Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

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Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
芥川 龍之介
Akutagawa Ryunosuke photo2.jpg
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Born (1892-03-01)1 March 1892
Kyōbashi, Tokyo, Japan
Died 24 July 1927(1927-07-24) (aged 35)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Writer
Genre short stories
Notable works

"In a Grove" "Rashōmon"

"Hana"

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke?, 1 March 1892 – 24 July 1927) was a Japanese writer active in the Taishō period in Japan. He is regarded as the "Father of the Japanese short story" and Japan's premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him.[1] He committed suicide at the age of 35 through an overdose of barbital.[2]

Early life[edit]

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was born in the Kyōbashi district of Tokyo, the third child and only son of father Toshizō Niihara and mother Fuku Niihara (née Akutagawa). He was named "Ryūnosuke" ("Son [of] Dragon") because he was born in the Year of the Dragon, in the Month of the Dragon, on the Day of the Dragon, and at the Hour of the Dragon. His mother went insane shortly after his birth, so he was adopted and raised by his maternal uncle, Akutagawa Dōshō, from whom he received the Akutagawa family name. He was interested in classical Chinese literature from an early age, as well as the works of Mori Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki.

He entered the First High School in 1910, developing relationships with classmates such as Kan Kikuchi, Kume Masao, Yamamoto Yūzō, and Tsuchiya Bunmei, all of whom would later become authors. He began writing after entering Tokyo Imperial University in 1913, where he studied English literature.

While still a student he proposed marriage to a childhood friend, Yayoi Yoshida, but his adoptive family did not approve the union. In 1916 he became engaged to Fumi Tsukamoto, whom he married in 1918. They had three children: Hiroshi Akutagawa (1920–1981) was an actor, Takashi Akutagawa (1922–1945) was killed as a student draftee in Burma, and Yasushi Akutagawa (1925–1989) was a composer.

After graduation, he taught briefly at the Naval Engineering School in Yokosuka, Kanagawa as an English language instructor, before deciding to devote his full efforts to writing.

Literary career[edit]

A set photograph of 1919. The second from the left is Akutagawa. At the far left is Kan Kikuchi.

In 1914, Akutagawa and his former high school friends revived the literary journal Shinshichō ("New Currents of Thought"), publishing translations of William Butler Yeats and Anatole France along with their own works. Akutagawa published his first short story Rashōmon the following year in the literary magazine Teikoku Bungaku ("Imperial Literature"), while still a student. The story, based on a twelfth-century tale, was not well received by Akutagawa's friends, who criticized it extensively. Nonetheless, Akutagawa gathered the courage to visit his idol, Natsume Sōseki, in December 1915 for Sōseki's weekly literary circles. In early 1916 he published Hana ("The Nose", 1916), which attracted a letter of praise from Sōseki and secured Akutagawa his first taste of fame.[3]

It was also at this time that he started writing haiku under the haigo (or pen-name) Gaki. Akutagawa followed with a series of short stories set in Heian period, Edo period or early Meiji period Japan. These stories reinterpreted classical works and historical incidents. Examples of these stories include: Gesaku zanmai ("A Life Devoted to Gesaku", 1917) and Kareno-shō ("Gleanings from a Withered Field", 1918), Jigoku hen ("Hell Screen", 1918); Hōkyōnin no shi ("The Death of a Christian", 1918), and Butōkai ("The Ball", 1920). Akutagawa was a strong opponent of naturalism. He published Mikan ("Mandarin Oranges", 1919) and Aki ("Autumn", 1920) which have more modern settings.

In 1921, Akutagawa interrupted his writing career to spend four months in China, as a reporter for the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun. The trip was stressful and he suffered from various illnesses, from which his health would never recover. Shortly after his return he published Yabu no naka ("In a Grove", 1922).

Influences to his writing[edit]

Akutagawa’s stories were influenced by his belief that the practice of literature should be universal and can bring together western and Japanese cultures. This can be seen in the way that Akutagawa uses existing works from a variety of cultures and time periods and either rewrites the story with modern sensibilities, or creates new stories using ideas from multiple sources. Critics view this approach as unoriginal.

Culture and the formation of a cultural identity is also a major theme in several of Akutagawa’s works. In these stories he explores the formation of cultural identity during periods in history where Japan was most open to outside influences. An example of this is his story Hōkyōnin no Shi (“The Martyr”, 1918) which is set in the early missionary period.

The portrayal of women in Akutagawa’s stories was shaped by the influence of three women who acted as a mother for Akutagawa. Most significantly his biological mother Fuku, from whom he worried about inheriting her mental illness. Though he did not spend much time with Fuku he identified strongly with her, believing that if at any moment he might go mad life was meaningless. His aunt Fuki played the most significant role in his upbringing. Fuki controlled much of Akutagawa’s life, demanding much of his attention especially as she grew older. Women that appear in Akutagawa’s stories, much like the women he identified as mothers, were written as dominating, aggressive, deceitful, and selfish. Often men are written as the victims of such women, such as in Kesa to Morito (Kesa and Morito, 1918) in which the leading female character attempts to control the actions of both her lover and husband. Akutagawa did not write any love stories.

Later life[edit]

The final phase of Akutagawa's literary career was marked by his deteriorating physical and mental health. Much of his work during this period is distinctly autobiographical, some even taken directly from his diaries. His works during this period include Daidōji Shinsuke no hansei ("The Early Life of Daidōji Shinsuke", 1925) and Tenkibo ("Death Register", 1926).

Akutagawa had a highly publicized dispute with Jun'ichirō Tanizaki over the importance of structure versus lyricism in story. Akutagawa argued that structure, how the story was told, was more important than the content or plot of the story, whereas Tanizaki argued the opposite.

Akutagawa's final works include Kappa (1927), a satire based on a creature from Japanese folklore, Haguruma ("Spinning Gears", 1927), Aru ahō no isshō ("A Fool's Life"), and the Bungeiteki na, amari ni bungeiteki na ("Literary, All Too Literary", 1927).

Towards the end of his life, Akutagawa began suffering from visual hallucinations and nervousness over fear that he had inherited his mother's mental disorder. In 1927 he tried to take his own life, together with a friend of his wife, but the attempt failed. He finally committed suicide by taking an overdose of Veronal, which had been given to him by Saito Mokichi on July 24 of the same year. His dying words in his will claimed he felt a "vague insecurity" 「ぼんやりした不安」 (bon'yari shita fuan?) about the future.[4] He was 35 years old.[citation needed]

Legacy[edit]

Akutagawa wrote over 150 short stories during his brief life. The classic film Rashōmon (1950) directed by Akira Kurosawa retells the Akutagawa's story "In a Grove." The title and the frame scenes set in the Rashomon Gate are taken from Akutagawa's story, "Rashomon." [5] Ukrainian composer Victoria Poleva has written the ballet Gagaku (1994), based on Akutagawa's Hell Screen. Japanese composer Mayako Kubo has written an opera named Rashomon, based on Akutagawa's story. The German version was premiered in Graz, Austria, in 1996, the Japanese version followed 2002 in Tokyo.

In 1935, Akutagawa's lifelong friend Kan Kikuchi established the literary award for promising new writers, the Akutagawa Prize, in his honor.

Selected works[edit]

Year Japanese title English title
1914 老年 Rōnen Old Age
羅生門 Rashōmon Rashōmon
1916 Hana The Nose
芋粥 Imogayu Yam Gruel
手巾 Hankechi The Handkerchief
煙草と悪魔 Tabako to Akuma Tobacco and the Devil
1917 尾形了斎覚え書 Ogata Ryosai Oboe gaki Dr. Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum
戯作三昧 Gesakuzanmai Absorbed in writing popular novels
1918 蜘蛛の糸 Kumo no Ito The Spider's Thread
地獄変 Jigokuhen Hell Screen
枯野抄 Kareno shou A commentary on the desolate field for Bashou
邪宗門 Jashūmon Jashūmon
奉教人の死 Hōkyōnin no Shi The Martyr
1919 魔術 Majutsu Magic
Ryū Dragon: the Old Potter's Tale
1920 舞踏会 Butou Kai A ball
Aki Autumn
南京の基督 Nankin no Kirisuto Christ in Nanking
杜子春 Toshishun Tu Tze-chun
アグニの神 Aguni no Kami God of Aguni
1921 山鴫 YamaShigi A snipe
秋山 Akiyama Autumn Mountain
上海游記 Shanhai Yuki A report on the journey of Shanghai
1922 藪の中 Yabu no Naka In a Grove, also In a Bamboo Grove
将軍 Shogun The general
トロッコ Torokko A Lorry
1923 保吉の手帳から Yasukichi no Techou kara From Yasukichi's notebook
1924 一塊の土 Ikkai no Tsuchi A clod of earth
1925 大導寺信輔の半生 Daidoji Shinsuke no Hansei Daidoji Shinsuke: The Early Years
侏儒の言葉 Shuju no Kotoba Aphorisms by a pygmy
1926 点鬼簿 Tenkibo Death Register
1927 玄鶴山房 Genkaku Sanbō Genkaku's room
河童 Kappa Kappa (novel)
文芸的な、余りに文芸的な Bungeiteki na, amarini Bungeiteki na Literary, All-Too-Literary
歯車 Haguruma Spinning Gears
或阿呆の一生 Aru Ahō no Isshō Fool's Life
西方の人 Saihō no Hito The Man of the West
或旧友へ送る手記 Aru Kyūyū he Okuru Shuki A Note to a Certain Old Friend

Selected works in translation[edit]

  • Fool's Life. Trans. Will Peterson Grossman (1970). ISBN 0-670-32350-0
  • Kappa. Trans. Geoffrey Bownas. Peter Owen Publishers (2006) ISBN 0-7206-1200-4
  • Hell Screen. Trans. H W Norman. Greenwood Press. (1970) ISBN 0-8371-3017-4
  • Mandarins. Trans. Charles De Wolf. Archipelago Books (2007) ISBN 0-9778576-0-3
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories. Trans. Jay Rubin. Penguin Classics (2004). ISBN 0-14-303984-9
  • TuTze-Chun. Kodansha International (1965). ASIN B0006BMQ7I
  • La fille au chapeau rouge. Trans. Lalloz ed. Picquier (1980). in ISBN 978-2-87730-200-5 (French edition)
  • "পটচিত্র : নরক ও অন্যান্য গল্প"। অনুবাদ শেখর মৈত্র, আনন্দ পাবলিশার্স প্রাইভেট লিমিটেড (২০১২), ISBN 978-93-5040-154-5 (Bangla/Bengali edition).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jewel, Mark. "Japanese Literary Awards" http://www.jlit.net/reference/literary-prizes/literary-prizes-a-to-m.html. Retrieved 2014-06-25.
  2. ^ Books: Misanthrope from Japon Monday, Time Magazine. Dec. 29, 1952
  3. ^ Keene, Donald (1984). Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 558-562. ISBN 0-03-062814-8. 
  4. ^ http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000879/files/20_14619.html
  5. ^ Arita, Eriko, "Ryunosuke Akutagawa in focus", Japan Times, 18 March 2012, p. 8.

English[edit]

  • Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West. Columbia University Press; (1998). ISBN 0-231-11435-4
  • Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford University Press (1971). ISBN 0-8047-0904-1
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories - the Chronology Chapter, Trans. Jay Rubin. Penguin Classics (2007). ISBN 978-0-14-303984-6

Japanese[edit]

  • Nakada, Masatoshi. Akutagawa Ryunosuke: Shosetsuka to haijin. Kanae Shobo (2000). ISBN 4-907846-03-7
  • Shibata, Takaji. Akutagawa Ryunosuke to Eibungaku. Yashio Shuppansha (1993). ISBN 4-89650-091-1
  • Takeuchi, Hiroshi. Akutagawa Ryunosuke no keiei goroku. PHP Kenkyujo (1983). ISBN 4-569-21026-0
  • Tomoda, Etsuo. Shoki Akutagawa Ryunosuke ron. Kanrin Shobo (1984). ISBN 4-906424-49-X

External links[edit]