‘In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’ by Ango Sakaguchi, translated by Jay Rubin

The Oxford collection is the one I’d recommend as the go-to anthology for anyone interested in Japanese literature, and ‘In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’ is my favourite piece. It begins with a bandit ambushing a traveller and his wife in the mountains, with the villain killing the man on seeing how beautiful the wife is. Alas, her beauty hides unspeakable cruelty, and her arrival will change the man’s life immeasurably, setting in motion a train of events leading him to the capital and beyond. Musing on natural beauty and juxtaposing it with a penchant for decapitation, Sakaguchi’s supernatural story of a man getting far more than he bargained for is one you won’t forget in a hurry (and you’ll certainly never look at cherry blossoms in the same way again!).

First published 1947. Included in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, Oxford University Press, 2010

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