Mizoguchi, a young Zen acolyte, from a poverty-stricken background, at the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and a student at Otani University. He is a physically frail only child, and 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. Alienated and isolated, he lives virtually in an inner world, stubbornly proud that no one understands him. From his youth, he is obsessed with the beauty of the Golden Temple. At the age of twenty-one, to become free of that obsession, he sets fire to the beautiful Zen temple, a revered architectural wonder more than five hundred years old.
Kashiwagi, a clubfooted student at Otani University. Misanthropic and selfish, he uses his disability to take advantage of other people’s feelings and to promote his own selfish desires. He is a negative influence who counsels Mizoguchi to be more active in life, but in a selfish, nihilistic manner. By reporting to Father Dosen that Mizoguchi failed to repay a personal loan, Kashiwagi nearly gets Mizoguchi expelled from the temple.
Tsurukawa, a Zen acolyte at the Golden Temple and a student at Otani University. Seemingly cheerful and gentle, he comes from the suburbs of Tokyo, the son of affluent parents. He befriends Mizoguchi, urging him to break out of his quiet isolation. When the two acolytes begin to matriculate at Otani University, their relationship falters. Tsurukawa’s death, at first reported as an accident, later is revealed as a probable suicide caused by an...
(The entire section is 671 words.)