Rashomon Study Guide

This selection of bleak stories features some of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s most acclaimed short works. Although they were not published together during his lifetime, they hold together as a collection of his earlier and most corrosively modernist stories; indeed, “Rashōmon” was published while he was still an undergraduate at Tokyo Imperial University.

He frequently re-crafts traditional Japanese legends from the Konjaku Monogatarishū, in modernist psychological terms (“Rashōmon,” “In a Grove,” and “The Dragon”). At other times, he would retell works of Ambrose Bierce, Anatole France, Pierre Loti, and other Western and Chinese authors in Japanese (“The Martyr”). Although his work is sometimes incorrectly categorized as “slice of life,” he was a strong opponent of naturalism. Now internationally recognized as the “father of the Japanese short story,” Akutagawa is the namesake for Japan’s premier literary award. He was the first Japanese author to be popularized in the West.

His popularity as an author continues to grow since Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon, a film adaptation of “In a Grove” and “Rashōmon.”

Please note: all citations within this ClassicNote are taken from the Kindle edition of Rashōmon and Other Stories.