1950 : The Golden Pavilion goes up in smoke

2020年 03月11日

The Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is arguably the most famous and popular tourist attraction in Kyoto. This temple, covered with gold leaf which looks like it's floating on the water, offers a breathtaking view every day to tourists who can enjoy its changing beauty according to the seasons. But in fact, what these many visitors observe is nothing more than a reconstruction dating back to 1955. Yes, you read right, because on July 2, 1950, on a Saturday night, the place celebrated for its beauty and cultural importance turns into a cloud of ashes after a young Buddhist monk, Shoken Hayashi, deliberately set it on fire for “hatred of beauty”.

If this story sounds familiar to you, it is because you may have already read Yukio Mishima’s novel, The Golden Pavilion, inspired by this event and the confession of the young criminal. The latter, in fact, confessed to having wanted to carry out a “double love suicide” with the temple and was discovered not far away, dying after stabbing himself in the chest and swallowing sleeping pills. The police found him in time to avoid his death and he was sentenced to 7 years in prison, but died of tuberculosis in 1956, at age 26, before he finished serving his sentence.

If the event created many fantasies about the motives of the act, what one knows is that the monk, who was stuttered and ugly, would have confessed to having acted by “jealousy of beauty” and by “resentment against the upper class”, coming himself from a disadvantaged background. The psychiatrists diagnosed him with schizophrenia and his mother committed suicide shortly after the fire. Many saw his act, Yukio Mishima first, as a protest against social inequalities, but also against the transformation of the country into a capitalist society, and the transformation of places of worship into a commercial tourist attraction.

The Golden Pavillon covered with snow
If his act will not have finally prevented all this from happening, we can nevertheless remember, that in this era where many of our cultural legacies seem to go up in smoke (the National Museum of Brazil, Notre Dame, Palmyre, ...), beauty is a fleeting thing, and such places should not be taken for granted. So hurry up and enjoy it! We can also visit this place together as it is on the program of our excursion to Arashiyama!