Beneath the Cherry Trees

There are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees. Oh yes, you can take my word for it. How otherwise do you think the blossom could bloom so splendidly? For two or three days it’s been disturbing me, that incredible beauty. But now at last I’ve got it. There are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees. You mark my word!

Why, each night on my way home, should the one thing of all things that comes into my mind, like an all-seeing eye, be a trivial gutless thing such as a safety-razor blade? You said you didn’t know, and I don’t know myself either, but I’m sure the two cases are the same.

The flowers on any tree, when they’re in full bloom, you how, spread about them a kind of air of mystery. As a child’s top, spinning, clarifies into perfect stillness, as a skilled musical performance invariably conjures up its own illusion, so they carry the spell-invoking aura of procreation at white heat. A strange, alive beauty which never fails to make its mark on men’s minds.

Yet it’s just that that made me so desperately miserable yesterday and the day before. Somehow, I couldn’t believe in the beauty. It only made me uneasy, depressed, and empty. Now at last, though, I know.

Just try imagining that each of these cherry trees, with its riotous mass of blossom, has a corpse buried beneath it. Then you’ll realize what was making

me so uneasy.

The bodies of horses, sayor cats and dogs, or human beings.

All putrid, crawling with maggots, and stinking intolerably. Yet, at the same time, dripping with a clear, crystalline liquid...... The roots of the cherry trees fold them in an insatiable, octopus-like embrace, and a collection of  fine tendrils-like the feelers of a sea-anemone suck up the fluid.

What can be responsible for such petals, for such pistils and stamens? I seem to see the crystalline fluid, drawn up by the tendrils, advancing dreamlike in quiet columns through the veins of the trees.

Come, what are you pulling such a face for? Isn’t it rather a pretty piece of clairvoyance? For my part, I find, at last, that I can look the blossom straight in the eye. I am freed from the mystery that disturbed me so much yesterday and the day before.

Two or three days ago, I came down into this valley and went along it picking my way from one rock to another. Among the spray, now here, now there, I could see the gossamer-winged mayflies being born, Aphrodite-like, from the water, and fluttering up towards the sky above the valley. It’s up there, you know, that they celebrate their pretty little betrothals.

Walking on a little, though, I came across something odd, something in the water left by the stream in a pool on its dried-up bed. An unexpected irridescence, like floating petroleum, covered its surface. What do you think it was? The corpses of dead mayflies! Their wings, overlapping, covered the entire surface, that and uncurling, giving off an oily irridescence. Their graveyard after the laying of their eggs!  When I saw it, something seemed to pierce through to my heart; I experienced the cruel joy of the ghoul breaking open a grave to enjoy the corpse within.     

to pierce through to my heart; I experienced the cruel joy of the ghoul breaking open a grave to enjoy the corpse within.

 Nothing in this valley pleases me. The nightingales and the tits, the young buds on the trees clouding the bright sunlight bright green-by themselves, they are no more than blurred images. What I need is the tragic note. Only when the balance is there do the images come into focus. My mind is a demon thirsty for melancholy: only perfect melancholy can give it peace.

So you wipe your armpits. A cold sweat, perhaps? I’m the same, you know. But there’s really nothing unpleasant about it. Just think of it as sticky, like semen. Then we shall be quite perfectly melancholy.

Oh, those bodies buried beneath the trees!

Those bodies, inexplicable, born of who knows what flight of the fancythey are one, by now, with the trees, and however I shake my head they show no sign of separating again.

The moment has come when I feel I can drink to the blossom, drink on equal terms with the villagers, carousing there beneath the cherry trees.


     Translated by John Bester


KAJII Motojiro (1901-1932) was born in Osaka. Upon completing of middle school in that city he went to the third High School in Kyoto where he majored in science. Although he had planned to become an engineer, he became interested in literature and was influenced by the humanism of Tolstoy and Christa in socialism. In 1924 he began studying English literature at Tokyo University and along with Tonomura Shigeru (novelist,1902-1961) and Kitagawa Fuyuhiko (poet,1900-1990) he began publishing the literary magazine Aozora, in which he published such things as “Lemon” and In a Castletown (Shiro no aru machi ni te). In 1926 he had to interrupt his studies at Tokyo University due to tuberculosis and moved to Yugashima to convalesce. Here he became acquainted with Kawabata Yasunari (novelist,1899-1972). In 1928 he published his Beneath the Cherry Trees (Sakurano ki no shita ni wa) in the magazine Poetry and Poetics (Shi to Shiron). In this work one can detect a wild poetic vision influenced by Baudelaire. Later on, under the influence of Marxism, he planed to go and live among the day laborers of Tokyo, but was unable to because of illness. He then returned to his birthplace in Osaka and his writings at that time, such as his Scroll of Darkness (Yami no e-maki) and Mating (Kobi), reveal a mood of darkness. Soon after completing his last work The Carefree Patient( Nonki na kanja), he died in 1932.  All in all, his writing, without remaining formalistic, maintains an uniquely fresh sensitivity and, backed up by an accurate observation and keen ability to criticize, displays a new literary style. During his lifetime he was unknown in literary circles, but eventually his talent was recognized after his death.





Beneath the Cherry Trees is a prose poem.Though short in length, as a work with a unique treatment of dualistic beauty and ugliness, embossing both qualities onto the same photograph, so to speak, it can be regarded as the jewel of Kajiis opus.The English translation of Beneath the Cherry Trees was published in 1964 by the Japan P.E.N. Club. (From The Japan P.E.N. News No.12,7-8 1964)





The Japan P.E.N. Club, in order to preserve them in an archive of modern Japanese culture, is digitizing the English translations of literary works as they appeared in The Japan P.E.N. News (irregular publication dates, July 1958-September 1971) and will publish them at irregular dates online in the Digital Library - International Edition.


KAJII Motojiro
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KAJII Motojiro

Short story and novella writer. February 17, 1901 - March 24, 1932. Born in Osaka. Attended Tokyo Imperial University, English Literature Department (withdrew before graduation). Published The Lemon and other works in literary journals, but died prematurely at 31 from tuberculosis. He created his own literary style with his unique poetic sensibility and lucidity of expression.

While receiving medical care at Yugashima Spa in Izu, he became acquainted with Yasunari Kawabata. Coping with his illness in daily life also inspired his other masterpiece, Beneath the Cherry Trees (Sakura no Ki no Shita ni wa). His works became highly evaluated posthumously, leading to his international recognition as an influential representative of modern Japanese literature.

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