The Setting Sun

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The Setting Sun
Cover of first edition
AuthorOsamu Dazai
Original title斜陽
TranslatorDonald Keene
PublisherShinchō (magazine)
Shinchōsha (book)
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint

The Setting Sun (斜陽, Shayō) is a Japanese novel by Osamu Dazai first published in 1947.[1][2][3] The story centers on an aristocratic family in decline and crisis during the early years after World War II.

Plot summary[edit]

Twenty-nine year old Kazuko, her brother Naoji, and their widowed mother are members of an impoverished aristocratic family living in post-war Tokyo. Kazuko had been married, but divorced and returned to the family household after claiming that she had had an extramarital affair with a painter she admired. The child she had been expecting was stillborn. Naoji, who served with the military in the South Pacific, is declared missing. Kazuko recalls a time when she burned snake eggs, thinking that they were viper eggs. It is revealed that at the time of Kazuko's father's death, there were many snakes present in and around the house, which therefore have become ominous in her and her mother's eyes.

Kazuko and her mother move to the Izu peninsula countryside with the help of a relative, and she begins working in the fields to support them, claiming to be growing into a "coarse woman". One day, Naoji eventually returns. He is addicted to opium as he had been before the war. He treats his mother and sister cruelly, and spends most of the time among Tokyo's literary circles which he had been associated with before he was drafted. Kazuko finds Naoji's "Moonflower Journal," in which he rants about people's bigotry and insincerity, and writes about his addiction and his struggles as a writer and individual.

Kazuko writes to novelist Uehara, an old acquaintance and mentor of her brother, whom she once met when she was still married. She declares that she loves and adores him and wants to have his child, although she knows that he is an alcoholic. She repeatedly refers to ideas of Christianity and Marxism, having read a book by Rosa Luxemburg which she found in her brother's belongings, and dedicates the letters to "M.C.", resolving the initials both as "My Chekhov" and "My Child". He does not respond. Meanwhile, her mother's health is deteriorating, and she is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Kazuko sees a black snake on the porch and remembers how her father died when one was present. Soon after, her mother dies.

Kazuko eventually meets Uehara, years after their first encounter. Shortly after, Naoji commits suicide, leaving behind a letter to his sister which gives his feelings of weakness over his aristocratic descent as the reason, also denouncing all ideologies which suppress the individual. The story ends with a letter by Kazuko to Uehara. She reveals that she is pregnant, and wants to raise the child on her own, disposing of the old morality and embracing a new revolutionary way of life. She ends the letter addressing Uehara once again as M.C., this time resolving the initials as "My Comedian".

Publication history[edit]

The Setting Sun first appeared in serialised form in Shinchō magazine between July and October 1947, before being published as a book the same year.[2]

An English edition appeared in September 1956 in a translation provided by Donald Keene.[3] The first two chapters had been printed in Harper's Bazaar the previous month.[4]


The character of Kazuko was modeled after writer and poetess Shizuko Ota (1913–1982), a mistress of the then married Dazai. Her diary served as the basis for Kazuko's notes.[5][6]


Ozamu's novel is nowadays widely regarded as his best-known work,[5][7] which "created an immediate sensation" (Keene) upon its first appearance.[3] It has been touted as an accurate portrait of post-war Japan,[8] and its title became eponymous for the decline of the Japanese aristocracy of the time.[3][5]


  1. ^ "太宰治 (Dazai Osamu)". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  2. ^ a b Sakakibara, Richie (1999). Between the Defeat and the Constitution: Democracy in Dazai Osamu's Postwar Fiction. University of Michigan. p. 34.
  3. ^ a b c d Dazai, Osamu (1968). The Setting Sun. New York: New Directions.
  4. ^ "The Setting Sun". Kirkus Reviews. 1 September 1956. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Hadfield, James (18 January 2014). "The Setting Sun". Japan Times. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  6. ^ Hoye, Timothy (2011). "Styles of Truth in Dazai Osamu's Setting Sun". Voegelinian Readings of Modern Literature. University of Missouri Press. p. 78. ISBN 9780826219152.
  7. ^ Miller, J. Scott (2021). Historical Dictionary of Modern Japanese Literature and Theater. Rowman and Littlefield. p. 29. ISBN 9781538124413.
  8. ^ Wolfe, Alan Stephen (1990). Suicidal Narrative in Modern Japan: The Case of Dazai Osamu. Princeton University Press. p. 368. ISBN 0-691-06774-0.

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