotic Japanese, the ancient Zen temple of Kinkakuji in Kyoto was deliberately burned to the ground. This Golden Pavilion, a rare masterpiece of Buddhist garden arehitecture, dated back over five hundred years to the days of the great Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, military leader, aesthete, and powerful patron of the Zen cult, who, near the end of his amazing career, abdicated to take the tonsure. The Kinkakuji, tradition said, had served as a retreat for this hard-driven Shogun of the fourteenth century. Here on evenings of music and poetic composition Yoshimitsu found respite from the constant internecine warfare and general turbulence of the medieval period. So revered was this historic and religious shrine that it enjoyed in Japan the status of a National Treasure. It was willfully set fire to and destroyed by an unhappy and unbalanced student of Zen Buddhism.

The newspaper accounts of the actual trial relate how this young acolyte-born with an ugly face and afflicted from childhood with a difficult stammer-became obsessed with “envy” of the Golden Temple whose beauty daily attracted a throng of admiring visitors. After establishing a typically neurotic pattern of behavior at the temple to which his dead father, also a Zen priest, had taken him for his training-—such behavior as stealing, gambling, cutting classes, frequenting geisha houses—he finally decided to die a spectacular death by burning down the Kinkakuji and perishing in the blaze. But when he had actually succeeded in setting the sacred edifice afire he lost his courage, ran from the burning building to a hill near Kyoto, and there attempted to commit suicide.

Failing in this, he gave himself up to the authorities and asked for his just puhishment. At his trial he said: “I hate myself, my evil, ugly, stammering self." Yet he also said that he did not in any way regret having burned down the Kinkakuji. A report of the trial, in explanation of his conduct, stated that because of his "self-hate and self-detestation he hated anything beautiful. He could not help always feeling a strong destructive desire for hurting and destroying anything that was beautiful." The psyehiatrist who was called on the case analyzed the young man as a “psyehopath of the schizoid type.”

This is the incident from which Yukio Mishima has built his engrossing novel. But although Mishima has made use of the reported details of the real-life culprit's arrogant and desperate history, culminating in the final willful act of arson, he has employed the factual record merely as a scaffolding on which to erect a disturbing and powerful story of a sick young man's obsession with a beauty he cannot attain, and the way in which his private pathology leads him, slowly and fatefully, to self-destruction and a desperate deed of pyromania.

As the setting of this novel is a Zen temple and its writing contains frequent references to Zen training, classes in Buddhism, Zen daily rituals, and in particular to the practical use of, and various interpretations and misinterpretations of, certain famous Zen
koans, The Temple of the Golden Pavvilion
is likely to set going among America's new generation of Zen zealots some lively arguments concerning the author's real purposes. Is the burning of the ancient Zen temple, topped by its golden phoenix, a symbolic act-as the novelist uses it-suggesting revolt on the part of young Japanese against the forms and disciplines of the Zen Buddhist way of life: an influence that has for generations laid its powerful spell on the whole range of national behavior and culture from social etiquette to swordsmansnip and judo, from theater techniques to flower arrangements, from garden designs to arehery, from the formal tea ceremony to literary styles and conventions—most notably, the stripped, evocative forms of Japanese poetry
Or is this novel to be interpreted in rather more general terms as an expression of post-war social revolt, even nihilism, on the part of young Japanese, following in the wake of the defeat and the Occupation? Or, finally, is it to be considered in more simple psyehological terms, merely as a detailed, dramatic study of personal pathology?

It is not possible to ignore the fact that the Kinkakuji, around whose obsessive power” and final destruction the novel's theme revolves, was a sacred Buddhist relic, and must stand, therefore, as a religious symbol, There is also, certainly, significance in the fact that scattered through the pages of
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
are telling examples of what amounts to misuse of that famed Zen verbal dialectic presumably leading to "self-enlightenment." In
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
the Zen aphoristic riddle, the
and the general Zen
are frequently employed by neurotic characters in ways of rough, or perverted, “therapy.” These special Zen techniques are even utilized for ulterior purposes. So openly is this done by some of Mishima's characters that I was reminded of a criticism once written by Gerald Heard about the dangers inherent in the possible malpractice of Zen tenets: "Zen's anxiety to avoid metaphysics and to be purely empiric can end in the forging of an instrument which may be used by a fiend.” It is noteworthy that a nihilistic misinterpretation of an old classic
prods on the psyehotic hero to his last desperate deed. There are, in Mishi-ma's novel, a few implications-essentially mild, however-of the power and hypocrisy of some Buddhist sects and of the rigidly formalized and dogmatic teaching-methods of these sects in Japan today, as contrasted to the more individualized seareh for
(“enlightenment”) characteristic of the past. Mizoguchi, the young acolyte, himself comments about Zen: “in former times when not yet captured by convention and when the spiritual awakening of an individual was valued above all else...

Yet the author of
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
does not give the impression that he is in any way concerned with voicing a philippic against Zen Buddhism. Yukio Mishima appears chiefly interested in the imaginative recreation of a psyehotic acolyte's obsession and a detailed portrayal of the steps that led to his last desperate, destructive act. The emphasis (alls on the individual. Even the sociological factors are made subservient to young Mizoguchi's pathology.

It would be all too easy to read into this novel, in several instances, more than is apparently intended. Facile and disturbing interpretations might, for example, readily present themselves around the occasional references to Americans in the pages of
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
The most deeply shocking scene in the book takes place in the snow-covercd temple gardens between an American soldier, pregnant prostitute, and the young acolyte, Mizoguchi. It is this occurrence which might be said to have started Mizoguchi—already, however, clearly ncurotic and unbalanced—on his dedicated path of willful deceit and wrong-doing. He accepts cartons of cigarettes from the American in return for the shameful part he has played in the garden incident. After accepting the cigarettes he gives them to the Superior of the temple, not so much as a way of currying favor but rather to involve the Zen Master indirectly in a shocking deed of which he is, at the moment, totally unaware. (Once the "figure of authority” represented by the Temple's Superior is besmirched, even if only in Mizoguchi's sick mind, there is no stemming the dark tide of his future actions.) In the novel one looks in vain for any
connection between Mizo-guehi's participation in the American soldier's pathology and the future development of his own psyehosis, beyond, of course, the obvious fact-also quite unemphasized by the author-that the American and the Japanese could both be said to share a common physical sadism.

And again, in relation to the indirect role played by the Americans in
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion:
Prior to this garden episode-and thus before Japan's defeat and the Occupation-Mizoguchi has become convinced that the temple, whose Master his dead father and pathetic poverty-stricken mother have fondly hoped he would some day become, will be burned down by the Americans with their incendiary bombs. This thought acts as a "release" to him. He is temporarily freed of the paralyzing beauty of the golden shrine that has been his obsession since childhood; the temple whose image-forever rising in his mind's eye-effectively prevents him from leading a normal life of direct action: in friendship, in the sexual act, in the simplest and most ordinary affairs of everyday existence. Now, at last-it seems to him-he and his beautiful structure with which all worldly beauty is identified, possess something in common; they share a common danger, the same possible fate: "I felt that a bridge had been built between myself and the thing that until then had seemed to deny me, to keep me at a distance.... Just like my own frail, ugly body, the temple's body, hard though it was, consisted of combustible carbon.”

But "release" from the Golden Temple's obsessive power was not destined to come to Mizoguchi in this manner. (Actually the American Air Force carefully avoided Kyoto, with its ancient Japanese religious and national relies, its temples and art treasures.) The war ended with the Golden Pavilion still standing. Of the war's end the novel's hero says: "I must state what the defeat really meant to me. It was not a liberation. No, it was by no means a liberation. It was nothing else than a return to the unchanging eternal Buddhist routine which mergea into our daily life. This routine was now firmly re-established and continued unaltered from the day after the Surrender: the ‘opening of the rules,' morning tasks, ‘gruel session,' meditation, ‘medicine, of the evening meal, bathing, ‘opening the pillow.'.." There was no way left, then, in Mizoguchi's sick mind but to pursue his mad career through a series of nihilistic, self-dcstructive actions which his Superior continued to accept without comment or censure. And it was this behavior on the Master's part that the acolyte found uncndurable—because it was inscrutable.

in the
novel, as
life, the
young man sets fire to the famed National Treasure, and, managing to escape at the last possible moment from the conflagration (after a special little golden room, in which he hoped to die, refuses to open its door to his insane pounding), he flies to a nearby hill. There, watching the flames roar up, he takes a cigarette from his pack and begins to smoke. The novel ends with the lines: “I felt like a man who settles down for a smoke after a job of work. I wanted to live."

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
has around it an aura of Dostoevskian violence and passion. I found many reminders of Dostoevsky's involved and tortuous struggles with the ageless questions of "forgiveness," "love," "mastery." Yet as the story of
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
fatefully unwinds, one is strangely free of emotional identification with any character-and here, certainly, the Dostoevskian comparison sharply ends.

This freedom from emotional identification does not, however, lessen the book's power. It seems, in a singular way,
intensify it, almost as though the stuttering Mizoguchi's murky analyses of the nature and conduct of the people he encounters in his daily life become the reader's own astigmatism. The “moral" position from which we, as Westerners with a Puritan tradition, are accustomed to judge behavior both in life and literature is missing from these pages. The episodes are, for the most part, presented free of judgment. In fact there seems to be little, if any, stress on familiar "values." Those dualisms of black and white, body and soul, good and evil that we take so for granted are not found in
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
Evil is represented, to be sure, but never with comment direct enough to suggest a tangible attitude toward it. Take as example young Mizoguchi's icily oblique thoughts when he first encounters the black market: “If the people of this world, I thought, are going to taste evil through their lives and their deeds, then I shall plunge as deep as I can into an inner world of evil." This seeming partial justification of his own conduct is, however, in no way emphasized as an explanation of Mizoguchi's subsequent crimes. Rather it is as if the crimes of the black marketeers and the crimes of Mizoguchi all existed in the same great continuum; were, in a sense,

BOOK: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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