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1 March 1892|
Kyōbashi, Tokyo, Japan
|Died||24 July 1927
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. He committed suicide at the age of 35 through an overdose of barbital.
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.
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.
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
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. 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 mostly written as dominating, aggressive, deceitful, and selfish. Conversely, men were often represented 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.
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. He was 35 years old.
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."  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.
|Year||Japanese Title||English Title||English Translation|
|1914||老年 Rōnen||Old Age|
|1916||鼻 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|
|首が落ちた話 Kubi ga ochita hanashi||The Story of a Head That Fell Off||2004, Jay Rubin|
|1918||蜘蛛の糸 Kumo no Ito||The Spider's Thread|
|地獄変 Jigokuhen||Hell Screen|
|枯野抄 Kareno shō||A commentary on the desolate field for Bashou|
|奉教人の死 Hōkyōnin no Shi||The Martyr|
|龍 Ryū||Dragon: the Old Potter's Tale|
|1920||舞踏会 Butou Kai||A ball|
|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 Yūki||A report on the journey of Shanghai|
|1922||藪の中 Yabu no Naka||In a Grove, also In a Bamboo Grove|
|将軍 Shōgun||The General|
|トロッコ Torokko||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|
|1925||大導寺信輔の半生 Daidōji Shinsuke no Hansei||Daidōji 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|
|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 e Okuru Shuki||A Note to a Certain Old Friend|
Selected works in translation
- Tales of Grotesque and Curious. Trans. Glenn W. Shaw. Tokyo: 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.
- 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).
- Jewel, Mark. "Japanese Literary Awards" http://www.jlit.net/reference/literary-prizes/literary-prizes-a-to-m.html. Retrieved 2014-06-25.
- Books: Misanthrope from Japon Monday, Time Magazine. Dec. 29, 1952
- Keene, Donald (1984). Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 558–562. ISBN 0-03-062814-8.
- Arita, Eriko, "Ryunosuke Akutagawa in focus", Japan Times, 18 March 2012, p. 8.
- 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
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.|
- Works related to Ryūnosuke Akutagawa at Wikisource
- Works by Ryunosuke Akutagawa at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Ryūnosuke Akutagawa at Internet Archive
- Works by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Akutagawa Ryunosuke on aozora.gr.jp (complete texts with furigana)
- Akutagawa Ryunosuke on Amazon Kindle Store (Japanese texts with furigana)
- Literary Figures from Kamakura
- Ryunosuke Akutagawa's grave
- Petri Liukkonen. "Ryūnosuke Akutagawa". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Archived from the original on 4 July 2013.
- Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories
- J'Lit | Authors : Ryunosuke Akutagawa | Books from Japan (English)