[Viewpoint]Take art out of the ashes‘I raised myself and looked in the direction of the Golden Pavilion through valleys far away. A strange noise was coming from there. It sounded like firecrackers. Or it might have been the sound of countless joints in the human body vibrating at the same time. From here, the Golden Pavilion could not be seen. All I could see was the vortex of smoke and flames in the sky. Sparks were flying between the trees as if powdered gold had been dusted in the sky over the Golden Pavilion.”
Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” is considered the masterpiece of post-war Japanese literature. At the end of the novel, a 21-year-old priest sets the Golden Pavilion of his temple on fire and watches it burn from a mountain.
Here, a 69-year-old alleged arsonist, Chae Jong-gi, told police he went to his son’s house in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, after committing the crime, then went to the home of his former wife in Ganghwa Island. He must have seen the news on television. What did he feel as he watched Sungnyemun burn? Did he know that every Korean felt the pain of all the joints in their body vibrating at the same time?
Coincidentally, Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan and Sungnyemun were built a year apart. Kinkaku-ji was built in 1397 by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi period, as a villa. It was converted into a Zen temple in accordance with his last wish. Sungnyemun was constructed in 1398 by King Taejo of Joseon. Kinkaku-ji was destroyed by an arsonist on July 2, 1950, and Sungnyemun on Feb. 10, 2008. Both Japan and Korea were shocked by the tragedies.
Experts cautiously raised the possibility that the suspect is suffering from antisocial personality disorder.
In this case, the family of the suspect is bound to experience some blame. The daughter of Chae even said that she wished her father had set her house on fire instead. Shoken Hayashi, the alleged arsonist of the Golden Pavilion, was arrested immediately after the crime, and a controversy also arose over his mental state.
In the written indictment, prosecutors defined Hayashi’s motives as “self-hatred, jealousy over beauty, a desire to die along with the beautiful Golden Pavilion, antagonism toward society and a curious desire to be criticized by society for his arson.” These motives stirred up the creativity of Yukio Mishima. The tragedy ended up giving Japan another brilliant novel.
Hayashi was diagnosed as normal, mentally, and sentenced to seven years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to five years and three months.
He died in prison of pulmonary tuberculosis five months after the restoration of Kinkaku-ji, in October, 1955. Another tragedy involved Hayashi’s mother. She was called by prosecutors to testify on the personality and background of her son the day after the crime. On her way back home, she committed suicide by jumping off the train.
I think there is a lot we can take out of the ashes of Sungnyemun. The original structure has already been burned and we do not yet have the technology to turn back time.
We should gain what we can from the ashes.
First, we should reconsider the hardware aspect. It goes without saying that we should discuss how we should restore the treasure, reconsider the management system of our cultural assets and enhance the firefighting technology.
It is a shame that Sungnyemun did not have a fire alarm. The fire on the Golden Pavilion 58 years ago was set while the alarm was broken.
What I actually want to emphasize is the spiritual outcome after the Sungnyemun fire. The intellectuals and artists need to step up. A few writers have already written poems and prose in newspapers.
Ko Eun cried, “You stood tall during the Japanese invasion and the Manchu invasion/ Just like yesterday, you withstood all the wars/ but all of a sudden, you collapsed to ashes.” Lee Geun-bae wrote, “Let us see it once again/ Your wide heart, high love and towering spirit.”
We should not stop there.
The Kinkaku-ji fire also gave birth to Tsutomu Mizukami’s novel “The Burning of the Golden Pavilion.” Director Kon Ichikawa made the movie Enjo based on the story.
In 1976, the opera Kinkaku-ji premiered in Berlin with a script by a German writer based on Mishima’s novel. Many books have been written on the arson case and Shoken Hayashi.
How will Korean society cope with the unprecedented tragedy and overwhelming shock?
The aftermath depends on our intellectual and emotional capacity.
*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun