Mizoguchi Burns the Temple: Kinkakuji, the Zen Koan, and Yukio Mishima’s Cultural Critique

By Brandon J. Harwood.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Yukio Mishima, inspired by the 1950 burning of the sacred Kinkakuji in
Kyoto, fictionalizes this account in his novel Kinkakuji (translated as The
Temple of the Golden Pavilion). Many people have read this novel as depicting
a nihilistic and horrofic act of destruction motivated by maliciousness and
madness. However, this type of reading does not take into account several
sociocultural elements of the author, his cultural heritage and the historical
moment. Mishima’s use of the Japanese Zen Buddhist Tradition, in particular
linguistic puzzles called kōans, coupled with the author’s reaction to the
after-math of World War II suggest a different conclusion—one that expresses
morally, logically and aesthetically shocking events as acts of heroism.

Keywords: Zen Buddhism, Yukio Mishima, Kōans, World War II, Japanese Nationalism, Ethics, Mental Illness, Literature, New Historicism, Mysticism

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.159-170. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 763.706KB).

Brandon J. Harwood

Graduate Teaching Assistant, The Division of Humanities, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA

Brandon Harwood is a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Humanities. He taught previously at Indiana University - Southeast between 2006-2010. He earned his M.A. in Humanities from UofL in 2008 with concentrations in Philosophy and Religious Studies. He has taught a wide variety of courses including Ethics, Logic, Philosophy, Religions of the East, Religion and Literature, World Literature 1700 - Present. He is also the author of an article published in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (2007) entitled “Beyond Poetry and Magick: The Core Elements of Wiccan Morality.” His research interests include Eastern studies, religion, literature, ethics, meditation, psychology, sociology, mental illness, mysticism, culture and phenomenology.