In A Grove | Study Guide

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

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In A Grove | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Testimony of a Woodcutter

The Woodcutter gives his testimony to the High Police Commissioner the day after Kanazawa no Takehiko's death. That morning the Woodcutter found the dead samurai's body "about 150 meters off the Yamashina stage road." The Woodcutter says that the body was on its back and that a single sword thrust to the chest was the cause of death. The Woodcutter also reveals that he found a woman's comb and a piece of rope nearby. The area was disturbed as if a battle had taken place there.

The Testimony of a Buddhist Priest

The High Police Commissioner interviews the Buddhist Priest the day after Kanazawa no Takehiko's death. The Buddhist Priest passed the doomed man and his wife the day before. The couple rode a fine horse at the time and did not have any other traveling companions. The Buddhist Priest concludes his testimony by expressing sadness for Kanazawa no Takehiko's death.

The Testimony of a Policeman

The High Police Commissioner interviews the Policeman the day after Kanazawa no Takehiko's death. The Policeman reveals that he arrested the notorious thief and rapist Tajomaru the previous evening. The horse Tajomaru stole from the dead man and his wife had thrown him which caused a slight injury. The Policeman had tried to arrest Tajomaru in the past but the criminal escaped capture.

At the time of the arrest, Tajomaru possessed Kanazawa no Takehiko's bow and arrows. The Policeman reveals that Tajomaru is the suspect in multiple rapes and murders in and around Kyoto. He advises the High Police Commissioner that he should look into whether Tajomaru raped and killed the dead man's wife.

The Testimony of an Old Woman

The High Police Commissioner interviews the Old Woman the day after Kanazawa no Takehiko's death. The Old Woman is Kanazawa no Takehiko's mother-in-law and Masago's mother. She reveals that Kanazawa no Takehiko was a 26-year-old samurai who lived in Kokufu and that her daughter was only 19. She characterizes Masago as a "spirited, fun-loving girl" who never had sex with anyone but her husband. The Old Woman fears for her daughter's life and breaks down in tears.

Tajomaru's Confession

Tajomaru cofesses to Kanazawa no Takehiko's murder. At approximately noon the previous day, Tajomaru crossed Kanazawa no Takehiko and Masago's path and was immediately enthralled by Masago's beauty. He decided to kill the samurai and take his wife. Tajomaru explains that murdering comes to him naturally and that if he is to take a woman, he must kill her husband. However, he admits that it would be better if he did not have to kill.

Tajomaru recalls that he befriended Kanazawa no Takehiko and Masago and traveled with them. He lied to them about a cache of swords and mirrors buried off the road and said that he would sell them at a low price. Tajomaru says that Kanazawa no Takehiko was taken over by greed and agreed to see the goods. Masago stayed behind with the horse. In the grove Tajomaru took Kanazawa no Takehiko by surprise and tied him up. He then stuffed bamboo leaves in the samurai's mouth so Masago could not hear his screams.

Tajomaru went back to Masago and said that her husband had fallen ill. Masago followed him into the bamboo grove. After seeing her husband tied up, she attacked Tajomaru with a small sword. He disarmed Masago and then raped her. Masago was ashamed and proclaimed that one of the men had to die. Tajomaru recounts, "She gasped out that she wanted to be the wife of whichever survived."

Tajomaru untied Kanazawa no Takehiko. After a brief but furious sword battle, Tajomaru killed the samurai. However, Masago had fled. Tajomaru tells the police that they should just go ahead and kill him.

The Confession of a Woman Who Has Come to the Shimizu Temple

The day after her husband's death, Masago arrives at the Shimizu Temple in Kyoto and confesses to her husband's murder to a Buddhist priest. She felt great shame after Tajomaru raped her and believed that her husband's eyes had nothing but loathing for her. Tajomaru then knocked her out.

Masago went to her husband's side after waking. He was still angry at her. She told him that they must die together, for it was the only way to preserve her honor. She used her small sword to stab him in the chest and then fainted immediately. Her husband was dead when she woke up. She attempted to kill herself with the small sword but her fear stopped her. She threw away the small sword and traveled to Shimizu Temple. The shame of the rape and murder causes her to sob.

The Story of the Murdered Man as Told Through a Medium

A spiritual Medium provides Kanazawa no Takehiko's testimony which begins after Tajomaru raped his wife. Tajomaru tried to comfort Masago after the rape and make her think that she would be better off with him. Masago believed Tajomaru and asked him to take her with him. Kanazawa no Takehiko would have forgiven Masago considering the circumstances but he cannot forgive what Masago did next. She begged that Tajomaru kill him.

Tajomaru did not comply with Masago's request. He asked Kanazawa no Takehiko whether he should kill Masago for her unfaithfulness. Kanazawa no Takehiko believes that this simple gesture should pardon Tajomaru for the rape. At that moment Masago ran away. Tajomaru then cut Kanazawa no Takehiko loose and left with the bow and arrows.

Kanazawa no Takehiko found his wife's short sword. He stabbed himself in the chest without hesitation. He heard someone approach as he bled to death. He could not see the person's face but felt the sword leave his chest. The extraction caused a final gush of blood to enter his mouth, and then he died.


The Story's Indisputable Facts

"In a Grove" provides some indisputable facts that readers can use as a foundation to explore the mystery of who killed Kanazawa no Takehiko. The testimonies of the three main characters Kanazawa no Takehiko, Masago, and Tajomaru do not contradict one another in many ways. They agree on details surrounding how the three met, Tajomaru luring the couple into the woods, and Tajomaru raping Masago. Although Tajomaru reveals most of these details in his confession, Masago and Kanazawa no Takehiko do not refute them. The testimonies of the other characters also do not provide any information that puts the first part of Tajomaru's confession into suspicion.

Who Killed Kanazawa no Takehiko?

"In a Grove" provides three explanations of how Kanazawa no Takehiko died. He may have died by his own hand, by Masago's hand, or by Tajomaru's hand. All are equally possible.

Tajomaru killing Kanazawa no Takehiko seems the least likely from a historical standpoint. The Policeman testifies that Tajomaru preys on women and does not mention any crimes against men. Tajomaru admits that even he had trouble subduing Masago when she lunged at him with her small sword. He states during his confession, "She might have wounded me deeply or killed me." This admission brings into question just how skilled he would be against Kanazawa no Takehiko who was a highly trained samurai. Tajomaru also recounts that it took 23 strokes to kill Kanazawa no Takehiko. It is unlikely that anyone and especially someone fighting for his life would recall the exact number of sword strokes.

The two options that Kanazawa no Takehiko died by his own hand or Masago's hand make more sense in light of feudal Japanese values concerning honor and redemption. By raping Masago, Tajomaru stole her honor and brought shame to her because she knew two men sexually. The rape also brought dishonor on Kanazawa no Takehiko because his decision to enter the grove with Tajomaru led to his wife's rape. The couple could regain their honor by committing suicide.

Masago and Kanazawa no Takehiko's stories neglect one essential fact regarding the seppuku ritual. Neither depiction of Kanazawa no Takehiko's death correctly portrays the male seppuku ritual. A disgraced samurai in feudal Japan committed seppuku by slashing his belly open, not stabbing his chest or having his wife do it for him.

Kanazawa no Takehiko's testimony is told through a spirit Medium. "In a Grove" alludes that the Medium does not speak to the High Police Commissioner by the lack of definition in its final section title "The Story of the Murdered Man as Told Through a Medium." As a result the testimony plays no role in the official investigation. The story leaves it up to readers whether to consider the story's final section as valid or the imagination of a person who had nothing to do with Tajomaru, Masago, and Kanazawa no Takehiko's deadly encounter.

Because all three stories contradict one another, it is impossible for readers to determine who killed Kanazawa no Takehiko.

In A Grove Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Tajomaru meets Kanazawa no Takehiko and Masago.

Rising Action

2 Tajomaru ties up Kanazawa no Takehiko in the bamboo grove.

3 Tajomaru leads Masago into the bamboo grove.

4 Tajomaru rapes Masago.


5 Kanazawa no Takehiko dies.

Falling Action

6 Tajomaru flees with the horse, bow, and arrows.


7 The main characters give their testimonies.

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