The Arson Case of Kinkaku-ji Temple (金閣寺放火事件)

The Arson Case of Kinkaku-ji Temple was an arson case which occurred at Rokuon-ji Temple (commonly called Kinkaku-ji Temple) located in Kinkakuji Town, Kamigyo Ward (present-day Kita Ward), Kyoto City early on July 2, 1950. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but Shariden (Kinkaku), a national treasure, was completely burned down and six other cultural properties such as a wooden statue of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA (national treasure at the time), the third Shogun of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and the founder of Kinkaku-ji Temple, a statue of Kannon Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Merciful Godess), a statue of Amitabha Tathagatae and Buddhist canons were also lost in the fire.

Summary of the case

Early on July 2, 1950, an initial report concerning the breakout of a fire at Rokuon-ji Temple was made. When the firefighters arrived on the scene of the fire, Shariden was already bursting into flames and was beyond help, resulting in complete destruction of 182 square yards of architectural structure by fire.

In the investigation at the scene, when the police investigated temple staff on suspicions of arson, due to the fact that there were no sources of fire in the temple and that bedclothes were found near the scene of the fire, they found that Shoken HAYASHI, a monk of apprentice of the temple and a college student (from Maizuru City, Kyoto Prefecture, 21 years old at the time), was missing and thus searched for his whereabouts. In the evening of the same day, police found Hayashi crouching in the Hidaridaimonji Mountain lying at the back of Kinkaku-ji Temple after having taken the poison Calmotin, and committed seppuku, and arrested him.


After that, Hayashi escaped death due to emergency medical care. At first, he said in a deposition that his motive was to create disorder in society or that he had sought revenge against society. However, the truth was that it was much more complicated because HAYASHI was pessimistic towards life, based on him being rather sickly with serious dysphemia, while his mother had placed extremely high hopes on him.

For this reason, some literary works, covered later, written in an attempt to unravel his complex feelings. Yukio MISHIMA analyzed the motives behind his conduct and said 'The young man set fire because he had great admiration for beauty of and felt antipathy toward Kinkaku-ji Temple, contrasting his dysphemia and unhappy background,' while Tsutomu MIZUKAMI said, 'He set fire to Kinkaku-ji Temple, which was a symbol of beauty for him, owing to the antilogy of how temples and Buddhism should be.'; however, the truth was in fact never clarified.

Passage afterwards

Later, his mother was called to Kyoto by Kyoto Prefectural Police for questioning by a police, and as she heard how the case occurred, she suffered tremendous shock, which disquieted the detective, so he brought her younger brother to Kyoto to have him stay with her. However, the mother jumped from the train of the Sanin Main Line into Hozukyo (Hozu Gorge), located in Umahori, Kameoka City, to end her life on her way back home in Oe (present day Yosano-cho, Kyoto Prefecture). On December 28, 1950, Kyoto District Court sentenced him to a prison term of seven years. The person who conducted a psychiatric test of Hayashi was Kiyoshi KATO, who later established a psychiatry in National Kyoto Hospital and became the hospital director.

Hayashi's condition got worse as he developed tuberculosis and a serious mental disorder in prison, so he was transferred from Kakogawa Prison to Kyoto Prefectural Rakunan Hospital to be hospitalized for treatment, but died on March 7, 1956. The grave of Hayashi and his mother is located in Yasuoka, Maizuru City, which is kept clean with flowers even now.


The existing Kinkaku-ji Temple was rebuilt in 1955, 5 years following the case, with assistance extended by the nation and Kyoto Prefecture and donations from local businesses
It was possible to reproduce Kinkaku-ji Temple precisely because a detailed drawing had been created when Kinkaku-ji Temple was repaired greatly in the Meiji period. However, according to people from the time, the old Kinkakuji was plain and showed little gold with most of it worn and beaten, looking little like the current one which is gold and magnificent.

Literary works on the theme of this case

Later, some literary works on the theme of this case, including "Kinkaku-ji Temple" by Yukio MISHIMA and "Gobancho-yugiriro (Evening mist Tower of the Fifth Town)" and "Kinkakuji enjo" (Flare of Kinkaku) by Tsutomu MIZUKAMI, were produced.

Tsutomu MIZUKAMI said that he in fact met this criminal when he was a teacher in Maizuru City. Mizukami gathered information and material from various quarters about this case for the nonfiction novel 'Kinkakuji enjo' (Flare of Kinkaku) in which details of the case and criminal's life, including his background as a son of a Zen temple in Naryu, a poor village in Wakasa, how the case occurred, and how the criminal died, were described.

[Original Japanese]