Under the Cherry Blossoms

There lie cadavers buried under the cherry blossoms!

This is a truth that you must accept. For how else could the flowers of the cherry tree be so magnificent in their bloom? I spent the past several days feeling terribly ill at ease, as I was unable to accept such a beauty. But now, at last, the truth has finally sunk in. There lie cadavers buried under the cherry blossoms. You must accept this.

My house is one that contains a multitude of tools and implements⎯-so why then, from among such trinkets and baubles, did the blade of a safety razor come to me like a vision to a clairvoyant every night on my way home? You say you know not why, whereas I myself cannot comprehend it⎯-the two of which verily amount to the same thing.

A flowering tree, on the other hand, gives forth its essence when it reaches that stage known as full bloom, and in doing so, it emanates a mysterious aura comparable to the state of perfect stillness approached by a fast-spinning top, or perhaps the fleeting sensory impressions roused by a spectacular musical performance, or something like the afterglow that follows the burning act of consummation. It is this beauty, wondrous and vivacious, that never ceases to captivate the human spirit.

Nonetheless, yesterday and the day before, it was the selfsame thing that caused my heart to fall under an intense spell of gloom. I was unable to accept such a beauty. On the contrary, I became anxious and fell into a state of melancholy, and a feeling of emptiness overtook me. But now, at long last, I understand.

You see, beneath the splendor of those cherry trees blooming in profusion, cadavers had been buried one by one, if you can imagine for a moment. Then, soon enough, you’ll understand just what sort of anxiety I’d been feeling.

The cadavers of horses, the cadavers of dogs and cats, and it seems, the cadavers of human beings too. Rotting cadavers, crawling with maggots, reeking of a most intolerable stench, all the while seeping a liquid so pure and clear. The cherry tree, as if it were the rapacious octopus, extends its roots outward to grasp. Like the feeding tentacles of the sea anemone, its roots enfold to partake of that liquid.

What could form such a petal? What was behind the creation of such a stamen? I had envisioned it in dreamlike detail: The roots had gathered silently, matter-of-factly, to siphon that pure, clear liquid into its vascular system.

How you must be grimacing at the very thought! Not a very pretty way of looking at things, is it? Finally, I had come to see the cherry blossoms for what they were, and it freed me from what had been an unsettling mystery yesterday and the day before.

A few days earlier, I had descended into a nearby ravine, scrambling down the rocks. There in the splashing water, hither and thither, doodlebugs were coming into being in the manner of the birth of Venus herself. I watched them soar into the hollow where, as you may know, they perform their beautiful mating ritual. After walking a little further, I came across something horrifying. On the banks of the river, where the shallows ought to have been, there was no such water to be seen. A brilliant shimmer resembling an oil slick drifted across the entire surface. You must be wondering what it was. There, the countless thousands of cadavers of doodlebugs perforated the water’s surface. They lay piled in mounds, their wings curling in the sunlight, glistening like spilled oil. There, after they had finished spawning, became their grave.

At the sight alone, I felt as if I had suffered a blow to the chest. In bearing witness to the gradual process of decay that appeared to be taking place in that grave of doodlebugs, I had tasted a cruel delight.

There was not a single joyous thing to be found in this ravine. The warbler and the tit, the pale sunlight, and saplings too, were but a distant notion. That tragic fate, it seemed to me, was unavoidable. It was then that the picture became clear in my mind for the first time: It was a counterbalance. My heart had been pining for melancholy as if I were an evil spirit. That state of melancholy had been brought to an end, and now my mind was at peace once more.

By now, your armpits must be damp with sweat, just as mine are. Nothing to be ashamed of. After all, they are certainly no stickier than semen. And on that note, let us conclude our melancholy.

Alas, there lie cadavers buried under the cherry blossoms!

As for what on earth brought about such a wild flight of fancy involving cadavers, it appears to be anyone’s guess. That it may be part and parcel of the cherry blossoms is a notion I cannot seem to shake out of my head, no matter how I try.

I believe I have hereby earned the right, like the many locals flocking to the festivities taking place under those flowering trees, to drink merrily in celebration of the cherry blossom viewing season!

Bios

Motojirō Kajii

Motojirō Kajii (1901-1932) was an influential Japanese modernist whose short stories have shaped the work of countless writers through their poetics and striking imagery. Confrontations of death and meditations on the sublime in nature are among the recurring motifs in the body of work he left behind when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 31. His works have remained in the popular consciousness, inspiring the occasional fan to leave a lemon at an outlet of the bookstore chain Maruzen in homage to the iconic scene in “Lemon” (1925).

Bonnie Huie

Bonnie Huie translates from Chinese and Japanese. She was awarded a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for Qiu Miaojin's 1990s Taiwanese queer counterculture novel Notes of a Crocodile (forthcoming from NYRB Classics). She recently translated the liner notes for the album Homeland by Taiwanese jazz double bassist Vincent Hsu. Her travelogue on traces of Sōseki in Tokyo appears in issue 78 of Kyoto Journal.

English translation copyright (c) Bonnie Huie, 2014.