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.
(January 14, 1925 - November 25, 1970)
Mishima Yukio was the modern Japanese author who, until the arrival of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana, had won the largest readership outside of Japan, at least in part because of the dramatic way he ended his life. A versatile and prolific writer as well as an astute critic (some would rate his criticism higher than his fiction), Mishima seems assured of a reputation as one of Japan's most important postwar writers.
Mishima was born in Tokyo as Hiraoka Kimitake. His father, Azusa, was an official in the Ministry of Agriculture; his mother Shizue was the second daughter of a former principal of Kaisei Middle School, Hashi Kenzō. The influence of Mishima's autocratic grandmother, Natsu " who had Mishima live in her room and forbade him to play with other boys " is frequently cited by biographers as the source of Mishima's later deviation from normality. Donald Keene and others, however, also point out rightly that she helped Mishima develop his precocious taste in literature.
Throughout his youth Mishima attended the Gakushūin (Peers School), serializing his first important prose work, Hanazakari no mori (The Forest in Full Flower), in the magazine Bungei Bunka (Literary Culture) in 1941. This also marked his first use of the pen name Mishima Yukio. The war had a decisive influence on Mishima, who was wrongly diagnosed as having pleurisy and thereby avoided being conscripted. This cheating of impending death, along with Japan's eventual defeat, seems to have engendered in him a complex dialectic between the exultation of survival and the exaltation of death which was to characterize the romantic nihilism of the mature Mishima. In 1948 Mishima resigned from the Ministry of Finance to devote himself to writing, and in 1949 he met with critical and popular success when he published the affecting novelKamen no kokuhaku (Confessions of a Mask).
The fifties saw the appearance of a long series of important novels, as well as Mishima's turn toward bodybuilding and the cult of the physical. In the sixties this physicality took on the specifically political coloring (refracted rather than reflected in his novels) that ultimately prompted Mishima to form his own private army, the Shield Society (Tate no Kai), in 1968. The bizarre and fascinating confluence of life and art that marked Mishima's final years was symbolized by the near-simultaneous completion of his final novel and his ritual suicide by seppuku. The true meaning of this act continues to be debated, but the intense and often diametrically opposed reactions it elicits in readers and critics can surely be adduced as testimony to a strength of personality unique in modern Japanese literature.
Googling will result in a list of sites on Mishima, most offering the same sort of information. Perhaps the most interesting material in English on the Web are the video clips that have been uploaded to YouTube, links to three of which are provided below:
Interview with Yukio Mishima: A 1969 interview, conducted in English, originally broadcast by a Canadian television station. On YouTube, with a simultaneous transcript provided.
Mishima Yukio Speaking in English: A documentary excerpt uploaded to YouTube in which Mishima discusses the "samurai spirit." It is about nine minutes long.
Yukio Mishima Speaking in English: An audio recording uploaded to YouTube in which Mishima addresses the Foreign Correspondants' Club of Japan in 1966.
(April 25, 1922 - October 12, 1999)
Miura Ayako, who was born in the city of Asahikawa, Hokkaido, graduated from Asahikawa Women's High School in 1939. She started working as an elementary school teacher, but soon after Japan's defeat in World War II quit her job because she realized that the education she had given to the children had contributed to Japanese militarism. In June of 1946, Miura contracted tuberculosis. While she was fighting the disease in the hospital, she met a childhood friend named Maekawa Tadashi, who was a Christian. Miura was attracted to his personality, and through him to Christianity. Maekawa, however, succumbed to tuberculosis in 1949, prompting Miura to attempt suicide.
Three years after Maekawa's death, Miura converted to Christianity. In 1959 she married Miura Mitsuyo, who was also a Christian. In 1961, Miura opened a general store, which she closed in 1964 when her novel Hyōten (Freezing Point) won a writing contest sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun. This novel made her famous throughout Japan. In 1968 she published Shiokari tōge (Shiokari Pass), one of her most popular novels.
In 1971 Zoku hyōten (Freezing Point, Part 2) was published. In the 1975 novel Hosokawa Garasha fujin (The Wife of Hosokawa Garasha), Miura wrote about Christian women in the Edo period, when Christianity was strictly forbidden. In 1977 she published Deiryū chitai (Mud Flow Zone), and in 1981 she published an essay, Nanakamado no machi kara (From the Town of Mountain Ashes), which is often reprinted in Japanese textbooks for junior and senior high school students.
In 1992 Miura was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. She completed the novel Inochi aru kagiri(As Long as I Live) in 1995. In 1996 the effects of the medication Miura was taking prevented her from completing three novels that were then being serialized in several magazines. After a brief period of inactivity, however, she again started writing, continuing up to the time of her final illness.
Miura Ayako Literature Museum: A Japanese-only page that describes the collections on display at the museum and offers a detailed biographical timeline together with a list of posthumous publications. Now here: http://www.hyouten.com/
The World of Miura Ayako: A blog originally intended to supplement a website dedicated to Miura, currently (March 2013) being offered as a replacement of sorts by Hokkaido resident "dosankodebbie," who plans eventually to revive the site.
(January 19, 1862 - July 9, 1922)
Mori Ōgai was the literary name of Mori Rintarō, the son of the doctor to the daimyō of Tsuwano province (in present-day Shimane Prefecture). Ōgai’s mother was a strict disciplinarian who pushed Ōgai toward the pursuit of academic excellence throughout his youth. At the domain’s Yōrōkan school, Ōgai acquired a solid foundation in the Confucian classics and also in Dutch studies. Ōgai was subsequently sent to Tokyo, where in 1874 he enrolled in the preparatory course of the medical department at Tokyo University, adding two years to his age in order to get in. He graduated from the university at the age 19, becoming the youngest ever to do so, and started a career as an army surgeon.
In 1884,Ōgai was sent by the army to study medicine in Germany. There he came under the influence of the physician Robert Koch, immersing himself in the study of military hygiene. At the same time, with typically prodigious application he familiarized himself with European philosophy and literature. He returned to Japan with a deep awareness of the gap between the civilizations of Europe and Japan.
After returning to Japan in 1888, Ōgai immediately undertook efforts to modernize both Japanese medicine and Japanese literature. In 1889, he published a collection of translated poetry called Omokage Shigaramizōshi (The Weir, first published in 1889), giving rise to what is sometimes called the "Kō-Rō-Shō-Ōe Period," after the names of four prominent authors who were active at this time: Ozaki Kōyō, Kōda Rohan, Tsubouchi Shōyō, and Ōgai himself. Novels published by Ōgai during this period (based to a large extent on his own experiences abroad) include Maihime (The Dancing Girl, 1890), Utakata no ki (Foam on the Waves, 1890), and Fumizukai (The Courier, 1891). These works, together with Futabatei Shimei’s Ukigumo (The Drifting Cloud, 1887), are often considered to mark the beginnings of a truly modern Japanese literature.
Numerous clashes with superiors over medical policy, and their disapproval of Ōgai’s literary activities, resulted in 1899 in Ōgai's transfer to the cultural backwater of Kokura in Kyushū. During this time Ōgai published no novels, but the experience did give him time to mature both as a human being and as a writer, and seems to have provided him with much of the material that he later used when writing his historical fiction.
In 1907, five years after returning to Tokyo from Kokura, Ōgai was promoted to the position of army surgeon general. No longer faced with the need to concern himself with the opinions of the superiors and stimulated by the work of Natsume Sōseki as well as by the rise of naturalistic fiction, he once again began publishing novels in Subaru (The Pleiades) magazine. Ōgai’s first story in the colloquial style, Hannichi (Half a Day, 1909), was followed in rapid succession by Ita sekusuarisu (Vita Sexualis, 1909), Seinen (Youth, 1910), Fushinchū (Under Reconstruction, 1910), Mōsō (Delusions, 1911), and Gan (The Wild Goose, 1911).
The suicides in 1912 of General Nogi Maresuke and his wife in the wake of the death of the Emperor Meiji came as a great shock to Ōgai, prompting a turn to historical materials that resulted in Okitsu Yagoemon no isho (The Last Testament of Okitsu Yagoemon, 1912). Other novels in the same vein were Abe ichizoku (The Abe Family, 1913), Ōshio Heihachirō (ōshio Heihachirō, 1914), Yasui fujin (The Wife of Yasui, 1914), Sanshō dayū (Sanshō the Steward, 1915), Saigo no ikku (The Last Phrase, 1915), Takasebune (The Boat on the Takase River, 1916), and Kanzan Jittoku (Han-shan and Shih-te, 1916). From about 1915, Ōgai began to advocate a more strictly factual approach in dealing with the treatment of historical personages, and put this policy into practice with the publication of such biographical works as Shibue Chūsai (1916) and Izawa Ranken (1916). These two different types of historical fiction characterizing Ōgai’s final period are generally classified by critics as historical novels (rekishi shōsetsu) and historical biographies (shiden).
Ōgai died in 1922 from atrophy of the kidneys while still at work on several historical studies. He left behind no direct disciples to carry on his work, but the extraordinary range of his activities, the high seriousness of his purpose, and the enormous influence he exerted on both contemporary and later writers have caused him to be ranked with Natsume Sōseki as one of the preeminent writers of the Meiji period.
The Mori Ogai Memorial: A one-page introduction to a memorial site in a boarding house in Berlin where Ōgai stayed briefly after his arrival in Germany.
The Museum Meiji-Mura: This site includes a photograph of the house shared (at different times) by both Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki in Tokyo, now relocated to this outstanding open-air architectural museum in Aichi Prefecture. The photograph can be found in the list on this page.
(b. January 12, 1949)
Murakami Haruki was born in Kyoto but moved to Kobe shortly afterward with his family. Since his father was a teacher, he formed an acquaintance with books early in life -- especially American novels.
In 1968 Murakami entered Waseda University, where he studied theater. While a student he married a classmate named Yōko, and for three years the couple lived with her parents, relying heavily on them for financial support. In 1974, when Murakami was 25 years old, he and his wife opened a jazz coffee shop in Kokubunji, Tokyo. Five years later, Murakami went to Jingū Stadium in Tokyo to watch a baseball game. In the middle of the game, the urge suddenly came upon him to write a novel. From this time forward, he spent a part of every night writing in his kitchen after the coffee shop closed.
Murakami finished his first novel, Kaze no uta o kike (Hear the Wind Sing) the same year, winning the Gunzō Prize for New Writers. This marked the beginning of a prolific career that shows no sign of slowing down. 1973-nen no pinbōru (Pinball 1973) came out in 1980, and Hitsuji o meguru bōken (A Wild Sheep Chase) won the Noma Literary Award for New Writers in 1982. Together, these three novels form a trilogy that portrays in a hip, witty style the sensibilities of youth growing up in the 1970s. Sekai no owari to hādoboirudo wandārando (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World ) introduced an atmosphere of fantasy and science fiction into Murakami's work and won him the Tanizaki Jun'ichirō Prize in 1985. In 1987 Murakami published the two-volume Noruei no mori (Norwegian Wood ), his best-selling novel to date. Murakami has since published numerous other novels, short stories and essays, supplemented by highly regarded translations of such American writers as Raymond Carver.
Murakami appears to find congenial a lifestyle that involves traveling back and forth between Japan, Europe, and America. As the leading representative (with Yoshimoto Banana) of the Japanese version of international pop fiction, Murakami enjoys immense popularity both at home and abroad, where he has now sold more novels in translation than any other Japanese writer.
One's initial reaction to Murakami might be wondering whether his fiction can be called "Japanese" at all. But it is hard to think of anything more characteristic of contemporary Japanese culture than the influence of American and British popular music, for instance, and in that respect there is no question that Murakami is very much a modern Japanese writer indeed.
Publication dates are for the first English hardback editions, when they exist. Paperback and Kindle editions are readily available. Short stories by Murakami are regularly published in The New Yorker magazine.
Haruki Murakami Stuff: A Murakami Fan Blog. A blog where the goal is to "post everything related to Murakami." Content is classified into six broad categories, including one featuring clips of all the songs mentioned in Murakami's novels.
How Haruki Murakami's '1Q84' Was Translated Into English: A short interview with Philip Gabriel published in The Atlantic website on October 24, 2011.
The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami: An article on NYTimes.com that appeared after the publication of 1Q84; a print version appeared three days later, on October 24, 2011, in the Sunday Magazine of the New York Times.
List of reviews of books by Haruki Murakami in the New York Times.
Random House maintains a site for Murakami, but it is not exactly user friendly, and the main emphasis is -- as only to be expected -- commercial. Other sites tend to be informal and/or disorganized, although the patient clicker can sometimes be rewarded.
(May 12, 1885 - April 9, 1976)
Mushanokōji Saneatsu, the central figure of the Shirakaba (White Birches) group of writers in the second decade of the twentieth century, was born into the family of a Tokyo viscount. As a junior high school student at the Peers’ School (Gakushūin), he made friends with Shiga Naoya. In high school he came under the sway of the Tolstoyan ideals of self-denial, asceticism, and charity. Mushanokōji left the sociology department of Tokyo University without graduating, and with Peers’ School friends Shiga, Kinoshita Rigen, and ōgimachi Kinkazu formed a literary study group called the Jūyokka Kai (The Fortnight Club).
In 1910, this group started publishing Shirakaba magazine. Under the influence of the Shirakaba group, Saneatsu began to move away from Tolstoy’s idea of self-sacrifice and toward an ideological posture of confident self-affirmation. Omedataki hito (An Innocent, 1911) is the most important work in this vein, and this was followed by Seken shirazu (Babe in the Woods, 1912). With the outbreak of World War I, Saneatsu turned again for inspiration to Tolstoyan humanitarianism. He urged respect for “the will of nature and the will of man,” arriving at the belief that making use of each individual’s potential was the best way to ensure the happiness of all mankind. A rapid succession of major works soon followed: Sono imōto (His Sister, 1915), a play turning on the dilemma of being caught between self-love and love for mankind; Kōfukumono (A Happy Man, 1919) a novel presenting Mushanokōji’s image of an ideal human being; and Yūjō (Friendship, 1920), a novel that portrays the victory of the human ego as it wavers between friendship and love.
The same sort of idealism can be found in the autobiographical novel Aru otoko (A Certain Man, 1923) and the play Ningen banzai (Three Cheers for Mankind, 1922). Mushanokōji even attempted to put his ideals into practice in 1918 by creating a quasi-socialistic “New Village” (Atarashiki Mura) in Hyūga, Kyushu. (Mushanokōji left the village in 1926, and a dam project forced it to relocate to Saitama Prefecture in 1939, where it still operates.) Mushanokōji faded into the literary background in the 1930s and 1940s, although he gained something of a reputation as an artist specializing in the depiction of vegetables like pumpkins and potatoes. Mushanokōji’s last popular work was Shinri sensei (The Teacher of Truth, 1951), a novel that once again holds up for the reader’s admiration a life sincerely led. It is this sincere humanitarianism that continues to appeal to those who admire his works.