Short biographies of modern writers, with more detailed accounts in some cases. Where extra information has been provided, it is classified in up to four categories: life, translations, studies (mostly book-length or chapter-length in size), and weblinks.
Although personal judgments are sometimes included, much of the content is culled from such common, useful, and inexpensive reference sources as Shakaijin no tame no kokugo hyakka (Encyclopedia of the Japanese Language for Working Adults, published by Taishūkan Shoten), Shinshōsetsu kokugo benran (Illustrated Handbook of the Japanese Language, Newly Revised and Updated, published by Tōkyō Shoseki), and--yes--the Japanese version of Wikipedia. The Shinchō Nihon-bungaku jiten has occasionally been consulted for purposes of verification and amplification.
(March 1, 1892 - July 24, 1927)
Akutagawa Ryūnosuke was one of the first prewar Japanese writers to achieve a wide foreign readership, partly because of his technical virtuosity, partly because his work seemed to represent imaginative fiction as opposed to the mundane accounts of the I-novelists of the time, partly because of his brilliant joining of traditional material to a modern sensibility, and partly because of film director Kurosawa Akira's masterful adaptation of two of his short stories for the screen.
Akutagawa was born in the Kyōbashi district Tokyo as the eldest son of a dairy operator named Shinbara Toshizō and his wife Fuku. He was named "Ryūnosuke" ("Dragon Offshoot") because he was born in the Year of the Dragon, in the Month of the Dragon, on the Day of the Dragon, and at the Hour of the Dragon (8 a.m.). Seven months after Akutagawa's birth, his mother went insane and he was adopted by her older brother, taking the Akutagawa family name. Despite the shadow this experience cast over Akutagawa's life, he benefited from the traditional literary atmosphere of his uncle's home, located in what had been the "downtown" section of Edo.
At school Akutagawa was an outstanding student, excelling in the Chinese classics. He entered the First High School in 1910, striking up relationships with such classmates as Kikuchi Kan, Kume Masao, Yamamoto Yūzō, and Tsuchiya Bunmei. Immersing himself in Western literature, he increasingly came to look for meaning in art rather than in life. In 1913, he entered Tokyo Imperial University, majoring in English literature. The next year, Akutagawa and his former high school friends revived the journal Shinshichō (New Currents of Thought), publishing translations of William Butler Yeats and Anatole France along with original works of their own. Akutagawa published the story Rashōmon in the magazine Teikoku bungaku (Imperial Literature) in 1915. The story, which went largely unnoticed, grew out of the egoism Akutagawa confronted after experiencing disappointment in love. The same year, Akutagawa started going to the meetings held every Thursday at the house of Natsume Sōseki, and thereafter considered himself Sōseki's disciple.
The lapsed Shinshichō was revived yet again in 1916, and Sōseki lavished praise on Akutagawa's story Hana (The Nose) when it appeared in the first issue of that magazine. After graduating from Tokyo University, Akutagawa earned a reputation as a highly skilled stylist whose stories reinterpreted classical works and historical incidents from a distinctly modern standpoint. His overriding themes became the ugliness of human egoism and the value of art, themes that received expression in a number of brilliant, tightly organized short stories conventionally categorized as Edo-mono (stories set in the Edo period), ōchō-mono (stories set in the Heian period), Kirishitan-mono (stories dealing with premodern Christians in Japan), and kaika-mono (stories of the early Meiji period). The Edo-mono include Gesaku zanmai (A Life Devoted to Gesaku, 1917) and Kareno-shō (Gleanings from a Withered Field, 1918); the ōchō-mono are perhaps best represented by Jigoku hen (Hell Screen, 1918); the Kirishitan-mono include Hokōnin no shi (The Death of a Christian, 1918), and kaika-mono include Butōkai (The Ball, 1920).
Akutagawa married Tsukamoto Fumiko in 1918 and the following year left his post as English instructor at the naval academy in Yokosuka, becoming an employee of the Mainichi Shinbun. This period was a productive one, as has already been noted, and the success of stories like Mikan (Mandarin Oranges, 1919) and Aki (Autumn, 1920) prompted him to turn his attention increasingly to modern materials. This, along with the introspection occasioned by growing health and nervous problems, resulted in a series of autobiographically-based stories known as Yasukichi-mono, after the name of the main character. Works such as Daidōji Shinsuke no hansei (The Early Life of Daidōji Shinsuke, 1925) and Tenkibo (Death Register, 1926) also partake of this introspective mode. It has been speculated that the difficulty Akutagawa had reconciling his formal artistic impulses with this confessional approach contributed to the "vague uneasiness" that clouded the last part of his life. This sense of desperation is reflected in such works as Kappa (1927) and the essay Bungeiteki na, amari ni bungeiteki na (Literary, Much Too Literary, 1927). Akutagawa killed himself at his home in Tokyo by taking an overdose of sleeping medicine, an act that does not seem to have come as a surprise to those who knew him well, despite the general sensation it created. Among his posthumous manuscripts were Aru ahō no isshō (A Fool's Life) and Haguruma (Cogwheels), the latter of which may indeed (as Donald Keene remarks in his literary history) be his masterpiece.
Akutagawa's longtime friend, Kikuchi Kan, established the Akutagawa Prize in 1935 to help keep the writer's memory alive. In this he succeeded admirably, for now the Akutagawa Prize is the literary award most coveted by aspiring writers. It might also be noted that for at least the past 20 years, Akutagawa has been the author most frequently represented in textbooks for Japanese high school students.
Akutagawa Ryunosuke's 'The Spider Thread': Translation and Commentary: Pretty much as the link states. A paper that was first published in Edogawa Women's Junior College Journal in 1999.
Kicking giants: A brief introduction with (very) short excerpts from two works.
Oto no Volunteers: Audio versions of eight stories, in Japanese, as recorded by a group of volunteers calling themselves the Hayamimi Net. The MP3 files are freely downloadable.
Wabei Translation: Contains translations of 13 short works by Akutagawa, along with a number by other authors.
(June 19, 1909 - June 13, 1948)
Dazai Osamu, whose real name was Tsushima Shūji, was born in the town of Kanagi in Aomori Prefecture, where his father was an important landowner. Dazai was one of eleven children in a large extended family; his mother's weak constitution caused him to be placed in the care of an aunt whom Dazai for a long time assumed was his mother. He had excellent grades in primary school and junior high school, when he began to dream of becoming a writer. His high school years seem to have been less happy, but he and some friends put out a little magazine for which he regularly wrote stories. Dazai left for Tokyo in 1930 to study in the French Literature department at the University of Tokyo. He also took part in some relatively innocuous illegal activities on behalf of the Communist Party.
Also in 1930, Dazai made the first of several attempts at a lovers' suicide (he had already made a solitary suicide attempt in 1929). In November of that year, he and a Ginza bar hostess tried to drown themselves in the ocean at Kamakura, but while the woman died Dazai was rescued by a fishing boat, leaving Dazai with a strong sense of guilt. In 1935, after being forced to leave Tokyo University and failing a test for employment, Dazai tried to hang himself, but this attempt also proved unsuccessful. In 1937, after Dazai's discovery that his wife had had previous lovers, they both took sleeping medicine, but neither one died. Given this personal turmoil, it is small wonder that suicide became a major motif in Dazai's novels. Stories written during this period include Dōke no hana (The Flowers of Buffoonery, 1935), Gyakkō (Against the Current, 1935), Kyōgen no kami (The God of Farce, 1936), and those published in his 1936 collection Bannen (Declining Years).
In 1939, Dazai married Ishihara Michiko, to whom he was introduced by his mentor Ibuse Masuji, and entered a new period in his life. During this time, he freed himself from his self-appointed task of serving as a model of vice and achieved a harmony of sorts between his career as a writer and his real life. His collection Fugaku hyakkei (The Hundred Views of Fuji, 1939) was one major outcome. Wartime works included Udaijin Sanetomo (Minister of the Right Sanetomo, 1943), Tsugaru (1944), Pandora no hako (Pandora's Box, 1945-46), and the delightful Otogizōshi (Fairy Tales, 1945).
After the war, Dazai wrote numerous stories set in the postwar milieu. Chief among these were Bion no tsuma (Villon's Wife, 1947), Shayō (The Setting Sun, 1947), and Dazai's last novel, Ningen shikkaku (No Longer Human, 1948). The postwar period was a dark time for Dazai, the central theme of his works seeming to become the need to pass judgment on the ugly side of the Japanese character and his own egoism. This led him back to suicidal thoughts, and on June 13, 1948, he finally succeeded in drowning himself in the Tamagawa Canal with yet another young woman, leaving behind an unfinished novel titled (in English) Goodbye. Dazai's career as a professional novelist thus spanned only the years from 1933 to 1948. Even so, his works continue to be enormously popular with young readers in particular, perhaps because of Dazai's overriding concern with the search for meaning in life and the nature of truth in human affairs.
Osamu Dazai's Temple "Unshoji": A site -- apparently not updated for over 10 years -- sponsored by the Unshōji temple in Kanagi, Aomori Prefecture. Some interesting tidbits of information (along with photographs), but marred by poor (if earnest) English, extremely annoying pop-up windows, and oddly inappropriate classical background music.
Ibuse Masuji was born in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, as the second son of a prominent local landowner. When he was a middle-school student, Ibuse aspired to be a painter, and he is said to have asked the traditional Japanese painter Hashimoto Kansetsu to accept him as a disciple. At the urging of his older brother, Ibuse turned his attention to literature and in 1917 entered the preparatory course in the Department of Literature at Waseda University. Ibuse advanced to the French literature section of the department in 1919, making his initial attempts at writing fiction under the encouragement of a close friend named Aoki Nanpachi. In 1922, however, Aoki died, and an altercation with a professor resulted in Ibuse’s leaving the university.
Ibuse made his literary debut in 1923 with the story Yūhei (Confinement), which was published in the coterie magazine Seiki (Century). Seven years later, he established himself as an important author with the publication of Yofuke to ume no hana (Midnight and Plum Blossoms), a collection containing the stories Sanshōuo (Salamander; first published in 1929 as a revised version of Yūhei) and Yane no ue no sawan(Sawan on the Roof, first published in 1929). Ibuse did not find the proletarian literature of the early Shōwa period much to his liking, tending instead to side with the aesthetically oriented modernists who (for a time) grouped themselves under the rubric Shinkōgeijutsu-ha (New Art School).
After the Manchurian Incident of 1931, traditional fiction experienced a resurgence in popularity and Ibuse’s individualistic style attracted widespread attention. Both Sazanami gunki (Ripples on the Water: A War Chronicle, 1930-1938) and Jon Manjirō no hyōryūki (John Manjirō, the Account of a Castaway, 1937) portray the lives of ordinary people caught up in the workings of fate; the latter story was awarded the Naoki Prize in 1938. In 1939 Ibuse published Tajinko-mura (Tajinko Village), which takes the form of a diary by a young policeman who describes the various minor crises he encounters on his job.
Although Ibuse was conscripted by the army during the Second World War, he remained very much his own man. After the war ended, lingering feelings of sadness and resentment provided the basis for Yōhai taichō (The Captain Who Worshipped from Afar, 1950) and Kuroi ame (Black Rain, 1965). Other postwar stories continued to explore the everyday lives of ordinary people in various walks of life. Among these were Honjitsu kyūshin (Clinic Closed Today, 1949) and Ekimae ryokan (The Inn in Front of the Station, 1956). Ibuse’s interest in historical matters received further expression in Hyōmin Usaburō (Usaburō the Drifter, 1954 ) and Bushū hachigata-jō (The Bowl-Shaped Castle of Musashi, 1963). He also wrote a large number of essays and personally oriented autobiographical accounts such as Waseda no mori (The Waseda Forest, 1971) and Ogikubo fudoki (An Ogikubo Gazetteer, 1981).
Ibuse’s personality is reflected in the distinctive colloquialism of his style, and as a writer Ibuse demonstrates a remarkable ability to trace with understated humor and pathos the way everyday (and sometimes not-so-everyday) events have of working themselves out. His early aspiration to be a painter seems to have allowed him to regard life with a calm and observant eye. Indeed, it is Ibuse's light, descriptive touch even when treating such serious topics as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that has caused readers to react in strikingly different ways to his major work, Black Rain.
Author’s Calendar: This is the page devoted to Ibuse at the site of the encyclopedic Author's Calendar.
Windows on Japanese Literature: A series of introductory articles on six modern Japanese authors, including Ibuse, written by David Barnett Lurie (Assistant Professor of Japanese History and Literature, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University) and originally published in the Mainichi Daily News from February to July 2000.