Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yokio Mishima

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yokio Mishima   (1956, in translation 1995, 304 pages)

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.

This really is a brilliant novel .  The novel is told in the first person by the young man who will burn the temple. The story is structured around explaining why he wants to burn the temple and what the events were in his life that made him what to burn what he saw as an amazing beautiful building.   I recently read a very good non-fiction book that deals with Japanese society during the years of American rule, 1945 to 1952, 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.


Unknown said...

This is a great novel, although not an easy one for J-Lit novices. My version is also the Morris translation, but in the Vintage Classics series, and I don't recall any typos. Obviously, this is an e-formatting issue (one reason why I'm not keen on digital reading myself...)

Mel u said...

Tony. Thanks for hosting January in Japan. I hope you will make it an annual event. I e read in part as there are no libraries and only chain stores In Manila. ,there were easy fifty glaring errors, numbers for letters, etc. it as if no one looked at it before publishing it.

Rise said...

I hope to read this soon. Your review whets my appetite. So far I find Mishima to be a challenging but worthwhile writer.

Bellezza said...

You made it sound so much better than my experience when reading it. Sadly, I did not enjoy this novel very much at all when I compare it to most Japanese literature I've read. Probably that says more about me than the book or author.

JoV said...

I enjoy reading this book. Disturbing but beautiful. That's Mishima. Love this book.

Unknown said...

A very unsettling novel. I read it decades ago in Italian (good edition), when my Italian wasn't as fluent as it is now. This undoubtedly coloured my reading experience. Dostoevsky was big in Japan at the time this novel was being written - perhaps it shows some traces of influence. Personally, in the Dostoevsky-Tolstoy divide I come down on the side of Tolstoy. A part of me does not respond to Dostoevsky, and a part of me was not reached by this novel. However, after reading your post, I wonder what my reading experience now would be...