Currently reading: 金閣寺 by 三島由紀夫

Autumn reading challenge!

This Winter, I will travel for the first time to Kyoto. It is my second trip to Japan, and it means a lot to me! To prepare this trip, I have decided to challenge myself with two masterpieces of Japanese literature. The first is The Temple of the Golden Pavillon by Yukio Mishima and the second is The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata.

I don’t know if I can read both novels before the end of December (we will make our trip the week preceding Christmas), nor if I can read them at all…, but I will try!

I will maybe set myself seasonal reading challenges, I like the idea to link a theme or a mood to a season. This Autumn will be associated with the traditional Kyoto of modern authors.


As expected, the novel 「金閣寺」(translated as The Temple of the Golden Pavillon), is a very challenging one. I read it in French years ago when I was entering university, but I can’t remember it well.

Anyway, I am very excited to read this book in Japanese, even if I struggle a lot. The difficulty of the novel lays mainly in the profusion of literary or specialised words which, if I judge by the number of kanji provided with furigana, may be confusing to Japanese too. Some words are written in different kanji than the ones used today, some words are written in kanji when the hiragana is mostly used nowadays. There are also some terms related to Buddhism. I am not sure whether online dictionaries are good enough to navigate through such deep waters. A solid dictionary and I would even say, a Japanese-Japanese dictionary is more than welcome to read Mishima’s novel.

I read the first chapter with difficulty, I had to look up a lot of words and get used to Mishima’s writing. Things got easier with the second chapter. Maybe I simply got used to the writing style, the long introspections of the narrator, the recurring words…

Still, the descriptive parts remain hard to understand without a laborious immersion in the dictionary. I find the long descriptive parts of natural landscapes to be particularly difficult. When the protagonists are climbing a mountain, surrounded by trees, and I can get an approximative image of the scene, I sometimes let the words flow away without having the courage to try and grab their meaning.

I put more conscious efforts to understand the numerous introspective parts of the protagonist and narrator Mizoguchi. I can hardly believe that I am reading Mishima’s novel in Japanese, that I am discovering the original version of famous passages, like the dark aspiration of Mizoguchi on the hill that overlooks Kyoto (p.90). It motivates me a lot to continue!


This is my first attempt at reading a novel that belongs to the best works of Japanese literature. I take what I can take from the novel today, and I am content with it, but there is still so much that I can’t reach yet, that I will return to it one day, with a higher Japanese level. I will end this post on a beautiful and terrible citation from Mizoguchi, p.17: