Ango Sakaguchi “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom”
We read and discussed the famous story by Ango Sakaguchi. One of his contemporaries is Osamu Dazai, with whom he is often compared. Yukio Mishima once famously put “If Dazai is sweet sake, Sakaguchi is gin and vodka”.
Sakaguchi was born in 1906 in Niigata. He was drawn to Buddhism and Indian philosophy, in which he majored at Toyo University in Tokyo. While there, he slept for four hours only every day and devoted the rest of his time to studying philosophy and many other disciplines. He even learned French.
He was not only a distinctive writer but also a stellar essayist. The most representative work of his is probably his essay entitled “Darakuron” (“Discourse on Decadence”). ‘Daraku’ literally means corruption. Until Japan lost the war, there had been something absolute and perfect and also ‘proper’ ways for people to die (Kamikaze fighters included). In contrast, Sakaguchi advocated that human beings were condemned to be corrupt and erroneous, which many of the Japanese at the time found liberating.
Another renowned work of his is this short story we discussed today. It is translated by Jay Rubin, who is the noted translator of Haruki Murakami.
As its title suggests, the central motif of this story is sakura, cherry blossoms. Sakura is very special for the Japanese. When you hear the word ‘sakura’, what kind of images does that conjure up in your mind? It could be something positive, romantic, and poetic. However, sakura is usually associated with transient and ephemeral nature of Japan, whose short life (at most two weeks) is sometimes compared with that of Samurai.
You can explore various intriguing dichotomies in this story: beauty vs ugliness; capital vs mountain; life vs death. Come to think of it, Sakaguchi himself was a man of duality, on the one hand, criticizing illogical ways of thinking that resulted in many people dying for the country in vain and praising their heroic deaths on the other.
He was a man of exception in many ways. I would highly recommend this story.