The Temple of the Golden Pavilion Analysis

Yukio Mishima

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Kinkakuji (kin-ka-kew-jee). Temple, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in Kyto that is a rare masterpiece of Buddhist garden architecture, the central metaphor of the novel. The temple dates back over five centuries to the days of the great Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, a powerful military leader, appreciator of fine art, and devoted follower of Zen Buddhism. The temple served as a spiritual retreat for this hard-driven military leader because he enjoyed evenings of music and poetry, which took him away from the constant warfare of his dynasty.

The temple dominates the thoughts of the novel’s main character, the acolyte priest, Mizoguchi, who reads about it in books for years before he sees it in person. It is a three-storied tower structure overlooking a pond in a garden. The first two stories are built in traditional style of domestic architecture with folding shutters, but the third story consists of a square room built in pure Zen style. The roof is covered with cypress bark and capped with a copper and gold phoenix.

To Mizoguchi, the temple constantly changes its meaning throughout his life. The temple sometimes represents enduring beauty, envy, and eternal moral authority in contrast to the failings of human beings. Sometimes the temple is comforting, and sometimes it is forbidding and deadly. When Mizoguchi thinks of the temple, he recalls his own personal failings and the immorality of his mother. The memory of the temple makes it...

(The entire section is 615 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Scott-Stokes, Henry. The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974. This biography provides ample material for those who seek parallels between Mishima and Mizoguchi.

Starrs, Roy. Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima. Folkestone, England: Japan Library, 1994. Sees Mizoguchi as “rising heroically from passive to active nihilism.” Sees “relief and catharsis” in the ending.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976. Focuses on The Temple of the Golden Pavilion as a philosoph-ical novel and on the role of novelist as psychiatrist. Makes ample use of details from Mishima’s life.

Wolfe, Peter. Yukio Mishima. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1989. The most useful commentary in English on the novel. Considers Mizoguchi’s act to be one of self-betrayal and sees The Temple of the Golden Pavilion as “a downbeat, negative book.”

Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Argues for separation of Mishima from his protagonist, even though Mishima himself was nihilistic and often felt estranged from life.