My Prior Posts on Yokio Mishima
Yokio Mishima (1925 to 1970, Tokyo, Japan) is one of the very greatest of Japanese novelists. I see two great mountains in the Japanese literary landscape, on the far left we have Mount Oe and on the right extreme we have Mount Mishima.
The plot of The Temple of the Golden Dawn (translated by Ivan Morris) is loosely based on the real life burning in 1950 of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto by a novice monk. The 500 year old temple was a national monument and of such great beauty that it was one of the reasons the American Air Force refrained from bombing Kyoto.
Embracing Defeat: Japan After WWII and one of the biggest themes of Mishima's novel is the consequences of this occupations of Japan by its conquerors. In one very terrible scene, a drunken, depicted as huge, American soldier comes on the temple grounds with a Japanese pregnant woman, assumedly a prostitute. He knocks her to the ground and tells the young monk he will give him two packs of cigarettes if he will jump on her stomach to abort the fetus. The monk gives the cigarettes to the head of the temple in order to curry his favor to get a college scholarship. It works.
The boy's father was also a monk and all through his life he heard how beautiful the temple was. The boy's father dies and he enters the temple. He was also a stutter. There is a lot about the boy's developing sexuality. There really is just too much in this novel to summarize much of it in a blog post. The monks are not required to be celibates. The head monk frequents tea houses and one of the novices uses his club foot to seduce women. In one powerful scene he tells a sixty year old woman that if she kisses and caresses his club foot she will enter Nirvana. He becomes sexually aroused by this and has sex with the woman, it is close to a rape but the monk sees it as a hilarious scam and he uses it all the time.
The Temple of the Golden Dawn is an education in Zen Buddhism. In a way the novel can be seen as a commentary on a famous Shinto Text, The Rinzi Roku whose most famous line is "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha". The young monk is driven by his love for the temple or the society's fascination with it to destroy what he loves most, thus freeing himself from its control.
The ending of the novel where the temple burns is very exciting.
Anyone into the Japanese novel, most may have already done so, needs to read this novel.\
I am reading this novel as part of my particpation in two great reading events.
January in Japan
Japanese Literature 5
There are lot of good reading ideas on these webpages as well a links to great reviews by participants.
I do have a serious issue with Tuttle Press's kindle edition of this book. There are at least fifty spelling errors in the text, errors that any spell checker would have found. I do not know if this text was set up as a Kindle edition by people for whom English is a challenge or not but some of the mistakes are really bad. If publisher expect readers to pay the same price for an eBook as they would a paperback, then they owe us much better editing than this. It makes the translator Ivan Morris look stupid, and I am sure he is not. Tuttle Publishing is a a very highly regarded publisher of Japanese novels in translation and they must have the resources to pay someone to proof read their offerings. Just doing a spell check in Word would have found most of the errors.