The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

by Yukio Mishima
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

The characters of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion are:

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Mizoguchi: He is the dogmatic son of a Buddhist priest and is tortured by his inadequacies. Mizoguchi is a stutterer and struggles with the social repercussions of his disability. In the story, Mizoguchi becomes obsessed with beauty in all its forms and the futility of paying homage to it. As he descends into a deep depression, he begins to question the conventional definitions of beauty.

Mizoguchi is initially fascinated with two types of beauty: earthly and spiritual. He is drawn to beautiful women but apt to abuse prostitutes. To Mizoguchi, the latter's beauty is tainted, and he experiences a kind of perverted pleasure in mistreating these ladies of the night.

Mizoguchi's dysfunctional way of relating to women can be attributed to his self-hatred. In the story, the temple represents an unattainable treasure—a beauty that he cannot possess. Thus, his suicidal obsessions stem from his inability to reconcile his inadequacies with his unattainable yearning for beauty and love.

Tayama Dosen: This is the priest who takes Mizoguchi under his tutelage. Dosen understands Mizoguchi's struggles and also tolerates the latter's cruel tendencies. Dosen has no claim on virtue; he is no stranger to the sexual pleasures a geisha can provide. Dosen is later caught cavorting with a geisha by Mizoguchi.

For his part, Dosen chooses to protect his own reputation and sends Mizoguchi off to Otani University. Dosen reminds Mizoguchi of his mother, who was no stranger to sexual improprieties. Dosen and Mizoguchi's mothers's actions portray the myth of human perfection.

Mizoguchi's mother: She is an ambivalent character who is unfaithful to her husband. Her sole goal in life is to see Mizoguchi as the Golden Temple's superior.

Mizoguchi's father: He understands Mizoguchi's struggles and makes arrangements for the latter to study as an acolyte under Tayama Dosen.

Kashiwagi: He is a disabled young student at Otani University. Mizoguchi becomes enamored with how Kashiwagi views beauty, sin, and perfection. Like Mizoguchi, Kashiwagi possesses cruel tendencies. He is untroubled by how he treats women. Kashiwagi believes that his physical disability prevents him from attaining true beauty in his life; thus, he contents himself with prostitutes and women of ill-repute. Like Mizoguchi, he mistreats them all, acting out his self-hatred through his malicious actions.

Tsurukawa: Tsurukawa is a fellow Zen acolyte at the Golden Temple. He is a foil to Mizoguchi's character. Unlike Mizoguchi, Tsurukawa is persistently cheerful. He is later discovered to have committed suicide over an unfortunate love affair. The manner of Tsurukawa's death greatly unsettles Mizoguchi, who begins to contemplate suicide himself.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 671


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 unhappy love affair. Letters written by Tsurukawa shortly before his death also call into question his previous seemingly cheerful disposition.

Father Tayama Dosen

Father Tayama Dosen, a friend of Mizoguchi’s father in their seminary days and currently superior of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. A plump man, he devotes his free time to various satisfactions of the flesh. Although on the surface a fair and impartial superior, Father Dosen shows no feelings for Mizoguchi all the time that he acts as his mentor. He provides the tuition that allows Mizoguchi to attend Otani University, but after Mizoguchi falters in his studies and increasingly becomes more undisciplined at the temple, Father Dosen tells Mizoguchi that he has lost his opportunity to become the superior’s successor at the temple.


Uiko, a volunteer nurse at a naval hospital. This proud young woman from a wealthy family attracts the young Mizoguchi. After she tells her parents of Mizoguchi’s watching for her as she bicycles to work at dawn, Mizoguchi wishes for her death, thinking that it would end his embarrassment. A few months later, Uiko dies when a Navy deserter, whom she had been secretly aiding, shoots her when she leads the military police to his hiding place. After her death, Mizoguchi continues to be preoccupied with her memory, and he often thinks of her when he comes into contact with other women.

Mizoguchi’s father

Mizoguchi’s father, an impoverished country priest. Knowing that he will soon die from tuberculosis, he takes his adolescent son to see the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which to the father is a structure of limitless beauty, and to place him under the protection of Father Dosen.

Mizoguchi’s mother

Mizoguchi’s mother, a shabby, impoverished wife, then widow. Her ambition is to see her son as the superior of the Golden Temple. She berates Mizoguchi for being undutiful while an acolyte at the temple.

Father Kuwai Zenkai

Father Kuwai Zenkai, a Zen priest, the head of Ryoko Temple. Strong and healthy in appearance and character, he serves as a contrast to his two friends from seminary days—Mizoguchi’s father and Father Dosen. Father Zenkai is candid when he talks to Mizoguchi a few hours before the temple burns, and Mizoguchi yearns for this priest to understand him.


Mariko, a prostitute a few years older than Mizoguchi. She warns him that he should not frequent the brothel too often.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 576

The narrator-protagonist of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is based on a historical figure, a young Zen acolyte who burned an ancient Zen temple in Kyoto in 1950. Mizoguchi and the historical arsonist share certain traits—ugliness, a stutter, a preoccupation with the beauty of a Zen temple. Yet Mizoguchi’s story is not simply a transference of an actual event into literary form. The historical incident of the burning of the temple serves as the impetus for the novel, but Yukio Mishima creates his own fictional world and characters to serve his artistic purposes.

All the other characters in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion are secondary to the narrator-protagonist. He dominates the novel, and it is from his stance that the other characters are viewed. Despite the dominance of the narrator-protagonist, the reader never gets close to Mizoguchi. In part, this fact may be the result of his characterization: He holds himself aloof; he lives mainly in his internal world and scorns close association with others. Furthermore, the narrative method seems to promote distance rather than involvement with Mizoguchi. Although the novel is narrated in the first person, Mizoguchi is quite stolid in detailing the events of his problematic young life.

It is important to recognize Mizoguchi as a dual character in the novel: The narrator Mizoguchi tells the story of the protagonist Mizoguchi in retrospect; some differences between the narrator and protagonist are apparent. The desire for death that the protagonist occasionally expresses is missing in the narrator, who accepts his status. The protagonist is proud of not being understood by others, while the narrator repeatedly makes comments such as “I hope that people will recognize how carefully I went about everything” and “I hope that I am making myself understood.” It is only near the conclusion of the novel that the protagonist, like the narrator, yearns to be understood: “The desire to be understood by others had so far never occurred to me, but now I wished that Father Zenkai alone would understand me.” In a first-person-retrospective narrative, when the character catches up to the narrator, the story is finished. The two major differences between the protagonist and narrator are bridged at the end of this novel, and the implication is that the burning of the temple brings about the character change in the protagonist, causing him to want to live and to be understood.

Tsurukawa and Kashiwagi play similar, yet opposing, roles in the novel. Each portrays a character in contrast with Mizoguchi. Tsurukawa is the light figure to Kashiwagi’s dark. Each has some influence over Mizoguchi for brief periods. Neither Kashiwagi nor Tsurukawa is a fully realized figure, yet each has a facet of complexity that makes him more than a mere stereotype. Kashiwagi, perhaps, is the clearer figure, because, except for the narrator, he is the character who speaks most in the text. (The protagonist— as differentiated from the narrator—seldom speaks in the text, and his stutter is never reproduced, although occasionally it is mocked.) Tsurukawa’s apparently lighthearted existence is called into question late in the novel when the narrator reveals that Tsurukawa’s death, reported as an accident, was probably a suicide.

Father Tayama Dosen is a stock character: He is the Superior of the Zen temple, whose free time is devoted to various satisfactions of the flesh. The remaining minor characters serve to elucidate Mizoguchi’s psychological state or simply to further the action.

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