Biographies of modern writers

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 online links.

Although personal judgments are incorporated, 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), Shin shōsetsu kokugo benran (Illustrated Handbook of the Japanese Language, Newly Revised and Updated, published by Tōkyō Shoseki), and -- yes -- the Japanese version of Wikipedia. Shinchō Nihon-bungaku jiten has occasionally been consulted for purposes of verification and amplification.


Abe Kōbō (March 7, 1924 - January 22, 1993)

Novelist born in Tokyo whose real name is sometimes given as Abe Kimifusa, although "Kōbō" is the reading found in the family register. Abe grew up in Shinyou (Hōten in Japanese), China, where his father was a doctor at the University of Manchuria Hospital. In 1943, he started medical school at Tokyo University, returning temporarily to Manchuria as World War II approached its end and losing his father to an outbreak of typhoid fever. This firsthand experience of the breakdown of traditional Japanese authority seems to have given rise to a feeling of skepticism out of which grew an overriding desire to find the meaning of human existence. Abe spent some time with his father’s family in Hokkaido before returning to Tokyo, ostensibly to resume his studies but also working as a peddler and forming friendships with Haniya Yutaka, Hanada Kiyoteru, and Noma Hiroshi. He published Mumei shishū (A Nameless Anthology, 1947) at his own expense while still technically a student and gave up medicine altogether as soon as he graduated in 1948, joining the group of writers affiliated with the magazine Kindai Bungaku (Modern Literature). Abe’s literary career can be said to have gotten its official start with the publication of Owarishi michi no shirube ni (The Marker at the End of the Road, 1948), which relies on surrealistic techniques to explore the reasons for human existence, as does the story Dendurokakariya (Dendrocacaria, 1949), which is about a man’s transformation into a plant. Abe gained critical attention with Akai mayu (The Red Cocoon, 1950), another story about human metamorphosis, and then won the Akutagawa Prize in 1951 for Kabe: S. Caruma-shi no hanzai (The Wall: Mr. S. Carma’s Crime). Abe went on to achieve a worldwide reputation for such works as Dai-yon kanpyōki (Inter Ice Age 4, 1959), Ishi no me (Eyes of Stone, 1960), Suna no onna (The Woman in the Dunes, 1962), Tanin no kao (The Face of Another, 1964), and Moetsukita chizu (The Ruined Map, 1967). Further fictional studies of the sources of human anxiety include Hako otoko (The Box Man, 1973) and Hakobune Sakuramaru (The Ark Sakura, 1984). Abe also wrote such avant-garde plays as Tomodachi (Friends, 1967) and Doreigari (Slave Hunt, 1975), and he may perhaps be considered Japan’s first successful literary modernist, in some ways presaging the contemporary themes and attention-grabbing, non-traditionalist techniques of Murakami Haruki.

Aeba Takao (January 27, 1930 - February 21, 2017)

Literary critic born in Shiga Prefecture. He made his debut with Sengo bungaku ron (Postwar Literature, 1966), which was based on his experiences during and after the war. This was followed by a reading of Western literature and culture entitled Ishi to hikari no shisō (The Philosophy of Stone and Light, 1971), and then such works of criticism as  Hanrekishishugi no bungaku (Anti-historical Literature,1972), Zettai e no katsubō (Thirst for the Absolute, 1972) and Furansu romanesuku (French Romanesque, 1999) that continue to investigate the possibility of defining a modern Japanese epistemology.

Agawa Hiroyuki (December 24, 1920 - August 3, 2015)

Novelist born in Hiroshima Prefecture. While a high school student, he came under the influence of Shiga Naoya. After graduating from Tokyo University in Japanese literature, he entered the navy, in which he served until the end of World War II. Agawa achieved recognition as a novelist for Nennen saisai (Years upon Years, 1946), in which he described losing his home in Hiroshima because of the atomic bomb. In 1955 he published Kumo no bohyō (Grave Marker in the Clouds), depicting students who met their deaths during the war as kamikaze pilots. Other works include Haru no shiro (Spring Castle, 1952) and Yamamoto Isoroku (1965).

Akagawa Jirō (b. February 29, 1948)

Novelist born in Fukuoka, Kyushu. After working as a businessman for ten years, he made his literary debut in 1976 with the short story Yūrei ressha (Ghost Train), which won the All Yomiuri New Mystery Writers' Prize. He gained popularity as a mystery writer because of his imagistic touch, suspenseful plot development, and unusual ideas. He has produced numerous works, most notably those in the Mike-neko (Tortoiseshell Cat) Holmes series.

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (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 of 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.). Akutagawa's mother was incapacitated by mental illness seven months after giving birth, so Ryūnosuke 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.

  • Autumn Wind and Other Stories. Trans. Lane Dunlop. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1994.
  • Cogwheels. Trans. Cid Corman and Susumu Kamaike. Hygiene, Colo.: Eridanos Press, 1987.
  • Eminent Authors of Contemporary Japan. Comp. Eric S. Bell and Eiji Ukai. Tokyo: Kaitakusha 1930-31.
  • Exotic Japanese Stories: The Beautiful and the Grotesque. Trans. Takashi Kojima and John McVittie. 1964. New York: Liveright, 1972.
  • A Fool's Life. Trans. Will Petersen.1970. Hygiene, Colo.: Eridanos Press, 1987.
  • The Heart Is Alone: A Selection of Twentieth Century Japanese Short Stories. Ed. Richard N. McKinnon. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1957.
  • Hell Screen. Trans. Takashi Kojima. Hygiene, Colo.: Eridanos Press, 1987.
  • Hell Screen and Other Stories. Trans. W.H.H. Norman. 1952. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1971.
  • Hell Screen, Cogwheels, A Fool's Life. Trans. Will Petersen. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1988.
  • Japanese Literature, New and Old. Trans. Ryozo Matsumoto. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1961.
  • Japanese Short Stories. Trans. Takashi Kojima. 1961. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1970.
  • Kappa. Trans. Geoffrey Bownas. 1971. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2001.
  • Kappa. Trans. Seiichi Shiojiri. 1949. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1951.
  • Rashomon and Other Stories. Trans. Glenn William Shaw. Tokyo: Hara Pub. Co., 1973.
  • Rashomon and Other Stories. Trans. Takashi Kojima. Tokyo: Charles. E. Tuttle Co., 1952, 1988. New York: Liveright, 1999.
  • Tales Grotesque and Curious. Trans. Glenn William Shaw. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1930.
  • The Essential Akutagawa. Ed. Seiji Mizuta Lippit. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1999.
  • The Spider's Thread and Other Stories. Trans. Dorothy Britton. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1987.
  • The Three Treasures and Other Stories for Children. Trans. Takamasa Sasaki. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1944.
  • Tokyo Stories: A Literary Stroll. Ed. Lawrence Rogers. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002. Contains "Shitamachi" and "The Death Register."
  • Tu Tze-chun. Trans. Dorothy Britton. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1965.
  • Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.
  • O'Brian, James A., ed. Akutagawa and Dazai: Instances of Literary Adaptation. Cornell University Press, 1983.
  • Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976.
  • Yu, Beongcheon. Akutagawa: An Introduction. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1972.

[No links currently available]

Anzai Fuyue (March 9, 1898 - August 24, 1965)

Poet from Nara Prefecture. Lost his right arm to gangrene while working in Dalian, China. He subsequently became a member of the coterie that produced the magazine Shi to shiron (Poetry and Poetics), and published anthologies titled Gunkan Mari (The Battleship Mari, 1929) and Ajia no kanko (The Asian Salt Lake, 1933). Both works are characterized by a structure based on a nonrealistic associative process; Anzai liked to refer to himself as a man who "tamed the demon of analogy." He returned to Japan in 1934 and published Dattan kaikyō to chō (Butterflies and the Mongolian Strait, 1947) and Zaseru tōgyūshi (The Sitting Matador, 1949).

Ariyoshi Sawako (January 26, 1931 - August 30, 1984)

Novelist from Wakayama Prefecture. Made her debut with Jiuta (Song) in 1956 when she, along with other female authors like Sono Ayako, won a reputation as a saijo (woman of talent). Ariyoshi always broke new ground in her writing, producing a highly regarded series of novels on social themes beginning with Ki no kawa (The Ki River, 1959), portraying the complex relationship between past and present, Hanaoka Seishū no tsuma (The Wife of Hanaoka Seishū, 1966), an incisive study of female psychology, Kōkotsu no hito (Senility, 1972), and Fukugō osen (Compound Pollution, 1977).

Ayukawa Nobuo (August 23, 1920 - October 7, 1986)

Poet born as Kamimura Ryūichi in Tokyo, who along with Tamura Ryūichi, Kuroda Saburō and others founded the important magazine Arechi (The Wasteland) in 1947. His poetry and criticism are characterized by thematic diversity and a wide-ranging sensibility. His works include Ayukawa Nobuo shishū (Collected Poetry of Ayukawa Nobuo, 1955), Gendaishi to wa nani ka (What Is Modern Poetry?, 1949), and Ayukawa Nobuo shiron shū (Collected Essays on Poetry, 1964).

Dazai Osamu (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. In November of that year, he and a Ginza bar hostess poisoned themselves on the coast of Kamakura; 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 may have 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 little 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 mission of serving as a model of vice and achieved a balance of sorts between his career as a writer and his real life. His collection Fugaku hyakkei (The Hundred Views of Mount 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 resonate 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.

  • Blue Bamboo: Tales of Fantasy and Romance. Trans. Ralph F. McCarthy. 1993. New York: Kodansha America, 2001.
  • Crackling Mountain and Other Stories. Trans. James O'Brien. Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1989.
  • Dazai Osamu: Selected Stories and Sketches. Trans. James A. O'Brian. 1983. Ithaca: China-Japan Program, Cornell University, 1986.
  • No Longer Human. Trans. Donald Keene. London: Peter Owen, 1957. New York: New Directions, 1958. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1958. London: Four Square Press, 1961. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973.
  • Return to Tsugaru. Trans. James Westerhoven. 1985. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1994.
  • Run, Melos! and Other Stories. Trans. Ralph F. McCarthy. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1988. Tokyo: Kodansha English Library, 1988.
  • Self-Portraits: Tales from the Life of Japan's Great Decadent Romantic. Trans. Ralph F. McCarthy. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991.
  • The Declining Sun. Trans. Takahide Kikuchi. Tokyo: Nire Shobo, 1950.
  • The Setting Sun. Trans. Donald Keene. Norfork: Laughlin, 1956. New York: New Directions, 1956. London: Peter Owen, 1958. London: Four Square Press, 1961. Calcutta: Rupa, 1961. Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1968. New York: W.W. Norton, 1968, Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1981.
  • Cohn, Joel R. Studies in the Comic Spirit in Modern Japanese Fiction. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series 41. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Lyons, Phyllis I. The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1985.
  • O'Brian, James A. Dazai Osamu. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1975.
  • O'Brian, James A., ed. Akutagawa and Dazai: Instances of Literary Adaptation. Cornell University Press, 1983.
  • Tsuruta, Kin'ya and Thomas E. Swann, eds. Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1976.
  • Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976.
  • Wolfe, Alan. Suicidal Narrative in Modern Japan: The Case of Dazai Osamu. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Osamu Dazai's Temple "Unshoji": A site -- not updated since 2002 -- 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.

Endō Shūsaku (March 27, 1923 - September 29, 1996)

Novelist born in Tokyo; raised from 1926-33 in Dalien, China. Endo's aunt had him baptized as a Catholic when he was 10 years old, and the experience became the main impulse behind his writing throughout his life. He entered the French department of Keio University, where he wrote critical works like Kattorittuku sakka no mondai (On Being a Catholic Writer, 1947) before turning to the writing of fiction following a period of study abroad in France from 1950-53. His Shiroi hito (White Man) received the 33rd Akutagawa Prize  in 1955. Endō explored the relationship between Christianity and the Japanese in such subsequent works as Umi to dokuyaku (The Sea and Poison, 1957), Chinmoku (Silence, 1966), and Fukai kawa (Deep River, 1993). Under the pen name Korian Sanjin, he wrote a series of playful works with the word gūtara (idle, lazy) in the title that are assumed to have functioned as a kind of mask for his serious inner side. Other works include Shikai no hotori (By the Dead Sea, 1973), Iesu no shōgai (The Life of Jesus, 1973), Samurai (1983), Sukyandaru (Scandal, 1986), and Onna (A Woman, 1995).

Etō Jun (December 25, 1933 - July 21, 1999)

Real name, Egashira Atsuo. Literary critic born in Tokyo. Attended Keio University, where as a student in 1955 he published the first volume of his lifelong critical study of Natsume Sōseki. Much admired for bringing the idolized Sōseki down to human level, Etō also wrote biographies of Kobayashi Hideo and Katsu Kaishū, and produced a large volume of essays on current topics, written mostly from a conservative, nationalistic standpoint.

Fujino Chiya (b. February 27, 1962)

Novelist from Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu. Graduated from Chiba University and worked for a publishing company until 1995, when her Gogo no jikanwari (Afternoon Schedule) won the 14th Kaien Prize for New Writers. Oshaberi kaidan (A Chatty Ghost Story) received the 20th Noma Literary Prize for New Writers, and the 1999 story Natsu no yakusoku (Summer Promise) received the 122nd Akutagawa Prize.

Fujisawa Shū (b. January 10, 1959)

Native of Niigata City. Graduate of the Department of Japanese Literature, Hōsei University. Debuted in 1993 with Zōnu o hidari ni magare (Hang a Left at the Zone). Worked until January 1996 as an editor at Tosho Shimbun.

Futabatei Shimei (February 28, 1864 - May 10, 1909)

Novelist born in Tokyo (some say in 1862) whose real name was Hasegawa Tatsunosuke. He entered the Russian language department at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages in 1881. The strong political cast of Russian literature appealed to him, and Futabatei became absorbed in reading the criticism of Vissarion Belinsky. In 1886, soon after reading Tsubouchi Shōyō's Shōsetsu shinzui (The Essence of the Novel), he visited Shōyō and published his own theoretical work, Shōsetsu sōron (The Theory of the Novel, 1886), in which he argued that the truth behind visible phenomena can be revealed through imitation. His famous novel Ukigumo (The Drifting Cloud, 1887-89) was built upon this theory and is often called the first modern Japanese novel on the basis of its (comparatively) colloquial style and psychological realism. Futabatei, lacking confidence in his ability to write fiction, turned instead to translation, producing such admired versions of Turgenev's stories as Aibiki (The Rendezvous, from Sportsman's Sketches; 1888). Futabatei returned to fiction with the novel Sono omokage (In His Image) in 1906, and in 1907 began serialization of the autobiographically based Heibon (Mediocrity). Futabatei fell ill in 1908 while on assignment as a foreign correspondent in Russia with the Asahi Shinbun, and died the next year while returning to Japan. His grave is located in the Japanese graveyard in Singapore.

Gen Getsu (b. February 10, 1965)

Real name, Gen Minehide. Born in the city of Osaka. Self-employed after graduating from high school, won a minor literary award in 1998 for Ikyō no otoshigo (Born Out of Wedlock in a Foreign Land), and the same year was shortlisted for the Akutagawa Prize for Oppai (Breasts). His 1999 Kage no sumika (A Dwelling in the Shade) shared the 122nd Akutagawa Prize.

Hanamura Mangetsu (b. February 5, 1955)

Real name, Yoshikawa Ichirō. Tokyo-born novelist who, after graduating from junior high school, traveled around Japan by motorcycle working at various jobs. Debuted in 1989 with Goddu bureisu monogatari (God Bless), which won the Shōsetsu Subaru Award for New Writers.

Hidaka Toshitaka (February 26, 1930 - November 14, 2009)

Tokyo-born critic who graduated from the Department of Engineering at Tokyo University. As a boy, he was fascinated by insects and animals, which eventually led to a lifelong career in the study of animal behavior. He was instrumental in founding the Japan Ethological Society in 1982. His many works include such titles as Chō wa naze tobu ka (Why Do Butterflies Fly?, 1998) and Dōbutsu wa nani o mezasu no ka (What Are Animals Aiming At?), which, based on his research into "systems of autonomous dispersion," have important implications for understanding human nature.

Higuchi Ichiyō (May 2, 1872 - November 25, 1896)

Novelist born in Tokyo whose real first name was Natsu. As a girl, Ichiyō enjoyed reading kusazōshi illustrated storybooks and, at the age of 14, she became a pupil at the Haginoya, a small school run by the tanka poet Nakajima Utako. Ichiyō’s father, Noriyoshi, died in 1889, leaving the family destitute. The following year, the Higuchis moved to Kikuzaka-chō in Tokyo’s Hongō district, although Ichiyō remained a boarder at Nakamura’s private school and took in laundry and sewing to help support her mother and younger sister. When Miyake Kahō, a fellow pupil at the Haginoya, published a successful novel entitled Yabu no uguisu (The Bush Warbler in the Thicket), Ichiyō decided that she, too, would try her hand at fiction and in 1891 apprenticed herself to the popular novelist Nakarai Tōsui. This led in 1892 to the publication of Ichiyō’s first story, Yamizakura (Cherry Blossoms at Dusk). The story was not well received, however, and Ichiyō soon broke off with Tōsui. She then published Umoregi (In Obscuirity, 1892) in the magazine Miyako no hana (Flower of the Capital), consciously imitating the style of Kōda Rohan in an attempt to break free of Nakarai’s influence. In 1893 Ichiyō wrote Yuki no hi (A Snowy Day) for the magazine Bungakukai (The Literary World) and moved to Ryūsenji-machi in the Shitaya district of Tokyo, just outside of the Yoshiwara licensed quarters. There she opened a sundries shop that soon failed, but her experience there provided her with an invaluable source of literary material.  Ichiyō moved to Maruyama-Fukuyama-chō in 1894, where she wrote Otsugomori (On the Last Day of the Year). This novel marked a turning point in her career and was followed in 1895 by Yuku kumo (Trailing Clouds), Takekurabe (Growing Up), Nigorie (Troubled Waters), and Jūsanya (The Thirteenth Night). Takekurabe especially won the admiration of many readers, including that of Mori Ōgai. Ichiyō seemed to have just established herself as the leading woman writer of the day when she succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 24.

Hino Ashihei (January 25, 1907 - January 24, 1960)

Novelist born in Fukuoka Prefecture. Hino was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for Fun'nyō-tan (A Tale of Excrement, 1937) after being summoned for duty as a soldier in China. He was subsequently transferred to the military-press division and published "soldier stories" such as Mugi to heitai (Wheat and Soldiers, 1938). After World War II, Hino was "purged" for a while but continued writing sympathetically about the vitality of ordinary people's lives. Major works include Seishun to deinei (Youth and Mud, 1949), Sekidō-sai (The Equator Festival, 1951), Hana to ryū (Flowers and the Dragon, 1953), and Kakumei zengo (Around the Time of the Revolution, 1959).

Hirano Keiichirō (b. June 22, 1975)

Novelist born in Kamagōri City, Aichi Prefecture; moved to Kita-Kyushu City in 1977. Received the 120th Akutagawa Prize for Nisshoku (Solar Eclipse, 1998), which was written while Hirano was enrolled in the law department of Kyoto University, making him only the fifth college student ever to have won this prestigious award (the others were Ishihara Shintarō, Ōe Kenzaburō, Murakami Ryū, and I Yanji).

Hirotsu Kazuo (December 5, 1891 - September 21, 1968)

Novelist born in Tokyo; son of Meiji novelist Hirotsu Ryūrō. He made his debut as a writer withShinkeibyō jidai (A Case of Nerves, 1917), about a nervous breakdown. Major fictional works are Fūu tsuyokarubeshi (Strong Wind, Heavy Rain, 1934), incorporating a radical criticism of reality, Aomugi (Green Wheat, 1936), and Rekishi to rekishi no aida (History and In-between, 1941). Horotsu’s criticism includes Sanbungeijutsu no ichi (The Status of Prose, 1942), Sakusha no kansō (A Writer’s Impressions, 1920), and Matsukawa saiban (The Matsukawa Trial, 1958).

Hoshi Shin'ichi (September 6, 1926 - December 30, 1997)

One of the most popular short-story writers of postwar Japan, Hoshi was born in Tokyo and raised in the house of his grandparents, Koganei Yoshikiyo (an anthropologist ) and Kimiko (the younger sister of Mori Ōgai ). Hoshi graduated in agriculture from Tokyo University, but then went through a difficult period during which his father died and the family-run Hoshi Pharmaceutical Company went bankrupt. He made his literary debut in 1957 when Sekisutora (Sextra), a story that had originally been published in a science-fiction coterie magazine, was selected for inclusion in Edogawa Ranpo’s Hōseki (The Jewel) magazine. Hoshi thereafter made the “short-short story” format his own special province, weaving into this compact form a sense of social criticism and a deep understanding of human nature. During his career Hoshi wrote over a thousand of these short-short stories, the first collection of which, Jinzō bijin (An Artificial Beauty, 1961), was nominated for the Naoki Prize. His Mōsō ginkō (The Delusion Bank) won the Japan Mystery Writers Award in 1968. Hoshi won a large and devoted audience of readers as a result of his portrayals of future angst and the tragicomedy of modern existence in stories characterized by bizarre situations, unexpected plot turns, and surprise endings. His stories use both humor and a fable-like didacticism to produce a biting irony that brings into sharp relief essential aspects of the human condition. Highly regarded full-length works include the science-fiction novel Koe no ami (A Net of Voices,1971), and the biographies Jinmin wa yowashi, kanri wa tsuyoshi (The People Are Weak, Bureaucracy Is Strong; 1968), about the unavailing attempts of Hoshi’s father to overcome official red tape, and Sōfu: Koganei Yoshikiyo no ki (My Grandfather: An Account of Koganei Yoshikiyo,1975). English translations include the following:

  • A Bag of Surprises. Trans. Stanleigh J. Jones. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989.
  • The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories . Ed. Martin H. Greenberg and John L. Apostolou. 1989. New York: Barricade Books, 1997. Contains "Bokko-chan" and "He-y, Come on Ou-t!."
  • The Capricious Robot. Trans. Robert Matthew. Kodansha English Library 22. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986.
  • The Spiteful Planet and Other Stories. Trans. Bernard Susser and Tomoyoshi Genkawa. Tokyo: Japan Times, 1978.

Ibuse Masuji (February 15, 1897 - July 10, 1993)

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.

  • Black Rain. Trans. John Bester. 1969. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1994.
  • Castaways: Two Short Novels. Trans. David Aylward and Anthony Liman. 1987. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993.
  • John Manjiro the Castaway: His Life and Adventures. Trans. Hisakazu Kaneko. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1956.
  • Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories. Trans. John Bester. Tokyo: Kodansha International,1971.
  • No Consultations Today and A Far-worshipping Commander. Trans. Edward Seidensticker and Glenn Shaw. Annotated by Nobuyuki Sakuraba. Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1964.
  • Salamander and Other Stories. Trans. John Bester. 1981. Tokyo: Kodansha International,1994.
  • Two Stories by Masuji Ibuse. Trans. Kiyoaki Nakao. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1970.
  • Waves: Two Short Novels. Trans. David Aylward and Anthony Liman. 1986. Tokyo: Kodansha International 1993.
  • Cohn, Joel R. Studies in the Comic Spirit in Modern Japanese Fiction. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series 41. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Kimball, Arthur G. Crisis and Identity in Contemporary Japanese Novels. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1972.
  • Liman, Anthony V. A Critical Study of the Literary Style of Ibuse Masuji: As Sensitive As Waters. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.
  • Liman, Antonin. Ibuse Masuji: A Century Remembered. Prague: Karolinum Press, Charles University, 2008.
  • Treat, John Whittier. Pools of Water, Pillars of Fire: The Literature of Ibuse Masuji. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.
  • Treat, John Whittier. Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Tsuruta, Kin'ya and Thomas E. Swann, eds. Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1976.

Windows on Japanese Literature:  A series of introductory articles on six modern Japanese authors, including Ibuse, written by David Barnett Lurie (Associate 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. The last revision was made in 2009.

Iida Dakotsu (April 26, 1885 - October 3, 1962)

Haiku poet born in Yamanashi Prefecture. A pupil of Takahama Kyoshi, Dakotsu was an important contributor to the haiku journal Hototogisu and also helped found the journal Unmo (The Mother of Clouds) , of which he was the chief editor. His haiku are sonorous and clearly delineated expressions of solitary pride. Collections include Sanroshū (The Mountain Hat Collection, 1932), Reishi (The Ten-Thousand-Year Mushroom, 1940), Shinzō (The Mind’s Eye, 1947), Sekkyō (Snow Gorge, 1951), and Kakyō no kiri (Fog and My Native Land, 1956).

Ijūin Shizuka (b. February 9, 1950)

Novelist born in Yamaguchi Prefecture. He graduated from Rikkyō University. A second-generation Korean resident of Japan, he was naturalized as a Japanese citizen in 1974. After working as a freelance director of TV commercials, he devoted himself to writing beginning in 1988. He won the 12th Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers in 1991 for Chibusa (Breasts), and in 1992 received the 107th Naoki Prize for Ukezuki (The Crescent Moon). He married the actress Natsume Masako, and after her untimely death he married a second time to the actress Shino Hiroko. He has written a large number of novels and essays, including the autobiographical Kaikyō (The Strait, 1991) and Goro-goro (Rolling Away, 2002), winner of the 36th Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature.

Ishigaki Rin (February 21, 1920 - December 26, 2004)

Poet born in Tokyo to who at the age of 14 joined the Industrial Bank of Japan as an office apprentice and continued working for the bank until her retirement in 1975. Interested in poetry since childhood, Ishigaki contributed poems to the bank’s various in-house publications. In 1938 she and several like-minded colleagues created the coterie magazine Dansō (Cross-Section). After the Second World War she continued to publish in the bank union’s poetry pamphlets, and these works formed the core of her first anthology, Watakushi no mae ni aru nabe to okama to moeru hi to (The Pot, Kettle, and Fire in Front of Me, 1959). Her poetry, written from the concrete standpoint of a working woman, expands in theme to include the problem of human existence itself. Major works include Hyōsatsu (Nameplate, 1968), which won the Mr. H Prize, and, after her retirement, Ryakureki (A Short Personal History, 1979).

Ishikawa Jun (March 7, 1899 - December 29, 1987)

Novelist from Tokyo. Made his literary debut with the idealistic short story Fugen (The Bodhisattva Fugen, 1936), which won the second Akutagawa Prize. After World War II, Ishikawa came to be regarded as one of the Shin Gesaku (New Frivolous Writing) school of writers. Other representative works are Yake-ato no Iesu (Jesus in the Cinders, 1946), Ōgon densetsu (The Legend of Gold, 1946), Taka (The Hawk, 1953), Shifuku sennen (A Thousand Years of Happiness, 1966), and Kyōfūki (Account of the Wild Wind).

Ishikawa Tatsuzō  (July 2, 1905 - January 31, 1985)

Novelist from Akita prefecture. He was the first writer to win the Akutagawa Prize, with Sōbō (The People, 1935). Military authorities banned his Ikite iru heitai (Living Soldiers, 1938). He dealt in powerfully direct fashion with Japanese social problems, producing masterpieces such as "Kaze ni soyogu ashi" (Reeds Bending in the Wind, 1951), Ningen no kabe (Wall of Humanity, 1957-59), and Kinkanshoku (Annular Eclipse, 1966).

Itsuki Hiroyuki (b. September 30, 1932)

Novelist from Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu. Real name Matsunobu Hiroyuki. Raised largely in Korea, Itsuki returned to Japan with his parents after the war and entered Waseda University in 1947, majoring in Russian literature. Working at various writing jobs to support himself, he was eventually expelled for failing to keep up his tuition payments. Itsuki traveled to northern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1965, and after his return made his literary debut with Saraba Mosukuwa gurentai (Farewell to the Blockheads in the Moscow Regiment, 1966), taking the Naoki Prize in 1967 for Aozameta uma o miyo (The Spooked Horse, 1966). Succeeding novels won him widespread popularity, especially those in the Seishun no mon (The Gate of Youth, 1970-80) series. Itsuki is also highly regarded as an essayist, having published such collections as Kaze ni fukarete (Blowing in the Wind, 1968) and Gokiburi no uta (Song of the Cockroach, 1971).

Izumi Kyōka (November 4, 1873 - September 7, 1939)

Novelist born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. A disciple of Ozaki Kōyō, Kyōka made his debut as a writer of the socially oriented "problem novels" (kannen shōsetsu) Gekashitsu (The Operating Room, 1895) and Yakō junsa (Night Patrolman, 1895), but his true forte was the creation of a romantic (and melodramatic) world of fantasy described in a densely imagistic style. Works in this vein include Teriha kyōgen (The Teriha Troupe, 1896), Kōya hijiri (The Holy Man of Mount Kōya, 1900), Uta andon (Song of the Troubadour, 1910), and Mayukakushi no rei (The Ghost Who Hid Her Eyebrows, 1924).