Rashomon and seventeen other stories

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RYŪNOSUKE AKUTAGAWA(or, in the Japanese order, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke) continues to be read and admired today by virtually all Japanese as one of the country's foremost stylists, a master of the modern idiom enriched by a deep knowledge of both the classics and the contemporary literature of Japan, China, and the West. Born in Tokyo in 1892, he was raised in a family steeped in traditional Japanese culture, learned English at an early age, and proved himself a brilliant student in Japan's foremost educational institutions. He began setting up and writing for student publications at the age of ten, and even before he graduated from Tokyo Imperial University (now University of Tokyo) in 1916 with a degree in English literature, his contributions to university magazines were recognized for their accomplished style. He supported himself as a teacher of English for a little over two years, but the great demand for his stories and essays enabled him to resign his post in 1919 and concentrate on his writing. Soon he began to have doubts about his reliance on Japanese and Chinese classical materials in his fiction, and he responded to requests for more autobiographical work by revealing his own anguish as the child of a madwoman, a frail youth torn between his adoptive and biological fathers, a compulsive reader frightened by real life, a conscientious family head oppressed by his responsibilities, a devoted husband and father wracked by guilt for his extramarital affairs, a relentless intellect unable to find peace in religion, and a paranoid personality afraid of being overwhelmed by the insanity he was sure he had inherited from his mother. When he ended his own life in 1927 at the age of thirty-five, he left behind a unique body of stories marked by imagistic brilliance, cynicism, horror, beauty, wild humor, and icy clarity.

JAY RUBINhas translated Sōseki Natsume's novelsSanshirōandThe Minerand Haruki Murakami'sNorwegian Wood,The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, andafter the quake. He is the author ofInjurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji StateandHaruki Murakami and the Music of Words, and the editor ofModern Japanese Writers. He began his study of Japanese at the Universityof Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970, and has been a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Washington and at Harvard University.

HARUKI MURAKAMI(in Western order) has written eleven novels, ten volumes of short stories, and more than thirty books of nonfiction while also translating well over thirty volumes of American fiction, poetry, and nonfiction since his prizewinning debut in 1979 at the age of thirty. Known in the English-speaking world primarily for his novelsA Wild Sheep Chase,Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,Norwegian Wood,Dance Dance Dance,The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, andKafka on the Shore, Murakami has also published commentary on the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin-gas attack inUnderground, and edited a book of American, British, and Irish fiction,Birthday Stories. His works have been translated into thirty-four languages.


Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories

Selected and Translated with Notes byJAY RUBINWith an Introduction byHARUKI MURAKAMI



Published by the Penguin GroupPenguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, LondonWC2R 0RL,England Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014,USAPenguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaM4P 2Y3(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road,Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,Panchsheel Park, New Delhi –110 017, IndiaPenguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany,Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, LondonWC2R 0RL, England


This selection first published in Penguin Classics 20061

Stories and editorial material copyright © Jay Rubin, 2006Introduction copyright © Haruki Murakami, 2006All rights reserved

The moral right of the translator and the introducer has been asserted

This book has been selected by the Japanese Literature PublishingProject (JLPP) which is run by the Japanese Literature Publishing andPromotion Center (J-Lit Center) on behalf of the Agency for CulturalAffairs of Japan.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subjectto the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher'sprior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that inwhich it is published and without a similar condition including thiscondition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

EISBN: 978–0–141–90287–6


Note on Japanese Name Order and Pronunciation



Introduction: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke: Downfall of the Chosen

Further Reading

Translator's Note

Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories



In a Bamboo Grove

The Nose

Dragon: The Old Potter's Tale

The Spider Thread

Hell Screen


Dr. Ogata Ryōsai: Memorandum




The Story of a Head That Fell Off

Green Onions

Horse Legs


Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years

The Writer's Craft

The Baby's Sickness

Death Register

The Life of a Stupid Man

Spinning Gears


Note on Japanese Name Order and Pronunciation

All Japanese names hereafter are written in the Japanese order, with family name first. The author is known in Japan as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, and the writer of the Introduction as Murakami Haruki. These have been given in the Western order on the cover and title-page because of their greater familiarity in the West and as standard in library cataloging and book lists.

Some Japanese names and terms have become so familiar in recent years that an elaborate guide to pronunciation hardly seems necessary. Specific cases where there might be confusion have been annotated. Unfortunately, one specific—and especially convoluted—example is the name of the author himself, so here are some guidelines:

All a's are long as in “father,” and u's tend to disappear between unvoiced consonants. Thus, “Akutagawa” sounds more like “Ak-ta-ga-wa” (four syllables) with a slight stress on the “Ak.”

Japanese “r” is a light tongue flap, almost a “d” as in a British “very.” “RyÅ«” is only one syllable long, which can be approximated by using that tongue flap to pronounce the middle part of “incre(du)lous.” The “u” between unvoiced consonants (“suke”) gets lost here, too, and e's are short as in “Kevin.” So we have what sounds like three syllables: “DyÅ«noss-ke,” with equal stress on the “DyÅ«” and the “noss” but slightly less on the “ke.”

Macrons have been included to indicate long syllables but have been eliminated from the place names Toōkyō, Kyōto,ōsaka, and Kyūshū.


These translations have benefited greatly from the advice and/or close reading of a wide variety of friends and colleagues.

My wife Rakuko, my adviser of first resort in all things, made it possible for me to continue the day-to-day wrestling with difficult texts, as she has since1966, and it is to her that this book is dedicated.

Fortunately for me, Shibata Motoyuki, the renowned translator of American literature into Japanese, is just as fascinated by the process of translating from Japanese into English; he went over every line with unflagging enthusiasm and marvelous insight. He also introduced me to MutōYasushi and Ueki Tomoko, who generously shared their scholarly expertise in modern and pre-modern Japanese literature with me and guided me to the indispensable Akutagawa studies of Sekiguchi Yasuyoshi. Ichiba Shinji read everything line-by-line under the auspices of the Japanese Literature Publication Project (JLPP), sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan. JLPP also made it possible for Linda Asher to apply her supernatural editorial skills to the manuscript. Hirose Keiko and Hoshino Kiyo kept the JLPP wheels turning efficiently, and at Penguin, Lindeth Vasey provoked a whole new set of thoughts about the text and notes.

Other friends and scholars whose help and interest added to the considerable pleasure I derived from this project are Ted Goossen, Ted Mack, Harold Bolitho, David Knechtges, Kathy Lu, Mark Woolsey, Ryuichi Abe, Paul Rouzer, Rachel DiNitto, Royall Tyler, Mikael Adolphson, Shigehisa Kuriyama, HowardHibbett, Davinder Bhowmik, Philip Kuhn, Carole Cavanaugh, Matthew Fraleigh, Kelly Flannery, and Julia Twarog.

I would like to add one final note of thanks to Penguin Editor Simon Winder and to Murakami Haruki: Simon for suggesting the project—including the introduction by Haruki—in the first place, and Haruki for agreeing immediately to participate and for writing such a fine introduction.


1868 Two and a half centuries of “centralized feudal” rule under the Tokugawa government of warrior-bureaucrats comes to an end with the “restoration” of the emperor to a position of theoretical sovereignty; the country is opened to the West; and the modernizing Meiji Period1(1868–1912) begins. Born in the 25th year of Meiji, Akutagawa will become the quintessential writer of the liberal TaishōPeriod (1912–26), and his suicide in the 2nd year of the Shōwa Period (1926–89) will be widely seen as marking the defeat of “TaishōDemocracy,” as the forces of repression and imperialism move toward the Second World War.

1892 I March: Akutagawa RyÅ«nosuke born in Tokyo, the third child and only son of father Niihara Toshizō(1850–1919), dairy owner, and mother Niihara (née Akutagawa) Fuku (1860–1902). According to East Asian astrology, born in the hour of the dragon (7–9 a.m.) of the day of the dragon of the month of the dragon of the year of the dragon, he is named RyÅ«nosuke (“dragon-son”). His sisters are Hatsu (1885–91) and Hisa (1888–1956).

Mother goes insane in October, and will be kept hidden upstairs in the Niihara house until her death. Ryūnosuke taken into the childless household of Fuku's brother, Akutagawa Dōshō(1849–1928), a minor official in the Tokyo government's internal affairs division, his wife Tomo (1857– 1937), and Fuku's sister Akutagawa Fuki (1856–1938), in Tokyo's drab industrial Honjo ward, east of the Sumida River. Aunt Fuki is primary caregiver. Family uses Akutagawa surname for the boy, though legally he is Niihara. Ofminor samurai origins, the family is not wealthy but surrounds him with books and traditional arts.

1894 Family begins regularly taking him to Kabuki and other theatrical performances.

1894–5 Sino-Japanese War.

1898 Enters elementary school. Outstanding student, but frail, and frequently bullied. Mother's sister Fuyu (1862–1920) bears half-brother Tokuji (d. 1930) to his father. Over the years much close contact between the Niihara and Akutagawa families. Adoptive father retires, and enjoys traditional Itchūbushi singing,go, bonsai cultivation, and haiku.

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