The Temple of The Golden Pavilion

I have come to a piece of Japanese literature I don’t like very much. Mishima has long been praised as a beloved author, but I wonder what I’m missing…

The Temple of The Golden Pavilion “won an important literary prize in Japan, sold over 300,000 copies, and was made into a successful modern play.” (from the introduction by Nancy Ross) It tells the story of a young man’s obsession with The Golden Temple and his consequent destruction of it.

Mishima points out interesting ideas on the concept of beauty along the way, while also writing about the pathology of someone who is ugly and outcast. Our protagonist has a terrible stutter, his closest friend has club feet, neither are physically strong let alone emotionally. I respect them not at all, nor do I feel much compassion for their plight. They are too cynical, too self-absorbed, too destructive to warrant much worth.

These quotes are the ones which struck me most forcibly. They give me something to ponder while I’m wondering at the fame of this novel:

When people concentrate on the idea of beauty, they are, without realizing it, confronted with the darkest thoughts that exist in this world. That, I suppose, is how human beings are made. (p. 48)

To see human beings in agony, to see them covered in blood and to hear their death groans, makes people humble. It makes their spirits delicate, bright, peaceful. It’s never at such times that we become cruel or bloodthirsty. No, it’s on a beautiful spring afternoon like this that people suddenly become cruel. (p. 106)

I was there alone, and the Golden Temple-the absolute, positive Golden Temple-had enveloped me. Did I possess the temple, or was I possessed by it? Or would it not be more correct to say that a strange balance had come into being at that moment, a balance which would allow me to be the Golden Temple and the Golden Temple to be me? (p. 131)

Later when I came to know Kashiwagi more intimately, I understood that he disliked lasting beauty. His likings were limited to things such as music, which vanished instantly, or flower arrangements, which faded in a matter of days; he loathed architecture and literature. Clearly he would never think of visiting the Golden Temple except on a moonlit night like this. (p. 139)

Perhaps it is because I know so little of Japan’s culture, of the conformity which I understand is almost required of its citizens, that I cannot fully appreciate this novel. To me, it was simply a sad story of a stutterer who could not find peace within himself or the world, who could not live in the shadow of the temple’s great beauty.

I read this novel as a read-along with Tanabata of In Spring It Is The Dawn.

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15 thoughts on “The Temple of The Golden Pavilion”

  1. Have you seen _Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters_?A rather interesting film about him. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas are the producers, with music by Philip Glass.

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  2. "It was simply a sad story of a stutterer who could not find peace within himself or the world, who could not live in the shadow of the temple's great beauty." – This seems like a perfectly valid view of this book to me. Also, well said.I have to be in a particular mood to enjoy Mishima's work; it's difficult. If you don't like him – don't read him! There are so many other things out there…

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  3. Earlier this year I read The temple of Dawn by Mishima, this was pt 3 of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy. I found the book hard work to begin with, it took me pretty much all of pt 1 to bond with this book in fact, if I remember I compared it in my review to some relationship where the friendship isn't instant but needs working at My next Mishima is the Sailor who fell from graceenjoyed your post, not sure about the book yet.Thanks Parrish

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  4. Chasing the Crayon, it was fun to visit your blog and see all your charming illustrations!zbtjkarapilot, I'm not sure how soon I'll be picking up another Mishima let alone rereading this one!Fred, I haven't seen the film you mention, but it certainly has worthy producers! I wonder if there are four parts because he wrote a series of four books which are 'one'.Colleen, such a balm to me to hear you say, "Well said" about my post. I was thinking otherwise, as everyone loves him. You're right, there's too much I want to read than to slog on with Yukio. ;)Parrish, I've heard tons of great things about The Sailor Who Fell From Grace, and if I was to begin another Mishima that would be the one I chose. It's fun to pursue Japanese literature/authors with you.

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  5. I have only read The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea and it is dark, cruel, and somehow eerily beautiful. Emphasis on the darkness and cruelty. So I doubt I would be running out to read this (remember I had problems with Kenzaburo Oe; perhaps it is the extreme masculinity of these writers, or their refusal to sugar-coat a dark side of their culture–the side that Murakami makes surreal–that disturbs us into not being able to read them?)

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  6. I've heard that you either love or loathe Mishima's writing but it's supposed to be beautiful. Did you find that? I'm hoping to start reading his books next year, so I'll find out for myself:)

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  7. Chris, you're review of The Sailor Who Fell…was the first Mishima review I'd read, and I was so hopeful for The Temple of The Golden Pavilion. I just was not in the right mood, at the right time, or something because to me it was not only irrelevant, but boring. Isn't that an awful thing to say?!Chasingbawa, that must be true, the love or hate thing; right now, I'm not feeling much love. I'll give him some more chances, though, because how can I be so wrong in the face of so many fans of his?

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  8. Just wanted to let you know that (*puts on Schwarzenegger voice*) I'll be back (*voice off*) to read your thoughts once I've finished the book myself. Yes, I KNOW I'm late for the discussion! LOL

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  9. You said:"To me, it was simply a sad story of a stutterer who could not find peace within himself or the world, who could not live in the shadow of the temple's great beauty."This is all I'm taking away from it so far as well, and I'm also wondering what I'm missing.I'm actually kind of glad to hear that you didn't love it as I'm really struggling with it. Yes, I'm still reading it, but the discussion post is finally up if you'd like to come by and talk about it more in-depth. So sorry about the delay!I've got a couple other Mishima titles here to try at some point. Hopefully I'll have better luck with those.

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  10. Tanabata, what a relief to me that you, Prolific Reader of Japanese Literature, feel as I did about the novel. There were certainly many interesting ideas, about the pathology of the 'protagonist' for one, and beauty of another, but the whole story did not engage me as I've been with other novels. I'm eager to try more of Mishima's work and see how I react to different novels of his.

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