In a Grove

by Ryūnosuke Niihara

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Who is the killer of Takehiro in "In a Grove"?

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The name of the person who murdered samurai warrior Kanazawa no Takehiro in Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story "In A Grove" is never revealed. At the end of the story, the reader must decide who murdered Takehiro based on the testimony of a woodcutter, a Buddhist priest, a policeman, and an old woman, and the stories of the three confessed murderers, including the "notorious brigand," Tajomaru, Takehiro's young wife, Masago, and Takehiro himself.

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In Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's intriguing "Rashōmon"-like short story, "In A Grove" (sometimes titled "In A Bamboo Grove"), the murder of samurai warrior Kanazawa no Takehiro is presented from the perspective of three different people, each of whom claims to have killed Takehiro.

The story opens with testimony made in front of the High Police Commission by a woodcutter, a Buddhist priest, a policeman, and an old woman who claims that Takehiro's wife is her daughter, which sets the scene for the confessions that follow.

The first person to confess the murder of Takehiro is a "notorious brigand" named Tajomaru. The policeman testifies that he arrested Tajomaru early in the night before, after Tajomaru had been thrown from his horse onto the bridge at Awataguchi. Tajomaru had Takehiro's bow and arrows in his possession at the time of his arrest, which the policeman believes is reason enough to charge Tajomaru with the crime and execute him.

Tajomaru confesses that he killed Takehiro so that he could steal his wife away from him. Tajomaru admits that he violated Takehiro's wife in front of Takehiro, and that he ultimately killed Takehiro at the urging of Takehiro's wife, who said that she wished to be the wife of whoever survived single combat between Tajomaru and Takehiro.

The second person to confess the murder is Takehiro's wife, known in the story as "a Woman Who Has Come to the Shimizu Temple," but who was identified earlier in the story by her mother as Masago. Masago says that she made a suicide pact with Takehiro to relieve both of them of the shame, grief, and anger that she feels towards herself and the anger and contempt that Takehiro feels towards her because of her violation by Tajomaru in front of Takehiro.

Masago admits that she killed Takehiro, but that she was unable to go through with her part of the suicide pact, although she did try unsuccessfully to kill herself.

I stabbed my own throat with the small sword, I threw myself into a pond at the foot of the mountain, and I tried to kill myself in many ways.

Takehiro himself, although dead, is the third person to confess to his own murder, and he does so through a medium. Takehiro says that he felt shamed and humiliated after Tajomaru violated Masago in front of him. Even more than that, however, Takehiro says that he was stunned and dismayed by Masago's rejection of him as her husband, and by her cries of "Kill him! I cannot marry you as long as he lives. Kill him!" to Tajomaru. In his despair, Takehiro stabs himself with Masago's small sword, which had fallen to the ground in her struggles with Tajomaru.

Each of the three self-proclaimed murderers has their own unstated motivation for confessing to the murder, but each of their stories of the murder has discrepancies which tend to undermine their own confessions and which contradict the stories of the other two confessed murderers.

There is no resolution of the story, meaning that no murderer is named. The reader is left to determine the true identity of the murderer based on the evidence presented to them in Tajomaru, Masago, and Takehiro's flawed confessions, reconciled with the inconsistent and contradictory information provided to the High Police Commissioner by the woodcutter, the priest, the policeman, and Masago's mother.

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"In a Grove" is perhaps the most famous of Akutagawa Ryunosuke's works. It is the basis for Kurosawa Akira's movie Rashomon and helped cement the widely used plot line of telling varying accounts of solving a crime, a plot that is seen on both television and in film. However, using this method of storytelling also means that it can be difficult to know which details are true.

It is obvious to blame Tajomaru for the murder of Takehiro, as he is the criminal in this story. He admits to the crime. However, there are several inconsistencies within his confession that do not seem to reflect Takehito truthfully as a person. As is sworn by Masago's mother, Takehito's mother-in-law, he was a person with a gentle nature, contrary to the greedy person Tajomaru describes. This is where the reader must begin to draft their own version of events, as it seems the testifying characters are lying.

Afterwards, Masago herself takes responsibility for the crime. Her description fits the wound; a single sword had killed him. She claims to have killed Takehiro as his final request.

Next, the reader has even more to think about as the account of Takehiro himself is recorded. Through a medium, he testifies and claims to have committed suicide.

With these three accounts, the question is not so much who the murderer is but rather why the murder was committed. Each person has their reasons for claiming responsibility, so it is the reader's job then to figure out who perhaps has the strongest reason for wanting Takehiro dead. The appeal of the story is that no one can definitively say what is reality.

For Tajomaru, he can build his reputation if he is charged with the murder. He will appear stronger, a worthy criminal to his underworld friends. For Masago, she will appear more sympathetic. After all, in that era of Japan, it was seen as righteous to kill oneself after such a disgrace. By killing her husband on his own orders and then attempting to take her own life, Masago is shown as an upstanding and moral woman of the time. When Takehiro claims to have committed suicide, it is to save face. It would have been too shameful for a samurai to have been tricked by a common criminal. Suicide is the only way he would have been able to redeem his honor after such a confrontation.

So really, it is up to the reader to decide who is telling the truth.

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