But I didn't like to resort to unfair means to kill him. I untied him and told him to cross swords with me. (The rope that was found at the root of the cedar is the rope I dropped at the time.) Furious with anger, he drew his thick sword. And quick as thought, he sprang at me ferociously, without speaking a word. I needn't tell you how our fight turned out. The twenty-third stroke... please remember this. I'm impressed with this fact still. Nobody under the sun has ever clashed swords with me twenty strokes. (A cheerful smile.)
When he fell, I turned toward her, lowering my blood-stained sword. But to my great astonishment she was gone. I wondered to where
Rashomon, and Other Stories
Rashomon and Other Stories
* In a Grove
* The Testimony of a Woodcutter Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
* The Testimony of a Traveling Buddhist Priest Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
* The Testimony of a Policeman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
* The Testimony of an Old Woman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
* The Confession of a Woman Who Has Come to the Shimizu Temple
* The Story of the Murdered Man, as Told Through a Medium
Kesa and Morito
* Part I
* Morito’s Monologue
* Part II
* Kesa’s Monologue
THE SIX STORIES of this collection were chosen with the aim of presenting Akutagawa’s finest and most representative writings. Only one of them (Rashomon) has appeared in an earlier translation.
I wish to express my thanks to the following persons, for their kind assistance, and for their many valuable suggestions and criticisms: Mr. C. G. Wells, Chief Writer of the Far East Network; Mr. Walter E. Morgan, Chief of the School Administration and Finance Branch, CIE, SCAP; Mr. Harold Gosling and Mr. John Rockard, correspondents of the British Commonwealth Public Relations; Mr. Richard B. Farnsworth, formerly of CIE, SCAP; and Lieutenant D. L. Donohugh, formerly of the Press Advisory Division, SCAP.
TO SKETCH THE background and temperament of Akutagawa Ryunosuke is to risk a melancholy clichŽ. He was brilliant, sensitive, cynical, neurotic; he lived in Tokyo, went to the University, taught briefly, and joined the literary staff of a newspaper. Even his early suicide (in 1927, at thirty-five) only heightens the portrait of a modern Japanese intellectual, the double victim of an unsympathetic society and a split culture. But it is a vague composite portrait. For Akutagawa himself, aloof, elusive, individual, remains withdrawn behind the polished fa?ade of his collected works. All that needs to be known about their author, besides the name stamped on the binding, may be found within these poems, essays, miscellaneous writings, and more than a hundred beautifully finished stories.
The stories have a dazzling and perhaps deceptive sheen. Superficial critics called Akutagawa precious, or decadent, or dismissed him as a fatiguingly clever dilettante. Unprepared for the strength of his later satires, they supposed him to care only for the superb texture of his prose. Translation protects us from the seductions of this style, yet encourages a similar error, since the nuances of Akutagawa’s prose are what conveys the essence of his thought. Like Natsume So-seki and Hori Oøgai, whom he admired, Akutagawa used his language delicately, precisely, and with a richness enhanced by a knowledge of several literatures. It is significant that his first published writings were translations of Yeats and Anatole France. He remarked once that words must yield more than the bare dictionary meanings; he had a poet’s feeling for their shapes and flavors, as well as their ambiguities, and he combined them with such freshness and economy that his phrasing never lacks distinction. Like Picasso, Akutagawa often varied his style, but always, whatever the particular blend of vernacular and mandarin, he controlled it with scrupulous precision. A master of tone, he gave his stories a cool classic surface, colored but never marred by the wit and warmth underlying that perfect glaze. The composure of his style is undisturbed even by vivid accents of the sordid or the bizarre.
Detachment was a key strategy to Akutagawa. As a narrator, he liked to be unseen, impersonal; he cultivated the oblique glance. When he did enter his stories, it was usually in the slight role of the observer or the suave self-effacing compiler. Old tales and legends, historical settings of the remote Heian Period or the feudal ages which followed Ñthese he used not to turn his elaborate erudition to account, but to enrich and extend the implications of his themes, and to maintain aesthetic distance. The early era of Christian conversion in Japan, in the sixteenth century, was a favorite of his; in Hoøkyoønin no shi (The Martyr) he exploited it to the point of hoax by supporting an archaic style with a source reference which, after an interval for learned controversy, he acknowledged to be fictitious. It suited his ironic taste to play the illusionist who leaves his audience staring blankly into a mirror.
But Akutagawa did more than deceive scholars and baffle the unwary: he antagonized ruling critical opinion. His attention to style, his preference for techniques of indirection and restraint, his indifference to current dogma Ñ such attitudes were heresy to both the leading literary schools. The Proletarian writers, flourishing in the ‘20’s, found nothing in common between Akutagawa’s subtle stories and their own carefully chosen but grossly cut slices-of-life. The Naturalists, their rivals, had moved toward romantic individualism, forgetting Zola’s concept of social inquiry. Dominant since the Russo-Japanese War, they sanctioned only the literary method to which, in the name of the first-person-singular shishoøsetsu, their successors still adhere. This was the Confession, ranging from the sentimental memoir to the clinical report of an author’s sexual life. Despite the exhaustion of the autobiographical form of fiction after Proust, these novelists went on eagerly probing their wounds and laying themselves open to reproach; while Akutagawa, unmoved by the exhibition of so many tedious egos, went his own way. A few of his stories suggest maliciously that confession itself may be false. Yabu no naka (In a Grove), for example, converts an old melodramatic tale into a series of conflicting statements which undermine our prosaic confidence in distinguishing between subjective and objective, truth and fiction. Even the dark testaments which he left before suicide contain flashes of mockery to perplex the straightforward reader.
There are enough Swiftian touches in Akutagawa to show his hatred of stupidity, greed, hypocrisy, and the rising jingoism of the day. But Akutagawa’s artistic integrity kept him from joining his contemporaries in easy social criticism or naive introspection. If, too often, his finely enameled miniatures seem cold, over-subtilized, worn thin by an obsessive critical sense, still they are never merely decorative. What he did was to question the values of his society, dramatize the complexities of human psychology, and study, with a Zen taste for paradox, the precarious balance of illusion and reality. He developed a variety of techniques Ñ from realism to fantasy, symbolism to surrealism Ñ and used all of them in the search for poetic truth. Akutagawa was both intellectual and artist, and it was the quality of his artistry that enabled him to explore these difficult problems as deeply as he did, and to give his perceptions such exquisite and durable form.
RASHOMON AND OTHER STORIES
IN A GROVE
THE TESTIMONY OF A WOODCUTTER QUESTIONED BY A HIGH POLICE COMMISSIONER
YES, SIR. Certainly, it was I who found the body. This morning, as usual, I went to cut my daily quota of cedars, when I found the body in a grove in a hollow in the mountains. The exact location? About 150 meters off the Yamashina stage road. It’s an out-of-the-way grove of bamboo and cedars.
The body was lying flat on its back dressed in a bluish silk kimono and a wrinkled head-dress of the Kyoto style. A single sword-stroke had pierced the breast. The fallen bamboo-blades around it were stained with bloody blossoms. No, the blood was no longer running. The wound had dried up, I believe. And also, a gad-fly was stuck fast there, hardly noticing my footsteps.
You ask me if I saw a sword or any such thing? No, nothing, sir. I found only a rope at the root of a cedar near by. And… well, in addition to a rope, I found a comb. That was all. Apparently he must have made a battle of it before he was murdered, because the grass and fallen bamboo-blades had been trampled down all around.
“A horse was near by?”
No, sir. It’s hard enough for a man to enter, let alone a horse.
THE TESTIMONY OF A TRAVELING BUDDHIST PRIEST QUESTIONED BY A HIGH POLICE COMMISSIONER
The time? Certainly, it was about noon yesterday, sir. The unfortunate man was on the road from Sekiyama to Yamashina. He was walking toward Sekiyama with a woman accompanying him on horseback, who I have since learned was his wife. A scarf hanging from her head hid her face from view. All I saw was the color of her clothes, a lilac-colored suit. Her horse was a sorrel with a fine mane. The lady’s height? Oh, about four feet five inches. Since I am a Buddhist priest, I took little notice about her details. Well, the man was armed with a sword as well as a bow and arrows. And I remember that he carried some twenty odd arrows in his quiver.
Little did I expect that he would meet such a fate. Truly human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning. My words are inadequate to express my sympathy for him.
THE TESTIMONY OF A POLICEMAN QUESTIONED BY A HIGH POLICE COMMISSIONER
The man that I arrested? He is a notorious brigand called Tajomaru. When I arrested him, he had fallen off his horse. He was groaning on the bridge at Awataguchi. The time? It was in the early hours of last night. For the record, I might say that the other day I tried to arrest him, but unfortunately he escaped. He was wearing a dark blue silk kimono and a large plain sword. And, as you see, he got a bow and arrows somewhere. You say that this bow and these arrows look like the ones owned by the dead man? Then Tajomaru must be the murderer. The bow wound with leather strips, the black lacquered quiver, the seventeen arrows with hawk feathers Ñ these were all in his possession I believe. Yess sir, the horse is, as you say, a sorrel with a fine mane. A little beyond the stone bridge I found the horse grazing by the roadside, with his long rein dangling. Surely there is some providence in his having been thrown by the horse.
Of all the robbers prowling around Kyoto, this Tajomaru has given the most grief to the women in town. Last autumn a wife who came to the mountain back of the Pindora of the Toribe Temple, presumably to pay a visit, was murdered, along with a girl. It has been suspected that it was his doing. If this criminal murdered the man, you cannot tell what he may have done with the man’s wife. May it please your honor to look into this problem as well.
THE TESTIMONY OF AN OLD WOMAN QUESTIONED BY A HIGH POLICE COMMISSIONER
Yes, sir, that corpse is the man who married my daughter. He does not come from Kyoto. He was a samurai in the town of Kokufu in the province of Wakasa. His name was Kanazawa no Takehiko, and his age was twenty-six. He was of a gentle disposition, so I am sure he did nothing to provoke the anger of others.
My daughter? Her name is Masago, and her age is nineteen. She is a spirited, fun-loving girl, but I am sure she has never known any man except Takehiko. She has a small, oval, dark-complected face with a mole at the