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First that truth is usually hidden from us and this is because of how society is.

Secondly, this
represents how society behaves. A grove is like a bunch of similar trees and society is much like
this. It tends to behave similar to one another, like how characters in a story are. They all lie to
improve their self-image.

I am trying to state truth relative to an individuals perception. It is based on the interpretation of

premises given to us. After analyzing these premises, each individual comes up with his own
interpretation, their own idea of what is true. I am not trying to confuse people with a non-
understandable story. I am trying to make them see that truth, a very important aspect of life, is
not always definite and resolved but instead is established from ones very own perception. I am
trying to make people understand what truth really is and how people seem to not really appreciate
the value of it over their personal gain. If one would, that person would perceive its true worth.

As said, this story is not about deciphering the clues and testimonies; this is notabout asking the
people in the story what they know and what tell you to believe,but by asking yourself what you
could believe and why.If the victim was impaled with a sword, was there a hole on his back
to confirm?Has there even been an investigation in the alleged scene of the crime?Did no one
bother to use experts in investigating? Wasnt there a psychologist tocomprehend the behavioral
patterns of the witnesses whilst they were attesting?Has anyone actually seen the corpse of the
man?Who even thought it was a good idea to bring a spiritual medium in a case such asthis?Did
anyone really bother with background checks to verify the identities of thesepeople?And most
importantly, what is up with the goddamn comb?If this were to be put in trial, it would not be a
trial about facts, but of possibilities.Facts leave no room for reasonable doubt; its in its nature. But
we are not dealing with facts here; we are dealing with the second hand statements of
humansprone to a lot of pressure trying to recall from memory. We are dealing withpossibilities.Is
it possible that the woodcutter did not really see a comb? Is it possible that he was an accomplice?
Probably the priest too?

Is it possible that none of the witnesses actually saw the corpse and were justassuming the identity
of the victim?Is it possible that the two men (robber & victims spirit) were lying in order toprotect
the woman from punishment?Is it possible that the old woman was not really the mother or even
barely relatedto the victims? Could she have just probably heard rumors?Is it possible that the so-
called medium was just a lunatic? Can he really speak forthose in the nether regions? What if he
too was an accomplice?Is it possible that the old woman was really the wife in the story?Is it
possible that the priest who heard the confession of the woman in the temple was the same
who claimed to be a witness? It is possible that he was lying aboutthe time he saw them?Is it
possible that the man did not really die in the grove but was just left there toavoid detection?Is it
possible that due to shock and the spur of the moment, the wife becameinsane and just imagined
her husband giving her consent?We dont know. The author did not want us to know. That was not
his intention.These are not facts. The only fact here that we can be sure of is 1) that a man hasdied
and 2) due to the dissimilarities and contradictions in the attestations, someif not all witnesses are

In a Bamboo Grove: An Analysis on the Nature of Truth and

Human Perception
Preface: Today is a bit of a lazy day, because I was just diagnosed with my first case of mono
and dont feel very well as a result. Rather than write something entirely original, I have chosen
to upload an essay I wrote a few months back on Akutagawa Ryunosuke arguably Japans
finest short-story writer. In A Bamboo Grove is the short I chose to analyze, a story that
mocks the perception that humans can understand ultimate truth. If you have never read the
short, or have never seen the Akira Kurosawa film adaptation in Rashomon, I highly
recommend you check it out. If youre interested at all in the objectivity of truth, this essay might
interest you even if you dont have any background in Japanese literature.

Akutagawa Ryunosuke was not a Christian. Unlike many of his Japanese contemporaries who
had their flirtations and affairs with the foreign religion, Akutagawa remained, to his death,
unbaptized and off the records of any particular church. However, that he was influenced by the
message of Christianityand particularly the Bibleis undisputed. When he published his
thought-provoking short In a Bamboo Grove in 1922, which raises questions about the human
ability to interpret experiences objectively, a reader familiar with the New Testament may well
wonder if this oft quoted line from Pauls letters served as a muse:

[B]ut whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease;
whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in
part . For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but
then shall I know even as also I am known (1 Corinthians 13:8-9, 12).

Paul spoke of the fickleness of the human understanding of reality. We interpret much of our
world from second-hand information, and even the primary information we obtain through
experience is carefully filtered through our very own brainfilled with its own particular set of
personal biases and subjective perceptions. Thus, as Paul suggested, when attempting to
understand our world, and particularly the elusive concept of truth, we see through a glass,
darkly and we know in part. At the core of In a Bamboo Grove we find Akutagawa exploring
a very similar message, projecting it in his own uniquely Japanese style.

If ever there was a story put to writing that made one increasingly skeptical and untrusting of
others, In a Bamboo Grove would be a likely front-runner. The plot revolves around the idea that
while absolute truth may exist, the human understanding of truth, or objective reality, is much
more elusive, obscure, and subjective. In an attempt to better understand Akutagawas message
in part, I have chosen to consider the following questions while analyzing the text:

What does the work tell us about the way in which humans are persuaded towards certain
beliefs and convictions about the truth? What flaws in these methods are made apparent in
the narrative itself and by the way in which the narrative is presented by the author?

To begin with, a preliminary analysis demonstrates that the structure of the text lends itself to a
philosophical discussion about the nature of truth. The story begins with no definitive opening
and culminates to no conclusive endinga subtle reference to the principal themes of
uncertainty and ambiguity pervasive throughout. Instead, Akutagawa drops the reader right into
the middle of a court room drama from the opening line, cleverly assigning them the role of a
judge in a homicide case. Akutagawa builds the story around references to testimonies and
confessions, symbols of evidence that ought to be definite and trustworthy. And yet, nothing is
as concrete as it appears. Seven testimonies are presented in all, the first four from passerby
witnesses and the last three from those directly involved at the scene of the crime. The court
room atmosphere is no coincidence; rather, it serves as a symbol for one of the foremost places
in society where evidence is scrutinized in an attempt to reach the objective truth of a given
situation. That truth will be a central focus is even evident from the opening line of the story:
That is true, Your Honor. But as Akutagawa begins to let each witness share their side of the
story in their own words, effectively creating multiple narrators, reaching objective
conclusions becomes increasingly difficult. Ultimately, we find there are only hints, but no
consensus, as to what has actually occurred in the bamboo grove.

In light of this contextual background, I find it beneficial to read into each of the seven
narrators accounts for insight into what devices they useeither consciously or unconsciously
to persuade us to believe and trust their perspective. Doing so may reveal, in part, why our
perception of the truth is as blurred as the facts surrounding Akutagawas murder mystery. And
while some devices may overlap among the seven testimonies (e.g., multiple narrators
use confidence to be convincing), for our purposes I have chosen to highlight only one or two
unique influence tactics per character.

The story begins with the testimony of a humble woodcutter who found the body of the victim
in a bamboo grove close to where he regularly commutes to chop wood. His testimony appears
to be completely benign and without guile, filled with affirmative statements such as, That is
true, Your Honor. I am the one who found the body. In his approachable demeanor, we discover
two characteristics that subtly nudge the reader to take his words at face
value: humility and confidence. As an unassuming woodcutter who arrived on the scene after the
crime was committed, and who, presumably, notified the authorities about the body, there seems
to be little reason to be skeptical of his actions. If he has no reason to lie, why should we not
trust him? We might call this kind of person an impartial observer. We are persuaded to
believe simply because we assume an impartial observer has nothing to gain by being dishonest.
Furthermore, his confidence in his answers adds the illusion of credibility. Confidence is a
characteristic that will continue to resurface in the majority of the testimonies. And yet, despite
the confidence of the woodcutter and the others, their collective confidence does not produce a
definitive answer to the most obvious question: who killed the man in the bamboo grove?

The second testimony comes from a traveling monk who passed by the victim and his wife on
the road near the scene of the crime on the day of the incident. Aside from confidence, there are
two other characteristics that draw us to believe his case: authority and detailed knowledge. His
authority comes from his title and position, not from any particular expertise. Akutagawa is
intentionally manipulating our tendency to trust authority figures by adding this characters
testimony to the narrative. Just knowing that this man is a priest may influence a number of
assumptions (e.g., that he is humble, faithful, righteous, moral, etc.). While some of these
assumptions may be accurate, an assumption built on a stereotype cannot be a certain
representation of the truth. Judging a persons credibility based on their authority position is a
useful heuristic, but it is not necessarily a reflection of reality. In addition to having an authority
position, the level of detail in the priests testimony also influences our decision to trust him. As
demonstrated in the following passage, his recollections are incredibly specific for a man who
was merely passing by with no particular reason to pay very much attention:

She wore a stiff, round straw hat with a long veil hanging down around the brim; I couldnt see
her face, just her robe. I think it had a kind of dark-red outer layer with a blue-green lining. The
horse was a dappled gray with a tinge of red, and Im fairly sure it had a clipped mane . The
man he had a good-sized sword, and he was equipped with a bow and arrows. I can still see
that black-lacquered quiver of his: he must have had twenty arrows in it, maybe more.

An author writing a short story must be succinct with their choice of words, and so we may well
assume that the level of detail included here is deliberate. Details exist to fill the gaps in our
understanding. When searching for the truth, we often must search through the details to
enlighten our understanding. The fact that the priest is able to speak in such detail about his brief
run in with the victim seems to add credibility to his testimony. By the end of the story, however,
Akutagawa seems to be asking the reader if more informationmore detailreally brought the
reader any closer to complete understanding of what actually happened in the bamboo grove.

The third testimony comes from a policeman who captured the thief Tajomaru, the principal
suspect, on the night of the crime. Aside from the use of authority and detailed knowledge, the
policeman uses two additional devices to get us to believe him: reputation and majority
consensus. At the close of his testimony he adds slanderous information about Tajomaru in an
effort to discolor the thiefs reputation in the eyes of the reader, bolstering his argument by
citing majority opinion: Of all the bandits prowling around Kyoto, this Tajomaru is known as a
fellow who likes the women. Last fall, people at Toribe Temple found a pair of worshippers
murdereda woman and a child . Everybody said Tajomaru must have done it. When we
hear someone, particularly a person in a position of authority, ascribe a negative label such as
thief to another, there is a human propensity to trust the authority figure and dismiss the
person negatively characterized. It is important to note that in his testimony, the policeman never
claims that Tajomaru was convicted of the murders. Simply having a reputation as a thief and
being accused by everybody seems to be sufficient evidence in and of itself. But what
Akutagawa appears to be suggesting here is that relying on someones reputationpositive or
negativeor majority consensus does not equate to an objective understanding of the truth.
Reputations may be misleading, and the majority, colored by their own biases and subjective
perceptions, may still be in error.

The final testimony from one of the non-suspects comes from the mother of Masagothe wife
whose husband was found dead in the bamboo grove. She is described as an old woman, and
we wonder if we should trust her on the authority of her age alone. Yet there are two other
influence tactics which color her testimony: emotion and assumed sincerity. These two
influences are felt most strongly at the end of her brief testimony:

Theres nothing I can do for my son-in-law anymore, but what could have happened to my
daughter? Im worried sick about her. Oh please, Sir, do everything you can to find her, leave no
stone unturned: I have lived a long time, but I have never wanted anything so badly in my life.
Oh how I hate that banditthat, that Tajomaru! Not only my son-in-law, but my daughter
(Here the old woman broke down and was unable to go on speaking.)

As the italicized portions of the caption highlight, the mothers testimony is filled with emotion
not present in the previous testimonies. Not only are the words emotionally charged, but they are
coming from a mother whose child has gone missingpresumably raped or killed. Questioning
such a testimony just does not feel appropriate, given the sensitive circumstances. To add
sincerity to her words, the testimony closes with a reference to the mothers weeping. Who is
going to question the sincerity of a mother crying over the distress of their child? By framing the
testimony through the words of an aged mother concerned for her child, Akutagawa touches on
another practical heuristic we use as humans to trust others: the presence of raw emotion and
apparent sincerity. And yet, both emotion and sincerity are subjectively expressed and
interpreted. Emotions can be conjured up, and sincerity can be feigned. Her emotionally-charged
delivery may negatively persuade our opinion of Tajomaru, but we are still no closer to the truth
than we were before hearing her testimony.

From here we move on to the first confession of one of the three suspects present at the scene
of the crimethe thief Tajomaru himself. By far the longest of the seven accounts, Tajomarus
confession is interesting because, unlike the other four previous testimonies, the reader already
has formed some opinion of him before he has spoken one word. And, most likely, the readers
perception of Tajomaru is not favorable. Despite his ill-favored characterization, Tajomaru uses
some clever devices to make his confession appear honest and forthright. For one, his testimony
is severely self-incriminating. After all, the very first line of his confession is, Sure, I killed the
man . now that youve got me, Im not going to hide anything. Im no coward. In a modern
court hearing, if the defendant pleads guilty the question of guilt is no longer a question. We take
self-incriminating statements as fact because we assume that people will not intentionally seek
out outcomes that could potentially destroy their reputations or lives. In short, Tajomaru has
plenty to gain from feigning innocence and little to gain from faking guilt. His self-incrimination
entices us to trust that his confession is genuine. In addition, Tajomaru also uses self-sacrifice to
make his case even more convincing. Through the entirety of his confession he boldly
champions himself as a thief, rapist, and killer, making no attempt to make himself appear in a
more positive light. At the conclusion of his confession he proclaims, So thats my confession.
I always knew my head would end up hanging in the tree outside the prison some day, so let me
have the ultimate punishment. Tajomaru is essentially giving himself up to the gallowsto
death. As humans, we assume that people value life. We assume that his confession is sincere
because he is willing to die for these words. If the story were to have ended with his confession,
the reader would likely walk away confident that Tajomaru was, indeed, the murderer and the
facts of all five testimonies harmonized nicely. But the significant contradictions found in the
final two testimonies have the effect of leaving the reader puzzled. Akutagawa seems to be
implying that no degree of self-incrimination and self-sacrifice for a cause will ever be an
absolute indication of the truth of the cause; rather, these factors are only barometers measuring
the degree of commitment of the individual.

Following Tajomarus confession, we are given the opportunity to hear the penitent confession
of Masagothe woman who was apparently raped by Tajomaru and whose husband was
murdered in the bamboo grove. Like her mother in the previous testimony, Masago relies
heavily on emotion and tears in order to plead her case. And similar to Tajomaru, her confession
is very self-incriminating, as she claims that she killed her husbandnot Tajomaru. The most
important and noticeable difference is perhaps in the penance of the confession. Whereas
Tajomaru was brazenly defiant in his self-incrimination, Masagos confession emanates a sense
of sorrow, regret, and despair for what she has done. Through her self-depreciation, Masago
attempts to arouse both pity and compassion from the reader as a means of proving her sincerity:

Gulping back my tears, I untied him and cast the rope aside. And thenand then what
happened to me? I no longer have the strength to tell it. That I failed to kill myself is obvious .
I am still here, by no means proud of my inability to die. (Forlorn smile.) Perhaps even
Kanzeon, bodhisattva of compassion, has turned away from me for being so weak. But now
now that I have killed my husband, now that I have been violated by a banditwhat am I to do?
Tell me, what am I to (Sudden violent sobbing.)

How do you question the sincerity of someone who appears to be at rock bottomwilling to
remove themself from the world as a means of atonement for their wrongs? As humans, when
our emotions of pity and compassion are stirred for the affliction of another, it is usually (if not
always) the result of a subliminal belief that their affliction is both valid and real. And yet, the
reader cannot possibly accept the absolute truth of both Tajomarus and Masagos confessions,
especially when they differ on the most crucial point: how Masagos husband died and who is
responsible. Despite our best efforts to understand the truth of the situation, both the readers
emotions and the characters emotions have blurred any attempt to come up with an objective

The final testimony is, at face value, the one account that should be the most reliable of them all:
the testimony of the dead man himself, projected through a medium. And yet, in a stroke of
brilliant irony, the victims testimony is arguably the least concrete because it is the only account
of them all to pass through two brains before delivery. The man himself surely had his own
perceptions about what he experienced, but to express those perceptions through the mind and
mouth of a medium complicates the picture. We must now rely on the mediums interpretation
of what the mans spirit is apparently orating. This is similar to trying to understand an objective
view of someones life by reading their biographyan interpretation of their life as written by
an outsider. Akutagawa brings up an interesting question here: to what extent is it reliable to
trust second-hand information, if it is reliable at all?

The dead man, earlier referred to as Kanazawa no Takehiro by Masagos mother, uses one
additional influence tactic we have not yet discussedthe appearance of balance and
objectivity. Takehiro clearly paints himself as a victim in his testimony, but he is not blatantly
one-sided. When explaining how he felt about his wifes betrayal, he is remarkably fair and
balanced in his observation:

When my wife raised her face in response to him, she seemed almost spellbound. I had never
seen her look so beautiful as she did in that moment. And what do you think this beautiful wife
of mine said to the bandit, in my presencein the presence of her husband bound hand and
foot? My spirit may be wandering now between one life and the next, but every time I recall her
answer, I burn with indignation. All right, she told him, take me anywhere you like. (Long

Certainly, like Masago before him, Takehiro attempts to arouse the pity and compassion of the
reader with his words. But the substance is different. Whereas Masago tried to entice these
emotions by being self-depreciating, Takehiro tries to draw out these emotions by being fair in
his portrayal of the scene. When describing the wife who betrayed him and wanted him dead, he
takes the time to mention how beautiful she looked. We assume that someone who is fair
someone who attempts to share both sides of a storyis trustworthy because they make no
attempt to color the truth. But even given our best efforts to be objective by being balanced, can
we ever reach complete objectivity? Given the additional contradictions inherent in Takehiros
testimony, Akutagawa seems to, once again, argue against such a thought.

To say that the reader, after having read the story in its entirety, is utterly clueless as to the truth
of what has happened would be a gross overstatement of the theme. Indeed, despite the many
contradictions and anomalies found in the testimonies, there are still strands of consistency. We
can subjectively interpret, in a general sense, what has happened by weighing what evidence we
deem more reliable than the rest. It is the same way in which we interpret our own world every
day. Thus, in the final analysis, Akutagawas argument is not that we are incapable of
understanding anything; rather, that we can never claim to understand the whole picture. We
see through a glass, darkly and we know in part in our attempt to understand our reality.
Despite our best efforts to be dispassionate observers, we are, ultimately, bound by the
subjectivity of our minds. What truly happened in the bamboo grove may forever remain a
mystery, but that isnt the point. The point is in understanding and becoming aware of the
multitude of methods by which we may be persuadedor manipulatedinto a dogmatic
understanding of the truth. We must be cautious of what we choose to accept as absolute truth
because, as the final paragraph suggests, we simply cannot see everything:

Then stealthy footsteps came up to me. I tried to see who it was, but the darkness had closed in
all around me. Someonethat someone gently pulled the dagger from my chest with an
invisible hand. Again a rush of blood filled my mouth, but then I sank once and for all into the
darkness between lives.