The great unlit lanterns hanging inside the Niômon gate of Asakusa. The lanterns gradually rise upwards, and we look out across the throngs of the Nakamise shops. Only the lower portions of the great lanterns remain in view. Countless doves flying around in front of the gate.
The Nakamise seen vertically from the Kaminarimon gate. In the distance straight ahead, the Niômon is visible. The trees are all withered.
One side of the Nakamise. A man wearing an overcoat strolls in front of the shops together with a boy of twelve or thirteen. The boy wanders away from his father's hand and stops from time to time in front of toy stores. Of course the father does not neglect to scold him for this occasionally. Yet, once in a while, he himself seems to forget the boy's presence and gazes into a hat store window or the like.
The father and son shown from the waist up. The father is a man with a rustic-looking, stubbly beard. The boy's face is more pitiful than cute. Behind them, the throngs of the Nakamise. The two walk in our direction.
A toy store seen at an angle. The boy remains standing in front of this store, staring at a toy monkey that climbs and descends a rope. Inside the store, no one is visible. The boy is shown only above the knees.
The toy monkey climbing and descending the rope. The monkey wears tails and a silk hat tilted on its head. Behind the rope and the monkey there is only deep darkness.
The side of the Nakamise with the toy store. The boy, who has been watching the monkey, suddenly realizes his father is no longer there and begins to look around anxiously. He sees something on the other side and quickly runs off in that direction.
A man who appears to be the father seen from behind. He too is shown only above the knees. The boy overtakes this man, and grasps his overcoat firmly. The man who turns around in surprise is unfortunately not his rustic-looking father. It is a gentleman of the city with a neatly groomed moustache. Expressions full of disappointment and confusion cross the boy's face. The gentleman leaves the boy behind and quickly walks off. Alone, the boy stands vacantly, with the Kaminarimon behind him in the distance.
Once more a figure who may be his father seen from behind. This time, from the waist up. The boy overtakes him and fearfully looks up into his face. Beyond them is the Niômon.
The man's face looking straight ahead. His mouth covered by a mask, the man's face looks more animal than human. A smile with a hint of malice.
One side of the Nakamise. After watching the man walk off, the boy stands transfixed, as if not knowing what to do. No matter which way he looks, he seems unable to find his father. After thinking a moment, the boy begins walking aimlessly. He apparently does not see two girls, both in Western dress, who turn around to look at him.
The window of an eyeglass shop. Among a row of concave glasses, convex glasses, binoculars, magnifying glasses, microscopes, and protective glasses, sits the head of a Western doll, smiling and wearing a pair of glasses. The boy standing in front of this window. Seem from the waist up, at an angle from behind. The doll's head changes into a human head. It speaks to the boy:
"You must buy a pair of glasses. The glasses will help you find your father."|
"There is nothing wrong with my eyes."
The window of an artificial flower shop seen at an angle. The artificial flowers lie open inside bamboo baskets and ceramic pots. The largest among them is a tiger lily. The glass plate of the store window begins to reflect the boy's upper body. Indistinctly, like a ghost.
The boy seen through the plate glass window beyond a row of flowers. The boy presses his hand to the window. Eventually, his breath upon the window clouds over his face.
The tiger lily inside the store window. Only darkness lies beyond it. The flower buds hanging below the tiger lily also begin to open slowly.
"Look how beautiful I am."
"But aren't you an artificial flower?"
A tobacco shop window seen from the street corner. Among cigarette cans, cigar boxes, and pipes lies a card, tilted. On the card is written: "The smoke of tobacco is the gate of heaven." Smoke rising up slowly from a pipe.
The front of the store window, filled completely with smoke. The boy stands to the right. Shown from the knees up. Within the smoke, three castles begin to float indistinctly. They resemble a three-dimensional version of the Three Castles trademark.
One of the castles. A soldier stands with a rifle before the castle's gate. Beyond the iron-barred gate are several swaying palm trees.
The top of the castle gate. To the side, these words begin to come into focus: "Those who enter these gates shall become heroes."
The boy walking in our direction. The store window of the tobacco shop is behind the boy, to the side. After glancing backwards a moment, the boy continues to walk quickly.
Inside a bell tower, in which only a hanging bell is visible. A hand pulls the bell-hammer's rope and slowly the bell begins to ring. Once, twice, three times. Outside the tower are only pine trees.
A target booth, seen from an angle. The target consists of a pile of cigarette boxes in back and Hakata dolls in front. A row of air rifles lined up in front. One of the dolls is of a Western woman wearing a dress and holding a fan. The boy fearfully enters the store and, taking up one of the air rifles, aims indiscriminately at the target. There is no one in the target booth. The boy's figure shown from above the knees.
The doll of a Western woman. The doll quietly unfolds the fan, and covers her face with it completely. Then a cork bullet hits this doll. Naturally it falls over. Behind the doll there is only darkness.
Once more the target booth. The boy again takes up an air rifle, and this time intently aims at the target. Three shots, four, five. Yet not one of the targets falls. The boy reluctantly hands over some coins and leaves the store.
First, one sees only a square object in the dim light. Then the square object is suddenly lit by an electric bulb, revealing the following words on its side. Above: "Park, Sixth Ward." Below: "Nightwatch Station." The top letters are white with a black border, while the bottom ones are red with a black border.
The top of the back wall of a theater. One illuminated window can be seen. Straight ahead, on the wall with a drain spout, are traces of posters that have been peeled off.
The bottom of the back wall of the theater. The boys stands there a while, making no move to go anywhere. Then he looks up at the high window. But no one can be seen in the window. Only, a fierce bull terrier passes by the boy's feet, while sniffing at the boy.
The top of the back wall of the same theater. A dancer appears in the illuminated window and looks indifferently down to the street below. Because of the back lighting, it is of course impossible to make out her features clearly. Yet, soon her pitiful face, similar to the boy's, becomes visible. The dancer quietly opens the window and throws a small bouquet of flowers to the ground below.
The feet of the boy standing on the street. The small bouquet of flowers falls to the ground. The boy picks it up. As soon as the flowers leave the ground, they change into a bunch of wild roses.
A black signboard. In chalk, the words "North wind, clear" are written on the board in chalk. Yet these words dissolve and change into "Strong south wind. Possible rain."
A nameplate stall seen at an angle. The samples lined up beneath the tent include the names of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Ninomiya Sontoku, Watanabe Kazan, Kondô Isami, Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Yet before long these change into common names. A pumpkin field gradually comes into focus beyond the signs.
A row of movie theaters on the other side of the pond. In the pond are reflected countless electric lights. The boy seen from the waist up, standing to the left of the pond. Suddenly, the boy's hat is blown off into the water. The boy becomes agitated, and then turns in our direction and begins walking. An expression of almost total despair.
A café window. Beyond the towers of sugar, cakes, and soda water cups with straw pipes stuck in them, are the silhouettes of several people moving about. The boy comes upon this store window, and stops to its left. The boy is shown from above the knees.
The exterior of this café. A middle-aged couple, apparently husband and wife, enter through the glass doors. The woman carries a child wrapped in a mantle. Before long the café spins around on its own and displays the rear of the kitchen. Behind the kitchen is a chimney. There, two laborers busily work their shovels. A kerosene hand lantern is lit nearby.
The same child as before is shown from the waist up, sitting at the table in a child seat. The child smiles happily, while shaking his head and raising his arms. Behind the child nothing can be seen. Then, rose petals begin to fall quietly, one by one.
An adding machine seen at an angle. In front of the machine two hands move ceaselessly. They are undoubtedly female hands. Then a drawer that is opened continuously. The drawer is filled with cash.
Once more the café window. There is no change in the boy's appearance. After a moment, the boy turns around and walks quickly in our direction. When only his face is visible, he stops to look at something. A somewhat surprised expression.
An auctioneer standing in a crowd. He stands among his spread-out wares and shakes an obi, calling feverishly to the crowd.
The obi held in his hands. The obi sways from side to side, and two or three feet of it are visible. The pattern on the obi is made up of large snowflakes. The snowflakes spin around and begin falling outside the obi.
The store front of a knitted goods shop. Beneath the hanging shirts and pants, an old woman is using a foot warmer. Clothes are also arranged in front of the old woman. Some are made of animal fur. A black cat licks its front paws by the side of the foot warmer.
The black cat sitting at the base of the foot warmer. To the left, the lower half of the boy is visible. At first, there is no change in the black cat. Yet, before long it is wearing a fez with a long tassel.
"Young boy, won't you buy a sweater?"
"I can't even afford to buy a hat. "
The upper half of the boy, who appears tired, with the clothing store in the background. The boy begins to cry. Yet, he returns to himself and, while looking up into the sky, once more begins walking in our direction.
The evening sky, filled with dimly shimmering stars. There, a large face begins to appear indistinctly. It seems to be the face of the boy's father. It is filled with affection, yet also infinitely sad. After a moment, the face disappears like mist.
The street seen vertically. The boy, seen from behind, walks down this street. The street is largely empty. A man walks behind the boy. The man glances back for an instant, revealing his masked face. The boy does not turn around.
The exterior of a lattice-door house seen at an angle. Parked in front of the house are three rickshaws, turned backwards. Here too, almost no one passes. A bride wearing traditional headdress exits the lattice doorway accompanied by several people and quietly climbs into the first rickshaw. When the three rickshaws are loaded with passengers, they depart, with the bride in the front. Afterwards, the boy is shown from behind. Naturally, the people standing in front of the lattice-door house pay no attention to the boy.
A rectangular sign on which is written: "An XYZ Production: Lost Child. A Literary Film." It changes into a sandwich man with this signboard in front and back. The sandwich man is elderly, yet somehow resembles the city gentleman who was walking earlier in the Nakamise. In the background is the shop-lined street, more crowded than before. The boy passes by and takes one of the flyers distributed by the sandwich man.
The same street seen vertically. A war veteran using crutches slowly walks away. The veteran changes into an ostrich. Yet as it walks, it eventually changes back into the veteran. On the street corner is a post-box.
"Hurry. Hurry. Death may come at any time."
The post-box on the street corner. The post-box becomes transparent, displaying the countless letters stuffed inside its cylinder. Yet, before our eyes it changes back into an ordinary post-box. Behind the post-box there is only darkness.
Geisha quarters seen from an angle. Two geisha on their way to a restaurant emerge from a lattice doorway that is illuminated by a shrine lantern, and they quietly walk in our direction. Both have expressionless faces. After the two geisha have passed, the figure of the boy is shown walking away. The boy glances backward. An even sadder expression than before. The boy becomes smaller and smaller. Then a diminutive mimic standing on the other side of the street begins to walk in our direction. Seen close up, he resembles the boy.
Several wigs hanging from a metal ring. A card that says "Forelocks with combing hair" hangs from the wigs. Soon, the wigs change into a barbershop pole. Behind the pole is only darkness.
Outside the barbershop. Beyond the large window a number of men and women are moving about. The boy passes by and glances inside.
A man cutting hair seen in profile. After a short while, the image changes into a number of wigs hanging from a metal ring. There is a sign hanging from the wigs. This time the card reads, "Hairpiece."
A hospital built in Secessionist style. The boy walks over and climbs the stone steps. Yet, as soon as he enters the door, he emerges again and returns back down the steps. After the boy goes off to the left, the hospital quietly approaches in this direction until finally all one can see is the entrance. A nurse pushes open the glass door and emerges from the building. The nurse, standing at the entrance, looks at something in the distance.
The nurse's hands, clasped on her lap. On one finger of her left hand is a ring. Yet, on its own, the ring drops to the ground.
A concrete wall that leaves visible only a sliver of sky. The wall becomes transparent on its own, revealing several monkeys crowding together behind iron bars. Then the entire wall changes into a puppet stage. The stage consists of a Western-style room. There, a puppet of a Westerner nervously looks about. Given the puppet's mask, it appears to be a thief who has snuck into the room. In the corner of the room is a safe.
The puppet Westerner breaking into the safe. Some of the strings attached to the puppet's hands and feet are clearly visible.
Once more, the concrete wall, seen at an angle. Now the wall displays nothing. The shadow of the boy as he passes by. Then the shadow of a hunchback.
The street seen from the front at an angle. A single fallen leaf is being blown by the wind on the street. Then, another, smaller leaf that falls to the ground. Finally, a piece of paper that appears to be a magazine ad is also buffeted by the wind. The paper appears to be torn apart. Yet clearly visible are the words "Lifestyle New Year's Issue."
A bench under large evergreens. Visible beyond the trees is one edge of the same pond as before. The boy walks over and sits down dejectedly. Then he begins to wipe his tears. Then the hunchback comes over and sits down on the bench. From time to time, the trees sway in the wind. The boy suddenly looks at the hunchback. Yet the hunchback does not look over. He takes a roasted potato from his pocket and begins to eat it.
The face of the hunchback eating the potato.
The same bench in the shadows of the evergreens. The hunchback continues to eat his roasted potato. At last, the boy rises, and, with his head sagging, walks off somewhere.
The bench seen at an angle from above. Left on the bench, which has spaces between its slats, is a coin purse. Then someone's hand comes in and quietly takes away the coin purse.
The same bench in the shadows of the evergreen. But this time at an angle. On the bench the hunchback peers into the coin purse. Before long several hunchbacks appear on both his left and right. In the end, the bench is filled with hunchbacks. Moreover, they all look intently into the pouch in the same way. While talking amongst themselves.
The window of a photography studio. Various framed pictures of men and women hang on the walls. Yet their faces soon change into those of old men and women. Among them, only one, an old man with a moustache in a frockcoat decorated with medals, does not change. Yet his face suddenly turns into that of the hunchback.
The Kannon Hall seen from the side. The boy walks beneath it. A crescent moon is visible above the Kannon Hall.
A portion of the front of the Kannon Hall. The doors are shut. Several people are praying in front. The boy walks over and looks up at the Kannon Hall, with his back toward us. Then he suddenly looks over in this direction and walks away to the side.
A large, rectangular washbasin seen from above and to the side. A number of ladles float in the water, which contains a flickering reflection of fire. Then the reflection of the boy's utterly exhausted face.
The bottom of a stone lantern. The boy sits down and hides his face in his hands and begins to cry.
Behind the stone lantern. A man stands there, listening to something.
The upper torso of the man. Only his face is turned away. Yet, when he quietly turns around, it is the masked man from before. Moreover, his face soon changes into that of the boy's father.
The top of the stone lantern. Leaving only its pillar, the stone lantern bursts into flame and burns brightly. When the fire dies down, there is a single chrysanthemum, which begins to open. The chrysanthemum is larger than the shade of the stone lantern.
The bottom of the stone lantern. There is no change in the boy. A policeman with his hat pulled down over his eyes walks over and places a hand on the boy's shoulder. Startled, the boy stands up and says something to the policeman. Then, the policeman leads the boy away by the hand, and they walk quietly in the other direction.
Behind the stone lantern. Now there is no one there.
The great lanterns of the Niômon. The great lanterns gradually rise upwards, and, as before, we look out upon the Nakamise. Only the lower portions of the great lanterns remain in view.
(March 14, 1927)
Akutagawa Ryûnosuke (1892-1927) was one of the greatest short story writers of the twentieth century. Admired by authors and critics from around the world, his works have been widely translated and filmed. This translation is based on Asakusa Kôen, in Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Akutagawa Ryûnosuke zenshû, vol. 8 (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1978), 420-37. The work was first published in the April, 1927 issue of the journal Bungei shunjû.
The setting for the piece, Asakusa, is a long-standing center of popular entertainment in Tokyo, as well as the location of the Sensôji temple. The Nakamise refers to the shop-lined avenue leading to the temple that is bordered at either end by two massive wooden gates: the Kaminarimon and Niômon.
Seiji M. Lippit teaches modern Japanese literature and film at UCLA. He is the author of Topographies of Japanese Modernism and the editor of The Essential Akutagawa. He lives in Los Angeles.