Jump to content

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Akutagawa Ryunosuke)
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Native name
芥川 龍之介
BornRyūnosuke Niihara (新原 龍之介)
(1892-03-01)1 March 1892
Kyōbashi, Tokyo, Empire of Japan
Died24 July 1927(1927-07-24) (aged 35)
Tokyo, Empire of Japan
Alma materTokyo Imperial University
GenreShort stories
Literary movementModernism[1]
Notable works
SpouseFumi Akutagawa
Children3 (including Yasushi Akutagawa)
Japanese name
Kanji芥川 龍之介
Hiraganaあくたがわ りゅうのすけ

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, 1 March 1892 – 24 July 1927), art name Chōkōdō Shujin (澄江堂主人),[2] 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.[3] He took his own life at the age of 35 through an overdose of barbital.[4]

Early life[edit]

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was born in Irifune, Kyōbashi, Tokyo City (present-day Akashi, Chūō, Tokyo), the eldest son of businessman Toshizō Niihara and his wife Fuku. His family owned a milk production business.[5] His mother experienced mental illness shortly after his birth, so he was adopted and raised by his maternal uncle, Dōshō Akutagawa, from whom he received the Akutagawa family name. He was interested in classical Chinese literature from an early age, as well as in the works of Mori Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki.

He entered the First High School in 1910 and developed relationships with classmates such as Kan Kikuchi, Kume Masao, Yūzō Yamamoto, and Tsuchiya Bunmei [ja], all of whom would later become authors. He began writing after entering Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) 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.

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

Literary career[edit]

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

In 1914, Akutagawa and his former high school friends revived the literary journal Shinshichō ("New Currents of Thought"), where they published translations of William Butler Yeats and Anatole France along with works they had written themselves. Akutagawa published his second 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 greatly criticized it. Nonetheless, Akutagawa gathered up the courage to visit his idol, Natsume Sōseki, in December 1915 for Sōseki's weekly literary circles. In November, he published the work in the literary magazine Teikoku Mongaku.[2] In early 1916 he published "Hana" ("The Nose", 1916), which received a letter of praise from Sōseki and secured Akutagawa his first taste of fame.[6]

It was also at this time that Akutagawa started writing haiku under the haigo (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 ("Absorbed in Letters", 1917)[7] 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). During the trip, Akutagawa visited numerous cities of southeastern China including Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. Before his travel, he wrote a short story "The Christ of Nanjing [ja]"; concerning the Chinese Christian community; according to his own imaginative vision of Nanjing, as influenced by classical Chinese literature.[8]


Akutagawa's stories were influenced by his belief that the practice of literature should be universal and could bring together Western and Japanese cultures. The idea can be seen in the way that Akutagawa used 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. Culture and the formation of a cultural identity is also a major theme in several of his 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 mainly shaped by the influence of three women who acted as his mother figures. Most significant was his biological mother Fuku, from whom he worried about inheriting her madness.[9] Although Akutagawa was removed from Fuku eight months after his birth,[9] he identified strongly with her and believed that, if at any moment he might go mad, life was meaningless. His aunt Fuki played the most prominent role in his upbringing, controlling much of Akutagawa's life as well as demanding much of his attention, especially as she grew older. The women who appear in Akutagawa's stories, much like his mother figures, were for the most part written as dominating, aggressive, deceitful, and selfish. Conversely, men were often represented as the victims of such women.

Later life[edit]

A manuscript page of "Horse Legs", 1925

The final phase of Akutagawa's literary career was marked by deteriorating physical and mental health. Much of his work during this period is distinctly autobiographical, some with text 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).

At this time, Akutagawa had a highly publicized dispute with Jun'ichirō Tanizaki over the importance of structure versus lyricism in stories. 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 the eponymous creature from Japanese folklore, Haguruma ("Spinning Gears" or "Cogwheels", 1927), Aru ahō no isshō ("A Fool's Life" or "The Life of a Stupid Man"), and Bungeiteki na, amari ni bungeiteki na ("Literary, All Too Literary", 1927).

Towards the end of his life, Akutagawa suffered from visual hallucinations and anxiety over the fear that he had inherited his mother's mental disorder. In 1927, he survived a suicide attempt, together with a friend of his wife. He later died of suicide after taking an overdose of Veronal, which had been given to him by Mokichi Saitō on 24 July of the same year. In his will he wrote that he felt a "vague insecurity" (ぼんやりした不安, bon'yari shita fuan) about the future.[10] He was 35 years old.[11]

Legacy and adaptations[edit]

During the course of his short life, Akutagawa wrote 150 short stories.[12] A number of these have been adapted into other media. Akira Kurosawa's famous 1950 film Rashōmon retells Akutagawa's In a Bamboo Grove, with the title and the frame scenes set in the Rashomon Gate taken from Akutagawa's Rashōmon.[13] Ukrainian composer Victoria Poleva wrote the ballet Gagaku (1994), based on Akutagawa's Hell Screen. Japanese composer Mayako Kubo wrote an opera entitled Rashomon, based on Akutagawa's story. The German version premiered in Graz, Austria in 1996, and the Japanese version in Tokyo in 2002. The central conceit of the story (i.e. conflicting accounts of the same events from different points of view, with none "definitive") has entered into storytelling as an accepted trope.

In 1930, Tatsuo Hori, a writer, who saw himself as a disciple of Akutagawa, published his short story "Sei kazoku" (literally "The Holy Family"), which was written under the impression of Akutagawa's death[14] and even paid reference to the dead mentor in the shape of the deceased character Kuki.[15] In 1935, Akutagawa's lifelong friend Kan Kikuchi established the literary award for promising new writers, the Akutagawa Prize, in his honor.

In 2020 NHK produced and aired the film A Stranger in Shanghai. It depicts Akutagawa's time as a reporter in the city and stars Ryuhei Matsuda.[16]

Selected works[edit]

Year Japanese title English title(s) English translator(s)
1914 老年
"Old Age" Ryan Choi
1915 羅生門
"Rashōmon" Glen Anderson; Takashi Kojima; Jay Rubin; Glenn W. Shaw
"The Nose" Glen Anderson; Takashi Kojima; Jay Rubin; Glen W. Shaw
"Yam Gruel" Takashi Kojima
"The Handkerchief" Charles De Wolf; Glenn W. Shaw
Tabako to Akuma
"Tobacco and the Devil" Glenn W. Shaw
1917 尾形了斎覚え書
Ogata Ryōsai Oboe gaki
"Dr. Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum" Jay Rubin
Gesaku zanmai
"Absorbed in Letters"
Kubi ga ochita hanashi
"The Story of a Head That Fell Off" Jay Rubin
1918 蜘蛛の糸
Kumo no Ito
"The Spider's Thread" Dorothy Britton; Charles De Wolf; Bryan Karetnyk; Takashi Kojima; Howard Norman; Jay Rubin; Glenn W. Shaw
"Hell Screen" Bryan Karetnyk; Takashi Kojima; Howard Norman; Jay Rubin
Kareno shō
"A Commentary on the Desolate Field for Bashou"
"Jashūmon" W.H.H. Norman
Hōkyōnin no Shi
"The Death of a Disciple" Charles De Wolf
Kesa to Moritō
"Kesa and Morito" Takashi Kojima; Charles De Wolf
1919 魔術

"Dragon: the Old Potter's Tale" Jay Rubin
1920 舞踏会
"A Ball" Glenn W. Shaw

"Autumn" Charles De Wolf
Nankin no Kirisuto
"Christ in Nanking" Van C. Gessel
"Tu Tze-chun" Dorothy Britton
Aguni no Kami
"God of Aguni"
1921 山鴫
"A Snipe"
"Autumn Mountain"
Shanhai Yūki
"A Report on the Journey of Shanghai"
1922 藪の中
Yabu no Naka
"In a Grove," or "In a Bamboo Grove" Glen Anderson; Bryan Karetnyk; Takashi Kojima; Jay Rubin
"The General" Bryan Karetnyk; W.H.H. Norman
"A Lorry"
1923 保吉の手帳から
Yasukichi no Techō kara
"From Yasukichi's Notebook"
1924 一塊の土
Ikkai no Tsuchi
"A Clod of Earth" Takashi Kojima
"Writer's Craft" Jay Rubin
1925 大導寺信輔の半生
Daidōji Shinsuke no Hansei
"Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years" Jay Rubin
Shuju no Kotoba
"Aphorisms by a Pygmy"
1926 点鬼簿
"Death Register" Jay Rubin
1927 玄鶴山房
Genkaku Sanbō
"Genkaku Sanbo" Takashi Kojima
"A Mirage"
Kappa Geoffrey Bownas; Seiichi Shiojiri
"The Wizard" Charles De Wolf
Bungei-teki na, amarini Bungei-teki na
"Literary, All-Too-Literary"
"Spinning Gears" or "Cogwheels" Charles De Wolf; Howard Norman; Jay Rubin
Aru Ahō no Isshō
"A Fool's Life" or "The Life of a Fool" Charles De Wolf; Jay Rubin
Saihō no Hito
"The Man of the West"
1927 或旧友へ送る手記
Aru Kyūyū e Okuru Shuki
"A Note to a Certain Old Friend"
1923–1927 侏儒の言葉
Shuju no Kotoba
"Dwarf's Words" Shin IWATA (2023)

Works in English translation[edit]

  • Eminent Authors of Contemporary Japan, Vol. 2. Trans. Eric S. Bell & Eiji Ukai. Tokyo: Kaitakusha, 1930(?).
The Spider's Web.--The Autumn.--The Nose.
  • Tales Grotesque and Curious. Trans. Glenn W. Shaw. Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press, 1930.
Tobacco and the devil.--The nose.--The handkerchief.--Rashōmon.--Lice.--The spider's thread.--The wine worm.--The badger.--The ball.--The pipe.--Mōri Sensei.
  • Hell Screen and Other Stories. Trans. W.H.H. Norman. Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press, 1948.
Jigokuhen.--Jashūmon.--The General.--Mensura Zoilii.
  • Kappa. Trans. Seiichi Shiojiri. Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press, 1951.
  • The Three Treasures. Trans. Sasaki Takamasa. Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press, 1951.
  • The Real Tripitaka and Other Pieces. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1952.
"San Sebastian" translated by Arthur Waley.
In a Grove.--Rashomon.--Yam Gruel.--The Martyr.--Kesa and Morito.--The Dragon.
Not to be confused with a book of the same title that contains translations by Shaw, published by Hara Shobo in 1964 and reprinted in 1976.[17]
  • Modern Japanese Literature. Grove/Atlantic, 1956.
"Kesa and Morito" translated by Howard Hibbett.
  • Modern Japanese Stories: An Anthology. UNESCO, 1961.
"Autumn Mountain" translated by Ivan Morris.
  • Posthumous Works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa: His Life, Suicide, & Christ. Trans. Akio Inoue. 1961.
A Note Forwarded to a Certain Old Friend.--Life of a Certain Fool.--Western Man.--Western Man Continued.
  • Japanese Short Stories. Trans. Takashi Kojima. New York: Liveright Pub. Corp., 1961.
The Hell Screen.--A Clod of Soil.--Nezumi-Kozo.--Heichu, the Amorous Genius.--Genkaku-Sanbo.--Otomi's Virginity.--The Spider's Thread.--The Nose.--The Tangerines.--The Story of Yonosuke.
  • Exotic Japanese stories: The Beautiful and the Grotesque. Trans. Takashi Kojima & John McVittie. New York: Liveright Pub. Corp., 1964.
The Robbers.--The Dog, Shiro.--The Handkerchief.--The Dolls.--Gratitude.--The Faith of Wei Shêng.--The Lady, Roku-no-miya.--The Kappa.--Saigô Takamori.--The Greeting.--Withered Fields.--Absorbed in letters.--The Garden.--The Badger.--Heresy (Jashumon).--A Woman's Body.
Reissued by Liveright in 2010 as The Beautiful and the Grotesque.[18]
  • Tu Tze-Chun. Trans. Dorothy Britton. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1965.
  • Kappa. Trans. Geoffrey Bownas. London: Peter Owen Publishers, 1970. ISBN 072064870X
  • A Fool's Life. Trans. Will Petersen. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1970. ISBN 0670323500
  • La fille au chapeau rouge. Trans. Lalloz ed. Picquier (1980). in ISBN 978-2-87730-200-5 (French edition)
  • Cogwheels and Other Stories. Trans. Howard Norman. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press, 1982. ISBN 0889621772
Cogwheels.--Hell Screen.--The Spider's Thread.
  • The Spider's Thread and Other Stories. Trans. Dorothy Britton. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1987. ISBN 4061860275
The Spider's Thread.--The Art of the Occult.--Tu Tze-chun.--The Wagon.--The Tangerines.-- The Nose.-- The Dolls.-- Whitie.
  • Hell screen. Cogwheels. A Fool's Life. Eridanos Press, 1987. ISBN 0941419029
Reprints Kojima and Petersen translations; "Cogwheels" translated by Cid Corman and Susumu Kamaike.
  • Akutagawa & Dazai: Instances of Literary Adaptation. Trans. James O'Brien. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University Press, 1988. ISBN 093925218X
The Clown's Mask.--The Immortal.--Rashō Gate.--Hell Screen.--Within a Grove.--The Shadow.
  • The Kyoto Collection: Stories from the Japanese. 1989
"The Faint Smiles of the Gods" translated by Tomoyoshi Genkawa & Bernard Susser.
  • Travels in China (Shina yuki). Trans. Joshua Fogel. Chinese Studies in History 30, no. 4 (1997).
  • Essential Akutagawa. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1999. ISBN 1568860617
Rashomon.--The Nose.--Kesa and Morito.--The Spider's Thread.--Hell Screen.--The Ball.--Tu Tze-chun.--Autumn Mountain.--In a Grove.--The Faint Smiles of the Gods.--San Sebastian.--Cogwheels.--A Fool's Life.--A Note to a Certain Old Friend.
"Rashomon," "The Nose," "The Spider's Thread," "The Ball," & "In a Grove" translated by Seiji M. Lippit; "A Note to a Certain Old Friend" translated by Beongcheon Yu. Reprints translations by Britton, Corman & Kamaike, Genkawa & Susser, Hibbett, Kojima, Morris, Petersen, & Waley.
Rashomon.--In a Bamboo Grove.--The Nose.--Dragon: The Old Potter's Tale.--The Spider Thread.--Hell Screen.--Dr. Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum.--O-Gin.--Loyalty.--The Story of a Head That Fell Off.--Green Onions.--Horse Legs.--Daidoji Shinsuke: The Early Years.--The Writer's Craft.--The Baby's Sickness.--Death Register.--The Life of a Stupid Man.--Spinning Gears.
  • The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, Vol. 1: From Restoration to Occupation, 1868-1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. ISBN 0231118600
"The Nose" translated by Ivan Morris and "Christ of Nanking" translated by Van C. Gessel; also has three of Akutagawas haikus translated by Makoto Ueda.
Mandarins.--At the Seashore.--An Evening Conversation.--The Handkerchief.--An Enlightened Husband.--Autumn.--Winter.--Fortune.--Kesa and Morito.--The Death of a Disciple.--O’er a Withered Moor.--The Garden.--The Life of a Fool.--The Villa of the Black Crane.--Cogwheels.
  • 3 Strange Tales. Trans. Glen Anderson. New York: One Peace Books, 2012. ISBN 9781935548126
Rashomon.--A Christian Death.--Agni.--In a Grove. [sic]
The Spider's Thread.--In a Grove.--Hell Screen.--Murder in the Age of Enlightenment.--The General.--Madonna in Black.--Cogwheels.
Old Age.--In Dreams.--The Heron and the Mandarin Duck.--A Certain Socialist.--Sentences and Words.--Duck Hunting.--A Case of Two Fakes.--A Game of Tag.--Merchant Virgin Mary.--Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.--Pagoda Trees.--Frogs.--Kimono.--Snow.--Eastern Autumn.--Swamps I & II.--Kanzan and Jittoku.--Frosty Night.--Collecting Books.--River Fish Market--Dialogue with Hiroshi.--Tiger Stories.--A Moral Point.--Kachikachi Mountain.--Sennin.--Senjo.--Birthing Hut.--Masks.--As Food.--Hardship.--Strong Gifted Man, Weak Gifted Man.--The Women I Like in Romance Novels.--Flowers of the Sal Tree.--Garden Verdure.--On a Sunny Spring Day, Walking Idly Alone.--The Parrot: Notes on the Great Earthquake.--On Applause.--Memories from the Red Gate.--Yokosuka Scenes.--In the City (or Tokyo 1916).--Spring Nights.--Notes on Delirium.--Twenty Remarks on China.--Selected Notes from Kugenuma.--Ten Thorns.--Record of Eyes and Ears.--Nagasaki.--Karuizawa.--Hack Writer: A Play.--Tiger Stories: A Play)


  1. ^ "Akutagawa Ryunosuke and the Taisho Modernists". aboutjapan.japansociety.org. About Japan. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  2. ^ a b 戸部原, 文三 (2015). 一冊で名作がわかる 芥川龍之介(KKロングセラーズ). PHP研究所. ISBN 978-4-8454-0785-9.
  3. ^ Jewel, Mark. "Japanese Literary Awards" "Jlit Net". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-28.. Retrieved 2014-06-25.
  4. ^ Books: Misanthrope from Japon Monday, Time Magazine. Dec. 29, 1952
  5. ^ Ueda, Masaaki (2009). Konsaisu nihon jinmei jiten. Hideo Tsuda, Keiji Nagahara, Shōichi Fujii, Akira Fujiwara. Sanseidō. p. 19. ISBN 978-4-385-15801-3. OCLC 290447626.
  6. ^ Keene, Donald (1984). Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 558–562. ISBN 978-0-03-062814-6.
  7. ^ The American Asian Review. Institute of Asian Studies, St. John's University. 1985. p. 84.
  8. ^ 関口, 安義 (2007). 世界文学としての芥川龍之介. Tokyo: 新日本出版社. p. 223. ISBN 9784406050470.
  9. ^ a b Tsuruta, Kinya (1999). "The Defeat of Rationality and the Triumph of Mother "Chaos": Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's Journey". Japan Review (11): 75–94. ISSN 0915-0986. JSTOR 25791036.
  10. ^ "芥川龍之介 或旧友へ送る手記". www.aozora.gr.jp.
  11. ^ "JAPAN: Gulliver in a Kimono". Time. August 25, 1947. Archived from the original on June 22, 2023.
  12. ^ Peace, David (27 March 2018). "There'd be dragons". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  13. ^ Arita, Eriko, "Ryunosuke Akutagawa in focus", Japan Times, 18 March 2012, p. 8.
  14. ^ "堀辰雄 (Hori Tatsuo)". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  15. ^ Watanabe, Kakuji (1960). Japanische Meister der Erzählung (in German). Bremen: Walter Dorn Verlag.
  16. ^ World-Japan, Nhk (2019-12-03). "A Stranger in Shanghai, Dramatic Film that Captures Tumult of 1920's Shanghai, Makes International Broadcast Premiere on NHK WORLD-JAPAN December 27, 28". GlobeNewswire News Room (Press release). Retrieved 2021-10-02.
  17. ^ Classe, Olive, ed. (2000). The Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, Vol. 1. London & Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 31. ISBN 9780203825501.
  18. ^ "The Beautiful and the Grotesque". wwnorton.com. Retrieved 2022-10-26.


  • 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


  • 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]