Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Novel) (金閣寺 (小説))

"Kinkakuji" (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is a novel written by Yukio MISHIMA. It was published serially in "Shincho" from January to October 1956. The novel was published at the end of October by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. It was awarded the Yomiuri Prize for Literature.

The novel has a detailed and delicate descriptive style and is regarded as one of the masterpieces representative of modern Japanese literature. This novel has had a good reputation even overseas.

The author himself said that he based the subject matter of his novel on actual events and made a 'false confession', and this statement especially fits this work.

Story

The author looked for inspiration for his novel in an incident of arson at the Kinkaku-ji Temple and described the 'I', Yoken HAYASHI, as one obsessed by the beauty of the Rokuon-ji Temple. He set Yoken's severe stammer as the core reason for this incident.

Yoken could not effectively express his thoughts and feelings due to his stammer, and felt there to be large mental barrier between himself and his peers, the contemporary militaristic young men and women during World War II. Although Yoken had no physical disability except his stammer, that alone caused him to live out his youth giving up all of his hopefulness and love. Yoken's father had repeatedly told him about the Kinkaku-ji Temple since he was a young boy. In his father's stories, the Kinkaku was always described as a thing of flawless beauty, and every time Yoken dreamed of the Kinkaku-ji Temple, he visualized it as the finest beauty in this world.

Later, following the advice of his father who was a Buddhist monk and had been in poor health, Yoken entered the Kinkaku-ji Temple and began his learning under the chief priest who was an acquaintance of his father during his own Buddhist training. At the same time, he began to study at a college mainly for Buddhist trainees, and there, he met Kashiwagi, a classmate who walked on crutches due to his club foot and always lingered in the corner of the classroom, as well as Tsurukawa, who he believed had a heart of gold. Superimposing his own stammer on Kashiwagi's easily recognizable disability, Yoken talked to him hoping to become casual friends. However, Kashiwagi was, in fact, excellent at handling women like a swindler and seduced upper-class women one after another. At first, Yoken found Kashiwagi to be completely incomprehensible; a man who had overcame his disability despite being cynical about it; and moreover, took advantage of his disability to lead a brazen life by repeatedly putting others under his sway, knowing exactly what he was doing all along. Still, Yoken continued to share his company while keeping a certain mental distance from him. Kashiwagi's comments toward Yoken were always so sharp and cruel that he felt like his heart was being cut out, and he always scorned and ridiculed Yoken's vacillation and cowardice. Somehow though, Yoken was adding a new page to the days of his youth by being introduced to a woman through Kashiwagi as well as learning from him how to play the bamboo flute. Another friend, Tsurukawa, ended his life by committing suicide before opening up to Yoken. Tsurukawa had confided his real feelings only to Kashiwagi before taking his own life.

On the other hand, at first, at the temple Yoken was the chief priest's favorite, although he did not know why. Yoken's mother had had high hopes for him that he would become the chief priest of the Kinkaku-ji Temple in the future. However, Yoken did not share this desire, or rather, he did not understand such things in the first place or have any intention of meeting his mother's expectations. Due to this, he received reprimands whenever he was absent from college or ran away from the Kinkaku-ji Temple. Yoken's mother tried very hard to secure Yoken's future at the temple by desperately begging the chief priest's pardon. However, Yoken himself conclusively destroyed any hope for his future by ridiculing the chief priest after seeing him with his lover. After completely abandoning his own future and bringing his reason for being in this world to naught, Yoken determined to set fire to the Kinkaku-ji Temple to fulfill his aesthetic ideals.

Commentary

The 'Kinkakuji' is an assemblage of extremely beautiful sentences, and the whole work is filled with an artistic beauty and transiency that holds Kinkaku-ji Temple at its center. Although the Kinkaku-ji Temple itself was a human work, the behavior and feelings of mankind before it were full of sordidness and weakness. However, perhaps transience alone was one thing both did have in common.

The main character Yoken regarded the Kinkaku-ji Temple as a flawless, eternal and frail beauty, which, in fact, would not be surprising to see destroyed at any time, even though it had existed since the Muromachi period and seemed likely to last forever. And during his adversity and isolation, this idea became symbolized and entrenched in his mind as a thing of far stronger spiritual beauty than the actual Kinkaku.

Although Yoken was, generally speaking, in his youth and was brimming with carnal desires, women took no notice of him. He was unable to have sex even with women who Kashiwagi had introduced to him. At the beginning, he identified the beauty of women with that of the Kinkaku, but he became convinced that the Kinkaku had a loftier value and recognized the worthlessness of his own sexual existence. In addition to this, in opposition to his mother's intentions, he himself did not have any hopes for his own future. It was not because of his despair but because it was as if hope itself was not part of his nature. He himself leads the chief priest to dislike him and drives his own future into worthlessness. And his friend Tsurukawa, who Yoken thought of as a friend and was supposed to have a heart of gold, did not open his heart to Yoken after all. He disclosed only to Kashiwagi, who was believed to be a ruthless man, how he really felt in his letters, before he killed himself. Kashiwagi was, possibly, more of a critic who acted like a friend than a real friend. Despite them both standing at the same level as disabled people which limited their actions, he was overly strong. To Yoken this meant that all his friends had disappeared due to Tsurukawa's having opened his heart only to Kashiwagi. Using this chain of events, the author describes the background in which the main character gradually, and without regret, gave up his existence in the real world, and transformed himself into having an existence in the spiritual world by relinquishing all that he was going to obtain: women, social status, his future and his friends.

In addition to the background of Yoken himself, the historical background of this story was as follows: The period from the last years of World War II, through Japan's defeat, to directly after the war's end; the period in which the Japanese people's spiritual beauty was, in their consciousness, denied and trampled upon by the United States. One day, a GI paid a visit to the Kinkaku-ji Temple with a pan-pan girl (Japanese prostitutes solicited by American soldiers during the occupation of Japan), who then started arguing for reasons unknown to Yoken. The GI then hit her, made Yoken step on her for some reason and right after that, remained there anxiously close beside her. Later she brought the matter of her miscarriage up with the chief priest. These events symbolize the death of the spirit of Japan itself.

In such a period, Yoken was unable to build a sense of values about his own future and universality both due to the mental adversity caused by his disability, a stammer, which can occur to any individual in any period, and due to the instability of the time, when values were fluctuating drastically. He simply found it critically important to put an end to the physical frailty of the complete beauty of the Kinkaku, and thereby make the Kinkaku perpetual in spiritual meaning by its disappearance, and make this idea a reality.

Although it looks as if Mishima showed his animosity towards the spiritual death of Japan in the postwar period and cursed it in his work, he uses this rather as a motif and constructs a subtle and minute poetic work. His writing, which might be called impeccable, seems to consist entirely of beautiful sentences from the beginning to the end. The author predominately describes physical or imaginary visible beauty, while the spiritual beauty that an individual should have hardly appears in the story.

The connection with the actual incident
Aside from the characters appearing the story, the behavior of the narrator himself is quite different from fact. As an example, the narrator threw his knife and Calmotin (a soporific) away to try to carry on living at the end of the story.
(In reality, he took the Calmotin into the mountains and disemboweled himself with the knife.)

Tsutomu MINAKAMI also took interest in this incident and wrote the "Kinkaku Enjo" (Burning of the Kinkaku) and the "Gobancho Yugiriro" (District Five, Manor of Mists) (Shincho Bunko and other publishers).