In a Grove

In a Grove Study Guide

First published in the Japanese literary publication Shinchō in January 1922, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove" (or "In a Bamboo Grove") is about a young samurai killed in mysterious circumstances. Pieced together from contradictory testimonies and confessions, the story ultimately delivers no conclusion about who is responsible for the crime, thereby rejecting the possibility of objective truth.

"In a Grove" is considered by many to be Akutagawa's most iconic work, and also an early example of literary modernism. In contrast to literary realism’s effort to present a reliable and objective depiction of reality, "In a Grove" rejects realist storytelling conventions by drawing attention to its fragmented form. Akutagawa also fulfills the expectations of modernism by basing his story on a traditional twelfth-century tale but treating the material with a contemporary skepticism. Akutagawa's story is so well-known in Japan that its title (藪の中 Yabu no Naka) has become an idiomatic expression to describe situations where a lack of coherent evidence precludes any conclusion being drawn.

The popular Japanese director Akira Kurosawa based his film Rashōmon (1950) on the plot and characters of "In a Grove," though the title was taken from another of Akutagawa's stories.

(This study guide is based on Jay Rubin's 2006 translation of Yabu no Naka. Rubin translated the title as "In a Bamboo Grove.")