The Temple of the Golden Pavilion 金閣寺
Having visited kinkakuji last year, I had heard the story of the monk who burned down the prior version of the temple but not in any detail. Reading Donald Keene’s memoir got me interested in Mishima. The two interests combined finally got me to pick up a copy of the English translation of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and read.
And what a curious read it turned out to be! The book is said to be historical fiction. I’ve read reviews that claim that Mishima did research and actually interviewed the arsonist so maybe it’s more historical than fiction. In any event, I became thoroughly engrossed in this book.
I won’t go into any plot lines here as you can read them elsewhere on the internet, and I don’t want to provide any major spoilers for those who haven’t read it yet.
As I read the book, I felt like there were some of Mishima’s autobiographical elements coming out in the arsonist’s character. For instance, Mishima has the arsonist say that living to an old age is a curse. (p. 128) He takes special care to emphasize physical limitations (something Mishima, himself, seemed obsessed with). And the thought of suicide is rather glorious to Mishima’s mentally unstable arsonist. Mishima worked tirelessly to become a physical specimen (through body building), thought old age was not a good thing, and committed suicide at a relatively young age.
I thought the story line near the end sounded strangely like Mark David Chapman and his preparations to murder John Lennon. Mark Chapman identified with Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield is not too unlike Mishima or the arsonist in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The Catcher in the Rye deals with adolescent aimlessness, a dissatisfaction with everything, being disgusted with the phoniness people, themes of anxiety over sex, the feeling that everything is soiled, and lost innocence–all items touched on in this work of Mishima’s.
Both the arsonist and Chapman went to prostitutes and spent the last of their money before committing their crimes. Both affiliated with a book. For Chapman it was The Catcher in the Rye. For the arsonist in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion it was Crime and Punishment. The similarities seemed so eerie that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Chapman had also read Mishima’s book.
I give this work two thumbs up and highly recommend it–especially if you have been to Kyoto.