"In a Grove"
A man travelling to Wakasa walks with his wife who rides horseback, when a gust of wind unveils her beautiful Bodhisattva-like face to a bystander – the notorious brigand Tajomaru – who instantly falls in love. Tajomaru deceives them with a promise of inexpensive treasures buried in a nearby mound. They follow him to a row of cedars, where Tajomaru ties the man to a root and gags him with bamboo leaves. The woman asserts that one of the men must die and the other can be her husband. Here, the story diverges into three different accounts of how her husband dies: Tajomaru says he unties the man and wins a duel against him, but the wife vanishes. By her account, Tajomaru disappears and she kills her husband out of honor. She then attempts to commit suicide. The husband asserts that he kills himself after Tajomaru mercifully unbinds him.
A former servant of a samurai waits for a break in the rain under the broken down remains of the Rashōmon (a large gate in Kyoto). He has been let go in the wake of many recent disasters that have struck the city. He slowly comes to understand that he is left with only two choices: to become a thief or die. He sees a light in the tower and follows it, frightened. Among the many decomposing corpses, he spots an old woman plucking long hairs from a corpse. Forgetting his recent moral corruption to become a thief, he grabs her by the arm and forces her to floor out of hatred for her evil deed. She says she collects hair to make wigs to sell, and justifies it by the evil deeds performed by the dead persons from whom she steals. The choice is between death and evil. The servant hears her lesson and then tears her clothes from her body and kicks her down, leaving her amongst the corpses.
Goi, a 40+-year-old samurai in a low class court rank, is not well liked by his peers because of his unsightly mannerisms, cold-red nose, and stilted conversation. But through all their ruthless pranks, one thing keeps Goi happy – the yam gruel he gets to eat once a year at the Regent’s Palace. This year, he exclaims that he wonders if he shall ever eat his fill of yam gruel. Toshihito, a dignified samurai, hears him and offers Goi an opportunity to fill himself. A few days later, he follows through with his promise and ride horseback far away to Tsuruga, unbeknownst to Goi, who thinks they are going to a hot spring. Toshihito calls upon a fox to send word of their arrival to his home there. Upon arrival, it is clear that the fox delivered the message and Goi is treated to a royal welcome. Toshihito commands his servants to collect dozens of massive yams before morning so that when the time comes to eat, Goi is forced to eat far more than his fair share of the gruel. Toshihito spots the fox and gives him yam gruel as well, which gives Goi a break from his undesired feast. The story ends with Goi sneezing into the silver pitcher, ruining the yam gruel.
Jesuit missionaries find Lorenzo, a young and pious Japanese boy, at the Church of Santa Lucia in Nagasaki on Christmas night; they decide to raise him in the church. But as Lorenzo is nearing the celebration of his coming to manhood, a rumor spreads about his affair with the daughter of an umbrella-maker. When the Father Superior calls on Lorenzo about the scandal; Lorenzo denies it flatly and tearfully. But when it becomes known that the umbrella-maker’s daughter is pregnant, Lorenzo is sentenced to excommunication and becomes a beggar, all the while praying for the heavenly exoneration of his brothers in the church. Some time after the birth of the child, a furious fire takes hold of Nagasaki and the umbrella-maker’s house is enveloped in flames. At once, they realize that they had forgotten the child in the house, but the flames grow so strong that they are advised to resign themselves to this inevitable death. Simeon, Lorenzo’s dearest former friend from the missionary, tries to rescue the child, but does not succeed. Lorenzo shows up out of nowhere and runs in to rescue the child amidst many unsavory comments that have not forgotten his original sin. Lorenzo uses his last desperate strength to toss the child to the mother, who confesses that it is not Lorenzo’s child after all. In fact, in Lorenzo’s last living moments, torn and tattered to bits, the townspeople see that Lorenzo is revealed to be female.
"Kesa and Morito"
Morito paces outside the fence of his house watching the moon rise as he laments the fact that he is soon to murder a man whom he does not hate. He contemplates whether he actually loves this man’s wife, Kesa, whom he had dreamed of from afar for so long. When he finally had carnal relations with her, he realized that she was not who he expected her to be in beauty or personality. Yet, in spite of his incongruous feelings toward her, Morito proposed that they kill Wataru, her husband, to which she responded unreservedly in the affirmative with a mysterious sparkle in her eye.
Meanwhile in present story time, Kesa bites at her sleeve under a lamp contemplating whether he will come and murder Wataru after all. She remembers seeing her ugliness mirrored in his mind through his eyes, which makes her doubt the sincerity of his feelings toward her. She decides to disguise herself as her husband so that Morito will kill her instead, since she cannot go on living with such feelings of shame. Of course then she thought of her husband, whom she genuinely loves. She regrets that he will probably find her headless body in the morning.
Uji Dainagon Takakuni, the Chief Councilor of State, sets out to write a storybook by asking townspeople to tell him their old stories. An old man begins to tell a story to Uji about a priest from Nara with an exceptionally large crimson nose, nicknamed Hanazō (which means big-nosed fellow). This priest posted a sign that predicted a dragon’s ascendance from a nearby pond on March 3rd. Of course this was a complete fabrication, but he wished to play a prank on the other priests who habitually made fun of his nose. He succeeded in making a fool of an old woman and an arrogant priest, but soon, the prank got out of hand. A story spread about a priest’s daughter’s dream of dragons ascending out of the pond, and even his aunt who was a priestess from a far-off town came to Nara to see the ascendency. On March 3rd, Hanazō grew nervous as a massive crowd of spectators gathered around the pond, but to his amazement he and all the others see a black dragon ascending into the sky. Uji is very pleased with the story and even asserts that in the old times, since people believed that dragons lived at the bottom of water, there must have been dragons there.