Book: Japanese Short Stories – The Spider’s Thread

Only 6 pages long, it won’t take you more than 15 minute to get through. The Spider’s Thread tells the story of Kandata and exactly how evil he is. Even after being thrown a lifeline out of hell, he continues to think only of himself which naturally leads to his downfall (quite literally).

The story is one with a moral at its heart, much like an Aesop fable. I wouldn’t say that it’s my favourite story in the collection, many of Akutagawa’s other stories are much more compelling and interesting. However the last paragraph in this story really struck a chord.

Little, however did the lotus flowers in Paradise care about the happenings in the nether world. All this while the pearly white lotus flowers kept waving their green calyces around the feet of their merciful Lord, with the exquisite fragrance from their golden pistils and stamens in their centers constantly perfuming the clear air all around. In Paradise it must be getting on towards noon.

This last paragraph and for that matter the last sentence has absolutely no bearing on the story. I’m not sure if it’s a tone that arises from the translation or if Akutagawa really meant it in this way. The matter of fact way in which time is stated is just so unexpected especially after the story has been told.  To me it highlights how insignificant Kandata is, his deeds, his choices and his actions have no consequence in the “grand” scheme of things. It’s horrific and shocking to know that it didn’t matter whether he managed to get out of hell of not. The contrast painted between heaven and hell is stark but that last paragraph just reminds us that perhaps the two are most similar than we think.

That’s just my interpretation. If you’ve read the English, or even better the Japanese version of this story do let me know what you thought about it.

2 Responses to “Book: Japanese Short Stories – The Spider’s Thread”
  1. Genki Jason says:

    I thought the simplicity of the story and the moral message it conveyed were really well done. It’s certainly one of the Akutagawa stories I remember easily.

    I buy into your theory about Kandata being insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Akutagawa’s tales can sometimes convey a sense of melancholy, futility and spiritual drift where the individual is powerless in the story. Perhaps it reflects his personal life…

    • everworld says:

      I was quite surprised when I read up on his personal life. He really produced a lot work, but it’s always such a pity when authors die before their time.

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