Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

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Truly, human life is as ephemeral as dew and as brief as lightning.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1 March 1892 – 24 July 1927) was a Japanese writer.


  • A man sometimes devotes his life to a desire which he is not sure will ever be fulfilled. Those who laugh at this folly are, after all, no more than mere spectators of life.
  • When I kill a man, I do it with my sword, but people like you don't use swords. You gentlemen kill with your power, with your money, and sometimes just with your words: you tell people you're doing them a favor. True, no blood flows, the man is still alive, but you've killed him all the same. I don't know whose sin is greater—yours or mine.
  • Question: How about friends—how many do you have?
    Answer: Oh, my friendships reach over all boundaries of time and space—they are ancient, modern, from the east and from the west. The number probably would not be far short of three hundred and, of these, if I had to name the most celebrated, I suppose it would be Kleist, Mainländer, Weininger. . . .
    Question: So your friends are all suicides, are they?
    Answer: No, this is not invariably the case. A man like Montaigne, who advocated and justified suicide, is one of my most esteemed friends. But I cannot bring myself to associate with fellows like Schopenhauer, the pessimist weary of life who did not kill himself.
    • Kappa (1927), pp. 129-130 ISBN 978-0720613377 (Peter Owen Publishers, 2009)
    • Description: The words of the character, Tok.
  • Once he had finished writing “The Life of a Stupid Man,” he happened to see a stuffed swan in a secondhand shop. It stood with its head held high, but its wings were yellowed and moth-eaten. As he thought about his life, he felt both tears and mockery welling up inside him. All that lay before him was madness or suicide. He walked down the darkening street alone, determined now to wait for the destiny that would come to annihilate him.
    • The Life of a Stupid Man (1927), contained in Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics, 2009) ISBN 978-0140449709
  • We are human animals and thus fear death as animals do. The so-called “will to live” is nothing more than a different name for animal instinct. I am but one of these human animals, and when I observe my loss of interest in food and women, I realize I have gradually lost this animal instinct. Now I reside in a world of diseased nerves, as translucent as ice.
  • If we can submit ourselves to that eternal slumber, we can doubtlessly win ourselves peace, if perhaps not happiness, but I had doubts as to when I would be brave enough to take my life. In this state, nature has only become more beautiful than ever to me. You love the beauty of nature, and would no doubt scoff at my contradictions. But nature is beautiful precisely because it falls upon eyes that will not appreciate it for much longer. I have seen, loved, and understood more than others. This alone grants me some measure of solace in the midst of insurmountable sorrows.

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