Japan Literature Translation

Beneath the Cherry Trees

Beneath the Cherry Trees

(Sakura no ki no shita niwa)

by KAJII Motojirō (梶井基次郎)
December 1927

Flower Viewing Party, 1921

There are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees!

You’ve got to believe it. Well, otherwise you couldn’t possibly believe that cherry trees could bloom so beautifully. I’ve been out of sorts these past two or three days, because I couldn’t believe in such a beauty. But now I’ve finally understood it: there are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees. You’ve got to believe it.

On my way back to the house every night, one of the many things in my room, some little worthless thing, a safety razor blade, of all things, or whatever comes to my mind in a flash, like a clairvoyant vision  – I know you’ve said you can’t understand it, and I can’t understand it too much myself either – but this was exactly the same.

Whenever any kind of flowering tree reaches what they call “full bloom,”  a mysterious kind of atmosphere bleeds out into the very air around it. It’s like a halo, a searing hallucination of reproduction, like a swiftly-turning top coming to a complete stop, or like how a great musical performance brings on a dream state of some kind. It hits a person’s soul, this transitory, mysterious, new beauty.

But yesterday, or the day before yesterday, this is just what filled my heart with despair. I felt as if I couldn’t believe in such a beauty. On the contrary I became out of sorts, melancholic, with a feeling of emptiness. But now I’ve finally understood it.

You, under these cherry trees exploding vibrantly in bloom, just imagine that there are bodies buried there. Then you’ll get what made me so uneasy.

Horse corpses, dog and cat corpses, as well as human corpses, all decomposing, ashes to ashes, an unbearable smell. And yet, drop by drop, a crystallic liquid seeps down. The cherry tree’s roots, like a greedy octopus, embrace this, the hair roots gather like the feeder tubes of an anemone, absorbing this fluid.

What could create petals like this, what could create pistils like this? The crystallic fluid sucked up by those hair roots forms a quiet line, and I can nearly see it rising through the fibrovascular bundle as if in a dream.

— You look as if you’re troubled by something. Don’t you think it’s a beautiful vision? It’s like my eyes have finally focused and I can see the cherry blossoms. Yesterday, or the day before yesterday, I was set free from the mystery that unsettled me.

Two or three days ago, I descended into this valley, clinging to rocks as I went. I saw ant lions emerge from out of the spray of the water like Aphrodite being born, here and there, then aim for the sky and fly off. As you know as well, they have a beautiful union there. After walking for a little while, I encountered something odd. Where the water in the valley had dried up, a small puddle remained, and it was in that water. There was an unexpected shine to it, floating on the surface, like spilled oil. You’re wondering what it was. It was tens of thousands, or even more, of ant lion corpses. They covered the surface gaplessly, their overlapping wings bending in the light and dazzling like oil. Having finished spawning, this was their graveyard.

When I saw it, I felt like my heart would fly from my chest. The cruel, necrophilic pleasure of disturbing their graves thrilled me.

There was nothing in this ravine to bring me pleasure. The nightingales and tits, the tree buds pale in the white sunlight, these simple things, they were nothing but a hazy mental image. I needed that cruelty. It lent a balance, and for the first time the scene I imagined became clear.  My soul thirsted for despair like a demon. And when the despair was total, my soul was calm.

— You’re wiping your armpits, aren’t you? Are you in a cold sweat? Just like me, then. But there’s no reason to be troubled by it. If it’s sticky just try to think of it as semen. Then our despair will be complete.

Oh, there are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees!

The vision that came out of nowhere, or the bodies that I could not have predicted in the least, has now become one with cherry trees for me, but no matter how much I shake my head I cannot separate them.

And now, taking the same liberty as those villagers spreading out their banquets under the trees, I feel like drinking beneath a cherry tree.


2 replies on “Beneath the Cherry Trees”

Thank you for posting this. Translations of this author’s work can be somewhat hard to find.

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