In a Grove is one of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's best-known short stories, partly due to Kurosawa's film Rashomon.

In the short stories, we get several accounts of the death of samurai Kanazawa no Takehiro. The three people who could have witnessed his death, i.e. his wife Masago, the robber Tajōmaru and the samurai himself, give contradictory accounts of the events. Kanazawa no Takehiro's version is presented as that of a dead man's spirit as told through a medium.

What is not clear to me is whether Akutagawa or contemporary culture (early 20th century) assumed that a dead man's spirit wouldn't lie. If yes, the samurai's version would seem to be authoritative, unless the medium is unreliable. If no, it seems that the truth cannot be found.


Personally, I have not found any early 20th century Japanese literary work that has the notion of "the dead don't lie".

One would assume that dead people do not lie because they lack such motivation. However, in the story of In a Groove, Takehiro does seem to have a motivation to lie, and the motivation is similar to that of others: he wants to be viewed as an honorable person.

The bandit Tajōmaru wants to appear to be a swordsman with skill and honor, so he says he released Takehiro and finished him in a duel. Similarly, Takehiro may not want to be viewed as an inferior swordsman who cannot protect his wife, so he says he committed an honorable suicide.

So in this case I would say Takehiro does have the motivation to lie, and I think this is exactly the point that Akutagawa tried to criticize: among all kinds of ways people try to glorify themselves, the notion of absolute truth is shattered. This may be related to the Fin de siècle movement, which Akutagawa himself briefly mentions it in his work Cogwheel/Spinning Gear (歯車)

Many compare In a Groove to Naoya Shiga's Han's Crime, which explores the similar topic. You may want to take a look.

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  • Welcome to the site! Nice first answer, based on reasoning and evidence from the story. – Rand al'Thor Apr 24 at 5:17

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