It’s a bit late to post this, as the cherry blossom season has pretty much wrapped up here. However, I just remembered today that I’d started to try translating this short story a couple of years ago. It caught my attention because it has one of the best opening lines ever. I quickly gave up in frustration because my comprehension level was still too low. It’s extremely rewarding to have tangible proof of my improvement – this time I finished it up in a couple of hours.
Under the Cherry Trees (1928) by Kajii Motojirou (1901-1932)
桜の樹の下には ~ 梶井基次郎 英語 翻訳
There are bodies buried under the cherry trees!
This is something that I definitely believe. How else could those flowers bloom so magnificently? Because of that unbelievable beauty, I’d been uneasy for two or three days. But now, understanding has finally come to me. There are bodies buried under the cherry trees. This is something I believe.
For some reason, on the road I walk home every evening, something appeared clearly in my mind. Out of all the implements in my room, it had to be very tiny and flimsy, like the edge of a safety razor or something like that. You say you don’t understand – and after all, I don’t either. But there’s no doubt that all of this is related.
No matter what kind of flower a tree bears, when it reaches the state known as full bloom, a mysterious kind of atmosphere spreads in the air around it. It is like a top that spins so well it appears to be completely still, or the way a skillful musical performance always seems to be accompanied by an illusion. It is like the afterglow from being given a vision of incandescent reproduction. Unless it is striking at a person’s heart, it is a wondrous, vivid beauty.
But yesterday or the day before, it was just that which brought a terrible gloom into my heart. I felt that such a beauty was something unbelievable. On the contrary, I became anxious, and depressed. I felt empty. But now I understand at last.
You, try to imagine that beneath this glorious profusion of blossoms, a dead body is buried under each tree. I wonder if you can understand, then, why I am so ill at ease.
Horse-like corpses, dog- and cat-like corpses, as well as human-like corpses. All of them decomposing and filled with maggots, making an unbearable stench. And yet, a crystal-like liquid is also trickling out. The cherry tree’s roots, like a greedy octopus, holding them while its hair roots, like a sea anemone, soak up the liquid.
I can see it as though in a dream. The crystal liquid being sucked in and making a quiet procession through the plant tissues, somehow creating petals such as those, stamen such as those.
Why are you making that troubled face? Isn’t it a beautiful insight? It is as though with my gaze fixed I can finally see the cherry blossoms. Yesterday or the day before, I became free of the mystery that haunted me.
Two or three days ago, I climbed down into the valley, holding onto rocks as I went. Here and there mayflies were given birth from within the spray of water like Aphrodite, and I saw them soar into the valley’s sky. As you know, that is how they exquisitely wed. After walking a little while, I came across something strange. The water in the valley had dried up to form a small beach, except for a small puddle left behind. It was there, floating on the surface with a shimmer like accidentally spilled oil. What do you think was there? There were countless thousands of dead mayflies. They covered every inch of the water's surface, their wings overlapping each other. That was what was displaying the shimmer like light reflecting off oil. It was their graveyard after they finished spawning.
When I saw that, it felt as though something had struck my heart. Discovering that graveyard, I savored my cruel delight like a degenerate with an interest in dead bodies.
There was nothing else in that ravine that could give me pleasure. The warbler and the tit, the bright sunlight on the fresh buds, none of it was more than a vague impression. For me, tragedy is something essential. For the first time I feel clearly that there is equilibrium. My heart has a devilish thirst for gloom. My heart can only be calm when it has achieved complete melancholy.
You’re dabbing at your armpits – you’ve broken into a cold sweat. I am in the same state. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Think of it as being just like the stickiness after climax, as our melancholy achieves completion.
Ah, there are bodies buried under the cherry trees!
I haven’t the slightest idea where this daydream of corpses came from, but now no matter how I shake my head it will not leave me, it has become one with the cherry trees.
Now is the time when, just as the village people have the right to spread a feast under the cherry trees, I am also in the mood to drink while looking up at the blossoms.
Haha. Oh, Japan… I don’t think I’ve felt so sorry for the referred-to recipient of a story since Rime of the Ancient Mariner or maybe Saki’s The Open Window. I can’t help but imagine this narrator cornering some terrified young guy on his tarp at a hanami party, and not letting him go until he hears the whole morbid theory. Eventually he’ll wander away, only to burst out in the occasional drunken refrain, “There are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees!” while everyone else gives him a wide berth.