Friday, October 6, 2017

Nobel Prize in Literature for Kazuo Ishiguro

A pleasant surprise: Kazuo Ishiguro, a writer I have been following since his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, in the early 1980s, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017. I bought his first novel in the Maruzen bookstore in Kyoto when I was living there as a researcher at Kyoto University. Ishiguro has Japanese roots, as his name tells us, but he is not a Japanese author. Born in Nagasaki in 1954, his parents moved to England when he was five because of his father's job. As they expected to return to Japan at some time, in the home they gave their son a Japanese education, while outside the home he learned to be a perfect Englishman (his speech and mannerisms are absolutely English). As it turned out, the return to Japan never came about and Ishiguro obtained English nationality. But like in my own case (having lived for about half my life and almost all of my working life in Japan), his is a hybrid culture, a mix of Japaneseness and Englishness, and that is what makes his novels so interesting. The butler in The Remains of the Day, for example, with his samurai-like loyalty to a worthless master and total neglect of his private feelings, is only conceivable as a fatal combination of English stiff upper-lip and Japanese self-discipline.

Kazuo Ishiguro writes a spare English style, which is both precise and concise. In this respect he can be compared to South-African Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee (another of my favorite writers whom I appreciate for his conciseness). Another connect is that they both have written dystopian novels and fable-like stories. Ishiguro is a great perfectionist in his craft who to date has written only seven novels and one collection of short stories. Despite the austere style, Ishiguro's novels have a great emotional force and, as the Nobel Committee said, "they uncover the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world." His novels often end on a note of melancholic resignation. He engages with memory and forgetting, identity, mortality, and the influence on us of the major 20th/21st c. conflicts - including the comfortable lies people tell themselves to feel like decent persons although they are in fact morally corrupt.

So Kazuo Ishiguro is a major writer with a clear moral stance. His books are serious literature, despite his popularity thanks to the Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day, and the filming of that novel by James Ivory with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. In fact, his books are not very easy to read. The style is clear enough, but there are always many layers hidden below the narrative which the reader has to uncover in order to be able to appreciate the novel.

The news in Japan was enthusiastic about Kazuo Ishiguro's winning, as he after all was born in Japan and seemed a sort of consolation for the fact that Haruki Murakami again didn't get the prize. The Japanese indeed can celebrate, because Ishiguro is the better writer of the two. This year's Nobel in Literature is an excellent choice (and an intelligent one, as Ishiguro fully deserved it without figuring on any of the outside "bookmaker's" lists) and Kazuo Ishiguro ranks with other recent "deserving" winners as José Saramago, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk and Patrick Modiano - to name a few.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Twentieth Century Opera (6): Oedipus Rex by Igor Stravinsky (1927)

Thanks to Freud's study of the so-called "Oedipus complex," everyone has at least heard the name "Oedipus," a hero from Greek mythology who accidentally fulfilled a prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother. The Oedipus story is mentioned in various forms in fragments by Greek poets as Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Aeschylus and Euripides. The most popular version comes from a set of three "Theban plays" by Sophocles (ca. 496-406 BCE): Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

[Sophocles - Image Wikipedia]

Here is the backstory of Oedipus Rex, which is also used as background in Stravinsky's opera of the same title. Oedipus is the son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of the Greek city of Thebes. The famous Oracle of Apollo at Delphi has prophesied that any son born to Laius will kill him. So when Oedipus is born, the royal couple pierces the ankles of the baby so that it cannot crawl (the name Oedipus means "swollen foot") and orders a servant to abandon the child on a nearby mountain. The servant, however, takes pity on the child and gives it to a shepherd from Corinth; finally, via-via, the infant Oedipus ends up being adopted by the childless king and queen of Corinth, Polybus and Merope.

After many years, when he is a grown man, Oedipus accidentally learns that he is not the son of Polybus and Merope and he consults the oracle in Delphi to ask who his true parents are. The oracle only repeats its earlier message to King Laius, "that he is destined to murder his father and marry his mother." In an attempt to avoid such a terrible fate, Oedipus decides not to return to Corinth (believing Polybus and Merope to be his biological parents), but instead to travel to Thebes, a town near Delphi. On the way, at a crossing of three roads, Oedipus encounters a chariot and quarrels with the charioteer over who has the right to go first. When the charioteer tries to run him over, Oedipus kills the man. As we will learn later, this was none other than his father, King Laius. The first part of the prophesy has been fulfilled with ominous speed.

On his way to Thebes, Oedipus encounters a monster called Sphinx, which asks a riddle of all travelers. Only those who can successfully answer, are allowed to pass unharmed, all others are killed. The riddle is: "What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?" Oedipus' answer is: "Man: as an infant, he crawls on all fours; as an adult, he walks on two legs; in old age, he uses a walking stick." Oedipus becomes the first traveler ever to answer the riddle correctly.

[Oedipus and the Sphinx by Ingres - Image Wikipedia]

Now the second part of the prophesy is to be fulfilled. Creon, the brother of Queen Jocasta (and therefore Oedipus' uncle) has announced that the person who manages to vanquish the Spinx will be made King of Thebes, by marrying the recently widowed Queen Jocasta. And so it comes about that Oedipus unwittingly marries the queen, his mother, and has four children by her.

The story told so far is the background to which is constantly referred in both play and opera. Play and opera start from here, again many years later. Thebes has been struck by a plague and its people loudly lament this. Oedipus, king of Thebes and conqueror of the Sphinx, promises to save the city. At his request, Creon seeks the advice of the Oracle of Delphi. The answer is that the murderer of the former King Laius must be brought to justice - he is not just still at large, but even living in the city. It is the murderer who has brought the plague upon the city. Oedipus promises to discover the killer and cast him out. Then the advice of the blind prophet Tiresias is sought. Tiresias at first refuses to speak out and warns King Oedipus not to seek Laius' murderer. Angered, Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer himself. Provoked, Tiresias retorts that "the murderer of the king is a king." Terrified, Oedipus then accuses Tiresias of being in league with Creon, whom he believes is after his throne.

At that moment, Queen Jocasta appears. She calms the quarrel by saying that oracles always lie. After all, wasn't Laius killed at a crossroads by robbers, instead of by the hand of his own son as the oracle had predicted? Filled with foreboding, Oedipus confesses that he, too, has once killed an elderly man at a crossroads. So has he brought about the terrible plague in his own city? A messenger arrives from Corinth to announce the death of King Polybus, whom Oedipus believes to be his father. However, it is now revealed to Oedipus that he is not the biological son of Polybus but a foundling brought up as their own child by the Corinthian royal pair. As proof, the ancient shepherd who took the child to the mountains, is also brought to the palace. Jocasta, finally realizing that Oedipus must be her son, flees. Oedipus misunderstands her motivation, thinking that she feels ashamed of him because he now seems to be of low birth. But at last, the messenger and shepherd state the truth openly: Oedipus is the child of Laius and Jocasta, killer of his father, husband of his mother. He has committed both patricide and incest. Next, the death of Jocasta is reported: she has hanged herself in her chambers. Oedipus breaks into her room and uses the pin from a brooch he takes off her gown to blind himself (he, who was blind to himself, now blinds himself). The Thebans, both sad and angry, ban Oedipus from their city.

[Igor Stravinsky]

The libretto for Stravinsky's opera Oedipus Rex was written by the renowned French poet Jean Cocteau, based on the play by Sophocles. As Stravinsky wanted to create a liturgical "opera-oratorio," he asked for a text in Latin, so Cocteau's French (itself leaning heavily on Sophocles) was translated back into Latin. Stravinsky called Latin not a dead language, but "a language turned to stone." Anyway, to write an opera in Latin could also be seen as irony: how many listeners are really able to understand all those Italian operas? Couldn't they just as well be in Latin? And of course, Latin is also the language in which many Masses, Requiems and other church music have been written in the last few centuries, a language which has an important distancing effect.

The music is in Stravinsky's Neoclassical manner, but with varied fluctuations of mood to fit the dramatic story. The six soloists sing in a somewhat Italianate style and all have their own aria. The opera is however dominated by the male chorus, which comments on events in a heavy declamatory style, giving a decidedly Russian-Orthodox impression. There is also a narrator who is allowed to speak the language of the country where the opera is performed. The narrator introduces the story and returns five or six times to give an update about the action, so that everyone in the public can follow the events on stage. The narration gets gradually more dramatic and is eventually integrated into the musical fabric.

My favorite version of Oedipus Rex is an international Japanese production, which adds elements from Japanese culture to the mix and even features a Butoh dancer (Min Tanaka). This production was directed by Julie Taymor (who also made the film version) and performed at the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in Japan in 1992, with Seiji Ozawa as director; soloists are Philip Langridge (Oedipus), Jessye Norman (Jocasta) and Bryn Terfel (Creon); the orchestra and chorus are Japanese. Moreover, the stunning costumes were designed by Emi Wada: the main characters wear a sort of stoneware puppet head on their head (with a primitive face such as have been unearthed by excavations in ancient Greece) and all have huge, hieratic hands of clay; the chorus is clothed in ragged brown sackcloth, which makes them look like resurrected mummies; their make-up is also death-like. Great is also the Japanese narrator, acted by Shiraishi Kayoko, who updates us on the story in what can only be called a super-dramatic style of speaking.

But most interesting is the role played by Tanaka Min. He is a life-size clay puppet wearing a stiff earthen mask, who mimes every gesture of Oedipus with formalized gestures, symbolizing the fact that Oedipus himself is a puppet handled by and at the mercy of the gods. When at the end of the opera the terrible truth about Oedipus becomes known, the clay shell of this puppet breaks and we see a vulnerable, naked man (the only human figure in the whole production). Min Tanaka drives long pins into the eyes of the puppet Oedipus wears on his head and at the same moment strips of red cloth fall like flowing blood from his own blinded eyes. He stumbles down the stage, under which is a pool of dark liquid. Surrounded by ghostly shapes, he walks into the water, the last we see of him. Finally, the sound of dripping water is replaced by that of a cleansing, pouring rain, signaling that the drama is over. 

A mix of cultures that works very well, and also a theater adaptation in which always something interesting is happening on stage (if only the mime of Min Tanaka), adding an extra dimension to the original and saving the opera from becoming too static. Musically, it is also an excellent performance.

Twentieth Century Opera Index

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Modern Japanese Fiction by Year (3): 1912-1922 - Aestheticism

In a literary sense, the Taisho period (1912-1926) is a rich time in which seven of the ten best modern fiction writers from the canon were active (Soseki, Ogai, Kafu, Shiga, Tanizaki, Akutagawa and - just starting at the end of the period - Kawabata). The reign of Emperor Taisho itself was an ambiguous time: some historians talk about "Taisho democracy" and "Taisho chic" and point at political and social trends such as cosmopolitanism that can be linked to the post-1945 democratization of Japan; others, however, see in the Taisho period the roots of radical nationalism, expansionism and anti-liberalism that later marked the 1930s and first half of the 1940s. It is clear that Taisho was a dynamic era.

One function of literature in the preceding Meiji period was the construction and representation of a "modern self," an attempt to situate individual bodies and psyches within rapidly shifting social and cultural fields. Taisho literature is increasingly under the influence of Modernism, in which this process of negotiation breaks down (Seiji M. Lippit, Topographies of Japanese Modernism, p. 7). After all, Modernist writings are characterized by the fragmentation of grammar and narrative and the mixing of multiple genres, as a response to new forms of expression and representation, such as film. Ultimately, this will give rise to a new form of narrative that combines mimesis with ironic self-perception (Tyler in Modanizumu, p. 13). 

The Taisho-period novel was dominated by five literary streams, besides that great Meiji authors as Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai continued writing some of their best works in the first years of the period: 1. The Shishosetsu as an anti-idealistic vehicle, a continuation of Naturalism; 2. The Shishosetsu as practiced by the Shirakaba School, a struggle toward inner peace through emotional crises; note that the discourse on the Shishosetsu was also an attempt to define a "pure literature" (junbungaku) which excluded both political issues and mass culture. Qua style, the Shishosetsu was defined by directness of expression, an unadorned form of Genbun-itchi. 3. The Tanbi-ha or Aesthetic School described below (here we also find Modernist influences), which advocated an adorned literary style and also put emphasis on structure; 4. The Proletarian Literature Movement (described under the year 1923) and the subsequent politicization of literary practice. 5. The development of a mass culture with new forms of entertainment and novels as objects of commerce. From the middle of the 1920s on, popular literature ("Mass Literature," Taishu Bungaku) really took off, for example with the mystery stories of Edogawa Ranpo (see under 1923).

Tanbi-ha or Aesthetic School
Besides the Shishosetsu (both in the Naturalist vein and in the manner of the Shirakaba-ha), the Taisho period is dominated by writers who have been called the Tanbi-ha or Aestheticists. These writers were more concerned with structural form and the beauty of artistic expression than their own way of life, in contrast to the Naturalists (Powell, Writers and Society, p. 85), whom they oppose. The most important writers of this group were Nagai Kafu (who started the trend with his Amerika monogatari and Furansu monogatari), Tanizaki Junichiro, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Sato Haruo, Muro Saisei and Satomi Ton (to be followed in the Showa period by the Shinkankaku-ha of Kawabata Yasunari, Yokomitsu Riichi and others - see under the year 1923). They mainly published in three coterie magazines: Subaru, Mita Bungaku and Shinshicho. They were centered on Keio University in contrast to the Naturalists who were mainly from Waseda University. Western models were Poe and Baudelaire. The literary club in downtown Tokyo where they met was called "Pan no Kai" (Pan Society). Bored with the narrow scope and boring language of the Shishosetsu, they tried to depict the reality of modern Japan in an aesthetically satisfying and logical manner, hoping so to be able to express the consciousness of modern humans.

In July this year, the 45th year of the Meiji period, the Meiji Emperor dies and an epoch comes to an end. 1912 therefore also became known as the first year of the Taisho period - Accession of Emperor Taisho.

"Okitsu Yagoemon no isho" ("The Last Testament of Okitsu Yagoemon") by Mori Ogai. Ogai was deeply moved by the junshi (ritual suicide following his lord into death) of his friend General Nogi on the day of the funeral of the Meiji emperor, 13 September 1912. As a rational, modern man he was shocked by this anachronistic act of self-immolation, by this extreme expression of devotion to "his lord" on the part of someone who was as much part of modern Japan as he was. But Ogai could not simply view this violent act as an aberration, he felt compelled to scrutinize the Japanese past in which such events had happened before. In this story he sympathetically depicts the psychology of a retainer to the Hosokawa house who commits ceremonial suicide following his master's death in 1647. While acting in the course of duty, this retainer finds himself responsible for the unintended death of another retainer. His request to commit seppuku is not granted, and so he waits until he can commit junshi. As a sort of dramatic monologue, Ogai has created a suicide letter in elaborate Tokugawa language. For Ogai, an age had ended and from now on, he would only write historical stories.
[Translated by Richard Bowring in The Incident at Sakai and Other Stories, Hawaii U.P.; Study: Suicidal Honor: General Nogi And the Writings of Mori Ogai And Natsume Soseki, by Doris G. Bargen, Hawaii U.P.]

Natsume Soseki starts serializing Kojin (The Wayfarer). Soseki intensifies his examination of the solitary, intense and even occasionally demented mind. Central to the novel is the marriage of Ichiro and Nao, which is close to collapse. Ichiro and Nao, who married by arrangement, are a classic example of an incompatible couple forced by tradition to live together as husband and wife. Ichiro is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but the reticent Nao neither argues not complains. Within the bounds of their arranged marriage, both Ichiro and Nao strive to develop their individuality, and so they are stuck between the past with its formalized order and the new individualism of Meiji. Nao is very elusive because she accepts the dictates of tradition, but keeps her heart to herself as a measure of self-protection. Ichiro, from his side, suffers from an excessively cultivated intellect and introspective sensibility. In their type of society, their battle cannot be fought in the open but is a constant silent duel of two minds. The usual love triangle we find in Soseki's novels is made complete by Ichiro's younger brother Jiro (the narrator), who knew Nao before she married his brother and who is the only one in the family who understands and likes her. Nothing happens between them, but several times they come tantalizingly close, especially when a storm forces them to spend the night together in a hotel. Throughout the novel, Jiro also acts as a sort of voyeur, constantly watching Nao and her relation with his brother. But The Wayfarer is more than a novel about a marriage. At the end we get Soseki's philosophy of life, when Ichiro's plight of how to live in the modern world is taken up by a friend who gives him wise advice during a trip together. This advice is "religious" in the general, East-Asian sense: the friend advises Ichiro to surrender rather than assert his ego: through a union with nature, the divine state of individual life, the self can expand and become as large as the universe. This is close to what Soseki later called sokuten kyoshi, "to conform to Heaven and forsake the self." This is the only possibility of salvation for Ichiro, and on a larger scale, modern humans.
[Translated by Beongchon Yu, Tuttle Books; study in Natsume Soseki by Beongchon Yu, Twayne]

[Tanizaki in 1913]

Early stories by Tanizaki Junichiro. Tanizaki joined the ranks of first-rate professional writers after publishing only a handful of stories in magazines, on the strength of the critical evaluation of his works by Nagai Kafu. We have already introduced his first story, "Tattoo/The Tattooer" in the previous post.
- "Kirin" (The Kylin, 1910). Confucius visits the State of Wei, where Duke Ling has been enslaved by his beautiful consort Nanzi, a typical Tanizaki-type cruel woman, who even threatens Confucius' state of mind. As the philosopher leaves Wei in defeat, he declares: "I have never yet met a man who loved virtue as much as he loved sex" (an authentic quote from the Master!).
- "Shonen" (The Children, 1911). Three mischievous friends play sadomasochistic games in a mysterious Western-style mansion. Despite its shocking content, this story won Tanizaki critical recognition from Mori Ogai, Ueda Bin and others.
- "Hyofu" (Whirlwind, 1911). A young artist is exhausted after a bout of debauchery with a Yoshiwara oiran and decides to travel to Northern Japan to recuperate. But the call of the blood remains strong... This story was banned and the issue of Mita Bungaku in which it had appeared was taken out of circulation.
"Akuma" (The Devil, 1912). A young man, captivated by a certain lady, steals her handkerchief to savor its odor. She has a bad cold and the handkerchief is dirty, but even so the young man "licks it like a dog." This story earned Tanizaki the sobriquet "Akumashugi," "Diabolist."
- "Himitsu" (The Secret, 1912). A hedonistic narrator experiments with cross-dressing. Guess what happens when in that state he meets the woman who used to be his mistress?
- "Kyofu" (Terror, 1913). The case history of a man with morbidly excitable nerves, who gets attacks of panic when riding streetcars or trains.
[Translations of "The Children" and "The Secret" by Anthony H. Chambers in The Gourmet Club, Kodansha International; "Terror" by Howard Hibbett in Seven Japanese Tales, Vintage]

Mori Ogai writes Abe Ichizoku (The Abe Family), a story in which he renders his views on ritual suicide of retainers more clearly. Using another historical incident in which a number of members of the Abe clan (also retainers to the Hosokawa family) committed suicide in 1641, Ogai creates a grisly account. In comparison to "Okitsu Yagoemon no isho," The Abe Family provides a more ambivalent view of the custom and mentality behind junshi by concentrating on the question of permission for such an act. Ogai remarks aptly that the destruction of the entire Abe family in their mansion resembles "a swarm of bugs in a dish devouring each other." So much for Bushido - the code of behavior is followed, but at the individual's expense. Another "seppuku story" is Sakai Jiken (The Incident at Sakai), based on a historical incident at the beginning of the Meiji period. French soldiers had died in a scuffle with samurai and in answer to the rather exorbitant French demand for reparation, twenty samurai were condemned to ritual suicide. Ogai demonstrates the relentlessness of a system of loyalty and honor that could no longer be sustained. The French Ambassador is forced to watch the suicide, which he does with nausea, as anyone would today. We should note that Ogai does not romanticize the "samurai code" here, there is no infatuation with violent death from his side. He is only trying to understand why men and women of another age could die the way they did, for reasons so alien to the modern rational mind.
[Translated by David Dilworth in The Incident at Sakai and Other Stories, Hawaii U.P.; Study: Suicidal Honor: General Nogi And the Writings of Mori Ogai And Natsume Soseki, by Doris G. Bargen, Hawaii U.P.]

Nakazato Kaizan starts writing his enormous and highly acclaimed novel Daibosatsu Toge (The Great Bodhisattva Pass, 1913-1941). The book won especial fame when Nakazato started writing the second series in 1925. The novel is set against the turbulent political events of the 1850s and 1860s leading up to the Meiji restoration of 1868, which provides historical depth to the story. Its main character is the master swordsman Tsukue Ryunosuke, an amoral, nihilistic antihero who was partly based on Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. In a series of loose episodes the author demonstrates man's stubborn blindness to truth. The book was made into a play and - besides influencing the type of nihilistic samurai popular in films in the late 1920s - also many times filmed (by Uchida Tomu in 1957 with Kataoka Chiezo; by Misumi Kenji in 1960 with Ichikawa Raizo; and by Okamoto Kihachi in 1966 with Nakadai Tatsuya).

Nakazato Kaizan (1885-1944) was Japan's first modern popular author ("popular literature" is called Taishu Bungaku, Mass Literature, or Tsuzoku Bungaku, Lowbrow Literature). He was a student of Buddhist philosophy and came to be known as an outspoken pacifist. As a follower of Tolstoy he founded a school based on agrarianist principles. 

Japan enters World War I on the side of Great Britain and its allies.
Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. "Kokoro" means "heart," not in the physical sense, but as the "thinking and feeling heart" as opposed to pure intellect. The novel consists of three parts: "Sensei and I," "My Parents and I," and "Sensei's Testament." In Chapter One, the narrator who is a university student in Tokyo close to graduation, befriends a middle-aged intellectual whom he calls "Sensei" - a designation used in Japan for teachers and all kinds of persons with a high status and specialized knowledge, such as doctors and lawyers. Sensei is a married but lonely person who dutifully visits someone’s grave every month alone. In Chapter Two, upon graduation, the narrator returns to his hometown to look after his dying father, who expects him to develop a promising career with the assistance of Sensei. The narrator doesn't feel at home in his parental house anymore, he finds them old-fashioned and narrow-minded. Just when the state of his father becomes critical, the narrator receives a long letter from Sensei. This letter causes the narrator to leave his dying father (thereby creating a situation about which the narrator will feel guilt in the future!) and return to Tokyo hoping he can still see Sensei. In Chapter Three, the letter is given which discloses Sensei's past and expresses his decision to take his own life after the death of Emperor Meiji and the immolation of General Nogi. The story told in the letter is as follows. As a young student, Sensei fell in love with his landlady's daughter, but in his shyness he kept his feelings to himself. Then, at his invitation, his close friend who was in dire straits came to lodge in the same house and, unaware of his feelings, began to love the same girl. Sensei was quick to act when he discovered this. Without saying anything to his friend, he immediately talked to the landlady and obtained her consent for his marriage to her daughter. This is again an example of egoism caused by individualism in Soseki's novels. A few days later, the friend committed suicide. After that, Sensei was never the same - he was never able to free himself from the sense of betrayal and had to live with his heavy guilt for the death of his friend. Sensei, who had lost his faith in humanity after being cheated by his uncle out of his inheritance, was shocked to find the same dark impulses lurking in his own heart. Finally, when he heard the news of General Nogi's suicide to follow the late Emperor Meiji in death at the latter's funeral, he decided to kill himself and thereby end his prolonged agony. In other words, General Nogi's irrational act had opened up a wellspring of emotion in Sensei, that he had assumed to be long since dried up, now enabling him to act on his feelings. As Ueda Makoto says (in Modern Japanese Writers p. 8), "Soseki penetrates deep into the mind of a man faced with a stark human reality: egoism (which led to the betrayal of his friend). The novel is a psychological study of basic human egoism, and a very moving one." Kokoro is generally regarded as Soseki's greatest novel – without exaggeration one can also say, that it is one of the most read novels of the 20th century (more than 705 million copies sold in Japan by 2014, making it the best-selling literary novel of all time). Filmed in 1955 by Ichikawa Kon with Mori Masayuki.
[Translation: Kokoro by Meredith McKinney, Penguin Classics; an older translation is by Edwin McClellan; Study: Suicidal Honor: General Nogi And the Writings of Mori Ogai And Natsume Soseki, by Doris G. Bargen, Hawaii U.P.; Natsume Soseki by Beongchon Yu, Twayne]

Early stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke.
Here we introduce some famous stories for which Akutagawa sought his material in Japanese history:
- "Rashomon" (1915). Akutagawa's use of the dilapidated Rashomon gate was symbolic, the gate's ruined state representing the moral decay of Japanese civilization in the late Heian period (12th c.). A manservant who has lost his job must choose between honesty and crime. We see how he gradually decides to become a thief, when observing that an old hag in the attic of the Rashomon gate is tearing out the hair of dead bodies dumped there to make wigs. The old woman becomes his first victim, in good Dostoevskian style... Used as the "frame" for Kurosawa's film of the same title.
-  "Hana(The Nose, 1916). Akutagawa's second story, which gained him much fame. A renowned priest with an ugly and hugely long nose after much trouble finally gets rid of his nemesis - but then longs to have it back, as he is nothing special anymore! That the vain and egotistic priest is only obsessed about the state of his nose can be seen as a comment on the relative positions in human society of religion and personal vanity.
- "Jigokuhen” (Hell Screen, 1918). In order to make a screen with a depiction of sinners tormented in Buddhist Hell, a Medieval painter has a carriage set on fire in which the evil feudal lord - out of spite for his rebuffed love - has secretly chained and gagged the painter's beautiful daughter. The painter, who has been shown earlier on to have a cruel streak, is first of course shocked at seeing his daughter in the fatal carriage, but then when the flames leap up and she writhes in agony, he starts painting in ecstasy. "Hell Screen" was filmed several times (for example in 1969 as a Toho costume drama by Toyoda Shiro), and in 1953 was also made into a Kabuki play by Mishima Yukio.
- "Kesa to Morito (Kesa and Morito, 1918). A historical story about the infatuation of a palace guard for a married court lady, told in two monologues, first by the guard, Morito, and then by the lady, Kesa. Akutagawa probes the complex motives of both Morito and Kesa. After Kesa has committed adultery with Morito, she asks him to kill her husband, as she cannot bear the shame of being the wife of two men. Then she ties up her hair and lies in the bed of her husband, waiting for the killer. The story was used by Kinugasa Teinosuke in the 1953 film Gate of Hell (Jigokumon)
- "Yabu no Naka" (In a Bamboo Grove, 1922). A whodunit mystery in which the testimonies of the witnesses don't match up. A samurai and his wife travel through a dense forest, they are attacked by a robber, the wife is raped while the husband is forced to watch, the samurai dies, a passing-by woodcutter reports the crime. The woodcutter, a priest, the robber, and the woman all tell their own, self-serving versions of the same murder - even the dead husband speaking at the end of the story via a medium is still telling lies from over the grave... Together with "Rashomon" this story formed the basis for the classic film Rashomon by Kurosawa Akira.
[Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, translated by Jay Rubin and with an introduction by Murakami Haruki (Penguin Classics, 2006); Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, translated by Charles de Wolf (Archipelago Books, 2007)]

Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927) was a short story writer, essayist and haiku poet who died young at age 35, but whose about one hundred stories and novellas have become a hard and fast part of the canon of modern Japanese literature, not in the least thanks to his stylistic perfectionism and keen psychological insight. Shortly after Akutagawa was born, his mother went insane, and he therefore was adopted into the family of his maternal uncle, whose surname he assumed. From a young age he was a voracious reader of Western, Japanese and Chinese literature, and at Tokyo University, where he went in 1913, he studied English literature. After graduation, he briefly taught English, before deciding to devote his life to literature. His first published short stories, "Rashomon" (1915) and "Hana" ("The Nose," 1916) drew on both grotesque and comical elements from medieval literature, especially the twelfth century collection of tales, Konjaku Monogatari, and won him encouragement from Natsume Soseki shortly before the latter's death. Over the next five years, Akutagawa maintained his distance from Naturalism, composing short, often fantastic, stories that reworked elements of earlier Japanese, as well as European, literature, which he infused with modern psychology. In the course of the 1920s, as his health declined, Akutagawa turned increasingly to the Shishosetsu mode, writing autobiographical stories, which show his emotional exhaustion. His suicide in 1927 at the age of 35 shocked the literary world and was felt as marking the end of an era, as Akutagawa had been the archetypal Taisho author.  

Late stories by Mori Ogai. 
- "Sansho Dayu" (Sansho the Bailiff, 1915) is a modern psychological treatment of an old legend found in collections of Buddhist tales. The lyrical story concerns two children, the girl Anju and her younger brother Zushio. While on a journey to search out their banished father, the two children and their mother fall prey to slave traders. Separated from their mother, brother and his sister learn to live in the slave camp, aided by their love for each other. Later on, Anju helps her brother escape, then drowns herself to prevent revealing his whereabouts under torture. Later, Zushio becomes a man of power and is finally reunited with his mother. A classic story, told in simple language, made all the more famous by the great film adaptation by Mizoguchi Kenji, which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film festival of 1954.
- "Takasebune" (The Boat on the River Takase, 1916) This story gives the exchange between Kisuke, an innocent "criminal" who is mistakenly accused of killing his brother, and the constable Shobe, who has to escort criminals who have been sentenced to banishment out of Kyoto by boat via the River Takase (in fact a canal besides the River Kamo that links up with the River Yodo and so Osaka). Shobe is unable to look beyond his own black-and-white moral values and, although he realizes Kisuke is innocent (the brother has in fact committed suicide), he lacks the courage to act on that.
- "Kanzan Jittoku" (Hanshan and Shide, 1916) is a beautiful laconic retelling of the legend of Hanshan (Kanzan), the legendary author of the famous Zen-inspired "Cold Mountain Poems." According to legend, Hanshan and his sidekick Shide (Jittoku) were recluses who lived deep in the mountains and left their poems on the rocks.
[All 3 stories translated by J. Thomas Rimer in The Incident at Sakai and Other Stories, Hawaii U.P.; "Takasebune" also in The Columbia Anthology I; "Sansho Daiyu" also in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Theodore W. Goossen, Oxford U.P.)]

Arakure (The Wild One aka Rough Living) was Tokuda Shusei's most successful Naturalistic novel. It is the story of an exceptionally independent and indomitable woman who refuses to accept the harsh treatment society was accustomed to meet out to such women. When one man after another disappoints her, Oshima casts them aside and moves on. She works hard to move from a life of servitude to one of independence, becoming a seamstress who runs her own business making Western fashion. The sad point is of course that to succeed as an independent subject, in this period a woman has to step outside the bounds of social norms and practices. Tokuda Shusei's Naturalist style was grounded in a populist, lower middle class milieu. Arakure was the most popular novel of the year 1915. In the film Naruse Mikio made in 1957 of this novel, Takamine Hideko gives a wonderful performance of Oshima as a stubborn survivor.
[Translated by Richard Torrance as Rough Living, Hawaii U.P.]

Kanazawa-born Tokuda Shusei (Tokuda Sueo; 1870-1943) is one of the representative writers of the Naturalist movement in Japan. After moving to Tokyo, he started out as a disciple of Ozaki Koyo, before moving on the Naturalism, marked by a realistic style and frank autobiography. Kabi (The Mold, 1911) is his most characteristic Shishosetsu, the story of how he met and married his wife. Shusei is also known for his nuanced treatment of female characters, as in Arakure, an exceptional work written at the time of the decline of the Naturalist school. 

Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to receive the Novel Prize in Literature, makes his first visit to Japan.

Death of Natsume Soseki (1867-1916).

Udekurabe (Rivalry, A Geisha's Tale, 1916-1917) by Nagai Kafu is a magnificent novel about three geishas competing for the same patron, and a vivid picture of how geishas used to live. The three geishas from Tokyo's Shinbashi entertainment district are: the naive and pathetic Komayo; the imperious and spiteful Rikiji; and the crude and gaudy Kikuchiyo. Komayo meets an old patron, Yoshioka, an industrialist, for the first time in a long while. They resume their relationship, but Komayo soon falls in love with Segawa, a Kabuki actor who plays female roles. By way of revenge, Yoshioka shifts his attention to Kikuchiyo, another geisha of the same house as Komayo. Meanwhile, Rikiji, a third geisha who used to be favored by Yoshioka, and was pushed away by Komayo, destroys the relation between Komayo and the Kabuki actor by promoting an affair between him and an ex-geisha who has inherited property. So Komayo looses both her patron and her lover, but luckily the master of the geisha house where she lives takes pity on her and makes her the madam of the house. Komayo and her colleagues are vapid and unscrupulous women, but without idealizing them Kafu manages to make clear why (equally foolish) men are ready to lose their fortunes for such women. Based on Kafu's close observations of the emotions and ways of the world in geisha houses, where he was a habitue himself.
[Translated by Stephen Snyder, Columbia U.P.; this new translation is based on the uncensored Japanese version of the novel and therefore replaces the older translation by Kurt Meisner and Ralph Friedrich (Tuttle); Study in Fictions of Desire, Narrative Form in the Novels of Nagai Kafu, by Stepehn Snyder, Hawaii U.P.]

Last and uncompleted novel Meian (Light and Darkness aka Light and Dark) by Natsume Soseki, who dies this year at the young age of 49 due to an attack of stomach ulcers. Despite its incompleteness, this novel is generally considered as one of the best by Soseki - even in its unfinished state, it is also his longest. The plot evolves around ten days in the life of a young couple, Tsuda and Onobu, who in the short course of their six-month marriage have experienced an increasing tension because of their unyielding egos. Tsuda does not love his new wife but is still in love with a previous flame, Kiyoko, now married to another man. Onobu however does love Tsuda and is determined to make him also love her, challenging the stereotype of the submissive Japanese woman. A dark psychological novel, ending with a mysterious smile.
[Translated by John Nathan as Light and Dark, Chicago U.P.; and by V.H. Viglielmo as Light and Darkness, Tuttle]

Shibue Chusai by Mori Ogai is the first of three long accounts of historical personages from the Tokugawa period, in which Ogai kept as close to the facts as possible. Shibue Chusai is the reconstruction of the life of a doctor in the late Tokugawa period. Chusai (1805-58) was, like Ogai, a doctor in the service of the state and a great lover of the arts. It has been said that in these three biographies Ogai wrote his own spiritual autobiography. However, the accumulation of detail is relentless and only the most determined readers will be willing to follow Ogai here.
[Used by Edwin McClellan as the source for "The Woman in the Crested Kimono," Yale U.P. (McClellan concentrates on the story of the wife of Chusai, Shibue Io, an unusual woman "with an exceptionally keen mind and fearless spirit"]

"Shirosaki nite" (At Kinosaki, 1917), Kozo no kamisama (The Shopboy's God, 1919) and "Takibi" (Bonfire, 1920) by Shiga Naoya. Although Shiga wrote some purely fictional works at the beginning of his career, he is best known for the Shishosetsu-type stories drawn from his life, of which the best ones are perhaps the following three:
"Shirosaki nite" (At Kinosaki, 1917). The narrator is recuperating at a famous hot spring (Shirosaki in Hyogo prefecture at the Japan Sea) after a near-fatal accident. While there, he witnesses three little deaths - of a wasp, a rat and a lizard - whose ascending scale brings his own brush with death into proper perspective. The rat is stoned by villagers while it tries to swim across a canal with a skewer through its throat; the lizard's death is caused unintentionally by the narrator when he hits it with a stone tossed to make it go into the water. The three encounters also seem to reveal three aspects of death: the repose the narrator imagines will follow death (the dead wasp on the roof of the inn), the instinctual desperation to avoid death (the rat), and the way in which death randomly takes one creature and not another (the lizard). In the narrator's view, humankind is part of a cosmic reality embracing all living things so one should accept one's natural fate with a divine detachment. The inevitable sadness that is part and parcel of being alive suffuses that sense of harmony.
[Translated by Roy Starrs in his study about Shiga Naoya: An Artless Art, The Zen Aesthetic of Shiga Naoya, Japan Library/Curzon Press; also in Lane Dunlop, The Paper Door, Tuttle]
- "Kozo no kamisama" (The Shopboy's God, 1919). A poor shopboy is treated to mouth-watering tuna sushi by a member of the House of Peers who pitied the boy entering the shop without enough money on a previous visit (the aristocrat craves the same sushi, but can't muster the courage to enter a cheap restaurant patronized by commoners). The boy starts thinking of the man as if he were the "Fox God." In a meta-ending, the author briefly intrudes to suggest an alternative plot based on that "Godlike" idea, but then withdraws it and leaves the story as it is, a simple incident.
[Translated by Lane Dunlop in The Paper Door, Tuttle; also in Columbia Anthology I]
"Takibi" (Bonfire, 1920) In this lyrical (and ultimately plotless) story, set near Mt Akagi in Gunma Prefecture, "nature is not a backdrop for human events, but a vibrant, active force that dwarfs the protagonists, drawing them into its rhythms and mysteries. [...] For Shiga Naoya, the story of the self reaches its ultimate goal when the self disappears within a greater natural reality." (Ted Goossen in his introduction to The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, p. xxii). The overall mood in the story is one of tranquility and joy, as well as oneness with nature and harmony among humans, such as the four people in the story.
[Translated by Roy Starrs in his study about Shiga Naoya: An Artless Art, The Zen Aesthetic of Shiga Naoya, Japan Library/Curzon Press; also translated as "Night Fires" by Ted Goossen in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Theodore W. Goossen, Oxford U.P.)]

Okamoto Kido writes his first Hanshichi stories, about an Edo-period detective, the first Japanese serial investigator – appearing seven years earlier than Edogawa Ranpo's Akechi Kogoro. The Hanshichi stories are intrinsically Japanese. Perhaps Okamoto was indebted to Conan Doyle for the idea of writing detective stories in itself, but the strongest model for Hanshichi are Edo-period crime stories as those about the wise judge Ooka Echizen. Culturally, Japan was not a country of logical reasoning, but rather of intuition, and that difference is clear when you compare Hanshichi to Auguste Dupin or Sherlock Holmes. Hanshichi does not use ratiocination, but rather his intuition plus his detailed knowledge of Edo, the city in which he lived.
[Translation: The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi: Detective Stories of Old Edo by Ian MacDonald (the first 14 stories). Edgar Seidensticker made adaptations (not translations!) of four stories as The Snake that Bowed.]

Okamoto Kido (1872-1939) was the son of a former senior retainer of the Shogunate. Due to a decline in his family's fortunes, Okamoto could not attend university, but started working as a journalist and reviewer of stage works. The stage was his real love and he also wrote plays himself – his breakthrough came in 1911 with the play Shuzenji Monogatari, which is still occasionally staged. He also wrote modernized Kabuki plays (Shin-Kabuki). Okamoto considered his stage work as his main accomplishment, rather than the detective fiction he wrote. Posterity has judged differently: Okamoto's fame now rests in the first place on his Hanshichi stories, which have never gone out of print and are still available in various editions, from pocketbooks to ebooks. 
[Study: Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature by Mark Silver]


In his middle period, Akutagawa writes several historical stories set in Nagasaki during the period of Christian influence in the late 16th c. He also wrote interesting stories with a contemporary setting.
- "Hokyonin no shi" (The Death of a Disciple, 1918). A young monk, Lorenzo, is accused of being the father of her baby by a girl of the town who is also a believer. He is ordered to leave the Church. When a fire breaks out in the house of the girl, he dashes inside the burning house to save the baby. Severely burned, Lorenzo then dies, and it is revealed when his tattered garment falls apart, that "he" was in fact a "she," and therefore unjustly accused. More stories about Kirishitan by Akutagawa can be found here.
- "Hankechi" ("The Handkerchief, 1916). In a contemporary setting, a woman full of composure relates the death of her son to an aging professor. He notices however that she convulsively clutches her handkerchief and is impressed by this example of "Bushido" by a Japanese woman. But later when he reads Strindberg he finds the statement that an actress who tears her handkerchief while telling about a personal tragedy, is a bad actress... A cynical denial by Akutagawa of the rather superficial belief in (a never-existent) Bushido by Nitobe Inazo.
- "Mikan" (Mandarins, 1919). The narrator, full of ennui, rides a train from Yokohama to Tokyo. In the same compartment is a rather vulgar-looking girl and the narrator is irritated that she obviously sits in the wrong class. At a crossing, she suddenly opens the window and throws some mandarins to her small brothers who are waiting there along the line. The tangerines are spots of color in the dreary landscape. The narrator feels completely revived by this simple scene.
- "Torokko" (The Hand Car, 1922). A boy helps railwaymen push a hand car. At first he is elated by the ride, especially when the car flashes downhill, but after they have traveled a considerable distance the railwaymen tell the boy they are not making a return trip and they leave him beside the tracks. Confused, the boy is overcome by loneliness and fear, as he makes his way home in the gathering darkness. There is a striking semblance between this story and "Manazuru" written two years earlier by Shiga Naoya.
[The first three stories in: Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, translated by Charles de Wolf (Archipelago Books, 2007)]

The years between 1914 an 1924 have sometimes been called a "slump" for Tanizaki Junichiro, but nothing could be father from the truth. In these years, Tanizaki experimented with several forms of Modernism, from the detective story to writing film scenarios. In the same years, Tanizaki was active as a playwright, an aspect that is still almost unknown in translation. Some interesting stories from this period are:
- Hakuchu kigo (Devils in Daylight, 1918). A writer is called by his friend, Sonomura, who likes to play the amateur detective but also has a history of mental instability, that he knows exactly when and where a murder will take place that night - if they hurry they can witness it. They stake out the secret location and through peepholes in the knotted wood, become voyeurs at the scene of a shocking crime... But things turn out very different from what they seem to be.
- "Fumiko no Ashi" (Fumiko's Feet, 1919). An old man, infatuated with the beautiful feet of his young mistress, asks a painter to paint her portrait in such a way that her feet are displayed to advantage. When the old man lies dying, he obtains bliss by having Fumiko's foot press against his forehead. Foreshadows Tanizaki's Diary of a Mad Old Man.
- "Tojo" (On the Road, 1920). The story of an almost perfect crime. A man's wife dies of apparently natural causes, but a suspicious detective succeeds in tracing step by step how the man plotted to get rid of his wife so that he could marry a more attractive woman.
- "Aoi hana" (The Blue Flower aka Aguri, 1922). A man is drained of health by a vampirish young mistress (a precursor of Naomi in Chijin no Ai) with whom he is shopping for Western clothes in the foreign quarter of Yokohama. As the male protagonist deteriorates during the shopping expedition, his demanding mistress Aguri flourishes. The story is characterized by motifs all relating to corporality.
- Tomoda to Matsunaga no hanashi (The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga, 1926). A farcical story in which Tanizaki creates a man who alternates between his thin, quiet and retreating Japanese personality (Matsunaga) and his robust Western and cosmopolitan self (Tomoda), who gregariously travels the world under various aliases. The novella has interesting things to say about how East and West are stereotypically defined and then proceeds to parody these stereotypes. It is also a delightful piece of detective fiction in which Tanizaki's alter ego sleuths on behalf of Matsunaga's wife, who is mystified by her husband's periodic disappearances. As the dual personalities inhabit the same body, there is also an echo of Stevenson here, but without the sinister consequences. As William J. Tyler (in Modanizumu, p. 332) concludes, "Tanizaki's story is a fanciful disquisition on the desire of Japanese to be thoroughly modan, cosmopolitan, and capable of swimming in social circles around the globe."
[Devils in Daylight has been translated by J. Keith Vincent, New Directions; The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga has been translated by Paul McCarthy in Red Roofs and Other Stories, Michigan U.P.; "Aguri" by Howard Hibbett in Seven Japanese Tales, Vintage and also in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Theodore W. Goossen, Oxford U.P.)]

As a victor nation in World War I, Japan is a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles.

Aru onna (A Certain Woman) by Arishima Takeo. The best-known novel by Arishima Takeo, a moral and psychological melodrama about a strong-willed woman struggling against male-dominated society. It is the history of her loves and her battle against the prejudice and hypocrisy of society in order to live a life true to herself; it is also the history of her defeat. According to Kato Shuichi (A History of Japanese Literature 3, Kodansha International, p. 184) this was a theme much treated by Japanese Naturalist novelists (except that the protagonist here is a woman), but the structure is much better than that of Toson, and the heroine's character is delineated with far greater clarity. Satsuki Yoko is strong-willed but capricious - her weak point is her "passion." She marries a journalist (Kibe) in a love match (rare at the time) but soon gets bored with him and decides to divorce him and return to her parents house. After her parent's death, under family pressure, Yoko agrees to marry a friend of a friend (Kimura) who has settled in Seattle. On the boat to the U.S., Yoko has an affair with the purser (Kuraji); when she arrives in Seattle, she decides not to marry Kimura but return to Japan with Kuraji. They start living together, although Kuraji is still married to someone else. Yoko struggles financially, as she has to look after her three sisters. Kuraji proves unreliable and disappears with a police warrant hanging above his head. Yoko is worn out by her constant struggle to escape conventional society; she falls ill and dies. The protagonist was modeled on Sasaki Nobuko, the ex-wife of Kunikida Doppo. Aru Onna is one of the most successful novels modeled on the European realistic tradition (with unmistakable echoes of Anna Karenina).
(Translation: A Certain Woman by Kenneth Strong, University of Tokyo Press)

Arishima Takeo (1878-1923) was born into a wealthy family in Tokyo. He studied at the Gakushuin Peer's school and after that at the Sapporo Agricultural College. In 1901, he became a Christian under the influence of Uchimura Kanzo. Like Kafu, he studied for several years in the U.S. and also traveled in Europe. In 1910, he was one of the founders of the Shirakaba group and started to write. Instead of Christianity, he now became instead loosely attracted to socialist and anarchistic ideas. He wrote his major works at the end of the decade: Umareizuru Nayami (The Agony of Coming into Existence, 1918), Aru Onna (A Certain Woman, 1919) and Oshiminaku Ai wa Ubau (Love Robs without Hesitation, 1920). In 1922, Arishima, troubled by his bourgeois background, offered his farm in Hokkaido free of charge to his tenants. In the next year, he committed suicide with Hatano Akiko, a married magazine writer - in romantic love, he saw death as the highest fulfillment. His two younger brothers, Arishima Ikuma and Satomi Ton, were also authors. His son was the internationally renowned actor Mori Masayuki.

Denen no yuutsu (Rural Melancholy aka Gloom in the Country) by Sato Haruo. We follow an unnamed narrator (a failed author) who moves to a house in the countryside with his wife, an actress, and two Akita dogs. At first pastoral life seems a romantic dream, but rural life soon turns sour: the house falls apart, the garden is consumed by weeds, there are troubles with the neighbors, and on top of that, it keeps raining all the time... Soon boredom, fatigue and insomnia set in to pester the narrator. As Richie has written (in Japanese Literature Reviewed, p. 268): "Sato had read the fin-de-siecle writers and found himself responding. The result is something like Huysmans in Hachioji."
[Translated by Francis B. Tenny with an introduction by J. Thomas Rimer as The Sick Rose, A Pastoral Elegy, Hawaii U.P.]

Sato Haruo (1892-1964) was a Japanese novelist and poet whose works are known for their explorations of melancholy. As a student at Keio University, Sato Haruo was fond of D'Annunzio and Oscar Wilde, as well as Nietzsche, but in his novels we in the first place find the apathy and world-weariness of Baudelaire's Le Spleen de Paris. Sato Haruo was a friend of Tanizaki and later married Tanizaki's first wife. Among his disciples was Ibuse Masuji. Like his fellow decadent writers in Europe, later in life he became as conservative and patriotic as he once had been bohemian.

Kura no naka (In the Storehouse) by Uno Koji. The story of a man with a passion for buying new clothes (like the author). He is desperately poor, but instead of selling old clothes to buy new ones, he pawns them. Whenever he has the chance, he visits his old clothes in the storehouse of the pawnshop. He has also pawned his futon and his greatest pleasure is to sleep in the pawn house, surrounded by the beautiful kimonos he will never be able to redeem... The sentences are long and the narration is full of digressions, as Donald Keene asserts, but this story - a sort of parody of the Shishosetsu - brought Uno Koji instant recognition. It is also his best story.
[Translated by Elaine Tashiro Gerbert (with another story, Love of Mountains, after which the collection is named, Hawaii U.P.]

Uno Koji (Uno Kakujiro; 1891-1961) was born in Fukuoka and attended Waseda University. Although Uno often used parody and satire, he is generally regarded as a Shishosetsu author in the Naturalist vein. His breakthrough came with Kura no naka in 1919, after which he published regularly in major literary magazines. The suicide of his friend Akutagawa Ryunosuke was a major shock and Uno stopped writing due to health problems for several years. His later stories are all semi-autobiographical. 

Yujo (Friendship) is Mushanokoji Saneatsu's best known novel, and another example of the author's narcissism. Playwright Nojima is obsessed with a young woman, Sugiko, whom he believes shares his feelings - as in Omedetaki hito, again mistakenly and against all evidence. Nojima is afraid that his friend Omiya could become his rival in love, so he is relieved when Nojima travels to Paris for study. He proposes to Sugiko, but is refused. Some time later Sugiko travels to Paris... Nojima realizes he has both lost a friend and (an imagined) lover. This novel has not been translated. By the way, it is important to note that the major Taisho novelists never visited Europe or the U.S., in contrast to the Meiji writers Soseki, Ogai and Kafu, "the West" was wholly a fantasy for Mushanokoji, Tanizaki and Akutagawa.

League of Nations established with Japan as permanent member - First celebration of May Day in Japan held in Tokyo's Ueno Park.

Okamezasa (Dwarf Bamboo) by Nagai Kafu is a biting satire of the rich and powerful who frequent the demi-monde. Uzaki Kyoseki is an unsuccessful painter, a man of no distinction whatsoever. He has drifted into this profession because in his youth he became the disciple of a famous painter, though he had no talent. He is devoted to the worthless son of the master, Kan, and helps him each time clean up the mess left after his escapades with geisha and other women (Kan is rather loose in his promises of marriage). Everyone in the novel is corrupt. The master is found selling inept paintings by Kyoseki as his own work. When Kan finally marries, his new wife confesses that she is in fact illegitimate. Her pompous father sells fake antiques. Kyoseki prospers as an art consultant, richly rewarded with bribes, and every day visiting a geisha he has set up in business. This novel full of irony is, according to Donald Keene, "a successful Japanese example of Naturalism in the French style" (Dawn to the West, p. 425). A pity it hasn't been translated yet.
[No translation yet. Study in Fictions of Desire, Narrative Form in the Novels of Nagai Kafu, by Stephen Snyder, Hawaii U.P.]

Prime Minister Hara Takashi assassinated - Crown Prince Hirohito becomes regent to the ailing Emperor Taisho. 

The founding of the magazine Tane maku hito (The Sowers) marks the beginning of the Proletarian Literature Movement. It was followed in 1924 by the appearance of the proletarian journal Bungei Sensen (Literary Front) and in 1928 by Senki (Battle Flag). As elsewhere in the world, Marxism did not give rise to any great literature in Japan, but it dominated intellectual circles until the early 1930s as part of a larger sociopolitical effort by socialist writers to improve the position of the working class and to stimulate social revolution through literary activity. In Japan, the catalyst was the depression following WWI and the success of the Russian Revolution. The Proletarian Movement introduced to modern Japanese literature the problems of modern capitalistic society and demanded a redefinition of the artist's role in it. The emphasis was put on class society and class politics. The method of realism based on self-confession was attacked, and the belief in the relevance of pure art was shaken, although most authors rejected the didactic and moralistic attitude of an engaged literature. Although a strong critical force, the movement didn't produce much literature of lasting value and in the early 1930s the movement subsided under government repression. As the best proletarian novels are usually mentioned Taiyo no nai machi (Streets without Sun, 1929) by Tokunaga Sunao, about a strike at a printing company, and Kani kosen (The Factory Ship, 1929) by Kobayashi Takiji (see next post).

Anya koro (A Dark Night's Passing, 1921-1937) by Shiga Naoya. Shiga's only novel is one of the great classics of 20th century Japanese literature. The "long night" of the title stands for the protracted passage of the narrator (Kensaku) through a sequence of disturbing experiences into a hard-won truce with destructive forces within himself. The story follows the life of a wealthy, young Japanese writer in the early 1900s, who faces and survives two crises. The first of these is when his attempts to get married are repeatedly thwarted. He discovers from his elder brother that he is unacceptable to potential brides and their families because he was born as the result of an affair between his mother and her father-in-law (his grandfather). Kensaku was in fact raised by the grandfather, who is now deceased, and still lives in the grandfather's house with Oei, a woman who used to be the mistress of the grandfather. Kensaku next proposes marriage to Oei (for whom he harbors secret feelings) but she refuses him as considering the existing relations, marriage between them would be bizarre. Kensaku eventually succeeds in finding a bride (Naoko) only to face his second crisis: her infidelity, when she takes a young man who is a friend of the family as her lover in his absence. Superficially, the narrator shows no dramatic reaction to these events. He draws away from his "father," indulges in a round of dissolution in the Yoshiwara and cafe bars, goes traveling alone to Onomichi and Kyoto, and so on. He does, however, experience great psychological agitation. Finally, during a trip to a temple on Mt Daisen in Tottori, he is able to recapture a sense of harmony with the world trough a strange and wonderful experience of feeling at one with nature, which leads him at last to redemption. Only by seeking unity with the natural world and subjecting oneself to its laws can one achieve a perspective which will enable one to combat the problems of one's life and gain peace of mind. (This ending resembles that of Natsume Soseki's The Wayfarer). But Shiga in the last few pages pulls the rug from under this ending: the narrator suddenly falls seriously ill, he may not survive, even his wife is called from Kyoto to be near him. So the novel ends in irony and ambiguity...
[Translated by Edwin McClellan, Fontana Press / Kodansha International;
Study: An Artless Art, the Zen Aesthetics of Shiga Naoya, by Roy Starrs, Curzon Press]


Japan Communist Party founded - Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is completed.

Death of Mori Ogai (1862-1922).
Meido (Realm of the Dead) by Uchida Hyakken is a collection of 18 fantastic tales. All stories are nightmares or visionary dreams, suffused with grotesque imagery rooted in the anxieties and uncertainty of human existence, evoking a horror of death as well as awe of the supernatural. The images in the stories fade into one another like images in a dream. Uchida Hyakken was an important innovator of Japanese Modernism.
[Translation by Rachel Denitto, Dalkey Archive]

Uchida Hyakken (Uchida Eizo; 1889–1971) was born in Okayama to a family of sake brewers. He greatly admired Natsume Soseki and in 1911 became his disciple. Later in life, Hyakken would also work as an editor and proofreader for Soseki's complete works. Following graduation from college he taught at various institutions as a German teacher, but abandoned that career after 1934 to become a professional writer. He wrote stories, essays (for which he is best known), diaries and poetry. One of his essays was adapted into the movie Madadayo by Kurosawa Akira (1993) and concentrates on Hyakken's relations with his students. Hyakken also wrote the story on which Suzuki Seijun's Zigeunerweisen (1980) was based.

Chikamatsu Shuko (1876-1944) writes Kurokami (Black Hair), the story of his relations with a Kyoto prostitute called Osono, perhaps Chikamatsu's best work.

[Reference works used: Dawn to the West by Donald Keene (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984); Modern Japanese Novelists, A Biographical Dictionary by John Lewell (New York, Tokyo and London: Kodansha International, 1993); Narrating the Self, Fictions of Japanese Modernity by Tomi Suzuki (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); Oe and Beyond, Fiction in Contemporary Japan, ed. by Stephen Snyder and Philip Gabriel (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999); Origins of Modern Japanese Literature by Karatani Kojin (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993); The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, 2 vols, ed. by J. Thomas Rimer and Van C. Gessel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005 and 2007); The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature by Susan J. Napier (London and New York: Routledge, 1996); Writers & Society in Modern Japan by Irena Powell (New York, Tokyo and London: Kodansha International, 1983).]

Friday, July 28, 2017

Modern Japanese Fiction by Year (2): 1905-1911 - Naturalism and Anti-Naturalism

In Part One we saw an early-Meiji-period Japan that was so busy modernizing and catching up with the West that there was almost no time to develop a new literature. At the beginning of the twentieth century the modern Japanese novel (with one or two exceptions) had hardly begun to grow beyond the naive political allegories and sentimental stories of the 1880s and 1890s. And when the sons of disenfranchised samurai turned to the study of literature, their texts were the same Japanese and Chinese classics that their fathers had used (resulting in the works of Koda Rohan - how interesting in themselves these are, this was not a truly modern literature). Language reform also was a process of several decades. It was not until the Meiji era was almost finished, that new authors would pioneer a new literature and address the change and transformation going on around them. The challenge was taken up around 1905 by two individualistic writers who had studied in Europe, Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai, and to a lesser degree by two others, Shimazaki Toson and Tayama Katai, who started the fashion of Japanese Naturalism and the Shishosetsu. And at the very end of Meiji, other writers who would later be counted among the best of the century started their careers: Tanizaki, Shiga, Akutagawa. 

Treaty of Portsmouth ends the Russo-Japanese War - Korea becomes a Japanese protectorate.

The first great decade of modern Japanese literature was the one which followed the end of the Russo-Japanese War. Japan had fulfilled its objective of becoming a leading nation in Asia by defeating both China and Russia, so the total devotion of the previous decades to the national mission was not anymore necessary. This trend had deep implications for the perception among the intelligentsia of what should be the role of the individual. Gradually there was a shift from the early Meiji conception of the link between personal success and prosperity of the nation and family, to an emphasis on more individual concerns. A new emphasis on inward directedness sanctioned the development of the autonomous self. It was now acceptable to explore psychological interiority, subjectivity and self-expression.

Natsume Soseki starts writing his "Swiftian" satirical novel Wagahai wa Neko de Aru (I Am a Cat), consisting of observations of the human world by a nameless cat. Soseki himself appears in thinly disguised form as Kushami Sensei (Master Sneeze), a teacher of English, and the book consists of the discussions this teacher has with his friends and colleagues, as observed by their feline visitor. The satire is directed at human foibles in general, but also more specifically at the late Meiji bureaucracy and blind admirers of the West among Japanese intellectuals. These shortcomings were all the more visible to Soseki, as a recent returnee from overseas. But there is more, as the book also abounds in philosophical discussions of literature and the arts. Soseki wrote the first chapter as a short story, but it proved so popular that he ended up writing a full novel (it is still possible to enjoy the first chapter of the novel as a self-contained short story). The "wagahai" in the title is a pompous word for "I" that is not in use anymore, but that establishes the humorous tone of the whole work as it just refers to a small cat. Wagahai wa neko de aru has retained its popularity. The novel was filmed several times, for example in 1936 by Yamamoto Kajiro with Fujiwara Kamatari, and in 1975 by Ichikawa Kon with Nakadai Tatsuya.
(Translation: I Am a Cat by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson, Tuttle Publishing)

Novelist, haiku-poet and scholar of English literature Natsume Soseki (real name: Natsume Kinnosuke; 1867-1917) was born in Tokyo and in 1893 graduated from the English Department of the Imperial University. He worked as a teacher at Matsuyama Middle School (where he associated with his friend, the haiku poet Masaoka Shiki) and elsewhere before being sent to London for study by the Japanese government. After his return to Japan he became a lecturer at Tokyo University. In 1905 he debuted as a writer with the satiric I Am a  Cat, followed in 1906 by the humorous Botchan. In 1907 Soseki surprisingly resigned from this venerable faculty position to edit a literary column at the Asahi newspaper. During the period of his employment at the newspaper he wrote approximately one long novel a year, which was published as a serial. Soseki focused on psychological depictions of modern intellectuals in Japan after the breathtaking changes that had taken place since 1868, of brooding, neurological characters as appear in his greatest novels Sore kara, Mon and KokoroAs the pioneer of modern Japanese psychological fiction, Soseki delved into the question of identity in the Meiji era and also concentrated on the problems of the individual in society. The clash between the group-oriented behavior of Japanese tradition and the individual action of the West is one of the intercultural frictions that in Soseki's fiction is faced at the level of the individual. His solution is ambivalent, as Soseki on the one hand is unwilling to completely abandon the essence of traditional Japanese behavior, but on the other hand also clearly perceives the benefits of individual freedom. Many of his fictional characters waver between social responsibility and individual freedom, and many are ruined when they are unable to find a balance between the two, drifting into torpor or even suicide. But Soseki realized that the choice for individual liberty also often meant the undertaking of acts of egotistical selfishness, and his novels abound in betrayals and egoistic rivalries (often in the form of love triangles). In the course of time Soseki would evolve from light to darkness, from social satire to his own philosophy of "sokuten kyoshi" (“Follow the will of heaven and obliterate the self”). In Japan, he is generally regarded as the greatest writer of the 20th century and his novels are central to the canon. Soseki never joined any group, such as the Naturalists, but he had his own gathering of disciples who since 1906 met weekly on Thursdays in his home. His most famous disciple would be Akutagawa Ryunosuke; he also supported the Shirakaba group.
(Study: Natsume Soseki by Beongcheon Yu, Twayne Publishers 1969; Chaos and Order in the Works of Natsume Soseki by Angela Yu, University of Hawaii Press, 1998; Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata, by Van C. Gessel, Kodansha)

South Manchuria Railway incorporated.

Natsume Soseki publishes Botchan (The Young Master), the story of an impetuous and comically naive young man who leaves his native Tokyo to become a middle school teacher in Matsuyama. Although the novel has a basis in Soseki's own life, it is not autobiographical but a fully fictionalized account. Soseki uses the innocent and optimistic Botchan to offset the pettiness, arrogance and slyness of the other teachers (who represent normal society). Botchan at all costs follows his own convictions. With his sense of justice and reckless but righteous nature he represented an ideal for young Japanese of his time. However, Botchan is also a study of individualism carried to the extreme - a mixture of juvenile stubbornness, intolerance and self-assertiveness. Thanks to its mild humor, Botchan became the all-time bestselling Japanese novel. Like I am a Cat, Botchan can be compared to realistic European fiction in its method of description and element of social criticism. The hero is a living member of society and his thoughts and deeds are logically explainable. Botchan was filmed several times, for example in 1935 by Yamamoto Kajiro with Fujiwara Kamatari.
(Translation: Botchan by J. Cohn, Penguin Classics)

Natsume Soseki also writes Kusamakura (The Grass Pillow), a poetic "haiku-like" novel (as Soseki himself stated) that describes the weeks a painter spends at a remote hot spring hotel in Kyushu where he is the only guest. What keeps him tied to the place are the mysterious encounters he has with Nami, the daughter of the establishment, who has fled home from a broken marriage. Nami is self-willed, startling and enigmatic, her character foreshadows that of Mineko in Soseki's next novel, Sanshiro. The scene is set for a romantic entanglement, or so it seems, but nothing happens... "The novel flirts with plot as Nami flirts with the young man," as translator Meredith McKinney puts it in the introduction. We meet several local characters, such as a Zen priest and Nami's father who is a tea master, as well as the local barber and a porter. But Nami, through the highly dramatized images of herself she holds out to the narrator, is the still point around which this experimental novel moves. It is also a picture of life free of emotional entanglements, and the novel ends suitably when Nami catches a glimpse of her ex-husband and can not restrain a look of compassion. Ueda Makoto has remarked (in Modern Japanese Writers) that this work "can almost be called an essay on aesthetics written in novelistic form."
(Translation: Kasamukura by Meredith McKinney, Penguin Classics)

Shimazaki Toson writes Hakai (The Broken Commandment), the story of a young man, a teacher like Soseki's Botchan, who is a member of the outcast eta class (now called burakumin). His father has completely withdrawn from society, severing his ties with the eta community, and lives as a solitary herdsman in the mountains. It is therefore possible for his son to hide his background and lead a normal life. His father exacts the vow from him never to disclose his antecedents. The novel is the story of how the son consciously decides to break this vow. Because it brings up the social problem of the eta, this is perhaps the Japanese Naturalist novel that is closest to Western Naturalism. But it is also a story about personal emancipation. As the first large-scale realistic novel to be written after Futabatei's Ukigumo of 1886 (!), it was immediately recognized as a work of great importance. Hakai was filmed several times, most notably in 1948 by Kinoshita Keisuke with Ikebe Ryo and 1962 by Ichikawa Kon with Ichikawa Raizo.
(Translation: The Broken Commandment by Kenneth Strong, University of Tokyo Press)

Shimazaki Toson (Shimazaki Haruki; 1872-1943) was born in Magome in Nagano Prefecture, a post town along the Nakasendo highway. In the 1890s he made name as a Romantic poet, but later he became interested in Naturalist theories of description. After the success of his first Naturalist novel Hakai, Toson produced a series of semi-autobiographical novels exploring relationships in his extended family, such as in the novel Ie (The Family). His last novel, Yoake mae (Before the Dawn, 1929-1935) is a broad historical canvas about the impact of the economic and political developments in the Meiji-period on the Shimazaki family that had lived for generations in the mountains of Shinshu (Nagano). Toson's major novels are part of the canon.
(Study: The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson by Janet A. Walker, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011; The Dawn that Never Comes, Shimazaki Toson and Japanese Nationalism by Michael Bourdaghs, Columbia U.P.)

Japanese Naturalism. I use the term "Japanese Naturalism" for "Shizenshugi," because in Japan the Western term "Naturalism" has been applied in a different way from its original meaning. In the West, Naturalism was a movement that tried to demonstrate how social conditions, heredity and the environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. It did so by depicting everyday reality, often in an objective or "scientific" way. The novels are often deterministic, i.e. the protagonist cannot escape from his hereditary predisposition. In contrast, Japanese Naturalism tends to be "realism with an admixture of subjectivity," in other words, a realistic and true (as opposed to fictional) description of the daily life of the author and his circleHakai was an exception, but the element of subjectivity was added the next year to the equation by Tayama Katai's Futon. After that, also Shimazaki Toson would start writing about himself, his family and friends, rather than about fictional characters. The Family (1910) traces the decline of his own house covering three generations, and New Life (1918) treats his own incestuous relationship with his niece.

The heyday of Japanese Naturalism fell between 1906 and 1910 - as a movement it was relatively short-lived. Important Naturalist authors, besides Toson and Katai (see below), are Tokuda Shusei, Masamune Hakucho, Chikamatsu Shuko and Iwano Homei. Most Naturalists stemmed from small landowning and samurai families in the provinces and as young men had come to Tokyo for study. Many of the Naturalists had been through a phase of Christianity in the 1890s. In fact, the Naturalists formed a new literary group, the most influential one after the disbanding of the Kenyusha. But unfortunately they produced little of lasting worth - except the novels by Toson and Katai, nothing of their work has remained in the canon.

Okakura Kakuzo publishes The Book of Tea in New York City.

Tayama Katai (1872-1930) writes Futon (The Quilt), a novel about the unconsummated attraction a middle-aged writer feels for an idealistic female student, whose mentor he was and who lived in his house, described in sometimes embarrassing detail. The young woman was a modern intellectual and, instead of having any interest in her married teacher, became intimate with a student of her own age (taking her teacher's advice about individualism and romantic love seriously!). In the end the teacher has to do his duty by persuading her parents to allow her to marry the young man. The conclusion of the story created a shock: when the teacher realizes that his protégé has left his house forever, he takes out the bedding on which she used to sleep and "pressed his face to the quilt, filling his lungs with the odor of the woman he loved." The shock was all the more severe as the teacher in the story was clearly Katai, who related an episode from his own life. In other words, The Quilt was the undisguised confession by a well-known author. It gave a new, subjective direction to Japanese Naturalism, as mentioned above, and contributed to the future rise of the Shishosetsu (see below).
(Translation and study: The Quilt and Other Stories by Kenneth G. Henshall, University of Tokyo Press; study in Indra Levy, Sirens of the Western Shore, Columbia).

Tayama Katai also writes "Shojobyo" ("The Girl Watcher" aka "Maidenitis")
A writer dissatisfied with his marriage falls into the voyeuristic habit of watching girls on trains and streetcars (these modern inventions indeed brought men and women in closer proximity than had been normal in the past) and becomes so enraptured that he tumbles out of a streetcar and dies. A tale of urban alienation.
(Translation in The Columbia Anthology I; The Quilt and Other Stories by Kenneth G. Henshall, University of Tokyo Press; interesting discussion in Tokyo in Transit by Alisa Freedman, Stanford University Press; study also in Indra Levy, Sirens of the Western Shore, Columbia).

Born in Gunma Prefecture, Tayama Katai (Tayama Rokuya; 1872-1930) was trained in the Kenyusha, but after the death of Koyo he switched from a highly romantic style to a more sober realism under the influence of French literature (Maupassant, the Goncourt brothers). The Quilt made his reputation and was followed by three autobiographical novels consisting of Life (1903), The Wife (1908) and Family Ties (1910), which treat of his family, he himself being the leading character. In The Quilt Katai established the confessional mode as typical for "Naturalist" Japanese fiction. Katai wrote on purpose in a flat and unadorned style which he called "heimen byosha," "flat description." Major novels as Futon and Inaka kyoshi (The Country Teacher, 1909) are part of the canon.

Tayama Katai's Futon is generally seen as the precursor of the shishosetsu (or watakushi-shosetsu), an important form of prose narrative in Japan (especially during the Taisho period) that purports to represent faithfully the ordinary experiences of the author. The term "shishosetsu" is often wrongly translated as "I-novel," which - although a literal rendering - is incorrect: shishosetsu do not have to be in the I-form and can very well be in the third person. But they have to be "true," so a form of autobiographical "confession." This is in fact the return of the traditional Confucian idea that fiction is suspect (and not high literature, that is why it is called "shosetsu," "small words") and that only writings which "sincerely" reflect true experiences are worth considering as literature. The Western idea that a fictional narrative can through its characters and plot be used to express a truth of a higher order, was foreign to Japanese culture. The shishosetsu is thus a single-voiced, self-referential and unmediated work of literature in which the protagonist can be assumed to be the author. It is close to autobiography, but is still fiction and should not be confused with a real autobiography in which a more balanced overview of a writer's life is expected. The shishosetsu picked out just a few elements, often of a confessional or "shameful" nature. The most important shishosetsu authors were Shiga Naoya, Chikamatsu Shuko and Kasai Zenzo; others are Uno Koji, Muro Saisei and Mushanokoji Saneatsu. The shishosetsu dominated Japanese literature for many decades. Later shishosetsu authors are Dazai Osamu, Ozaki Kazuo and Kawasaki Chotaro. A postwar example is the novel Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio, but other writers from the 1960s are Shimao Toshio, Yasuoka Shotaro, Shono Junzo, Abe Akita, Yoshiyuki Junnosuke, and Tomioka Taeko.
(see Edward Fowler, The Rhetoric of Fiction,, University of California Press, 1988; Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Rituals of Self-Revelation: Shishosetsu as Literary Genre and Socio-Cultural Phenomenon, Harvard University Asia Center, 1996)

Onna Keizu (A Woman's Pedigree) by Izumi Kyoka. A story about the supremacy of love, in a more accessible style than usual for Kyoka and therefore one of his most popular stories (often filmed and brought to the stage). Hayase Chikara, a researcher of German literature, has secretly married Otsuta, a geisha who was intimate with his teacher, Sakai Shunzo. Taeko, the daughter of Sakai Shunzo, is sought in marriage by one Kono Eikichi, the scion of an important family from Shizuoka. The Kono family therefore probes the antecedents of Taeko and they also come to Hayase. Hayase gets angry at the high-handed attitude of the Kono family and sets out to obstruct the marriage. But that also means his secret marriage to Otsuta becomes public knowledge. When Sakai hears about their liaison, he effects a separation between Hayase and Otsuta. When Hayase next gets involved in a pickpocket incident, he also looses his job at the university. Onna keizu was filmed several times, for example in 1962 by Misumi Kenji with Ichikawa Raizo and Kogure Michiyo. There is no English translation.

Natsume Soseki delivers the lecture Bungei no tetsugakuteki kiso (The Philosophical Foundations of Literature), an attempt to provide a cross-cultural framework for the interpretation of literature.
[Translated by Sammy I. Tsunematsu, Tuttle]

Death of Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908).

Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki. A novel about a naive country student, Sanshiro, who goes to study in Tokyo and there experiences many new things. Sanshiro’s name consists of two figures: three and four, implying that he is 23 and 24 during the course of  the story. He has been reared in Kumamoto, on the southern island of Kyushu, in accordance with samurai values and is a total innocent in comparison with the sophisticated modern people of the capital. On his way to Tokyo, he meets a woman in the same train compartment who is interested in him, and when they are obliged to spend the night in Nagoya, she openly entices him. But the straitlaced young student firmly preserves his virginity and is called “chickenhearted” by the woman. This woman disappears from the story, but she will be replaced in Tokyo by the tantalizing Mineko, whose strange personality reminds Sanshiro of the woman he met on the train. Mineko is a member of the new enlightened class of intellectual Tokyo women – a sort of person he has never met before and therefore doesn’t know how to cope with. She leads Sanshiro on, though she is not seriously interested in him and eventually she marries another man. From his side, Sanshiro has been unable to express his true feelings to her. On the same train Sanshiro meets Professor Hirota, a 42-year old bachelor who, for all his cynical comments on modern society is surprisingly unworldly – he doesn’t even hold a teaching post. A fellow student of Sanshiro calls Hirota “the great darkness,” because he has read everything but doesn’t give off any light. Hirota recognizes the inevitability of change and modernization, but is dubious about Japan’s chances of surviving in the 20th c. Sanshiro falls under Hirota’s world-weary spell and is in danger of rejecting society. There is little drama in the book but as Sanshiro meets various events in Tokyo, he slowly begins to change, although he remains an unsophisticated youth who is no match for the cynical Hirota or Mineko, who refers to him as a “stray sheep,” suggesting his hesitation and bewilderment. But as a tale about a young man from the hinterland who is at first naively impressed by everything he sees in Tokyo, even the crowded trams (it takes some time before he dares ride them), and who is slow in loosing his old-fashioned morality, this is a genuinely moving book.
[Translation: Jay Rubin in Penguin Classics]

Yume juya (Ten Nights of Dreams) by Natsume Soseki
Soseki's most experimental work, ten sketches each containing a dream, an exploration of the author's subconsciousness. Some of the dreams are outright nightmares and others involve death and have an eerie quality. For example, in the third dream a horrible blind child rides on the shoulders of the author, directing him to a certain spot where, a hundred years ago, he has killed the child - who was his own. Yume juya offers a glimpse into the inner anxieties of Soseki, who on the one hand had to maintain the life of a public figure and gentleman, while on the other hand being fully aware of the brutal undercurrent of human behavior. One could also say that his major realistic themes such as the modernization of Japan and the suffocating power of the past are here powerfully expressed within a unique, fantastic framework. Yume juya was filmed in 2006 by a group of ten directors (each one tale), including Ichikawa Kon and Jisshoji Akio.
(Translation: Ten Nights of Dream by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson, Tuttle Publishing)

Nagai Kafu publishes Amerika Monogatari (Tales of America) and a year later Furansu Monogatari (Tales of France). In 1903 the 23-year old Nagai Kafu was sent by his businessman father to the United States for study. He would spend four happy years in the U.S. and one in France (the country where he as Francophile really wanted to go). On the West Coast, he wrote about the various types of Japanese living in the U.S.; in New York, in what is one of his best stories, "Ladies of the Night," he visited a high-class brothel - but he also wrote about low-class bars and Chinatown. Another  excellent story is "Rude Awakening," about a Japanese branch manager who discovers that the American secretary he has hired is in fact a prostitute. Kafu also lived in Washington where he worked for the Japanese legation. Here he also started on the banking career his father demanded of him and after one year the bank obligingly transferred him to their branch in Lyon, so that Kafu finally could visit his beloved France! With his focus on French literature, Kafu's attitude was that of the flaneur, the uninvolved observer. The best story in the French collection is "Kumo" (The Cloud), about a Japanese diplomat in Paris; also interesting is "Tasogare no Chichukai" (The Mediterranean in Twilight), written on his way home from Europe to Japan and conjuring up his nostalgia, while also touching (like many of the stories do) on Kafu's heartfelt love for Western classical music. Both collections of tales established his reputation, identifying him as a distinctive writer in a new, aesthetic tradition. These stories foreshadow his later work, in which, amid an increasingly populist and tiresome present, he would compose elegiac tales about an earlier and elegant Japanese culture.
(Translation: American Stories by Mitsuko Iriye, Columbia University Press; "The Mediterranean in Twilight" from Furansu Monogatari in The Columbia Anthology I)

Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese resident-general in Korea, assassinated by Korean nationalist. 

English potter Bernard Leach arrives in Japan.

Death of Futabatei Shimei (1864-1909).

Sore kara (And Then) by Natsume Soseki. Together with the earlier Sanshiro and the later Mon, Sore kara has been seen as part of a trilogy. That doesn't mean these novels continue one and the same story, but rather that they describe similar protagonists at different stages of their lives: Sanshiro as a naive young man, Daisuke in Sore kara as a grown-up who experiences an existential crisis, and Sosuke in Mon as a man at an older age who has been ostracized by society. All three heroes are "black sheep," in his trilogy Soseki has delineated their decline. The alienated Daisuke is 30 years old and clearly sees the conflict between old and new in modern Japan - yet he is paralyzed by his inability to find new values. He recognizes that the world of feudal Japan has been swept away by modernization but that nothing has been created to take its place. Modern society therefore, as it precludes meaningful action, imposes inactivity upon him. But circumstances bring on an existential crisis and force him out of his indolence. Some years before, he has allowed his best friend, Hiraoka, to marry Michiyo, the woman he himself loved (and still loves). He only realizes his mistake when, for business reasons, his father presses him to marry someone else. What shall he do? He can try to win back Michiyo, but she has a heart condition... The book ends with his possible madness, tormented by the guilty conscience that he has to make amends to the woman he wronged - this all in a frenzied description that could not have been bettered by the French existentialists of many decades later. Soseki's darkest, but also his finest novel. Sore kara was filmed in 1985 by Morita Yoshimitsu with Matsuda Yusaku, and this, too, is a very good film.
[Translated by Norma Moore Field, Louisiana State University Press]

Mori Ogai writes Wita sekusuarisu (Vita Sexualis), a satire on the obsession with sex of the Naturalists in the form of a sexual autobiography, from the young protagonist's first exposure to the erotic ukiyo-e woodcuts to his first encounter at age twenty with a professional courtesan. Ogai insisted that the sex instinct, strong as it was, must be considered as only one aspect of human life and not necessarily the most important. There are some interesting vignettes in this novel, which reflect the early Meiji-period: at school and in the dorms the protagonist carries a dagger to protect himself from the aggressive bisexuality of some of the sons of samurai (after all, in the Edo-period nanshoku was quite normal among samurai and priests). We also find him looking up dirty words in a German dictionary, apparently something of all times and all cultures, just as the watching of "dirty pictures" in the form of the shunga the boy "borrows" from his father. And he feels a strong attraction to a mature and voluptuous woman who lives next door. The book ends when the twenty-year old protagonist confesses to his publisher that he is still a virgin and then is taken to an oiran in the Yoshiwara for a quick fix. Although it contains nothing outrageous, the novel was banned by the censor and Ogai was personally reprimanded by the vice-minister of war. As his own high government position made it impossible to criticize this censorship openly, he did so in a story, Chinmoku no to (The Tower of Silence), about the tall towers on Malabar Hill in which the Parsis dispose of their dead - as a symbol for the way in which the Meiji government silenced people who wrote "dangerous books."
(Translation: Vita Sexualis by Kazuji Ninomiya and Sanford Goldstein, Tuttle Publishing)

Iwano Homei, one of the foremost Japanese Naturalists, writes "Tandeki" (Self-Indulgence). "Self-Indulgence" describes Homei's (here called "Tamura") summer in the countryside, where he had gone to write without being disturbed. He confesses to being "decadent," in the sense of leading the egoistic life of a man whose conduct is entirely determined by his own needs and moods. His lodgings happen to be next to a restaurant where the geisha in residence, Kichiya, performs for customers. She has rather coarse features but gradually Tamura becomes attracted to her and soon they are lovers. But he is not the only one - he realizes his mistress will share herself with anyone, something which makes him shudder, but teaches him that indulgence is the essence of life. He presses Kichiya to become an actress and even sells the clothes of his wife to buy her release from the geisha contract. But then she goes to Tokyo where another lover is waiting to marry her... and Tamura gives her up without regret in this totally unsentimental story. "Tandeki" could not have been written without the example of Tayama Katai's Futon. Homei's stories were so close to his own experiences that some people questioned - even in his own day - whether they should be called novels or diaries. We may now criticize the fact that the protagonist doesn't consider the consequences of his actions, but in its time the hero's impulsiveness was admired as genuine and convincing.

Iwano Homei (1873-1920) was born in the island of Awaji and studied in Tokyo at the Meiji Gakuin, a Christian college, where his interest in literature was stimulated by Shimazaki Toson. Besides being an important poet in the new style (shintaishi), Homei is also considered as one of the chief representatives of Japanese Naturalism. He also propounded his concept of Naturalism in various critical essays. His best know story is the above, Tandeki. There are no translations of his work.

Nagai Kafu writes "The Fox," one of his best short stories. After returning from his long trip abroad, Kafu had written only about his travels. In this story based on a childhood memory he records the ambivalence he felt toward his authoritarian father and his feeling for his mother. In the end, the fate of the fox in this story brings all notions of human justice into question. It also is very nostalgic, as Kafu's subsequent work would be. At that time, in early Meiji, there were many empty residences that originally belonged to the retainers of the daimyo who had been forced to maintain a second residence in Edo. The father of the narrator has bought up a number of these and built a mansion with a large garden. This means one could still feel close to nature in Tokyo, all the more since a fox roams around killing the chicken in the mansion. The story ends with the desperate hunt for the fox and its death, which seems a gross injustice to the narrator. The story can be interpreted as a "ritual murder (by the father) directed against the archetypal maternal, lurking in the wooded low-lying area below the precipice in the garden," and also as a symbolic drama in which brooding memories stored up in an Edo space are eradicated by the utilitarianism and rationalism of Meiji "civilization and enlightenment." Typically for Kafu, the narrator has already begun to escape from the masculine world of "civilization and enlightenment" that encompassed the father, and has instead set out on his lifelong project of recovering concrete memories of an Edo space suffused with the maternal archetype (Maeda Ai).
[Translated by Lane Dunlop in Autumn Wind and other stories, Tuttle;study in "The Spirits of Abandoned Gardens: On Nagai Kafu's "The Fox"" in Text and the City, Essays on Japanese Modernity by Maeda Ai, edited by James A. Fujii, Duke U.P.]

Shimamura Hogetsu publishes Kindai bungaku no kenkyu (Studies in Modern Literature), a series of essays. Shimamura Hogetsu (1871-1918) was active as a literary critic and playwright. After study in Europe, he became professor at Waseda University. Besides helping to establish a new theater in Japan, Hogetsu was a strong promoter of the realism of the Japanese Naturalists.

High Treason Incident: Kotoku Shosui implicated in plot to assassinate the emperor; executed the next year - Korea is made a colony of Japan - Expedition headed by Shirase Nobu departs to explore Antarctica.
The literary coterie Shirakaba-ha (White Birch Group) is founded by Mushanokoji Saneatsu, Shiga Naoya, Satomi Ton and others. It publishes the literary magazine Shirakaba, which existed from 1910 to 1923. Shirakaba-ha was a loose association of alumni of the prestigious Gakushuin Peer's School in Tokyo. Members (all from powerful and wealthy families, so the government turned a blind eye to their unconventional ideas) included writers, artists and literary critics. The group emphasized idealism, humanism and individualism, over the Naturalism that had been the dominant trend in Japanese literature since 1906. The Shirakaba-ha  also promoted European art trends as Expressionism and Post-Impressionism in Japan. And they were interested in Japanese folk art, which had previously been disparaged by traditional art critics. Early members included Shiga Naoya (1883-1971), Mushanokoji Saneatsu (1885-1976), Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961), Satomi Ton (1888-1983) and Arishima Takeo (1878-1923).

The literature written by members of the group was typically of the shishosetsu genre, and was concerned with the life of individuals, often incorporating optimistic philosophy into their work. Some of these individuals came from wealthy families, and attempted to emulate Tolstoy in creating utopian agrarian communes in remote parts of Japan. Because of this positive philosophy, which was very different from that of the Japanese Naturalists, the shishosetsu as written by Shirakaba-ha members is sometimes also called "shinkyo shosetsu," ("state of mind novels"). The "shinkyo shosetsu" writer, like the novelist of other shishosetsu (which because of their strong negative tendency were called "novels of self-destruction"), believes in the ego as the primary subject matter, but where the latter represents the unredeemed self in crisis, the "shinkyo shosetsu" represents the serene and harmonious state of mind arrived at by the protagonist after he has come out victoriously from a life crisis. The novelist's object in writing is to cultivate his mind so as to attain perfect harmony - in this sense literature is a way of life, a moral training. This is clearest and most beautifully exemplified in the writings of Shiga Naoya (see below). 
[Study: Meeting the Sensei: The Role of the Master in Shirakaba Writers, by Maya Mortimer, Brill Leiden]

Shiga Naoya's first story, "Abashiri made" ("As Far As Abashiri"), is published in the Shirakaba magazine. As Donald Richie has said, "...many of Shiga's best pieces consist of a simple incident upon which is brought to bear an enormous weight. Disliking plot with its editorial falsifications, Shiga (like his admirer the film director Ozu Yasujiro) returns to the simple happening all its original meaning" (Japanese Literature Reviewed, p. 223). Shiga's stories are the archetypal shishosetsu, although it should be added that in several of his early stories we have (sometimes even ingenuous) plot in the form of ideal experience or imagination. But most stories are based on either observation or autobiography. Here are some examples from the early stories:
- "One Morning" (Aru asa, 1908): the simple story of a young man who has trouble getting out of bed one morning, leading to a psychological game of resentment and reconciliation between him and his grandmother. An early example of how Shiga takes the small, insignificant events of everyday life and turns them into a work of literary art. The story also "shows the conflict between the protagonist's needs as an individual and his needs as part of a social group," as Roy Starr writes - an important theme in Shiga's work (in An Artless Art, the Zen Aesthetics of Shiga Naoya, p. 20).
- "As Far As Abashiri" (Abashiri made, 1910): a description of the author's brief acquaintance with an impoverished young mother traveling with two fretful children to the northern end of Japan on a train.
- "The Razor" (Kamisori, 1910): an unsuspecting customer has his throat cut by a barber irritated by his vulgarity. A story built on excitement of feeling.
- "The Paper Door" (Fusuma, 1911): two unconnected families happen to sleep in rooms in an inn with only paper sliding doors in between their rooms. There is a small incident when one of the fusuma is briefly opened at night. The narrator interprets it rather self-servingly as "a gesture by the countrified maid of the family next door, to express her love for him."
- "Seibei and His Gourds" (Seibei to hyotan, 1912), a simple story about a boy who collects gourds, selecting them for their aesthetic beauty with an unerring eye. Finally, Seibei's father and teacher force him to stop collecting gourds, but Seibei maintains his aesthetic values in the face of philistine attacks. Perhaps Shiga's motivation for the story came from his unhappiness with his father who judged that literature was unsatisfactory as a vocation.
- "An Incident" (Dekigoto, 1913): we are inside a trolley, full of dozing passengers, when an incident happens: a small boy almost gets run over. The shocked passengers spontaneously make friends with each other. In the meantime, a butterfly observed inside the carriage by the protagonist has flown away. But nothing is meant symbolically here. A perfect story without the convenience of a plot.
- "Han's Crime" (Han no hanzai, 1913), the story of a Chinese juggler's impulsive wife-slaying. In the end, he is judged to be innocent.
[All stories, except "One Morning" translated in The Paper Door and Other Stories by Lane Dunlop, Tuttle]

Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) was born in Ishinomaki (Miyagi Pref.) and later lived in Tokyo, Kyoto and various other parts of Japan. He was a master stylist who excelled at the short story form. He was the son of a successful businessman and received his education at the prestigious Peer's School. Between 1906 and 1910 he studied English and Japanese Literature at Tokyo University. In 1910 he set up the journal Shirakaba, together with like-minded friends from the Peer's School, and the short pieces he published in this magazine helped him establish a reputation as a promising new writer. Besides about 60 short stories and novellas, Shiga Naoya is also famous for the novel Anya koro (A Dark Night's Passing), published between 1921 and 1937. Although he wrote in the shishosetsu form (of which he was probably the foremost practitioner), like other Shirakaba writers his work belongs to what has been called "shinkyo shosetsu" (state of mind novel), as in contrast to the negative and destructive shishosetsu, we find a harmonious and elevated state of mind acquired as a result of overcoming a crisis, and a great clarity of insight.
[Study: An Artless Art, the Zen Aesthetics of Shiga Naoya, by Roy Starrs, Curzon Press]

Mushanokoji Saneatsu writes Omedetaki hito (An Innocent). The hero, who has fallen in love with Tsuru, a young woman in his neighborhood, is time and again rejected by her, but he keeps proposing as each time he is able to convince himself that she didn't mean it. This self-delusion continues when he hears she has married another man, for now he tells himself that she must have been pressed into doing so. With a sort of childish innocence, the hero keeps optimistically believing in the future. Mushanokoji has been said to have added the essential element of self-confidence to the shishosetsu. Most Western critics see Mushanokoji's literature as too simplistic and naive, but in Japan he is highly appreciated for his primitive vitality. I remember Japanese fellow students mentioning him as their favorite author when I studied in Kyoto in the early 1980s.

Mushanokoji Saneatsu (1885-1976) was a novelist and playwright who went on to become a Tolstoyan humanist in his later years. From 1918 to 1926 he lived in an utopian commune which he founded in Kyushu. Mushanokoji was the son of a viscount and the most aristocratic among his friends at the Peer's School. He was the driving force the Shirakaba-ha or "White Bitch Society," a group that promoted cooperation between artists who had in common that they were opposed to the Naturalists. Mushanokoji is part of the canon with such novellas as Omedetaki hito and Yujo (Friendship). The difference in appreciation outside Japan is demonstrated by the fact that there are no modern translations of his work.
[Study: Meeting the Sensei, The Role of the Master in Shirakaba Writings, by Maya Mortimer, Brill Leiden]

Mon (The Gate) by Natsume Soseki is the portrait of a married couple, who for their transgression in the past have been ostracized from society, but who hold together with a sort of quiet love, in muted suffering. Sosuke and Oyone live in gentile poverty, Sosuke earns just enough as a low-ranking civil servant to make both ends meet. They rent a rather dark and cheerless house in Tokyo, and have no contact with family, no friends or acquaintances. Their solitary existence is wholly uneventful. You could almost say that they live as recluses in the big city, their gate always closed. This seclusion has been caused by a dark spot in their lives. When he was a promising student at Kyoto University, Sosuke had a good friend, Yasui. Sosuke has shamelessly betrayed this close friend by robbing him of his beautiful wife, causing a scandal in the university town - these were strict times in which students were supposed to be models of society - that ruins both their careers. Their joint betrayal of Yasui has left both Sosuke and Oyone with a feeling of guilt. Although Sosuke loves Oyone tenderly, he is increasingly tormented by the memory of his past behavior.... Sosuke eventually seeks salvation through Zen, by staying at Engakuji in Kamakura, but in vain.
[Translation by William F. Sibley in New York Review Books (replacing the older translation by Francis Mathy in Tuttle Books); study "In the Recesses of the High City: On Soseki's Gate" by Maeda Ai in Text and the City, Duke U.P.]

Tanizaki Junichiro writes "Shisei" (Tattoo / The Tattooer), the first short story written by this major 20th c. author. Set in the Tokugawa period, the story tells how a tattooer becomes enslaved by a beautiful young woman whom he selects originally to be the victim of his painful skill by inscribing a giant spider on her body. Seikichi finds a secret, sadistic pleasure in piercing the skin of his customers with his tattoo needles. His dream is to find a beautiful woman and to inscribe on her skin a tattoo imbued with his own cruel spirit. After searching for four years, he finally finds a young woman who not only has an immaculate white skin, but who also has a hidden, cruel streak. After the artist has tattooed the giant spider on her body, the woman's beauty takes on a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with sado-masochism. She becomes the "femme fatale" he has always dreamed about, but he also becomes her first victim. The epitome of the later literary style of Tanizaki is revealed in this early story: the author's indulgence in sensual romanticism, his taste for the grotesque, his aspiration for feminine beauty, his admiration for sadistic women... It marked the birth of a new romantic literature in the form of modern decadence, by fusing "Edo taste" with Western Modernism. The femme-fatale is a theme repeated in many of Tanizaki's early works, including "Kirin" (1910), "Shonen" ("The Children", 1911), "Himitsu" ("The Secret," 1911), and "Akuma" ("Devil", 1912). "Shisei" was filmed in 1966 as Irezumi by Masumoto Yasuzo, with Wakao Ayako. Another (contemporary) adaptation was made in 2007 by Zeze Takahisa.
[Trans. Howard Hibbet, in Seven Japanese Stories, Vintage).

Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965) was a master storyteller and stylist whose novels have influenced numerous writers in Japan. He was born in Tokyo, but moved to the Kansai area after the Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923. Tanizaki started his writing career with sensual and decadent short stories as "Shisei" (The Tattooer) in which a tattoo artist inscribes a giant, evil spider on the back of a beautiful woman - this gives her a demonic power of which the artist becomes the first victim, something he masochistically accepts. Other novels, as Naomi, reflect the rapid modernization of Japanese society in the tale of a dandy who tries to groom a cafe girl with English and music lessons and in his obsession puts up with all her whims and even infidelities. After relocating to Western Japan, Tanizaki's dandyism and fascination with the West were replaced with a renewed appreciation of classical Japanese culture, as is evidenced by the essay In Praise of Shadows. His renewed interest in classical Japanese literature culminated in his multiple translations into modern Japanese of the eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji (1941, 1954 & 1965). He first lived in (still rather Western) Ashiya, where he wrote masterworks as Arrowroot, The Reed Cutter and A Portrait of Shunkin - all stories of men who find happiness in absolute devotion to haughty or unapproachable women. He also started on what would become his most famous novel, The Makioka Sisters, a realistic tale about the decline of a proud Kansai family, which he completed five years later after moving to Kyoto in 1948. Tanizaki had of course often visited Kyoto even when he lived in the Kanto and was quite familiar with the city. The Shimogamo of his last Kyoto address returns in the beautiful novella The Bridge of Dreams - which Tanizaki wrote three years after he had exchanged the cold Kyoto winters for the warmer climes of Atami. Tanizaki was shortlisted for the Nobel prize in literature, but died in 1965 before anything could come of that. He was buried in the Honenin temple in Kyoto.
[Studies: Chambers, Anthony Hood, The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki's Fiction, Harvard U.P.; Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists, Kodansha International; Ito, Ken Kenneth, Visions of Desire: Tanizaki's Fictional Worlds, Stanford U.P.]

Mori Ogai writes Seinen (Youth). In his creative work, Mori Ogai went through 4 phases: the three novellas as Maihime, written in a classical style but with a modern content; this was followed by a long period in which Mori Ogai was active (and very influential) as translator and critic, but published no new creative work; the second period from 1909 to 1912, in which Ogai wrote contemporary stories about his own experiences in a clear, modern style; the period from 1912 to 1916 in which Ogai concentrated on historical stories, often in a classical style; and the years from 1916 when Ogai wrote three biographies of doctors from the Edo period. Ogai was inspired by Natsume Soseki's Sanshiro when he wrote Seinen as his own novel of youthful discovery of the inner life. He was also inspired by the German "Bildungsroman," such as Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. Ogai's protagonist, Koizumi Junichi, is, like Sanshiro, a young man coming from the provinces to Tokyo in order to experience the excitement of the big city. Ogai himself appears in the book in the guise of the writer Hirata Fuseki. With themes as self-recognition and resignation, Seinen is best read in conjunction with Vita Sexualis, another account of a young man coming to maturity, in the intellectual as well as emotional sense, as well is the slightly later The Wild Geese. Youth is a great source of information about the intellectual, social and artistic attitudes of around 1910. It is full of authentic atmosphere.
(Translation: Mori Ogai, Youth and Other Stories, ed. J. Thomas Rimer)

Ie (The Family) by Shimazaki Toson, a sprawling novel that describes the disintegration of the Koizumi and Hashimoto families over a twelve-year period. Central are the characters of Koizumi Sankichi, a writer who is a schoolteacher in a poor mountain village; his older sister Otane who has married into the Hashimoto family; and Oyuki, the wife of Sankichi. Nothing is going as it should: Oyuki seems to be corresponding with a former lover, and the traditional business of the Hashimoto family declines. Otane tries to hold things together, even as her husband runs away with a geisha. Sankichi moves his family to Tokyo. While he struggles as a novelist, his children die from undernourishment. Friction with his wife Oyuki increases as Sankichi is on the verge of an incestuous relationship with a niece. Shota, the son of Otane, tries to revive the family fortunes by playing the stock market, but he fails and he dies from tuberculosis. At the end of the novel, the exhausted Sankichi and Oyuki seem to have reached a quiet understanding with each other. The novel, which has been designated a masterpiece of Japanese Naturalism, is largely an autobiographical account of Toson's own life and many members of his family appear as characters.
(Translation: The Family by Cecilia Segawa Seigle, University of Tokyo Press)

Uta andon (A Song by Lantern Light) by Izumi Kyoka, two stories combined into one, about a young No actor who has been ostracized from his family because of his arrogance. The story ends in reconciliation. The reader must jump back and forth between two narratives, two sets of characters and two sites of narration until these merge near the end. The story also contains numerous references to Jippensha Ikku's famous novel Shank's Mare (Tokaido dochi hizakurige, 1802-1809), and especially the part where the two heroes become separated when traveling in the Ise area. It also makes use of the No play The Diver (Ama), in which the heroine sacrifices herself by diving deep into the sea. The structure can be said to anticipate cinematic collage. Boldly experimental, this is usually considered as Kyoka's masterwork. Filmed in 1943 by Naruse Mikio (with a changed, happy ending).
(Translation: In Light of Shadows by Charles Shiro Inouye)

Tono monogatari (Legends of Tono) by Yanagita Kunio. Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) was interested in both literature and folklore studies and Legends of Tono stands at the borderline of these two activities: it is excellent literature but also a precious record of peasant life in the rural Tono area. Many of the 119 short pieces are a sort of "sketches of memories," i.e. "remarkable and extraordinary experiences told in the first person." Although two fairy tales have been included as well, many of the records are not even stories, but flimsy pieces of things heard or seen. That makes the book all the more interesting as a real account of the world of Tono - both things seen and unseen... much space is taken up by the fear for the supernatural.
[Translated by Ronald A. Morse, Lexington Books]

Chikamatsu Shuko writes Wakareta Tsuma ni Okuru Tegami (Letter to My Wife Who Left Me). A typical autobiographical shishosetsu describing in epistolary style the solitude and misery of the narrator, who has been left by his wife. In fact, this story is part of a series of six (also including the later Giwaku) which has been dubbed the "Estranged Wife" cycle. The narrator feels he has been betrayed by a woman who was no longer prepared to act the part of his wife unless he legally marry her. He, however, considers official marriage as nothing more than a piece of paper. The narrator reflects on his past life with his wife and hopes for her quick return, despite rumors that she now lives with another man. Strangely, much of the letter is devoted to a description of a rivalry with a colleague over a prostitute with whom he had become intimate in an attempt to overcome his loneliness. The narrator has been called a "holy fool" because of his continuous swings of emotion, his boundless egoism, his unreasonableness and his utter disregard for reality. This story has not been translated.
[Study in: The Rhetoric of Confession by Edward Fowler, California U.P.]

Chikamatsu Shuko (1876-1944) was born in Okayama and graduated from what is now Waseda University. He became a prominent writer of Shishosetsu in the Naturalist manner, known for his confessional tales of betrayal and humiliation. Except the above title, famous works are Giwaku (Suspicion, 1913) and Kurokami (Black Hair, 1922).

Ishikawa Takuboku publishes his first collection of tanka verse, A Handful of Sand

Feminist organization Seitosha (Blue Stocking Society) founded. 

Mori Ogai starts serializing Gan (The Wild Goose), a story about the tentative attraction between a medical student, Okada, who must soon leave for Germany, and Otama, the beautiful young mistress of an unpleasant money-lender, Suezo. She has become the moneylender's mistress to alleviate the poverty of her aging father and has been set up by him in a small house on a quiet street. The student often passes her house on his daily walk, and they start noticing each other - he even kills a snake for her - but the dream is more on her side and in the end he leaves Tokyo before anything like a romance can develop. Although the narrative is introduced and closed by a friend of Okada, the point of view later shifts to Otama, focusing on her situation and showing how she develops a modern self-consciousness and learns to stand up against her patron. This nostalgic and lyrical story is also a historical recreation of the Tokyo of around 1880, which is described in detail: the daily routine of Okada's walks, the environs of the old Tokyo Imperial University, the lonely slope called Muenzaka where Otama lives. Ogai records the activity of the university students, their boardinghouse lives, and their browsing in secondhand bookshops. Beautifully filmed in 1953 by Toyoda Shiro with Takamine Hideko.
[Translated by Burton Watson, University of Michigan; older translation as The Wilde Geese by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein, Tuttle]

Nagai Kafu writes Sumidagawa (The River Sumida), his most lyrical but also elegiac story, about a disappearing way of life. After his return from abroad, Kafu sought the remnants of his own culture in various corners of modern Tokyo. In Sumidagawa, he attempts to find the shadows of the past in the lives of such people as a female instructor of tokiwazu music, a professional haiku master, a geisha, and Kabuki actors. The tale starts and ends with episodes about haiku master Ragetsu; in between these chapters we find the affecting story of a boy named Chokichi, his nephew. Chokichi's mother, although a teacher of traditional music, wants her son to follow the new Meiji times and go to university. She sacrifices herself to pay for his school so that he can become a bureaucrat. Chokichi is however drawn to the Kabuki and its music, and wants to become a professional shamisen player. At the same time, he looses his girlfriend, Oito, as she has to become a geisha and suddenly has grown up and become too old for him (reminding us of the story Udekurabe by Higuchi Ichiyo). At the end of the story, despairing of ever finding happiness, Chokichi falls ill, having caught typhus. The ending is open, we don't know whether he will recover as his uncle fervently hopes. The most beautiful section is the opening of the story, a sort of michiyuki, in which Ragetsu travels from his house on the left bank of the Sumida to visit his sister and nephew, who live in Imado on the other bank. Impressive are also the descriptions of the changes brought by the seasons to the river scenery, which occur in every of the ten chapters. As usual in Japanese novels, the story is of less importance than the atmosphere Kafu is evoking. As Donald Keene says, "The river, the little houses on the embankment, the bridges, the groves of trees visible in the temple grounds across the river are as much 'persons' in the story as Chokichi, Oito, and the rest. [...] The characters are hardly more than sketched, and remain two-dimensional, but the composition, as in a beautifully executed ukiyo-e, is flawless, and the coloring exquisite." (Donald Keene, Dawn to the West, p. 423). Indeed, the story reminded me of the romantic Meiji-period ukiyo-e of Kobayashi Kiyochika.
(Translation: Kafu the Scribbler, The Life and Writings of Nagai Kafu by Edward Seidensticker, Stanford University Press)

Masamune Hakucho writes the Naturalist story "Doro ningyo" (The Clay Doll), a fictionalized account of the unhappy start of his own married life. After having met a number of prospective brides without being impressed by any one of them, Moriya Jukichi, the central figure, is talked into marrying a young woman from the provinces with a traditional upbringing for whom he feels no affection. In an apathetic state of mind he agrees, but is later mortified to have to share his life with a wife he can only regard as "a doll of clay." From her side, the wife has been schooled to expect that patience and devotion to her husband will eventually be rewarded, but she waits in vain for some sign of affection from him, as he spends most nights out of the house with other women. A sarcastic story that demonstrates the negative point of an arranged marriage.
(Translation in The Columbia Anthology I)

Masamune Hakucho (real name: Masamune Tadao; 1879-1962) was a novelist, playwright and critic from Okayama. After studying English as a missionary school, at age 17 he moved to Tokyo, where he entered the English course of what is now Waseda University (receiving lessons in Shakespeare from Tsubouchi Shoyo; in the new century, Waseda University also became the center of Japanese Naturalism). He was a follower of the Japanese Christian thinker Uchimura Kanzo and was baptized in 1897. Uchimura promoted a mild brand of New England Protestantism which appealed more as philosophy than as religion and which gave young writers a perspective from which to criticize the Meiji state. Hakucho lost his faith already a few years later, like the other writers who had embraced Christianity in the 1890s. The first story proclaiming Hakucho's emergence as a Naturalist writer was Jinai (Dust) from 1907, a story in which he captured the bleakness of the life of a proofreader in a newspaper office. This and other stories that followed, such as Doko e (Whither?) from 1908, were deeply pessimistic, even close to despair. Shisha seisha (The Dead and the Living, 1916) treats the breakdown of the family system through the selfishness of contemporary urban life. Later in life, Hakucho mainly wrote plays and criticism, including a authoritative history of the Naturalist movement in Japan. Akutagawa rated Hakucho as the "best of the Naturalists."

Philosopher Nishida Kitaro publishes Zen no Kenkyu (A Study of Good).
[Reference works used: Dawn to the West by Donald Keene (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984); Modern Japanese Novelists, A Biographical Dictionary by John Lewell (New York, Tokyo and London: Kodansha International, 1993); Narrating the Self, Fictions of Japanese Modernity by Tomi Suzuki (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); Oe and Beyond, Fiction in Contemporary Japan, ed. by Stephen Snyder and Philip Gabriel (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999); Origins of Modern Japanese Literature by Karatani Kojin (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993); The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, 2 vols, ed. by J. Thomas Rimer and Van C. Gessel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005 and 2007); The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature by Susan J. Napier (London and New York: Routledge, 1996); Writers & Society in Modern Japan by Irena Powell (New York, Tokyo and London: Kodansha International, 1983).]