The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

by Yukio Mishima
Start Free Trial

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 170

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima is a story inspired by real-life events. It focuses on the life of Mizoguchi, who is also the narrator. Mizoguchi has always lived an isolated life. He feels alienated from the society because he comes from a poor family and appears weak because of his physique. He has a low opinion of himself. Mizoguchi has a stammer, which makes it hard for him to talk to other people; therefore, he lives in his own world and shows contempt for others.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Mizoguchi is obsessed with the Golden Temple in Kyoto. He makes it his life’s purpose to become a spiritual leader at the temple. While working as a helper at the the place of worship, Mizoguchi constantly marvels at the building’s architecture. The temple is important to him because it symbolizes spiritual holiness and beauty. However, as time passes by, he starts to notice several flaws in the structure, and decides that it is his mission to destroy the temple.

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 971

In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mizoguchi narrates the story of his troubled life from his middle school years until age twenty-one, when he commits what he considers to be an inevitable deed. From the beginning of his narration, Mizoguchi stresses his isolation and feelings of alienation: Born on a remote cape to impoverished parents, a physically frail only child, he recognizes early that he is ugly and that his speech impediment—a stutter—locks him away from easy communication with the rest of the world. He lives virtually in an inner world, scorning the reality of the world around him. Throughout his narrative Mizoguchi stresses that “not being understood by other people had become my only real source of pride.”

Mizoguchi comes to believe that his troubled life leads him inevitably to the destruction of the Golden Temple. To explain this deed, Mizoguchi alerts the reader “that the first real problem I faced in my life was that of beauty.” Mizoguchi’s father, a tubercular country priest, taught his young son that nothing was more beautiful than the Golden Temple in Kyoto. When he feels death approaching, Mizoguchi’s father takes his young son to see the Zen temple and to meet Father Tayama Dosen, an old friend and the Superior of the Golden Temple. Having nurtured the idea of the temple’s beauty for years in his inner world, Mizoguchi is initially disappointed with the temple. The reality does not satisfy his ideal vision. Yet once away from Kyoto, he again visualizes the temple as beautiful. After his father’s death in the summer of 1944, Mizoguchi goes to Kyoto to finish his education under the care of Father Dosen. The young acolyte continues his lonely and alienated life: At his father’s cremation, he sheds no tears; a flashback describing an incident when Mizoguchi is thirteen explains his hatred for his mother; and even after a year with Father Dosen, Mizoguchi feels no personal connection to him. Only the temple holds fascination for the young Zen acolyte.

While studying at the temple, Mizoguchi is befriended by another youngacolyte, Tsurukawa. The two students seem quite different: Tsurukawa comes from a prosperous Tokyo family, has a promising future as a priest, and in Mizoguchi’s eyes has a cheerful and carefree disposition. During these years, only Tsurukawa is aware of Mizoguchi’s special feeling toward the Golden Temple.

Mizoguchi’s feelings about the temple are always strong, but they vary with time. Initially, he is troubled to learn that the temple embodies so much beauty because this makes him realize the lack of beauty in his own life on the remote cape. During the late war years when Mizoguchi lives near the temple, he feels the strongest affinity with it. He feels akin to the temple rather than estranged from it because he believes that both the temple (through air raids) and he (once he reaches conscription age) will be destroyed by the war. Strangely, this belief that they would perish together comforts him. After the defeat of Japan, however, he again feels estranged from the temple and unable to see any beauty in his own life. With the defeat of Japan, his renewed estrangement from beauty, and his continued isolation from reality, Mizoguchi decides, “I shall plunge as deep as I can into an inner world of evil.” He enjoys lying to Tsurukawa and refuses to confess his part in a prostitute’s miscarriage.

After Tsurukawa and Mizoguchi enter Otani University, they drift apart. Tsurukawa easily makes new friends, but Mizoguchi finds it more difficult to do so. He eventually begins a relationship with Kashiwagi, a clubfooted student who quickly asserts that he has faced the same problems as Mizoguchi but with more intensity and with better results. Both students believe that because of their handicaps they have been placed in an antagonistic relationship to the rest of the world. While Mizoguchi struggles to attain a normal life, Kashiwagi seems content with his misanthropic attitude and his willingness to use people to provide himself with as much comfort as possible.

Kashiwagi urges Mizoguchi to experience life, although to experience it selfishly, nihilistically. Yet the influence of the Golden Temple continues to draw him away from reality. Mizoguchi wavers: At times, he tries to participate more in life, but at other times he prays that the beauty of the temple will protect him from the ugly realities of life. Trying to reconcile these two positions has always been Mizoguchi’s problem, the problem of beauty. Mizoguchi cannot simultaneously function in the real world and fully appreciate beauty; he senses that a choice between the two must be made.

Prompted by the knowledge that Father Dosen will no longer consider Mizoguchi his successor as priest of the Golden Temple, Mizoguchi flees from the temple and travels to his birthplace. Here, by the rough sea, Mizoguchi realizes that he must set fire to the Golden Temple in order to free himself to enter the world of reality. Although Mizoguchi returns to the temple and spends almost eight more months as a university student, he never wavers from his decision to destroy the temple. He merely awaits the right moment. His confused logic leads him to action when he senses that the Superior will no longer tolerate his shirking of his studies and his disrespectful behavior. The outbreak of the Korean War also precipitates his action. Mizoguchi is pressured into believing that if he does not act quickly, he will miss his opportunity.

In the early morning hours of July 2, 1950, Mizoguchi sets fire to the Golden Temple, the beautiful Zen structure more than five hundred years old. He watches the burning with the feelings of “a man who settles down for a smoke after finishing a job of work. I wanted to live.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Themes