Written by AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke
Translated by OKUBO Yu
I do not expect a friend a hundred years later.
Public taste often fails in all fairness, let alone in today’s aesthetic. History has told us that even the Athenian in the Periclean Age or the Florentine in Renaissance were quite far from being the ideal audience. As people in the past and the present have indicated, the future generations will still be the same; unfortunately, I have no doubt that the public after a hundred years would be unable to tell a grain of gold from mounds of sand.
Even if the public was to be ideal, absolute beauty is impossible in the world of art. Now my eye is just today’s eye, not tomorrow’s eye; my eye is a Japanese one, nor a Western one. Thus, why do I believe in the beautifulness beyond time and place? Although Dante’s inferno can make Eastern children frightened, a deep mist of six hundred years has lain between the medieval Italian fire and our present Japan.
Indeed, I am just an ordinary writer. Granted that future readers will have fair judgment and that beauty is universal, my works have never been selected as classics. It is beyond all question that I do not expect a friend a hundred years later.
Sometimes I imagine that people will not know me at all after twenty, fifty, or one hundred years; when a piece of my works will be waiting for readers in vain, fully covered in dust at the corner of a shelf in a used-book store; nay, perhaps when the only existing copy may be too worn and damaged to be readable at a closed stack of a library. But…
I think “but.”
But I wonder if someone has a chance to find one of my books and read a short story or at least some lines. Moreover, I have the smallest hope that a story or several lines may show an unknown future reader a touch of a beautiful vision.
I do not expect a friend a hundred years later; I know that my dream is in conflict with my understanding.
Yet, I still imagine that a reader shall take one of my works in their hand after one hundred years of solitude; hopefully, my imagery shall appear vaguely in their mind.
I understand that the wise will laugh me off as a fool; in fact, I am second to none in looking down upon myself. Sneering at my foolishness, I cannot help pitying my fanciful idea. Or I cannot but sympathize with the common weaknesses of all human beings.
(First published on July 27th, 1922)