Authors: Osamu Dazai

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Japanese novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Shin Hamuretto, 1941;

Seigi to bishf, 1942

Udaijin Sanetomo, 1943

Pandora no hako, 1945

Sekibetsu, 1945

Shayf, 1947 (The Setting Sun, 1956)

Ningen shikkaku, 1948 (No Longer Human, 1958)

Short Fiction:

Bannen, 1936

Tokyo hakkei, 1941

Kajitsu, 1944

Otogizfshi, 1945

Shinshaku shokoku banashi, 1945

Fuyu no hanabi, 1947

Dazai Osamu: Selected Stories and Sketches, 1983

Run, Melos! and Other Stories, 1988

Crackling Mountain, and Other Stories, 1989

Self Portraits, 1991

Blue Bamboo: Tales of Fantasy and Romance, 1993

Drama:

Fuyu no hanabi, pb. 1946

Haru no kaeha, pb. 1946

Nonfiction:

Tsugaru, 1944 (English translation, 1985; also known as Return to Tsugaru: Travels of a Purple Tramp, 1985)

Miscellaneous:

Dazai Osamu zenshn, 1967-1968

Biography

Osamu Dazai (dah-zi) was arguably one of the most important Japanese novelists in the first half of the twentieth century. He was born Shūji Tsushima on June 19, 1909, in the town of Kanagi in the prefecture of Aomori, the sixth son and tenth child of Genuemon Tsushima, a wealthy landowner. His father was elected to the National Diet, spent most of his time in Tokyo during Dazai’s early childhood, and died in 1923, when Dazai was thirteen years old. His mother, though seldom away from home, could neither nurse nor look after her children because of her ill health. From birth, Dazai was fed by a wet nurse and disciplined by an aunt whom he supposed for years to be his mother. Dazai began writing stories in junior high school, and they were printed in the Aomori High School literary magazine.{$I[AN]9810001216}{$I[A]Dazai, Osamu}{$S[A]Tsushima, Sh{umacr}ji[Tsushima, Shuji];Dazai, Osamu}{$I[geo]JAPAN;Dazai, Osamu}{$I[tim]1909;Dazai, Osamu}

In 1930, Dazai left provincial Aomori for Tokyo. He enrolled in Tokyo University, majoring in French literature, though he seldom attended lectures. Six months later, he attempted to commit a double suicide with a bar hostess. Only the woman died. This incident marked the beginning of more than a decade of chaos in his life. The following year, Dazai started living with Hatsuyo Koyama, a local geisha from Aomori. In those days, he was involved in illegal political activity (he later renounced all of his political activities and concentrated on writing). The short stories “Recollections,” “Romanesque,” and “Leaves” date to this period.

The years between 1935 and 1938 were some of the most turbulent in Dazai’s life, though he began to come to public attention as a promising writer during this time. His “Gyakko” (losing ground) appeared in the literary magazine Bungei in 1935. The following year, his first collection of short stories, Bannen (twilight years), was published, and he was nominated several times for the Akutagawa Prize. Yet his private life fell apart. Dazai withdrew from the university without obtaining a degree and failed in an entrance examination for a major newspaper company. As a result, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide once more, alone this time. Then he was suddenly struck with an attack of appendicitis. By the time he left the hospital, he was a narcotic addict, and he was confined to a mental institution for more than a year. In 1937, after recovering from drug addiction, Dazai attempted a double suicide with his common-law wife because of her adultery. They both survived and then separated.

In 1939, Dazai decided seriously that he was going to make his career as a writer. He married Michiko Ishihara, a high school teacher and the daughter of a good family. Dazai seemed to find peace in his married life, and this mood is reflected in the works of this period, such as “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.” From 1940 to 1945, during World War II, Dazai was, by critic Donald Keene’s estimate, the only Japanese writer who managed to be published and maintain his artistic integrity. He published several long novels: Seigi to bishō (democracy and smile) and Udaijin Sanetomo (Sanetomo, minister of the right).

Dazai’s most important literary activity, however, came after the war. His best-known novels, The Setting Sun and No Longer Human, and short stories, “Cherries” and “Villon’s Wife,” were published in 1947 and 1948; they reflected the public and private despair prevalent in postwar Japan. His own life also mirrored the chaos of the time. Still married, he began several affairs. He and his mistress Shizue Ota had a child, and he used this experience in writing The Setting Sun. Suffering from alcoholism and ill health, he completed No Longer Human. In June of 1948, Dazai finally succeeded in committing suicide by throwing himself into the water with his other mistress, Tomie Yamazaki. The two bodies were found on the nineteenth of June, his thirty-ninth birthday.

The most persistent characteristic of Dazai’s work is its description of “the beauty of weakness.” In his fiction, Dazai presents people who are painfully aware that human reality is filthy and ugly and that human nature is foul. Their sufferings, their remorseful reflections, their desperate attempts to remove the filth of life–all of these are beautiful. Depicting a man who is painfully aware of his innate depravity, Dazai expresses a sympathetic understanding of basic human weaknesses and speaks on their behalf in his works. In addition to the description of human emotions of sorrow, shame, loneliness, envy, and anger, Dazai portrays the “human nobility of a tender heart” in his works. There are, according to Dazai, tenderhearted people who are sensitive enough to understand human weakness, such as the narrator’s mother in The Setting Sun.

The other characteristic feature of Dazai’s works is a strong autobiographical element. He began by writing autobiographical stories and sometimes turned from his own experience to well-known books for his stories. Dazai returned to autobiographical narratives again after the war. In the postwar novels, using first-person narrators, often female characters, Dazai added significant complications to the role of his autobiographical figure. In the typical prewar fictions, Dazai portrays a single character as he sees himself, whereas the postwar fictions have multilayered perspectives. That is particularly true of The Setting Sun, in which all of Dazai’s characters are transformations of Dazai himself.

In his works, Dazai seemed to play the role of a clown who enjoyed making a fool of himself and casting himself as a failure in order to please his readers. Some of Dazai’s works, such as “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji” and Otogizōshi (fairy tales) are thus openly humorous and, in some scenes, even comic.

Especially before the end of the war, Dazai’s reputation as a writer was often undermined by his chaotic private life. Yasunari Kawabata once refused to nominate Dazai for a literary prize on the basis of his “immorality.” Some critics declared him a second-rate writer. Regardless of his fortunes on the critical market, Dazai continues to be read with enthusiasm. To Japanese readers, especially high school and university students, Dazai is one of the most accessible and intimate of modern authors both in subject matter and in style.

BibliographyCohn, Joel R. Studies in the Comic Spirit in Modern Japanese Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Examines humor in the works of Dazai, Masuji Ibuse, and Hisashi Inoue. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Keene, Donald. Landscapes and Portraits: Appreciations of Japanese Culture. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1971. Of particular relevance is the section on Osamu Dazai in chapter 4, “Three Modern Novelists,” which focuses on the difference between Western and Japanese responses to Dazai’s fiction, the strongly autobiographical elements in his works, and the style and major themes of his narrative. Supplemented by illustrations and a short reading list.Kirkup, James. “Now Out of Japan Something New.” The Times, December 13, 1990. A brief biographical sketch, followed by comments on Dazai’s short stories and autobiographical essays; focuses on Dazai’s collection Crackling Mountains; discusses Dazai’s variations on the title story, one of the best-known folktales in Japan.Motofùji, Frank T. “Dazai Osamu.” In Approaches to the Modern Japanese Short Story, edited by Thomas E. Swann and Kinya Tsuruta. Totsuka: Waseda University Press, 1982. Provides analyses of two short stories, “Villon’s Wife” and “A Sound of Hammering,” written in 1947, one year before the author’s suicide. The two stories are seen as reflections of the dilemma of the writer in postwar Japan, overwhelmed by the chaos of a ruined past.Lyons, Phyllis I. The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1985. Various critical perspectives; includes a bibliography and index.Motofùji, Frank T. “Dazai Osamu.” In Approaches to the Modern Japanese Short Story, edited by Thomas E. Swann and Kinya Tsuruta. Totsuka, Japan: Waseda University Press, 1982. Analyzes two short stories, “Villon’s Wife” and “A Sound of Hammering.” They are seen as reflections of the dilemma of the writer in postwar Japan, overwhelmed by the chaos of a ruined past.O’Brien, James. Dazai Osamu. Boston: Twayne, 1975. An introductory story that combines a biography with a chronologically based study of Dazai’s creative output. Preceded by a chronological summary and followed by a select bibliography.Rimer, J. Rhomas. “Dazai Osamu: The Death of the Past, The Setting Sun.” In Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions: An Introduction. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978. Views the novel The Setting Sun as a reflection of the tensions in Japan before, during, and after the war years. The characters and situations relentlessly probe the realities of a transitional period.Ueda, Makoto. “Dazai Osamu.” In Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976. Focuses on the literary concepts of Dazai as revealed within his fiction. Underlying his “expansive, emotional, and spontaneous” prose style, with its seeming artlessness, is a view of literature as a “food for losers.” Includes references to the Japanese originals of the texts discussed and a bibliography focusing on Dazai.Vachon, John. “An Overly Sensitive Heart.” The Daily Yomiuri, November 25, 1990, p. 7. A review of Dazai’s Self-Portraits: Tales from Life of Japan’s Great Decadent Romantic; provides a brief biographical sketch and comments on Dazai’s style in the eighteen pieces of this early work; notes that he is better in the short story than the novel.Westerhoven, James. Preface to Return to Tsugaru: Travels of a Purple Tramp, by Osamu Dazai. Translated by Westerhoven. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1985. Views the work as the journal of a quest for love, founded on the premise that acceptance and love require the shedding of all affection. Includes a brief biography with background material (a family tree and a map of Dazai’s journey through Tsugaru).Wolfe, Alan Stephen. Suicidal Narrative in Modern Japan: The Case of Dazai Osamu. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. An insightful study. Includes bibliographical references and an index.
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