Essay on Honourable Suicide

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Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove” concerns various witnesses in a murder trial. Although each witness is testifying about the same crime, their accounts vary. They seem to remember different facts, making it difficult to convict anyone. Three of the witnesses, Tajomaru the thief, Masago, and her Samurai husband, Kanazawa no Takehiko all confess to at least one killing. It is impossible that they are all guilty of murder or suicide. Upon closer reading, their confessions seem to be an attempt to retain their reputations and honor. In 8th Century Japan, honor is more important than being innocent of a crime, and each of the confessed killers is motivated by the need to maintain a sense of honor. Tajomaru wants to be viewed as a terrifying, fearless criminal while Masago, although she has probably been raped, can use her confession to regain a sense of purity. For the samurai, Kanazawa no Takehiko, the honor of bravery and suicide is far preferable to being a victim to a thief or his wife.

The thief Tajomaru, after being captured by a police officer was brought into questioning. Tajomaru immediately confesses to the murder of the samurai but claims he doesn’t know what became of the wife. As he talks and confesses his crimes, Tajomaru tries to make a name for himself, to make sure that he is seen as someone who is an amazing thief and swordsman. The deliberately goes on to say, “I made up my mind to capture her even if I had to kill her man” (15). In making the statement in that manner he was trying to say that he didn’t care if the man was a samurai, a samurai being someone who was an elite warrior and easily feared for their combat skills, he knew that he wanted his wife and he was going to get her no matter the cost.

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In his confession, Tajomaru did not kill the samurai immediately. He again boasts about how smart he was that he was able to lure this elite warrior into a grove. When the samurai went into the grove, the samurai was taken by surprise and tied up by Tajomaru, which was part of his grand scheme that was going “exactly” how he had planned, and “it was quite easy” (18). Also as part of his plan, he brought the wife to the husband and as he says “at least I could satisfy my desire for her without taking her husband’s life” (21). He cannot help but keep talking about himself as someone great.

After revealing his crime of having his way with the wife of the samurai, he claims that the wife begged him to either kill her husband or that he died and that she would be with the one who survived the fight. Tajomaru, trying to state that he has some sort of honor code, untied the samurai so that it was a fair fight. He again boasts about his skill by proclaiming “Nobody under the sun has ever clashed swords with me twenty strokes” (24) and saying that he was surprised the samurai was able to survive to the twenty-third stroke. Tajomaru’s confession seemed to be one that made him seem like some sort of an amazing fighter and criminal and that he commanded an insurmountable amount of honor. Though he did confess to having his with Masago and killing Kanazawa no Takehiko, Masago’s confession seems to contradict his story to some degree.

Masago comes forward with her confession, which seems to be a process of regaining some honor that was taken from her after being raped by Tajomaru. She says that when Tajomaru led her to her husband who was bound she was taken aback by it. She goes on to say “Despite myself, I ran stumblingly toward his side. Or rather tried to run toward him, but the man instantly knocked me down” (27). She tries to claim that she cared for her husband and that she wanted to stay at his side when he was down and bound.

She said that when she came out of unconsciousness the thief was nowhere to be seen and her husband was still bound. That statement completely contradicts what Tajomaru had said about his fight with the samurai. She says that the look of anger and shame were still in his eyes and says to him “I’m determined to die…but you must die, too. You saw my shame. I can’t leave you alive as you are” (30). She tells her husband that she is fully willing to die due to her shame but that she could let her husband live with the anger and the shame of having to watch his wife go through what had just transpired. She took her sword and stabbed her husband.

She is trying to make the plea of having to kill her husband to secure his honor and her honor as well. She claims that she tried to kill herself many times and that she was still living with dishonor while she was making her confession. She finishes her confession by saying “I killed my husband. I was violated by the robber” (33) and starts breaking down in tears as she asks what she is to do. That final show of sorrow could also be a way of showing that she was trying to do the honorable thing by killing her husband after being violated and was now lost after trying to do the honorable thing. Though her story does seem to put her in a good light and make her seem somewhat honorable, Kanazawa no Takehiko’s story paints a different picture of her and of Tajomaru as well.

Kanazawa’s account of what happened was extremely different from that of his wife Masago. She made it seem as if she was trying to be a loving wife through and through but the reality of what had happened was far more sinister. After Tajomaru raped his wife, Kanazawa says that Tajomaru began to speak to his wife in a way to comfort her and get in her head. He says that she looked as if she was in some sort of trance from listening to Tajomaru.

When Masago finally responded to Tajomaru’s word with something that Kanazawa never expected to hear. Her response was “Then take me away with you wherever you go” (35). Those words filled Kanazawa with anger and jealousy, and rightfully so because his wife just told the man that tied up her husband and raped her in front of him that she would leave with him. Those words were not the worst words that she would say however, she also uttered far more terrifying words that shook him to the core. “Kill him! She cried many times, as if she had gone crazy” (36) Tajomaru was so shocked by her words that he knocked her off him and looked at Kanazawa.

Tajomaru looks at Kanazawa and says “What will you do with her? Kill her or save her? You have only to nod. Kill her” (36). That word appealed to Kanazawa because he said that he would want to have Tajomaru but did not appeal to Masago. As soon as she heard those words she ran and because she ran Tajomaru cut one of the bonds that tied up Kanazawa. Kanazawa being weak from being tied up and broken down from the shame of the events that had transpired, used the blade of his wife to complete a ritual suicide called seppuku. The ritual suicide is a way to regain the honor that he had lost. In the accounts that Kanazawa gives we see that neither Masaga’s nor Tajomaru’s story link up.

Each one of the three confessions is different in its way but they do have one similar thing. They all try to appeal to honor, something that is important in ancient Japan, even more important than conviction. Tajomaru tries to make himself into a mastermind and great fighter while Masago tries to paint herself as a loving wife put in a tough position. Kanazawa tries to retain his honor and show that he went out as a samurai would and was honorable until the end.

Work Cited

    1. Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. In a Grove. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
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Essay on Honourable Suicide. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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