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"Under the Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom" --

Author(s): Masao Shimura

Source: The Journal-Newsletter of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, Vol. 3, No. 3
(Apr., 1966), pp. 3-21
Published by: Association of Teachers of Japanese
Stable URL:
Accessed: 22/05/2010 07:03

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Journal-Newsletter of the Association of Teachers of Japanese.
Translation with an Introduction
Masao Shimura (Indiana University)


Sakaguchi Ango (1906 - 1955) has often been paired with Dazai
Osamu, because the Japanese are fond of making such pairs (Natsume
Soseki and Mori Ogai, Nagai Kafu and Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Yokomitsu
Riichi and Kawabata Yasunari), and because both were most active and
popular in the period of cultural change and confusion after the war.
The two, however, were quite different from each other temperamental-
ly. The difference is clear in Sakaguchi's essay on Dazai, "Christ
and Juvenile Delinquents," in which he writes:

Dazai called himself a comedian, but the fact is he never made

it. In The Setting Sun he is close to it, but not quite.
"Father," "Cherries," - oh, those are the things he should never
have shown to the public. They should have existed only in his
hung-over mind, and should have been forgotten as soon as his
hang-over was gone. The pains and sorrows of self-reproach and
reminiscence which one suffers with a hang-over should not be
treated seriously in a literary work, or, for that matter, in
life. ... Both Akutagawa and Dazai committed suicide as juvenile
delinquents. They were the weeping, whimpering kind - weak.
They couldn't win with physical power. Nor with intellectual
power. Therefore they had to show themselves off under some
authority. Both brought in Christ. ... What's so great in death
or suicide? Those who are defeated die. If they win they won't
die. Victory at death? Nonsense' ... For man to live is all.
When you die you are no more. Fame after death? Art is long?
Nonsense! I hate ghosts. I hate those ghosts that live, they
say, after they die.

Sakaguchi's novels and short stories may be classified into three

basic types: the farce, the fable, and the mystery. The first type
is exemplified by "Dr. Wind," one of his earliest stories (published in
1931), the second by "Under Cherry Trees in Full Bloom," and the third
by The Case of Unconnected Murders. Sometimes these elements come to-
gether in one work, as in the case of a number of historical stories
and novels he wrote as a "detective historian."

The motif of "Under Cherry Trees in Full Bloom" is explained in

his essay entitled "A Cradle of Literature," written in 1940 for a
magazine and later included in his famous best seller in 1947, Daraku
Ron, "In Praise of Degeneration." There Sakaguchi wonders what it is
that appeals so much to the reader in Charles Perrault's "Little Red
Riding Hood;" or in the kyogen piece "Onigawara," a very short and
simple play in which a daimyo visiting Kyoto suddenly cries out; his
retainer wonders why, and discover that it is because the daimyo has
just noticed an onigawara or decorative tile on a temple roof with an
ogre's face, and it reminds him of the face of his wife back home.

Again, he cites an episode in Ise Monogatari which he considers one

of the most readily understandable of this type. A man loves a woman,
and after three years wins her heart. They elope from the capital.
When passing a field at midnight, they are caught in a thunderstorm.
They begin to run. The woman, seeing the dew on the grass that flashes
in the lightning, asks what it is, but the man has no time to answer.
At last he finds shelter in a deserted house, puts her in what he
thinks to be a safe hiding place, and keeps watch all night. But an
ogre, taking advantage of the noise of the thunder, steals in and eats
her up. It is only at dawn that the man realizes she is no more.
His poem at the discovery reads, 'When you asked me what it was I should
have answered it was dew and disappeared like dew!"

The beauty, the chilling beauty of this kind of tale is due to the
feeling of helplessness, it conveys Sakaguchi concludes, because the
loneliness of life is so complete that only when we realize its help-
lessness, darkness, and cruelty, can we begin to have hope. And
literature starts in this kind of story - hence the title, "A Cradle
of Literature."

Sakaguchi had pronounced and unusual opinions on literary style,

which he summarized in "Sengo Bunsho Ron," or "On the Prose Style After
the War" (Shincho, September 1951). He starts the essay with the decla-
ration, "Words should be alive. But I seldom see such words written."
He finds sentences alive in cartoons and in chess articles in newspapers,
but rarely in literary works. Talking of his own style, he says he owes
much to the traditional vernacular entertainers such as kodan or rakugo
reciters, and even more to the language of kyogen. "I hate the modern
literary style which exists only in written form. In daily life we use
a much more lively speech. You feel as if you were handling Persian
that you had just learned when you use this 'modern literary style.' I
wonder how one can stand it. The reason I started writing like this is
not that I wanted to invent a new style but that I got, really, so sick
of writing in the just-learned Persian language." In other words,
Sakaguchi felt the necessity of redoing what Futabatei Shimei had done
earlier against the older literary style. He goes on to discuss Ooka
Shohei and Mishima Yukio in connection with their style. He admits that
both brought something new into Japanese style by being more logical in
sentence structure. At the same time, Sakaguchi contends, their sen-
tences have the defect of being too heavy. These writers, according to
Sakaguchi, are concerned with the logical description of the psycholog-
ical aspects of their characters, and are more interested in sentences
than in the story. As a result, the reader often cannot see the story
for the sentences. "Each word in a novel," he declares, "should be as
light as a feather in the wind." "Be more, much more concerned with
the story you are telling, not with the words" is the ultimate message
of his essay.

"The Idiot" (a beautiful translation of which appears in Ivan

Morris's Modern Japanese Stories) was printed a year earlier than "Under
Cherry Trees in Full Bloom," in Shincho, and is written in the tradi-
tionally "heavy" language, as is the case with In praise of Degenera-

tion. "Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Moto," or "Under Cherry Trees in Full

Bloom," printed in 1949, is much more in Sakaguchi's true style, much
lighter in tone. This, however, presents difficulties to the translator.
Because of Sakaguchi's theory of style, he repeatedly uses cliches such
as "as if in a dream." The reader should not be unduly troubled, however;
such phrases are used merely as "fillers," a technique borrowed from
kodan style. In translation this technique tends to make the work sound
amateurish, but, with some hesitation, I have decided to reproduce it as
it is.

Sakaguchi Ango is almost as unfortunate in the state of the works

left to us as Edgar Allan Poe, who influenced him strongly: we do not
even have a definitive edition of his complete works. The text used for
the translation here is that found in the Sogensha edition (Selected
Works of Sakaguchi Ango, Vol. IV, 1956) and the Gendai Nihon Bungaku
Zenshu edition (Vol. XLIX, Chikuma Shobo, 1954).


When the cherry trees bloom, people feel lighthearted and happy,
and wander around under them, drinking sake, eating cakes, exclaiming
how beautiful' what a glorious spring!--but it's all a lie. Why do I
say so? Because it's only since the Edo period that people have gathered
and drunk and puked and quarreled under the trees like this--before the
Edo period people thought it terrible to be under the cherry blossoms;
nobody thought it was beautiful there at all. Nowadays, we are so used
to seeing people gathering there, drinking and quarreling, that we take
it for granted that under the cherry blossoms we should be merry and
noisy, but, actually, if you took all those people away from there, you
would feel a dreadful atmosphere. Remember the Noh play in which a
mother goes out in search of her son who has been kidnapped, out of her
mind, coming into a forest of cherry trees in full bloom: petals,
cherry petals everywhere, and there, in her delusion, she thinks she
sees her son, and finally dies, completely insane, buried in a heap of
petals (my touch, this last one)--indeed, if you found no one at all
under the cherry blossoms you would be frightened to death.

Once, in order to go through the Suzuka Pass, you had to take your
way through a cherry forest. It was all right when there were no
blossoms, but in the blossoming season, travelers went insane there
under the trees. They used to run pell-mell in the direction of a green
tree or a dead tree which they had chanced to spot, hoping somehow to
get out of the blossoms as fast as they could. A lone traveler was
better off, because he could concentrate on running and could relax
once he got out of the cherry forest; but it was awful for a traveler
with a friend, because people run with different speeds and naturally
one would fall behind, and would cry: Wait! Wait! But the other would
be insane by then and forsake his friend. So, after the cherry blossoms
of Suzuka Pass, a friendly companion would no longer be friendly, would
never trust the other's friendship. Thus people began to avoid the
cherry forest, preferring other passes, until the forest was left far
away from the highway, desolate in the silent heart of the mountain, not

a soul to be seen there.

Several years after the Pass got to be so desolate, a mountain

robber came and settled in the mountain. He was a ruthless man who
robbed people of their clothes mercilessly, even killed them--but he
too felt frightened and insane under the cherry blossoms. So he began
to hate them--loathsome blossoms, terrifying blossoms--though he didn't
know why. He thought he heard a wind blowing noisily under the blossoms
when there was no wind--no sound. Only his own figure and his footsteps
--surrounded by the silent, cold, motionless wind. As the petals fell
down, he felt his soul falling down, his life withering away. Impul-
sively he wanted to close his eyes and run, but if he did, he might run
into the trees. So he kept them open, feeling more frantic than ever.

But the robber was a man of composure who never repented. He

thought about it. He thought it was strange. He thought he would think
this thing over the next year--because he did not feel like thinking
that year. I will think it over and over next year when they bloom
again, he decided. He decided the same thing every year, and more than
ten years had passed. This year again, he decided to think it over
next year, and now the year was almost over.

Meantime, the number of his wives increased from one to seven, and
today he had just seized his eighth wife on the highway together with
her husband's clothes. He had killed the husband.

The robber had begun to feel strange since he killed the woman's
husband. Somehow it was different from the other times. He did not
know why, but he felt strange. Yet he could not fix his mind on one
thing for long, and he did not try to find out why.

The robber at first had had no intention of killing the husband;

after robbing him of everything he wore, he was going to kick him away
as he always used to do. But the woman was too beautiful, and suddenly
he had swung his sword on the man. He hadn't expected to do it, and she
hadn't expected him to either. When he looked back, she was almost
fainting, looking at him confusedly. Now you are my wife, he said and
she nodded. He took her hand and she said she could not walk. All
right, he said, and lifted her up lightly onto his back. But there was
a steep climb and he said, You'd better walk here, it's too risky to try
to go like this. The woman held on to him tightly and said, No, no.

"You're a man and you're used to the mountains and still you have a
hard time climbing up. How could you expect me to be able to!"

"All right, all right," he said good-naturedly, although he was

tired. "But get down from my back just for a second. I'm strong enough
and I'm not trying to take a rest. But I don't have eyes in the back of
my head, and I want to get a good look at you! Get down just for a
second and let me see what kind of a face you've got'"

"No, no!" she said, desperately grasping at his neck. "I can't
stand this lonely place a second more. Don't stop now, but lets hurry
to your place. If you don't, I won't be your wife. If you don't take
me away from this loneliness, I'll bite off my tongue and kill myself!"

"All right. Anything you want." He felt himself melt away,

thinking of the happiness of his future life of pleasure with this
beautiful wife.

He looked back proudly, making a full turn, so that the woman could
see the mountains in front, at the back, to the right, and to the left,
and said:

"These mountains are all mine."

She kept silent. He was disappointed, and said:

"Look! All the mountains you see, all the trees you see, all the
valleys, even the fog coming out of them--they are all mine."

"Walk faster," she said. "I don't want to stay around these lumpy-
looking cliffs any longer."

"All right, all right. And when we get home, I'll fix you some-
thing good."

"Can't you hurry up? Please run."

"But this is a hard climb, I couldn't run even if I were by myself."

"Aren't you a weakling! Am I going to be a weakling's wife? Am I?

Ah! Who will take care of me from now on?"

"Nonsense. I will make it!"

"Oh, you! I suppose you're tired already?"

"Damn it. Once we get to the top, I'll show you I can run as fast
as a horse!"'

"But you're already breathless. You look pale."

"It's always this way at the beginning. But after a while I will
get the rhythm and run so fast you'll get dizzy on my back."

But he was deadly tired. He felt as though his whole body was
coming apart in pieces. When he reached his house, his eyes would not
focus right, his ears buzzed, and he could not even muster enough energy
to give a hoarse word of announcement. Out came the seven wives to
greet him, but all he could do was to put the woman down and try to relax
his stiff and aching limbs.

The seven wives were struck by the beauty of the woman, a beauty
such as they had never seen before, while the woman was astonished at
the dirtiness of the seven wives. Some of them had been rather beautiful
once, but now nobody would have been able to see a trace of beauty in
them. The woman was uneasy. She hid herself behind the man and said:

"Who are those monsters?"

"They used to be my wives," he said, embarrassed; and in embarrass-

ment, his sentence was well-made, especially the "used to" part; but she
did not spare him:

"Oh? Are these your wives?"

'Well, you see, up to now I never knew that there were beautiful
women like you*..."

"Kill her," she said, pointing at the woman with the best features.

"Darling, we don't have to kill her, we can use her as a servant."

"Can't you even kill your own wife? Remember, you killed my
husband. Did you think I would become your wife so easily?"

A groan came from the man's tightened lips. He jumped up and

killed the woman she had pointed at. But she would not let him rest.
"This woman now. Now, that one. There."

He hesitated; but followed her directions. With a dull sound, he

plunged his broad sword into a woman's neck, The head tumbled down,
and rolled, and before the rolling had stopped, her soft, mellow, trans-
parent voice was beautifully indicating another woman:

"This woman next."

The woman who had been pointed at screamed and hid her face with
both hands. Into the scream the sword slashed, glittering in the air,
Suddenly the rest of the women jumped up and ran away.

"I will never forgive you if you can't catch all of them. There's
one over there behind that bush. And there's one running up the moun-

The man ran and ran through the woods, the blood-stained sword held
over his head. There was one woman who, spellbound, could not run away
very far. She was the ugliest, and she was lame. The man found her
when he came back from killing all the women who had run away, and he
swung his sword carelessly; but the woman said:

"No. Not this one. She shall be my servant."


"Never mind. It's no trouble."

"Stop, silly! I am asking you not to kill her."

"Oh, I see. Well."

He threw away the sword, and sat down on the ground. Fatigue came
over him suddenly, his eyes could not see, his body felt heavy. He
realized how silent it was. He was scared. He looked over his shoulder
and saw the woman standing somewhat helplessly. He felt as if he had
awakened from a nightmare. And his eyes and his soul were absorbed into
the beauty of the woman. But he felt uneasy. Just why or how, he did
not know. The woman was too beautiful, and he was too absorbed in her
to mind the uneasiness very much.

What was it that was like this, he wondered. Something like this
happened once, what was it? Oh, yes. That was it. He was surprised.

It was under the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It was like going
through there. He was not sure what was related in the two experiences,
nor how. But he was sure of the similarity. He was a man who could
come this far in his thinking and not care after that.

The long winter in the mountain ended. Snow still remained on the
top of the mountain, or in the depths of the valley, or in the shade of
the trees, but the signs of the flowering season were shining everywhere.

This year, by all means, when the cherries bloom ..., he thought.
It is not too bad when you approach the blossoms. So you dare to go in.
As you walk, you lose your mind, all you see is blossoms, front, back,
right, or left, hanging over you, and before you reach the center of the
forest, you get scared and cannot stand the loneliness. This year, I
will stand still in the midst of the forest, no, I will even sit down on
the earth, he thought. Shall I take this woman? The idea flashed across
his mind and he glanced at her, and felt too uneasy to rest his eyes
there. I could never let her know what I am thinking! For some reason,
he felt this firmly in his heart.

The woman was terribly spoiled and wilful. Serve whatever food,
she complained over it. He ran all over the mountain to catch fowl and
deer. And boars and bears. The lame woman kept looking for buds and
grass-roots through the forest all day long. But the woman was never

"Do you want me to eat this kind of stuff every day?"

"But this is all especially prepared for you! Before you came, we
seldom ate a meal like this."

"This may be all right for a mountain man like you. Not for me.
All I hear in this lonely mountain, of long, long nights, are owls
hooting. At least you could give the kind of food they serve in the
city, couldn't you? Oh, the wind of the city'! How cut off I feel
from the city-wind! You don't even try to understand! You took the
city-wind out of me, and gave me crow's croaks and owl's hoots. And you
are not ashamed! You don't think it cruel!"

The man could not follow the woman's logic of complaint. He did
not know what the wind of the city was. He had no idea whatsoever. He
thought there was nothing to add to the happiness in his life. He was
just embarrassed to see her helplessly complaining; but he had no idea
what to do, and it irritated him.

He had killed many travelers from the town. They were rich and had
fine things, so he robbed them. If a traveler had nothing but trash,
the thief would swear at him--Damned hick! Damned peasant! For him the
city was the place where people with fine things lived, and what he had
to do was simply to rob them. He had never even thought where the city

The woman treasured ornamental combs and hair-ribbons and lipsticks

and such things. Even the slightest touch of his hand, dirty with mud
or animal's blood, on her clothes made her angry. It was as if the
clothes were her life. It was as if her duty were to protect these
things. She gave orders for the house to be cleaned and furniture ar-
ranged in it. What she wore was not one piece of cloth and a belt:
she used many pieces and many strips: she added ornaments, until the
whole was unified and perfected. The man was dazed, and sighed. He
could understand now. Thus a piece of beauty could be formed, which
would then fill him with satisfaction, he had no doubt. Meaningless
fragments, incomplete and incomprehensible, can complete one whole by
coming together, while, disassembled, they are again meaningless frag-
ments. This he understood now, as a kind of superb magic.

He cut a tree and made what she ordered. What was going to be
made, and for what purpose, was unknown to him while he was making it.
He would realize later that he had made a chair and an armrest. On fine
days, she had the chair out in the sun or in the shade, sat down, and
closed her eyes. Inside the house she brooded reclining on the armrest.
These actions struck him as strange, voluptuous, and tormenting. Magic
was being performed in front of him, who was actually an assistant in
the performance; but the result of her magic always filled him with
surprise a? . admiration.

The lame woman combed the wife's long, black hair every morning.
For that purpose he brought special water from far down in the valley
and he was proud of the attention he paid her and the trouble he took.
He had decided that he wanted to be a part of her magic. And he wanted
to touch her black hair when it had been combed. No, not your hand!
She brushed his hand away. He shrank back, like a child, ashamed. The
black hair became brighter, was tied, her face appeared, beauty was

created and born--it was like a dream which he never felt tired of

"Things like this ..." He touched an ornamental comb and ribbons.

These used to be things of no meaning and no value to him, and even now
he could not see the relation between these things and the principle of
harmony, but he could understand the magical power they had. Magical
power was the soul of an object. An object had a soul.

"You mustn't touch them! Why do you have to do that every day?"

"Aren't they amazing?"

"What's so amazing about them?"

"I don't know, but ..."

He felt shy. He was surprised, but he didn't know why.

And he began to be afraid of the city. It was not really fear, but
a mixture of shame and anxiety due to his not knowing: the feeling an
encyclopedist might have toward things unknown. But he was not accus-
tomed to being afraid, because he was not afraid of any visible object,
nor was he accustomed to shame. And he felt only hostility toward the

Among all my victims from hundreds and thousands of cities, there

wasn't one who could stand up against me, he thought contentedly.
Nothing he could recall, even in his remotest past, could hurt or betray
him. He felt happy and proud whenever he thought of that. He put his
strength in contrast to her beauty. And in the awareness of his strength,
it seemed that only a wild boar could possibly be regarded as a rival;
but even a boar was not really too fearful an enemy and so he need not

"Is there a man with fangs in the city?" he asked her.

"There are samurai carrying bows."

"Ha, ha! Archers! I can hit a sparrow on the other side of that
valley there! And there are no men in the city with skins so tough a
sword can't cut into them, are there?"

"There are samurai in armor."

"Could armor stop a sword?"

"Oh, yes."

"But I can overpower even a bear or a boar!"


"If you are a really strong man, take me to the city and decorate
me with all the things I want, with the best the city has. If you can
give me that pleasure, than you are a really strong man."

"That's easy enough."

He decided to go to the city. Before three days and nights were

out, he would accumulate around her all the combs, ribbons, clothes,
mirrors, lipstick in the city. There was nothing to worry about there.
There was only one thing to worry about which had nothing to do with the

It was the cherry forest.

Cherry trees would be in full bloom in a few days. This year he

had decided to sit down, without any fear at all, in the midst of the
cherry blossoms in full bloom. He had been secretly observing the
budding cherry trees. Give me three days, he said to the woman, though
he knew she was eager to leave.

"You have no preparations to make," she frowned. "Don't be mean.

The city is calling me."

"But I have an appointment."

"You, an appointment? In this deep mountain? With whom?"

"No, I don't have anybody I have to see. But it's an appointment

all the same."

"Is that so? I've never heard such nonsense. How could you have
an appointment when there's nobody to have one with?"

He could not lie.

"The cherry blossoms are coming out."

"You have an appointment with the cherry blossoms?"

"The cherry blossoms are coming out, and I can't leave until after
I've seen them."


"Because I have to be under the cherry blossoms in full bloom."

"Well, why do you have to be there?"

"Because underneath the blossoms everything is filled with cold


"Underneath the blossoms?"


He lost track and was confused.

"Take me there with you," she said.

"No," he declared. "I have to be alone."

The woman gave a sardonic smile.

He saw a sardonic smile for the first time. He had never known
such an evil smile before. Only he did not see it as an "evil" smile
but as a smile which could not be cut with a sword. The proof was that
it had left its mark on his mind like a seal. It was like a sword
hurting his mind whenever he remembered it. And he could not do anything
to it.

The third day came.

He went secretly. The cherry trees were in full bloom. As soon

as he entered the forest, he saw her sardonic smile in his mind. It
hurt worse than anything he had ever experienced. The pain alone was
enough to throw him into panic. Then the chill came up to him from
everywhere, endlessly, all at once. In the wind his body became trans-
parent; the wind went through his body. He was completely enveloped in
wind alone, and only his crying voice remained. He ran. Nothingness'
He cried, prayed, struggled, trying to run away. As soon as he saw
that he was out of the forest, he felt as if he had awaken from a night-
mare. The only difference was that he felt a real pain in his chest
that made him breathless.

The man, the woman, and the cripple went to live in the city.

The man broke into mansions night after night at the woman's
command. He stole clothes, jewelry, and other ornaments, but these were
not enough to satisfy her. She coveted more than anything else the
heads of the people he robbed.

Soon heads from dozens of mansions had been collected and were
arranged in lines in a room partitioned off by four screens, with some
of them hanging from the ceiling. There were too many for the man to
tell which head was which, but she remembered each of them. Even when
they became decomposed, their hair falling out, flesh rotting, even
when they became mere skeletons, she knew which was which. Whenever he
or the cripple moved them around, she got angry and said, "No, no!
This section belongs to that family, not this one."

She played with the heads every day. A head took a walk with his
retainers. To a head's house, another head paid a visit. Heads fell in
love. A woman's head rejected a man's head, and sometimes a man's head

rejected a woman's, which made it cry.

A head of a Councillor of State deceived a princess's head. One

moonless night the Councillor's head went secretly to the princess's
head disguised as her lover, and succeeded in making love. Afterward
the princess's head realized her mistake. Yet the princess's head could
not completely hate the Councillor's head, and cried over her sad fate
and went into a nunnery. Then the Councillor's head followed her to the
nunnery and seduced the head of the nun, the ex-princess. The princess-
nun's head tried to commit suicide, but could not resist the whispers of
the Councillor's head. The princess-nun's head ran away from the nunnery
and hid in a village in Yamashina as the Councillor's head's concubine.
By that time both the princess's head and the Councillor's head had lost
their hair and gone rotten; they bred maggots and the bones stuck out.
The two heads amused themselves feasting and making love. Teeth clat-
tered against teeth, rotten flesh stuck to rotten flesh. Noses were
crushed and eyeballs fell out.

Whenever the two faces stuck together and lost their shape, the
woman was delighted, and laughed, loud and merry:

"Now, eat her cheek. Oh, ho! How delicious! Now eat her throat.
Now, bite her eyeball. Suck it. Um-um. It's so good I can hardly
stand it! Now, bite it hard!"

She laughed. The laughter was clear and cool as the sound of thin

There was a priest's head. The woman hated it, and the head always
had to play the role of a villain. The head was detested; tortured to
death; executed by an official. The priest's shaven head began to grow
hair after it had been cut off, but the hair finally fell out, the head
rotted, and now it was a skeleton. When she saw it was a mere skeleton,
the woman ordered the man to bring her another priest's head. The new
one had that uncertain, fresh beauty of an adolescent. She was happy
and put it on the table and poured sake into its mouth, kissed it, lick-
ed it, tickled it, but soon she was tired.

"Bring me a fatter, more disgusting one!" she ordered.

The man brought back several heads together to save himself trouble.
There was a head of a tottering old priest; there was a head with thick
eyebrows and fat cheeks and a nose like a frog taking a rest there; there
was a head of a priest who looked like a horse with long ears; there was
one which was terribly nonchalant. But there was only one the woman was
pleased with. It was a head of a big monk, about fifty years of age,
ugly, with the corners of the eyes slanting down, loose, hanging jowls,
lips so thick that it seemed the mouth stayed open of their weight alone:
a sloppy head. She pressed the corners of the eyes with her fingers and
made the eyes round and narrow in turn. She stuck two sticks into its
nostrils, and made it stand upside down and tumble; she held it to her

breasts, inserting her nipple between its thick lips, and laughed heart-
ily. But soon got bored.

There was a head of a beautiful girl. It was a pure, calm, noble

head. It looked still puerile, but it had acquired an adult's melancholy
after death. It seemed as if it had, hidden behind its closed eyes,
the remembrance of happiness and sorrow and the precocious memories of
an adult altogether. The woman caressed the head as if it were her own
daughter's or sister's. She combed its black hair and made up the face.
She tried this and that in the make-up, until the face turned out to be
most graceful, radiating with a fragrance like that of a flower.

For the girl's head a young prince's head was necessary. She
painted and made up a prince's head very carefully. And the two youthful
heads indulged in a flaming game of love. Jealousy, anger, hatred, lies,
deceptions, sorrow ..., but when their two passions began to flame at
the same time, they burned each other in a scorching blaze. Soon an
evil samurai and a lecher and a wicked priest appeared and came between
them. The head of the prince was kicked, beaten, and finally killed;
the filthy heads attacked the girl's head from all sides and the rotten
flesh of ugly heads stuck to hers. Fang-like teeth bit into the face
and it lost its nose and part of its hair. Then the woman pricked the
girl's head with her needle, slashed it with a pen-knife, and made it
the worst face in her collection.

The man hated the city. After a while he realized that he could
not be a part of it. He had to wear proper clothes when he went out
walking, and he couldn't carry around a sword in the daytime. He had to
go to a market to shop; had to pay when he drank in a bar where prosti-
tutes waited for clients. The shopkeepers of the town teased him.
Women who came in from the country selling vegetables, and even children,
made fun of him. Whores laughed at him. In the city, aristocrats pass-
ed down the middle of the street in bullock carts. Their barefooted
servants walked arrogantly, drunk on free wine. He was called a fool,
an idiot, a slob, wherever he went, although he became used to it.

He was bored to death. How boring human beings are, he thought

again and again. They are so noisy. When a big dog walks along, little
dogs begin to bark. The man was like the big dog being barked at. He
hated to feel frustrated or jealous, to mope or to ponder. Animals,
trees, streams, birds--things in the mountains were not noisy, he thought.

"The city is a boring place," he said to the lame woman. "Don't

you want to go back to the mountain?"

"No," the cripple answered. "Because the city is not boring to


All she did each day was to cook, to wash, and to chat with her

"I never get bored, because I can chat in the city. I hate the

mountain, it's so dull."

"Don't you get sick of chatting?"

"Of course not. Nobody would ever get bored as long as he can

"I get bored the more I talk."

"You get bored because you don't talk."

"That's not true. I don't talk because I know I would get bored if
I did."

"Try talking. I'm sure you'll forget your boredom."

"Talk about what?"

"Whatever you like."

"Damned if I have anything I want to talk about!"

He yawned, disgusted.

There was a hill in this city. But it had temples and villas on
top and more people coming and going than in the rest of the city.
From the top of the hill he could look down on the whole city. What a
lot of houses! What a dirty sight!--he thought.

During the daytime he forgot about his nightly murders; for he was
bored with killing people. It was of no interest. As soon as his sword
touched a neck, the head would fall down. A neck was a fragile thing.
He could feel no bone inside: it was like cutting turnip tops. Heads,
however, were unexpectedly heavy.

He thought he could understand the woman. He saw a priest ringing

a bell with all his might in a belfry. What a fool, he thought. You
can never tell what these people will do! If I had to live with this
kind of people, he thought, I would do what she does and live with just
their severed heads.

But the woman had a limitless desire. That bored him too. Her
desire was like a bird flying in a straight line endlessly through the
sky. No rest: an infinite straight line. The bird never became tired.
She kept on flying ad infinitum, light and smooth, in the air.

He was an ordinary bird. He flew from branch to branch. Once in a

while he crossed the valley but that was all. He was like an owl,
napping on a bough. He was quick in action. Every part of his body
could move quickly. He could walk long distances, and his movements
were clear-cut. But his mind was a big-rumped bird. He could never
think of flying in a straight line for ever.

On top of the hill, he watched the sky over the city. A bird was
flying straight ahead. The sky would get dark and then light again,
repeating dark and light for ever. What would come after the infinite
dark and light? He could not understand the infinite. Another day, and
another day, and another day--light and dark, infinitely. His brain
felt as though it would split. It was not the fatigue of thinking: the
thought itself tortured him.

When he got home, she was deep in her head game as usual. She was
waiting. When she saw him, she said:

"Bring me a dancing girl's head tonight. A most beautiful dancing

girl's head, mind you. I want it to dance, for I am going to sing."

He tried to remember the infinite light and dark of the sky that he
had been staring at on top of the hill. In his mind, this room ought to
have been the sky of the infinite repetition of light and dark, but he
could not remember. And the woman was not the bird any more. She was
the same beautiful woman.

"No, I won't."

The woman was taken aback. Then she laughed.

"Oh, myl Are you scared all of a sudden? So you're just another
weakling, after all."

"I am not."

"Then what are you?"

"I'm bored because there is no end to this."

'What a funny statement! Nothing has an end, don't you see? You
eat every day--endlessly. You sleep every day--endlessly."

"That's different."


He could not answer. He was sure it was different. But he was

tortured by her logic and went out of her room.

"Don't forget the dancer's head!" she shouted after him, but he did
not answer.

He tried to think why and how it was different--without success.

It became darker. He went up the hill again. He could no longer see
the sky.

He found himself thinking of the fall of the sky. The sky falling

down on him! He felt a pang as though he were being choked. That meant
the murder of the woman.

He could stop running along the infinite light and dark of the sky
by killing the woman. And the sky would fall down. He could rest easy
then. But there would be a hole in his heart. The image of the bird
would disappear, would be cut away.

Am I the woman? Am I the bird flying in a straight line infinitely

in the sky? Does the woman's death mean mine? What is it I am thinking?

Why do I have to let the sky fall? He could not remember. All ideas
are intangible, and when they are gone, only pain remains. The day
dawned. He did not dare go back to the woman. For several days, he
roamed around the hill.

One morning, he woke up and found himself under cherry blossoms.

They belonged to one tree. It was in full bloom. He jumped up in
surprise, but not to run away--for it was only one cherry tree. All of
a sudden he had remembered the cherry forest in the mountain of Suzuka.
The forest must be in bloom. He fell into deep thought--thought of

I'll go back to the mountain. I must go back. Why did I forget

this simple answer? And why was I thinking of making the sky fall? He
felt as though he had just waked up from a bad dream. He felt relieved.
He felt, coming toward him, strong and chilly, the fragrance of early
spring in the mountain, which he had been unable to smell for a long

He went back to the woman.

She greeted him. She looked glad.

"Where have you been? I'm sorry I said unreasonable things and
made you unhappy. But can you imagine how lonely I was while you were

She had never been so tender. He felt something soft in his heart.
He almost forgot his decision. But he remembered and determined to
carry it out.

"I've decided to go back to the mountain."

"And leave me here? How could you be so cruel!"

Her eyes glistened with anger. Her face was filled with pain and
fury at his betrayal.

'When did you change into such a heartless man?"

"You know I don't like the city."


"Even when I am with you?"

"I don't like to live in the city, that's all."

"But I am here with you. Don't you like me any more? I was think-
ing of you all the time you were away."

A tear appeared in her eye. He saw her tears for the first time.
She was no longer angry. There was only painful sorrow as she grieved
over his heartlessness.

"You cannot live in the mountain. I cannot live in the city," he


"I cannot live without you. Can't you see how I feel?"

"But I cannot live in the city."

"If you are going to the mountain, I will go with you. I cannot
live without you."

The woman's eyes were wet with tears. She put her head on his
chest and he felt her hot tears.

Indeed, she could not live now without him. She lived only to get
new heads, and there was nobody else but the man who brought them to
her. He was part of the woman. She could not let him go. She was sure
that she could bring him back to the city, once his nostalgic wish was

"But can you live in the mountain?"

"I can live wherever you do, as long as you are with me."

"There are no heads to your taste in the mountain."

"If I am to choose either a head or you, I will give up the head."

He wondered if this was a dream. It was too good to be true. Even

in his dreams he never thought this would happen.

A new hope filled his heart. The hope came to him so suddenly and
violently that the pain he had felt just a while ago seemed to retreat
far, far away. He forgot how she had not been so tender in the past.
He saw only now, and tomorrow.

The two left the city immediately. The lame woman remained in the
city. When they were leaving, the woman secretly told the lame woman to
wait for her, because she would come back very soon.

The old, familiar mountains appeared. They seemed to greet him.

He decided to take the old highway. There was no traveler now to go
that way; you could not even see where the road had been. There was
nothing but forests and mountain slopes. Sooner or later he would go
through the cherry forest.

"Carry me on your shoulder. I cannot walk on this kind of pathless


"Of course, of course." He put her lightly on his shoulder.

He remembered the day when he first took her. It had been the same
way, climbing up along the path on the other side of the Pass, with the
woman on his back. He had been happy that day, and he was even happier

"I was on your shoulder on that first day I met you, wasn't I?"
she said.

"I was thinking of that, too." He laughed joyfully. "Now you can
see them' They are all my mountains. The valleys, the trees, the birds,
even the clouds are mine. Oh, how good to be in the mountain again! I
feel like running. I never felt this way in the city."

"I remember I made you run that time, carrying me on your back."

"Yes. I was terribly tired and dizzy."

He did not forget that the cherry forest would be in full bloom.
But would that matter on this happy day of homecoming? He was not

And the forest appeared. It was in full bloom as far as he could

see. The petals were beginning to fall with the slightest breeze. They
covered the whole ground. Where could they have come from? Looking up,
he saw bunches and bunches of cherry blossoms, and he could not imagine
that even one petal had dropped from there.

He walked into the cherry blossoms in full bloom. He felt the

silence and the cold everywhere. He realized that the woman's hand too
had become cold. He suddenly felt uneasy, and then he understood--she
was a demon! Cold air flooded in from everywhere underneath the blossoms.

The thing sticking to his back was an old woman whose whole body
was purple. She had a big head with a mouth that stretched from ear to
ear. Her hair was frizzled and green. He ran. He tried to shake her
off. The demon clasped his neck tightly. He could not see anything.
He was lost. He mustered all his strength and unclasped the demon's
hands. He forced his head out of their clasp and the demon fell down on
the ground. The demon came up at him, and the two of them grappled. He
strangled the demon. When he came to himself he realized he was strang-

ling the woman with all his might--and she was dead.

His eyes were blurred. He tried to open them wider, but he did not
feel his sight coming back. It was the same woman he had strangled, and
there was her dead body and nothing else.

His breath stopped. His strength, his thought, everything stopped.

Several cherry petals were already falling down on her. He shook her;
called her name; embraced her; but it was no good. He threw himself
down on her, crying. He had probably never cried before since he first
settled in this mountain. And when he recovered himself, he found a
heap of white petals on his back.

He was just about at the middle of the forest. He could not see
beyond the trees. There was none of the fear or anxiety he usually had.
There was no cold wind coming out of the endless blossoms. Silently,
and imperceptibly, petals were falling. He was sitting down for the
first time under the cherry blossoms in full bloom. He could sit down
there for ever--because he had nowhere to go.

Nobody knows the secret of the cherry blossoms of Suzuka in full

bloom. Maybe it was what they call isolation. He did not have to be
afraid of isolation now. He was isolation itself.

He looked around. There were blossoms over his head. Underneath

them was the infinite emptiness, silently held. That was all; there was
no secret beyond that.

After a time, he felt something warm. And he noticed that it was

sorrow inside his own breast. He could feel it more and more distinctly,
the warm lump inside, surrounded by the blossoms and the clean chill of
the emptiness.

He wanted to take off the petals covering her face. When he was
about to touch her face, he thought something strange happened. Then he
saw there was nothing under his hand except the petals piled up on the
ground. There was no trace of the woman left; only petals. And his
hand, trying to take off the petals, also disappeared--and then his
whole body. All that was left were petals, and chilly emptiness filling
tightly in.