Naoya Shiga

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Naoya Shiga
Naoya Shiga cropped.jpg
Native name
Born(1883-02-20)20 February 1883
Ishinomaki-chō, Oshika-gun, Miyagi Prefecture, Empire of Japan
Died21 October 1971(1971-10-21) (aged 88)
Tokyo, Japan
Resting placeAoyama Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
Literary movementModernism

Naoya Shiga (志賀直哉, Shiga Naoya, February 20, 1883 – October 21, 1971) was a Japanese writer active during the Taishō and Shōwa periods of Japan,[1] whose work was distinguished by its lucid, straightforward style[2] and strong autobiographical overtones.[3]

Early life[edit]

Shiga was born in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, as the son of a banker and descendant of an aristocratic samurai family.[1][4] In 1885, the family moved to Tokyo and Shiga given into his grandparents' custody.[4] His mother died when he was twelve,[5] an experience that marked the beginning of an obsession with and fear of death both on an individual and a collective level, and which stayed with him until his early thirties.[5] At the same time, his relationship with his father became increasingly strained.[1] One conflict resulted from Shiga's announcement to participate in the protests following the 1901 Ashio Copper Mine Incident and his father's forbidding him to do so, as part of the family's wealth was owed to a past investment in the mine.[5][6]

Shiga's imagination was inspired by nature, and he was an avid reader of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as of Lafcadio Hearn's stories of the supernatural.[6] At the age of 18, Shiga converted to Christianity under the influence of Uchimura Kanzō,[1][6][7] but struggled with his new religion due to his own homoerotic tendencies.[6] He graduated from the Gakushuin Peer's Elementary School in 1906 and started studying English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, but left two years later without a degree.[4] Another family crisis arose when Shiga announced to marry one of the housemaids, Chiyo, with whom he was having an affair. The father terminated his son's plans, and the maid was removed from the household.[6]

Literary career[edit]

In 1910, Shiga co-founded the magazine Shirakaba ("White birch"), the literary publication of the Shirakaba-ha ("White birch society").[6][8] Other co-founders included Saneatsu Mushanokōji and Rigen Kinoshita, who Shiga had befriended at Gakushuin Peer's School, and Takeo Arishima and Ton Satomi.[4] The Shirakaba-ha rejected Confucianism and Naturalism, and instead propagated individualism, idealism and humanitarianism, for which Russian writer Leo Tolstoy served as a model.[8] Shiga contributed the story As Far as Abashiri (Abashiri made) to the first issue.[1]

In the following years, Shiga published short stories like The Razor (Kamisori, 1910), Han's Crime (Han no hanzai, 1913) and Seibei and his Gourds (Seibei to hyotan, 1913).[1] The story Ōtsu Junkichi, published in Chūō Kōron in 1912, his first publication for which he received a fee, was an autobiographical account of his affair with the former housemaid Chiyo and the familial conflicts.[1][6] It also marked the first time that Shiga drew on the method of a narrating self, a distinctive mark of the I-novel genre,[6] to which many of Shiga's works are ascribed to.[4][7] While working on Ōtsu Junkichi, Shiga had read the English translation of Anatole France's novel The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, which he cited as an important influence on his own writing.[6]

In 1914, Shiga married Sada Kadenokōji, a widow with a six-year-old daughter (and a cousin of Mushanokōji),[1][6][9] which led to a complete break between father and son. However, 1917 saw the reconciliation with his father, which he thematised in his novella Reconciliation (Wakai, 1917).[6] He followed with a series of short stories and A Dark Night's Passing (An'ya koro, 1921–1937); the latter, his only full length novel, was serialized in the socialist magazine Kaizō and is regarded as his major work.[4][6][10] The novel's protagonist, young struggling writer Kensaku, has often been associated with its author.[6] Shiga's sometimes confessional stories also included a series of accounts of his extramarital affair in the mid-1920s, among them A Memory of Yamashina (Yamashina no kioku, 1926), Infatuation (Chijo, 1926) and Kuniko (1927).[11]

Shiga's work influenced many later writers,[1][3] including Kazu Ozaki, Kiku Amino, Motojirō Kajii, Takiji Kobayashi, Fumio Niwa, Kōsaku Takii, Kiyoshi Naoi, Toshimasa Shimamura, Hiroyuki Agawa and Shizuo Fujieda.[1][6] While his work was praised by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Sei Itō, other contemporaries like Dazai Osamu, Mitsuo Nakamura and Sakunosuke Oda were strongly critical of it.[1][6][12] Jun'ichirō Tanizaki praised the "practicality" (jitsuyō) of Shiga's style, in which he discovered, with reference to At Kinosaki, a "tightening up" (higishimeta) of the sentences: "[…] any word that is not absolutely necessary has been left out".[6][13]

Shiga was also known for being a harsh moral critic of the literary establishment, blaming Tōson Shimazaki for having written his debut novel The Broken Commandment under such precarious financial hardship that Shimazaki's three young daughters died of malnutrition.[14][15]

Later life[edit]

Gravestone of Naoya Shiga

Shiga published very few new works in his later years.[7] These included the short stories A Gray Moon (Haiiro no tsuki, 1946) and Yamabato (1951), or essays like Kokuko mondai (1946), in which he proposed to make French the national language of Japan.[6] He served as the first post-war president of the Japan P.E.N. Club from 1947 to 1948,[16] and was awarded the Order of Culture in 1949.[1][7] He died of pneumonia at the age of 88.[7] His grave is at the Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo. His house in Nara, where he lived from 1929 to 1938, has been preserved and is open to the public as a memorial museum.[9]

Selected works[edit]

  • 1910: As Far as Abashiri (Abashiri made)
  • 1910: The Razor (Kamisori)
  • 1911: Nigotta atama
  • 1912: Ōtsu Junkichi
  • 1913: Han's Crime (Han no hanzai)
  • 1913: Seibei and his Gourds (Seibei to hyotan)
  • 1917: At Kinosaki (Kinosaki ni te)
  • 1917: The Case of Sasaki (Sasaki no baai)
  • 1917: Reconciliation (Wakai)
  • 1917: Kōjinbutsu no fūfu
  • 1920: The Shopboy's God (Kozō no kamisama)
  • 1920: Manazuru
  • 1920: Bonfire (Takibi)
  • 1921–1937: A Dark Night's Passing (An'ya koro)
  • 1926: A Memory of Yamashina (Yamashina no kioku)
  • 1926: Infatuation (Chijo)
  • 1927: Kuniko
  • 1946: A Gray Moon (Haiiro no tsuki)

Translations (selected)[edit]

  • A Dark Night's Passing. Translated by McClellan, Edwin. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. 1976. ISBN 9780870113628.
  • The Paper Door and Other Stories by Shiga Naoya. Translated by Dunlop, Lane. San Francisco: North Point. 1987. ISBN 9780865472600.
  • Starrs, Roy (2013). An Artless Art – The Zen Aesthetic of Shiga Naoya: A Critical Study with Selected Translations. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781134247264.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "志賀直哉 (Shiga Naoya)". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  2. ^ Schaarschmidt, Siegfried, ed. (1990). Das große Japan Lesebuch. München: Goldmann. ISBN 9783442098866.
  3. ^ a b Berndt, Jürgen, ed. (1975). Träume aus zehn Nächten. Moderne japanische Erzählungen. Berlin und Weimar: Aufbau Verlag.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Shiga Naoya". Britannica. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Ama, Michihiro (2021). The Awakening of Modern Japanese Fiction: Path Literature and an Interpretation of Buddhism. State University of New York Press.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Guo, Nanyan (2014). Refining Nature in Modern Japanese Literature: The Life and Art of Shiga Naoya. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739181041.
  7. ^ a b c d e Miller, J. Scott (2010). The A to Z of Modern Japanese Literature and Theater. Scarecrow Press.
  8. ^ a b "Shirakaba". Britannica. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  9. ^ a b "志賀直哉旧居 (Nayoa Shiga house)" (in Japanese). Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  10. ^ "暗夜行路 (An'ya koro)". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  11. ^ Hiroaki, Sato (5 April 1987). "The Knife Thrower's Bad Aim". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  12. ^ Suzuki, Tomi (1996). Narrating the Self: Fictions of Japanese Modernity. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804731621.
  13. ^ Starrs, Roy (1998). An Artless Art. The Zen Aesthetic of Shiga Naoya: A Critical Study with Selected Translations. Japan Library. pp. 45–46. ISBN 9781873410646.
  14. ^ Naff, William E. (2011). The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Tōson. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 275–275.
  15. ^ Shimazaki, Tōson (1976). The Family. Translated by Sagawa Seigle, Cecilia. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press. p. xi.
  16. ^ "A Short History of the Japan P.E.N. Club". Japan P.E.N. Club. Retrieved 23 January 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Agawa, Hiroyuki. Shiga Naoya. Iwanami Shoten (1994). ISBN 4-00-002940-1
  • Kohl, Stephen William. Shiga Naoya: A Critical Biography. UMI Dissertation Services (1974). ASIN: B000C8QIWE

External links[edit]