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12/01/2017

Under the Cherry Trees…

David Boyd

By Motojirō Kajii

There are dead bodies buried under the cherry trees!

It’s true, I swear. How else could they flower that beautifully? That unbelievable beauty made me uneasy for a couple of days. But now, finally, I get it. There are dead bodies buried under the cherry trees. I swear, it’s true.

Why is it that on my way home every night, of all the things in my room, that tiny metal strip — the blade of my safety razor — grips my mind like a seer’s vision? You said you didn’t know. I don’t know either. But I have a feeling that the two — the trees and the razor — are really the same.

It doesn’t matter what kind of tree it is. When its flowers are in full bloom, the air is infused with a sort of mystic energy. It’s like the perfect stillness of a well-spun top, or the trance state that comes with any virtuoso concert — a hallucinatory halo of feverish reproduction. It’s a strange, vital beauty that never fails to pierce the heart.

And that’s what was getting me down the past day or two. I felt unable to trust that beauty. If anything, it left me disturbed, hollow, depressed. But I really get it now.

You have to see it. Under each tree, beneath the frenetic profusion of blossoms, lies a corpse. Then you’ll understand why I was so uneasy.

Horselike corpses, doglike corpses, catlike corpses and even manlike corpses. Unendurably rancid, rotting, festering with maggots — yet dripping with crystalline liquid. Roots cradle the bodies like gluttonous octopuses; tangles of root hairs, like sea anemone tentacles, suck up the fluid.

What makes those petals? What makes those pistils? I can almost see the silent ascent of crystal liquid coursing dreamily through those veins.

— Why the pained look on your face? It’s a beautiful vision! Now I can finally train my eyes on those flowers. I’m free of the supernatural force that has been haunting me.

Two or three days back, I was leaping from rock to rock along a river at the bottom of a ravine when in the spray of the water I saw scores of ant lions coming to life like Aphrodite. I watched them fly up into the sky. There, as you well know, they come together in beautiful matrimony. Walking on, I discovered something strange in a small pool of water on the dried-up bank — a radiant sheen covering the water like an oil slick. Guess what it was! Countless ant lion corpses, that’s what. Motionless bodies crowding the pool. Curling in the light, their overlapping wings produced a greasy iridescence.

It was a graveyard for the ones that had finished laying their eggs.

When I found it, I felt something shoot through me. I savoured the sort of sick pleasure that a deviant knows when he violates the dead.

Nothing else in the ravine pleased me. Nightingales and finches, budding leaves that turn the white sunlight blue-green, they’re all just vague images. I need carnage. Only when I find the equilibrium that carnage brings do the images in my head become clear. I thirst for melancholy like a ghoul. My mind knows peace only when the melancholy is perfect.

— You wipe your armpits. You’re breaking out in a cold sweat. Well, so am I. But don’t let it get you down. Just imagine your sweat sticky like semen. Now it’s perfect, this melancholy of ours.

Yes, dead bodies are buried under the cherry trees!

Dead bodies. I have no idea where the idea came from, but they’ve become one with the trees now. No matter how hard I try to shake this fantasy from my head, it just won’t let me go.

At last, I feel as if I have the right to gaze up at the flowers and enjoy a drink like the people reveling over there, under the cherry trees…

Motojiro Kajii Motojiro Kajii was born in Osaka in 1901. He died of tuberculosis when he was 31, leaving only a small number of works behind. “Under the Cherry Trees…” (Sakura no ki no shita ni wa) remains one of his best-known stories. This translation was first published in Monkey Business International.

David Boyd translated this story from Japanese as part of the BCLT mentoring scheme, mentored by Michael Emmerich. The Japanese mentorship was supported by the Nippon Foundation.

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