Book Review – The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Mishima

I didn’t like this book when I first read it, which was thirty years ago.

Of course things change over time and one is a new appreciation of Mishima.

Saying that, let’s not dwell too much on Mishima the personality as the controversy which surrounds him deflects from his talent as a writer. And he really was a fantastic writer.

Get your copy here: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is actually a fairly straightforward story.

It’s loosely based on the burning of the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto by a young Buddhist acolyte in 1950.

The pavilion, built before 1400, was a national monument that had been spared destruction many times only to be burnt down by Mizoguchi.

Mizoguchi, ridiculed and rejected because of his stutter, becomes obsessed with the temple and its bronze phoenix. A second, equally fascinating character is Mizoguchi, who though club-footed, uses it to manipulate and control others.

What impressed me most about the book, on the second reading, is how Mishima holds your hand and takes you down the sad, misunderstood, and doomed character of Mizoguchi. I don’t think I had the patience for this as a teenager.

From one angle, the destruction of the temple is not the central topic (or tragedy) in this novel, but the corruption and destruction of Mizoguchi’s values and beliefs. Despite his actions, you can’t feel anger towards Mizoguchi but sympathy as you witness how circumstances and people crushed him.


Mishima’s talent is an ability to demonstrate the gradual disintegration (or development, depending on your interpretation) of one’s personality and values. The prose is crisp, understated, and precise. Some of the imagery is remarkable.

If you enjoy Graham Green, Henry James or Joseph Conrad, you may want to get a copy of this. It’s not chocolate and roses but maybe that’s the attraction.

Learn more about The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

Background information, context, and bibliography : The_Temple_of_the_Golden_Pavilion

New York Times special feature on Mishima

Paul Schrader’s movie about his life

If you’ve read it, let me know what you think below.