Tōson Shimazaki

Tōson Shimazaki

Tōson Shimazaki
Born (1872-03-25)25 March 1872
Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan
Died 22 August 1943(1943-08-22) (aged 71)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Writer
Genre novels
Literary movement naturalism

Tōson Shimazaki (島崎 藤村 Shimazaki Tōson, 25 March 1872 – 22 August 1943) is the pen-name of Shimazaki Haruki, a Japanese author, active in the Meiji, Taishō and early Shōwa periods of Japan. He began his career as a romantic poet, but went on to establish himself as a major proponent of naturalism in Japanese fiction.

Early life

Tōson was born in what is now part of the city of Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture and spent his childhood in the old post town of Magome-juku in the countryside of the Kiso District, which he left in 1881. He subsequently wrote about many aspects of life in this area, including in his most famous novel Before the Dawn, which was modeled on the life of his father, Shimazaki Masaki, who went insane and died by the time Tōson was fourteen, leading to Tōson being raised by friends of his family. Later, his oldest sister would also die from mental disorders. Tōson later described his nature as "melancholy inherited from my parents."

Tōson graduated from Meiji Gakuin University in 1891, and the following year he began teaching English at Meiji Women's School. Around this time, he became interested in literature through his friendship with essayist and translator Kochō Baba (馬場孤蝶 Baba Kochō) and Shūkotsu Togawa (戸川秋骨 Togawa Shūkotsu). Tōson joined a literary group associated with the literary magazine Bungakukai (文學界) and he also began to contribute translations to Jogaku Zasshi (女学雑誌 Magazine of Women's Learning). The suicide in 1894 of his close friend, the Romantic writer Kitamura Tokoku, came as a great shock and would have a major impact on Tōson's own writings.

In late 1895 Tōson resigned his teaching position in Tokyo. The following year he moved to Sendai in northern Japan to accept a teaching position at Tohoku Gakuin University. His first verse collection, Wakanashū (若菜集 Collection of Young Herbs, 1897) was published while he was in Sendai, and its success launched him on his future career.

Literary career

Tōson was lauded by literary critics for the establishment of a new Japanese verse form in Wakanashu and as one of the creators of the Meiji Romanticism (明治浪漫主義 Meiji Rōman Shugi) literary movement. He eventually published four other collections of poems, but after the turn of the century he turned his talents to prose fiction.

His first novel, The Broken Commandment (破戒 Hakai), was published in 1906. It was considered a landmark in Japanese realism and is thus regarded as the first Japanese naturalist novel. It is a story of a burakumin schoolteacher who keeps his outcaste status secret until near the end of the novel. While Tōson was writing it each of his three children died of illness.

His second novel, Haru (春 Spring, 1908), is a lyrical and sentimental autobiographical account of his youthful days with the Bungakukai group of writers.

His third novel, Ie (家 The Family, 1910–1911), is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It depicts the slow decline of two provincial families to whom the protagonist is related.

Tōson created a major scandal with his next novel, Shinsei (新生 New Life, 1918–1919). A more emotional work than Ie, it is an autobiographical account of his own extramarital relations with his niece, Komako, and the knowledge that her father (his elder brother) knew of the incestuous affair, but concealed it. When Komako became pregnant, Tōson fled to France to avoid the confrontation with his relatives, abandoning the girl. Tōson attempts to justify his behavior by revealing that his father had committed a similar sin and that he could not avoid the curse of his lineage. The general public did not see it that way and Tōson was censured on many fronts for his behavior and for what was perceived as a gross vulgarity by attempting to capitalize on the disgraceful incident by turning it into a novel.

On his return to Japan, Tōson accepted a teaching post at Waseda University. He then wrote Yoakemae (夜明け前 Before the Dawn, 1929–1935), a historical novel about the Meiji Restoration from the point of view of a provincial activist in the Kokugaku (Nativism or National Learning) school of Hirata Atsutane. The hero, Aoyama Hanzō, is a thinly veiled representation of Tōson's father, Shimazaki Masaki. After greeting the restoration of direct rule by the Emperor as a restoration of Japanese national tradition, the protagonist ends up dying in bitterness and disappointment. Yoake mae was serialized in the literary magazine Chūō kōron and was later published as a novel in two volumes.

In 1935, Tōson became the founding chairman of the Japanese chapter of International PEN. In 1936 he traveled to Buenos Aires to represent Japan at the International PEN Club meeting there, also visiting the United States and Europe on this trip. In 1943, he began serializing Tōhō no mon (東方の門 The Gate to the East), a sequel to Yoake mae, but it was left unfinished when Tōson died of a stroke at the age of 71, in 1943. His grave is at the Buddhist temple Jifuku-ji, in Ōiso, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Published works

Tōson's major works include:


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