The Golden Pavilion Temple, also called Kinkaku-ji in Japanese, was built in 1397 and it is located in Kyoto, Japan. It was initially made to serve as a villa for retirement for Shogun Ashikaga. It was quite later that his son converted the building into a Zen temple. The Golden Pavilion burned down in 1950 when a monk set fire to the temple.
The Golden Temple is a building with three stories. The upper two stories are covered with a pure gold layer. The main purpose of the pavilion is to work as a shariden, storing relics of the Buddha. One can see a typical Chinese architectural style on the top floor. The second floor has a Zen style and the ground floor is made in the shinden-zukuri style.
The entire temple is surrounded by a beautiful garden with a pond in the front called the Mirror Pond. The stones in the pond give a representation of the Buddhist era. In the year 1987, some parts of the temple were recoated in thicker gold and some of the interior of the temple was remodeled in 2003.
In July, 1950, art lovers were shocked to hear that the Kinkakuji–the Temple of the Golden Pavilion–in Kyoto had been deliberately burned by a crazed young monk. At his trial, this ugly, stammering priest said that his hatred of all beauty had driven him to destroy the six-century-old building. He expressed no regrets.
From this incident and other details of his life an engrossing novel has been written by Yukio Mishima. This is Mishima’s third book to be published in the United States, making him the best- represented Japanese novelist here, although he is only 34. His earlier works were all of great interest, but “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” establishes Mishima’s claim as one of the outstanding young writers in the world.
The novel, related in the first person, traces the curious relationship between Mizoguchi, the priest, and the Golden Pavilion, from the time when his father first tells him of its incomparable beauty to the moment when, having destroyed it, he puffs at a cigarette like a man who has finished a job of work. Until this act the pavilion has dominated his thoughts, constantly changing in its meaning. During the war it seemed “a symbol of the real world’s evanescence,” but when it escapes the bombings, its eternal authority, sometimes menacing, sometimes reassuring, asserts itself. Its beauty rising before his eyes makes it impossible for Mizoguchi to make love to a girl who awaits his caress. He realizes that only by destroying the pavilion can he free himself.
Mizoguchi’s temple is Zen Buddhist, and some of the characteristic Zen riddles (or koan) figure importantly in the book. “Nansen Kills a Kitten,” tells of the priest Nansen who decides a dispute between two temples about ownership of a kitten by killing it. Later his chief disciple, Choshu, returns and when he is told what happened, he removes his muddy shoes and puts them on his head. Nansen says, “If only you had been here, the kitten could have been saved.”
This riddle is read to the priests of the temple by the Superior on the day of Japan’s defeat in 1945. The priests are mystified by its meaning and by the Superior’s failure to refer to the war. No explanation is offered, though it may be that Choshu, accepting the humiliation of filth on his head, symbolizes Japan in defeat. The same riddle is given another meaning by Kashiwagi, a bitter, club-footed priest. For him the kitten is beauty, killed by Nansen because it causes disharmony; but Choshu, putting his shoes on his head, satirizes so easy a solution. In still another interpretation, Kashiwagi suggests that Mizoguchi wishes to play Choshu in protecting beauty with knowledge. But Mizoguchi, wondering if his feelings about beauty are not actually the cause of his stuttering, answers, “Beauty, beautiful things, those are now my most deadly enemies.”
If Mizoguchi becomes Nansen, the destroyer and liberator, his Choshu is the Superior, a man who accepts evil as he accepts the cartons of cigarettes given to Mizoguchi by an American soldier as a reward for trampling on a prostitute and causing a miscarriage. Mizoguchi later sees the Superior squandering temple funds on a geisha, and when he taunts him with it, the Superior accepts the humiliation as of no importance. The last Mizoguchi sees of the Superior is when he is praying in a posture of abject humility.
Despite such complexities, the novel is not difficult: it attracted over 300,000 readers in Japan. Read simply as the story of the man who burned a famous building, it is constantly absorbing. But additional layers of meaning seem to reveal themselves, different for each reader. A fine introduction by Nancy Wilson Ross adds much to an American’s enjoyment of the book.