字 the Kanji Kid

the Kanji Kid

A collection of my translations~ and other things.


Rashomon -- Akutagawa Ryunosuke

This is the account of a certain evening. One servant was standing under Rashomon gate,
waiting for a break in the rain. He was the only one under the wide gate. Though there was
a single cricken perched on a large pillar, the red paint of which was chipped in places.
Rashomon, being as it was on the Suzaku thoroughfare, would usually have two or three
others besides this man, in straw hats and eboshi.

But still, other than the man there was nobody. The reason for this, was that for the past
two or three years in Kyoto, earthquakes and whirlwinds and fires and a famine had 
happened all one after the other. 

And so the desolation of the city was not exactly ordinary. According to historical
records, the Buddhist statues and ornaments had been smashed, and the wood which was 
covered with red paint, or silver and gold leaf, lay on the side of the road to be sold
as firewood.

Since the city was in that state, compared to before there was no one who thought twice
about abandoning the upkeem of Rashomon. And so some untrustworthy characters viewed
this disrepair as a good thing, and lived there. Thieves lived there. 

Eventually, it became customary that unclaimed corpses would be taken to the gate and
dumped. There, they would not see the light of day, they would not disgust anyone. And
it became so that no one would set foot near the gate at all. Instead crows would gather
from somewhere, by the dozen. And when you looked at them in the day they would form a
ring in their great numbers, circling around the ornamental tiles and shrieking. Once
the sky above the gate became red with the sunset, they looked distinctly like 
scattered sesame seeds. The crows were of course coming to pick at the flesh of the
corpses that lay at the top of the gate -- today, perhaps because of the late hour, there
was not a bird in sight. Though in places on the crumbling stone steps, grass growing
in the cracks, the scattered white drops of crow shit were visible.

The servant was at the top of the seven-step stone staircase, sitting on the seat of his
overwashed ao, and while picking at a pimple which had formed on his right cheek, he
gazed out at the falling rain. 

Earlier the author wrote, "the servant waited for the rain to stop". But that is not to
say that should the rain stop, the servant would have some objective. Usually, of course,
he would be supposed to return to his master's home. But four or five days ago that
master had dismissed him.

As written earlier, Kyoto at the time was in an unusual state of decline. The servant
having been fired by the master he had served for many years was but an insignificant 
after-effect of this decline. That's why, rather than "the servant waited for the rain
to stop", it would be more fitting to say, "the servant who was confined by the rain,
had no place to go, so he was at a loss". Further, the appearance of the sky was 
having a considerable effect on the Sentimentalisme of this Heian period servant.

The rain which had been falling since around 4pm, showed no signs of abating any time

There the servant tried to think for the time being about what he was going to do the
next day -- his mind wandering as he attempted to solve problems which had no solution.
He heard the rain, without really listening to it. The rain engulfed Rashomon, its 
sound increasing with the torrents approaching from afar. 

The evening darkness descended on the sky in gradations, so that when looking up it 
would seem as though the heavy, murky clouds were being supported by the tips of the
roof tiles, which stuck out at diagonals.

If he was to solve his unsolvable problem, he hadn't the leisure to choose the method.
If he were to choose, his only options were dying of starvation either by some dirt wall,
or by the side of the road. And both ways he would be brought to the top of this gate
and abandoned like a dog. If he were not to choose either of those options -- the servant
having been lost in thought over this conundrum many times already -- eventually
reached this conclusion. Though his "what if" was nothing more than that. A "what if".

The servant, though he acknowledged that he would not choose it, while following the
train of thought of this "what if", would of course, alight on the fact that "there is
no option left but to become a thief". All he lacked was the courage to admit this.

The servant sneezed loudly, and stood up laboriously. Kyoto's evening chill was cold
enough to make him long for a brazier. The wind blew through the pillars unimpeded,
accompanying the darkening sky. The cricket on that red-painted pillar had long since
flown away.

The servant shrunk back, and wrapped his ao, layered on top of amber undergarments,
further around himself. He surveyed the vicinity of the gate. He was hoping for some
place where he wouldn't be concerned about the wind and the rain, where there would be
no fear of people seeing him, so he could pass the night until tomorrow. Then, luckily,
his eyes lit upon a wide latter, also painted red, that led to the tower at the top of
the gate. Even if there was someone at the top they would be a corpse.

While making sure the longsword which hung at his waist did not slip out of its
scabbard, the servant set one of his straw-sandalled feet onto the lowest rung of the

Then, a few minutes later. The lone man sat midway up the ladder that emerged into
Rashomon's upper tower, shrinking low like a cat. He peered out, examining the state of
the tower with bated breath. 

The light of a fire was faintly cast onto his right cheek. It was the cheek with that
reddened, pus-filled pimple that had formed amongst his short whiskers. The servant had
been under a false impression from the start, that the only people up here would be dead.
But, when he went two or three more steps up the ladder to look, it seemed someone had
lit a fire, and that they were moving the flame from place to place. This he could tell
straight away from the dirty yellow light that wavered on the cobwebbed ceiling.

Anyone who lit a fire here, on this rainy night, in this gate Rashomon, would be no
ordinary person. The servant took quiet steps, like a lizard, finally crawling to the
final rung of the ladder. And then, while flattening his body as far as was possible, he
fearfully pushed his head out to peek at the inside of the tower. 

He saw, in the tower, just as the rumours had said, a number of corpses strewn carelessly
about. But the radius of the light cast by the fire was narrower than he had thought, so
he couldn't tell exactly how many. It was dim, but he could see that there was, amongst
the corpses, someone naked and someone wearing a kimono. Obviously there would be both
men and women in the mix. And all the corpses looked like clay dolls, enough to make 
one doubt the reality that they had once been living beings, with their mouths hanging
open and their arms splayed, as they lay scattered about the floor. And the parts of
them that stood out like the shoulders and chests were accentuated by the dim light of 
the fire while the less prominent parts were made all the darker. They sat in eternal 
silence like mutes.

The servant unconsciously shielded his nose from the stench of the corpses' decomposition.
But the next moment that hand had forgotten to cover his nose. A strong emotion impeded
his sense of smell almost entirely.

The servant's eyes, at that moment, saw for the first time a person crouched amidst the
corpses. It was a short, thin, white-haired, monkey-looking old woman wearing a kimono
with the colour of cypress bark. The old woman held in her right hand a burning piece of
pine, and was staring into the face of one of the corpses. Looking at the long hair, it
was probably a female corpse. The servant, moved by sixty percent fear and forty percent
curiosit, forgot even how to breathe. To borrow the words of old writers, he felt as if
"his hair stood on its ends with fright". 

Then the old woman stuck the piece of pine in a gap in the floorboards, and placed both
hands on the neck of the corpse she had been looking at. And just as a monkey will pick
lice from its child, she began plucking out the long hair one strand at a time. The hair
seemed to come loose with ease. As each hair was removed without resistance, bit by bit
the servant felt his fear fade as well. And, simultaneously, a strong abhorrence towards
this woman began to grow. No, to say "towards this woman" might be incorrect. Instead it
was his loathing towards all kind of evil, that had started growing by the minute. If
someone posed the question to the servant, the same question he had been considering
earlier while under the gate: whether to die of starvation or become a thief, he would
now choose to starve without a shred of reluctance. 

That was how much this man's hatred had begun burning, burning like that old woman's
piece of pine pushed into the floor. The servant, of course, did not know why the old
woman was pulling hair out of the corpse. As a result, rationally he didn't know whether
to decide that it was evil. But to the servant; on this rainy night, on top of this
Rashomon gate, pulling out a corpse's hair. Just from that it was already an unforgivable
evil. Understandably the servant had long forgotten any of his previous inclination to
becoming a thief. 

He then put his energy into both feet, and suddenly jumped up from the ladder. He strode
over to the old woman with his hand on the hilt of his long sword. To say the old woman
was surprise would be an understatement. She sprung up as if she had been shot by a 

"Oi. Where are you going?"

The servant spoke insultingly, and blocked her path as she panicked and tried to run.
Even so the old woman tried to shove past him. The servant stopped her again and pushed
her back. For a while they silently contended like this amongst the corpses. But the
outcome had been decided from the beginning. The servant finally grabbed the woman's arm
and threw her roughly to the groun. Her arm was nothing but skin and bone, like the leg
of a chicken. 

"What were you doing? Tell me, if you don't it'll be this..."

The servant thrust her away and quickly drew his longsword from its sheath, flashing the
white colour of the steel before her eyes. Still, the old woman was silent. Both her 
hands had started up a trembling, and her shoulders were shuddering as she gasped for
air, eyes open so wide it seemed as if her eyeballs would come out of their sockets, and
yet she stayed obstinately silent like a mute. Seeing this the servant saw clearly for
the first time that the life of this woman was completely at the mercy of his will.

And this realization cooled the heart full of intense hatred that had been burning up
until that point. What was left was the calm pride and satisfaction that one gets
having fully completed some job or other. So the servant, looking down on the old woman,
softened his voice and spoke:

"I am not a member of the police. I am just a traveller who was passing by this gate just
now. So I won't do anything like arrest you. I only wanted to know what you were doing a
moment ago, on top of this gate. Just tell me that much."

At that, the old woman opened her widened eyes a fraction more, and gazed carefully up at
that servant's face. They were the sharp eyes of a carnivorous bird, with reddened
eyelids. And her almost cojoined to her nose by wrinkles, were moving as if she were
chewing on something. He could see her pointed adam's apple moving on her thin neck.
Then, from that neck, like the caw of a crow, her gasping voice reached the servant's ear.

"Pulling this hair, pulling this hair, I was going to make it into wigs."

The servant was disappointed by the old woman's unexpectedly ordinary answer. And at the
same time as being disappointed, the same hatred as before, and a cold contempt, 
reentered his heart. Perhaps this was somehow communicated to the one in front of him
as well. The old woman still held in one hand the long, loose strands of hair she had
taken from the corpse; she spoke again falteringly, croaking like a toad.

"I know not how bad of a deed it is, to take the hair of someone dead. Even so, all these
bodies are perhaps deserving of having such a thing done to them. This girl whose hair I
was just taking, would cut up 12cm strips of snake and hang them up, saying they were
dried fish, and went to the Imperial Palace army camps to sell them.

She died of plague, still on her way to sell her fish. What's more, this girl's dried
fish was said to have a good flavour, and the guards at the camp would without fail buy 
it as ingredients for side dishes. I do not think that this girl did something evil.

If she had not she would have starved. So she had no choice. So again the thing I was
doing was not evil. If not for this I would starve. I have no choice.

This girl who knows well how sometimes one has no choice but to do something, would
likely look upon me with forgiving eyes." The old woman said something to this effect.

The servant returned the long sword to its sheath, holding it in place with his left hand,
and listened to this story with indifference. Of course, as he listened he picked at the
reddened pus-swollen pimple on his cheek. However, as he was listening, a certain kind
of courage was born in his heart. A courage which he lacked earlier standing beneath the
gate. A courage that urged him in a completely different direction, the opposite of the
kind of courage he had had earlier when he climbed into the tower and seized this old

It was not like the servant was completely untroubled by the decision between starving
to death or becoming a thief. What he felt at that time was that starvation was 
impossible to even think about. The idea had been driven out of his mind entirely.

"Are you certain of that?"

Once the old woman's story ended, the servant questioned her with scorn. Then he took a
step forward, unconsciously taking his right hand away from the pimple and grabbing her
by the collar. He snapped at her:

"Then, you won't hold a grudge if I tear this from you. Since I'm also one of those lot,
I will starve unless I do."
The servant quickly tore off the old woman's kimono. Then as she tried to cling to his
legs he kicked her roughly onto a corpse. 

It was just five steps to the ladder's entrance. The servant took the stolen cypress-red
kimono, tucked it under his arm, and descended in a flash down the steep ladder and into
the darkness.

The old woman who for a while had been lying as if dead amongst the corpses, got up
quickly in her naked state. Letting out a noise like whisper, or like a groan, she
crawled to the ladder's entrance by the light of the fire. Then she peered out below
the gate, her short white hair falling upside down. There was nothing out there except
the indistinguishable black of the night.

What happened to the servant after that, nobody knows.