The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

On July 2, 1950, to the distress of many Japanese and art -lovers,  the Zen temple of  Kinkakugi in Kyoto, known as the Temple of the Golden pavillion, was burned to the ground by an unhappy and unbalanced novice monk, who “hated anything beautiful”, according to a report of his trial.

The Golden pavilion, a rare masterpiece of Buddhist garden architecture, was built by the Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, in 1398. Fortunately, it turned out that a team of engineers, who have partially dismantled Kinkakugi for repair purposes a few years before the fire, had created detailed drawings and with the support of the Japanese government and contributions of local groups, the temple was restored in 1955.

Yukio Mishima, born Kimitake Hiraoka in 1925, (Yukio Mishima was his pen name). He was a man of many talents,  the author of 34 novels, numerous plays, essays and books of short stories,  a film actor and director, a singer, a sportsman, a self-styled samurai. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prise in Literature three times. A literary  genius, a nationalist,  an attention seeking man, obsessed, during the last ten years of his life, with bodybuilding to an extreme. A man that glorified death. After a failed coup attempt at Japan’s military headquarters, he committed the act of seppuku – the ritual suicide of a samurai warrior.

Mishima wrote The Temple of the Golden Pavilion when he was only 34. It  is novel about beauty so perfect that it becomes unbearable and it has to be destroyed. It is focuses on the life of a young Zen Buddhist novice named Mizoguchi, a stutter who views himself as ugly and has been so obsessed with the beauty of the Golden Pavillion,  that he is feeling the urge to destroyed it.

“Beauty, beautiful things, those are now my most deadly enemies.”

The destruction of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is presented as a decisive act of heroic pleasure of a tortured man. It is a pleasure that derives from “action in its perfection” and seen as such, destruction becomes  an acquired skill and an appropriate type of daily life.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is an engrossing , strange, detailed and complex novel with many layers that could only have written by a Japanese, one with a dark side, such as Yukio Mishima. It is an  impressive work of literary that established Mishima  as one of the outstanding writers of the twentieth century. I am looking forward to take a look at his other works.