An Encounter with… Ryunosuke Akutagawa | Pushkin Press

An Encounter with… Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Posted 8th February 2021

Featured image: @mikitravelgram

Murder in the Age of Enlightenment by Ryunosuke Akutagawa is available now from Pushkin Press, introduced and translated by Bryan Karetnyk.

To give readers a glimpse into Akutagawa’s strange, beautiful, highly visual world, we have paired excerpts from the masterful stories contained in this new collection with classic examples of Japan’s most enduringly popular art form—the colourful woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e and their descendent the shin-hanga. As subtle and arresting as the stories told, here are our five views of Akutagawa’s Japan.

Credit: ‘Shade of the Lotus, Shinobazu Pond’ by Kasamatsu Shiro (image via the Database)

One day, brothers and sisters, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni was strolling alone by the banks of the Lotus Pond in Paradise. The blossoms on the pond were each a perfect white pearl, and from their golden centres wafted unceasingly a wondrous fragrance surpassing all description. It must have been morning in Paradise, brothers and sisters.

from ‘The Spider’s Thread’

Credit: ‘Passing the Bamboo Grove’ by Suzuki Harunobu (image via the Art Institute of Chicago [Clarence Buckingham Collection])

That’s right, Your Honour. It was I who found the body. This morning I went out as usual to cut cedar in the mountains overlooking the village, when I came across the body lying in a shady grove. The exact location? A few hundred yards from the Yamashina stage road. An out-of-the-way spot with a few scrub cedars dotted among the bamboo.

from ‘In a Grove’

Credit: ‘Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge, from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’ by Utagawa Hiroshige (image via the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art [Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1918])

Our first meeting took place on 3rd August, in the eleventh year of Meiji, at a firework display near the Ryōgoku Bridge. We were introduced through a mutual acquaintance and spent the pleasure of that first evening together in the company of ten geisha at the Manpachi restaurant in Yanagibashi. Pleasure . . . Was it truly a pleasure? No, I dare say that pain far outstripped any pleasure

from ‘Murder in the Age of Enlightenment’

Credit: ‘Festival Night at Hanazono’ by Unknown Artist (image via the Database)

Bathed in the crimson light of hundreds of paper lanterns, he stood by the entrance to the Shintomi-za, watching as Mitsumura’s carriage raced off amid the downpour. His soul thronged with the resentments of yesterday and the joys of tomorrow

from ‘Murder in the Age of Enlightenment’

Credit: ‘Rainy Evening at Ginza’ by Tsuchiya Koitsu (image via the Database

Tall buildings lined both sides of the street. As I was walking, I suddenly recalled the pine forest. I also became aware that something strange had entered my field of vision — a set of steadily spinning transparent cogwheels.

from ‘Cogwheels’