|March 25, 1872
Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan
|August 22, 1943
Tōson Shimazaki (島崎 藤村; Shimazaki Tōson) (March 25, 1872 – August 22, 1943) is the pen-name of Shimazaki Haruki, a Japanese author, active in Meiji, Taisho and early Showa period Japan. Tōson’s family had, for generations, maintained an inn where the daimyo (lords) stayed during their mandatory journeys back and forth from the capital. As a youth he observed the decline of his family as Japan underwent rapid modernization.
Tōson began his career as a poet, but went on to establish himself as the major proponent of naturalism in Japanese literature. He was lauded by literary critics for the establishment of a new Japanese verse form, and as one of the creators of the Meiji Romanticism (明治浪漫主義, Meiji Rōman Shugi) literary movement. Tōson’s first novel, Hakai (The Broken Commandment, 1906) is regarded as the first Japanese naturalist novel. His later novels, Haru (春 Spring, 1908), Ie (家, Family, 1910-1911), Shinsei (新生 New Life, 1918-1919), Yoakemae (1935; “Before the Dawn”), and Toho no Mon (“Gate to the East”), were all autobiographical in character. His fiction highlighted the conflict between old and new values as Japan entered a period of aggressive modernization after the Meiji Restoration. While many Japanese writers superficially adopted Western literary styles without connecting them to a genuine message, Toson succeeded in using naturalism and everyday, modern language to convey the contradictions and nuances of Japanese experience.
Shimazaki Haruki was born March 25, 1872, in Magome Juku, a bustling post town on the Nakasendo Highway which is now part of the city of Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. He was the youngest of four sons and three daughters. His father, Masaki Shimazaki, was the last of a well-established family that had run an officially appointed inn for daimyo (Japanese lords) for generations. Members of the family were also prosperous wholesale merchants and village headmen.
Tōson spent his childhood in Magome-juku, and often wrote about the area later in his novels. His most famous novel Before the Dawn, was modeled on the life of his father, Shimazaki Masaki, who went insane and died before Tōson was fourteen, leaving him to be raised by friends of the family. Later, his oldest sister also died after suffering from mental disorders. Tōson once described his nature as "melancholy inherited from my parents."
Tōson studied in Tokyo at Meiji Gakuin University, graduating in 1891. While there, he was baptized as a Christian, though Christianity did not have an influence on his life or his thought. 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 became interested in literature. He joined a literary group and was a founder of the literary magazine Bungakukai (文學界) in 1893, along with Toukoku Kitamura and others. He also began to contribute translations to Jogaku Zasshi (女学雑誌, Magazine of Women's Learning).
In 1892, Tōson began teaching at Meiji Jogakko (Meiji Girls School). He moved from Tokyo to Sendai, in northern Japan, to accept a teaching position at the Komoro Private School, but continued to write as a hobby. His first verse collection, Wakanashū (若菜集 Collection of Young Herbs, 1897), published while he was in Sendai, was regarded at the time as the beginning of modern Japanese poetry. While working as a teacher in Sendai he also wrote Chikuma River Sketches. Around this time, Tōson was discovered to be having an affair with one of his female students, and forced to resign from the school. The suicide of his close friend, the romantic writer Kitamura Tokoku, came as a great shock and Tōson moved back to Tokyo. His first novel, Hakai (The Broken Commandment), published in 1906, established his reputation as a novelist. It was the story of a burakumin (Japanese “untouchable” caste) schoolteacher, who kept his status as a social outcast secret until near the end of the story. While Tōson was writing the novel, each of his three children died of illness related to starvation. After the Meiji Restoration, many Japanese writers superficially adopted Western literary styles without connecting them to a genuine message. Toson succeeded in using naturalism and everyday, modern language to convey the contradictions and nuances of Japanese experience.
His second novel, Haru (春 Spring, 1908) was a sentimental autobiographical account of his youthful days with the Bungakukai. His third novel, Ie (家, Family, 1910-1911), considered by many to be his masterpiece, depicted the gradual decline of two provincial families to whom the protagonist was related. Tōson portrayed the pressures placed by modernization on his own family.
Tōson’s next novel, Shinsei (新生 New Life, 1918-1919), created a public scandal. A more emotional work than Ie, it was an autobiographical account of his own extramarital relations with his niece, Komako, and the way in which her father (his elder brother), knowing of the incestuous affair, concealed it. When Komako became pregnant, Tōson fled to France to avoid confrontation with his relatives, abandoning the girl. Tōson attempted to justify his behavior by revealing that his father had committed a similar sin and suggesting that he could not avoid the curse of his lineage. The general public censured Tōson for his behavior and for his attempt to capitalize on the disgraceful incident by turning it into a novel, which was perceived as a gross vulgarity.
On his return to Japan, Tōson accepted a teaching post at Waseda University. In 1928, he began his research for Yoakemae (1935; Before the Dawn), his greatest work and one of the masterpieces of modern Japanese literature. It was a semi-historical novel about the Meiji Restoration from the point of view of a provincial loyalist, Aoyama Hanzo, a thinly veiled representation of his father. The protagonist eventually dies in bitterness and disappointment, convinced that the cause of pure patriotism has been betrayed. Yoakemae was serialized in the literary magazine Chūōkōron over a six-year period and was later released as a two-part novel.
His final novel, Toho no Mon (Gate to the East), incomplete at his death, seemed to draw on the Buddhist wisdom of medieval Japan as a solution to the cultural confusion and spiritual emptiness of the present.
In 1935, Tōson became the founding chairman of the Japanese chapter of the International PEN organization. Tōson died of a stroke at the age of 71, in 1943. His grave is at the temple of Jifuku-ji, in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Tōson began his career as a poet, but went on to establish himself as the major proponent of naturalism in Japanese literature. The influence of Western poetry, with its varying lengths and meters, and sometimes nonexistent rhymes, led to the creation of new Japanese literary forms. From Western literature, Japanese poets and writers learned to use modern, everyday language, and to write about aspects of human experience that had never been mentioned in traditional Japanese poetry and literature. 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.
Tōson’s first novel, Hakai (The Broken Commandment, 1906) was considered a landmark in Japanese realism and is regarded as the first Japanese naturalist novel. His later novels were all autobiographical in character. His fiction highlighted the conflict between old and new values as Japan entered a period of aggressive modernization after the Meiji Restoration.
you had swept back your bangs for the first time
when I saw you under the apple tree
the flower-comb in your hair
I thought you yourself were a flower too.
you stretched out your pale white hand gently
giving me an apple:
like the ripening red of the autumn fruit
my first feeling of love
my sigh, without any awareness
touched your hair
the joys of love's offerings
drinking your love...
under a tree in the apple orchard
nature's narrow road
who left this token here?
your question gave me a piercing pleasure.
by Shimazaki Toson
Tōson's major works include:
All links retrieved December 28, 2015.
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