Osamu Dazai

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Osamu Dazai
Osamu Dazai.jpg
Dazai Osamu
BornShūji Tsushima
(1909-06-19)June 19, 1909 [1]
Kanagi, Aomori, Japan
DiedJune 13, 1948(1948-06-13) (aged 38) [1]
Tokyo, Japan
OccupationNovelist, Short Story Writer
Literary movement I Novel, Buraiha

Osamu Dazai(太宰 治,Dazai Osamu, June 19, 1909 – June 13, 1948) was a Japanese author who is considered one of the foremost fiction writers of 20th-century Japan. A number of his most popular works, such as The Setting Sun (Shayō) and No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku), are considered modern-day classics in Japan. With a semi-autobiographical style and transparency into his personal life, Dazai's stories have intrigued the minds of many readers.

<i>The Setting Sun</i> book

The Setting Sun is a Japanese novel by Osamu Dazai. It was published in 1947 and is set in Japan after World War II. Principal characters are Kazuko, her brother Naoji, and their elderly mother. The story shows a family in decline and crisis, like many other families during this period of transition between traditional Japan and a more advanced, industrial society. Many families needed to leave their old lives behind and start anew. Throughout the story, mostly through the character Naoji, the author brings up a number of social and philosophical problems of that time period.

<i>No Longer Human</i> book

No Longer Human is a Japanese novel by Osamu Dazai. Published after Run Melos and The Setting Sun, No Longer Human is considered Dazai's masterpiece and ranks as the second-best selling novel in Japan, behind Natsume Sōseki's Kokoro.


His influences include Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Murasaki Shikibu and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. While Dazai continues to be widely celebrated in Japan, he remains relatively unknown elsewhere with only a handful of his works available in English.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa Japanese writer

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, art name Chōkōdō Shujin (澄江堂主人), 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.

Murasaki Shikibu Japanese novelist and poet

Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1012. Murasaki Shikibu is a descriptive name; her personal name is unknown, but she may have been Fujiwara no Kaoruko, who was mentioned in a 1007 court diary as an imperial lady-in-waiting.

Early life

Tsushima in an undated high school yearbook photo. Osamu Dazai in High School.jpg
Tsushima in an undated high school yearbook photo.

Shūji Tsushima(津島修治,Tsushima Shūji), who was later known as Osamu Dazai, was the eighth surviving child of the Tsushima family [2] in Kanagi, a remote corner of Japan at the Northern tip of Tōhoku in Aomori Prefecture. He spent these early years in the Tsushima mansion with some thirty people. [3] Despite coming from very humble beginnings, the Tsushima family quickly rose in power and after some time, became highly respected across the region. [4]

Kanagi, Aomori Former municipality in Tōhoku, Japan

Kanagi was a town located in Kitatsugaru District in western Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

Aomori Prefecture Prefecture of Japan

Aomori Prefecture is a prefecture of Japan located in the Tōhoku region. The capital is the city of Aomori.

Dazai's father, Gen'emon Tsushima, became politically involved and was offered membership into the House of Peers. [4] This made Dazai's father absent during much of his early childhood, and with his mother, Tane, being ill, [5] Tsushima was brought up mostly by the family's servants and his aunt Kiye. [6]

House of Peers (Japan) upper house of the Imperial Diet of Japan

The House of Peers was the upper house of the Imperial Diet as mandated under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.

Education and literary beginnings

Shimeko Tanabe Shimeko Tanabe, before 1930.jpg
Shimeko Tanabe

In 1916, Tsushima began his education at Kanagi Elementary. [7] On March 4, 1923, Tsushima's father Gen'emon died from lung cancer, [8] and then a month later in April Tsushima attended Aomori High School, [9] followed by entering Hirosaki University's literature department in 1927. [7] He developed an interest in Edo culture and began studying gidayū, a form of chanted narration used in the puppet theaters. [10] Around 1928, Tsushima edited a series of student publications and contributed some of his own works. He even published a magazine called Saibō bungei (Cell Literature) with his friends, and subsequently became a staff member of the college's newspaper team. [11]

Aomori High School

Aomori High School is a high school in the city of Aomori, Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

Hirosaki University Higher education institution in Aomori Prefecture, Japan

Hirosaki University is a national university in Hirosaki City in Aomori, Japan.

Edo period period of Japanese history

The Edo period or Tokugawa period (徳川時代) is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japanese society was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional daimyō. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, "no more wars", and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. The shogunate was officially established in Edo on March 24, 1603, by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration on May 3, 1868, after the fall of Edo.

His success in writing was brought to a halt when his idol, the writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, committed suicide in 1927. Tsushima started to neglect his studies, and spent the majority of his allowance on clothes, alcohol, and prostitutes. He also dabbled with Marxism, which at the time was heavily suppressed by the government. He frequently expressed guilt in his earliest writings about having been born into an incorrect social class.[ citation needed ] On the night of December 10, 1929, Tsushima committed his first suicide attempt, but survived and was able to graduate the following year.

Suicide in Japan Statistics and causes of suicide in Japan.

Suicide in Japan has become a major national social issue. Japan has a relatively high suicide rate compared to other countries, but the number of suicides is declining and as of 2013 has been under 30,000 for three consecutive years. In 2014 on average 70 Japanese people committed suicide every day, and the majority were men. Seventy-one percent of suicides in Japan were male, and it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20–44. By 2016, suicide rates had reached a 22-year low of 21,764, that is, men decreased by 1,664 to 15,017 and women decreased by 597 to 6,747.

Marxism economic and sociopolitical worldview based on the works of Karl Marx

Marxism is a theory and method of working-class self-emancipation. As a theory, it relies on a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

In 1930, Tsushima enrolled in the French Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University and promptly stopped studying again. In October, he ran away with a geisha named Hatsuyo Oyama (小山初代 Oyama Hatsuyo) and was formally disowned by his family.

Nine days after the expulsion, Tsushima attempted suicide by drowning off a beach in Kamakura with another woman, 19-year-old bar hostess Shimeko Tanabe (田部シメ子 Tanabe Shimeko). Shimeko died, but Tsushima lived, having been rescued by a fishing boat. He was charged as an accomplice in her death. Shocked by the events, Tsushima's family intervened to drop a police investigation, his allowance was reinstated and he was released of any charges. In December, Tsushima recovered at Ikarigaseki and married Hatsuyo there.

Soon after, Tsushima was arrested for his involvement with the banned Japanese Communist Party and, upon learning this, his elder brother Bunji promptly cut off his allowance again. Tsushima went into hiding, but Bunji, despite their estrangement, managed to get word to him that charges would be dropped and the allowance reinstated yet again if he solemnly promised to graduate and swear off any involvement with the party. Tsushima accepted the offer.

Early literary career

Tsushima in 1928 Osamu Dazai1928.jpg
Tsushima in 1928

Tsushima kept his promise and settled down a bit. He managed to obtain the assistance of established writer Masuji Ibuse, whose connections helped him get his works published and establish his reputation.

The next few years were productive for Tsushima. He wrote at a feverish pace and used the pen name "Osamu Dazai" for the first time in a short story called "Ressha" ("列車," "Train") in 1933: his first experiment with the first-person autobiographical style that later became his trademark. [12]

However, in 1935 it started to become clear to Dazai that he would not graduate. He failed to obtain a job at a Tokyo newspaper as well. He finished The Final Years, which was intended to be his farewell to the world, and tried to hang himself March 19, 1935, failing yet again.

Less than three weeks after his third suicide attempt, Dazai developed acute appendicitis and was hospitalized, during which time he became addicted to Pabinal, a morphine-based painkiller. After fighting the addiction for a year, in October 1936 he was taken to a mental institution, [13] locked in a room and forced to quit cold turkey.

The treatment lasted over a month, during which time Dazai's wife Hatsuyo committed adultery with his best friend Zenshirō Kodate[ clarification needed ][ citation needed ] This eventually came to light and Dazai attempted to commit double suicide with his wife. They both took sleeping pills, but neither one died, so he divorced her. He quickly remarried, this time to a middle school teacher named Michiko Ishihara (石原美知子 Ishihara Michiko). Their first daughter, Sonoko (園子), was born in June 1941.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Dazai wrote a number of subtle novels and short stories that are autobiographical in nature. His first story, Gyofukuki (魚服記, 1933), is a grim fantasy involving suicide. Other stories written during this period include Dōke no hana (道化の花, The Flowers of Buffoonery, 1935), Gyakkō (逆行, Against the Current, 1935), Kyōgen no kami (狂言の神, The God of Farce, 1936), an epistolary novel Kyokō no Haru (虚構の春, False Spring, 1936) and those published in his 1936 collection Bannen (Declining Years), which describe his sense of personal isolation and his debauchery.

Dazai in 1946 Osamu Dazai1946.jpg
Dazai in 1946

Wartime years

Dazai in 1947-1948 OsamuDazai.jpg
Dazai in 1947-1948

Japan entered the Pacific War in December, but Dazai was excused from the draft because of his chronic chest problems, as he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The censors became more reluctant to accept Dazai's offbeat work, but he managed to publish quite a bit anyway, remaining one of the very few authors who managed to get this kind of material accepted in those years.

A number of the stories which Dazai published during World War II were retellings of stories by Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693). His wartime works included Udaijin Sanetomo (Minister of the Right Sanetomo, 1943), Tsugaru (1944), Pandora no hako (Pandora's Box, 1945–46), and the delightful Otogizōshi (Fairy Tales, 1945) in which he retold a number of old Japanese fairy tales with vividness and wit.

His house was burned down twice in the American air raids against Tokyo, but Dazai's family escaped unscathed, with a son, Masaki (正樹), born in 1944. His third child, daughter Satoko (里子), who later became a famous writer under the pseudonym Yūko Tsushima (津島佑子), was born in May 1947.

Post-war career

In the immediate post-war period, Dazai reached the height of his popularity.

He depicted a dissolute life in postwar Tokyo in Viyon no Tsuma (Villon's Wife, 1947). The narrator is the wife of a poet who abandoned her. She takes a job from a tavern keeper her husband had stolen money from earlier on. Her determination to survive is tested by hardships, rape and her husband's self-delusion, yet her will to live on stays intact throughout it all.

Shizuko Ota SizukoOota.jpg
Shizuko Ōta

In July 1947, Dazai's best-known work, Shayo (The Setting Sun, translated 1956) depicting the decline of the Japanese nobility after World War II was published, propelling the already popular writer into a celebrity. This work was based on the diary of Shizuko Ōta (太田静子). Ōta was an admirer of Dazai's works and first met him in about 1941. She bore him a daughter Haruko (治子) in 1947.

Always a heavy drinker, he became an alcoholic; he had already fathered a child out of wedlock with a fan, and his health was also rapidly deteriorating. At this time Dazai met Tomie Yamazaki (山崎富栄), a beautician and war widow who had lost her husband after 10 days of having been married. Dazai effectively abandoned his wife and children and moved in with Tomie.

He began writing his quasi-autobiography Ningen Shikkaku (人間失格, No Longer Human, 1948, translated. 1958) at the hot-spring resort Atami. He moved to Ōmiya with Tomie and stayed there until mid-May, finishing his novel.

Ningen Shikkaku deals with the character Ōba Yōzō (大庭葉蔵) hurtling headlong towards self-destruction, all the while despairing of the seeming impossibility of changing the course of his life. [14] The novel is told in a brutally honest manner, devoid of all sentimentality. The book is one of the classics of Japanese literature and has been translated into several foreign languages.

Tomie Yamazaki TomieYamazaki.jpg
Tomie Yamazaki
Dazai and Tomie's bodies discovered in 1948 Osamu dazai 19480619.jpg
Dazai and Tomie's bodies discovered in 1948

In the spring of 1948, he worked on a novelette scheduled to be serialized in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, titled Guddo bai (the Japanese pronunciation of the English word, "Goodbye"). It was never finished.


On June 13, 1948 Dazai and Tomie drowned themselves in the rain-swollen Tamagawa Canal near his house. Their bodies were not discovered until June 19, which coincided with his 39th birthday. His grave is at the temple of Zenrin-ji, in Mitaka, Tokyo.

Dazai's literary work, No Longer Human, has received quite a few adaptations: a film directed by Genjiro Arato, the first four episodes of the anime series Aoi Bungaku , and a manga serialized in Shinchosha's Comic Bunch magazine. It is also the name of an ability in the anime "Bungo Stray Dogs", used by a character named after Dazai himself.

The book is also the central work in one of the volumes of the Japanese light novel series Book Girl , Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, [15] although other works of his are also mentioned. Dazai's works are also discussed in the Book Girl manga and anime series. Dazai is often quoted by the male protagonist, Kotaro Azumi, in the anime series, Tsuki ga Kirei .

Major works

Major works by Dazai include:

YearJapanese TitleEnglish TitleComments
1933思い出 OmoideMemoriesin 'Bannen'
1935道化の華 Dōke no HanaFlowers of Buffooneryin 'Bannen'
1936虚構の春 Kyokō no HaruFalse Springin 'Bannen'
1936晩年 BannenThe Late YearsCollected short stories
1937二十世紀旗手 Nijusseiki KishuA standard-bearer of the twentieth century
1939富嶽百景 Fugaku HyakkeiOne hundred views of Mount Fuji
女生徒 JoseitoSchoolgirl
1940女の決闘 Onna no KettōWomen's Duel
駈込み訴へ Kakekomi UttaeAn urgent appeal
走れメロス Hashire Merosu Run, Melos!
1941新ハムレット Shin-HamurettoNew Hamlet
1942正義と微笑 Seigi to BishoRight and Smile
1943右大臣実朝 Udaijin SanetomoMinister of the Right Sanetomo
1944津軽 TsugaruTsugaru
1945パンドラの匣 Pandora no HakoPandora's Box
新釈諸国噺 Shinshaku Shokoku BanashiA new version of countries' tales
惜別 SekibetsuA farewell with regret
お伽草紙 OtogizōshiFairy Tales
1946冬の花火 Fuyu no HanabiWinter's fireworkPlay
1947ヴィヨンの妻 Viyon No TsumaVillon's Wife
斜陽 ShayōThe Setting Sun
1948如是我聞 NyozegamonI heard it in this wayEssay
桜桃 ŌtōA Cherry
人間失格 Ningen ShikkakuNo Longer HumanA Shameful Life
グッド・バイ Guddo-baiGood-ByeUnfinished
"Omoide" is an autobiography where Tsushima created a character named Osamu to use instead of himself to enact his own memories. Furthermore, Tsushima also conveys his perspective and analysis of these situations. [16]
Flowers of Buffonery
"Flowers of Buffonery" relates the story of Oba Yozo and his time recovering in the hospital from an attempted suicide. Although his friends attempt to cheer him up, their words are fake, and Oba sits in the hospital simply reflecting on his life. [17]
One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji
"One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji", shares Tsushima's experience staying at Misaka. He meets with a man named Ibuse Masuji, a previous mentor, who has arranged an o-miai for Dazai. Dazai meets the woman, Ishihara Michiko, who he later decides to marry. [18]
The Setting Sun
"The Setting Sun" focuses on a small family, a mother, a daughter, and a son. They are living in the time after WWII. Their family who was quite wealthy before has become very impoverished and decides to move to the countryside. [19]
No Longer Human
“No Longer Human” focuses on the main character, Oba Yozo. Oba explains his life from a point in his childhood to somewhere in adulthood. Unable to properly understand how to interact and understand people he resorts to tomfoolery to make friends and hide his misinterpretations of social cues. His facade doesn't fool everyone and doesn't solve every problem. Due to the influence of a classmate named Hiroki, he falls into a world of drinking and smoking. He relies on Hiroki during his time in college to assist with social situations. With his life spiraling downwards after failing in college Oba continues his story and conveys his feelings about the people close to him and society in general. [20]
An editor tries to avoid women to with whom he had past sexual relations with. Using the help of a female friend he does his best to avoid their advances and hide the unladylike qualities of his friend. [21]

Selected bibliography of English translations

See also

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  1. 1 2 Dazai, Osamu. (2017). In Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica concise encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Britannica Digital Learning. Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.lib.utah.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ebconcise/dazai_osamu/0?institutionId=6487
  2. Lyons, Phyllis I; Dazai, Osamu (1985). The saga of Dazai Osamu: a critical study with translations. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. p. 21. ISBN   0804711976.
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  7. 1 2 O'Brien, James (1975). Dazai Osamu. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 12. ISBN   0805726640.
  8. 野原, 一夫 (1998). 太宰治生涯と文学 (in Japanese). p. 36. ISBN   4480033971.
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  13. Lyons, Phyllis I; Dazai, Osamu (1985). The saga of Dazai Osamu: a critical study with translations. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. p. 39. ISBN   0804711976.
  14. "The Disqualified Life of Osamu Dazai" by Eugene Thacker, Japan Times, 26 Mar. 2016.
  15. "Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime". Contemporary Japanese Literature. 19 February 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
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  17. O'Brien, James; G.K. Hall & Company (1999). Dazai Osamu. New York: G.K. Hall & Co. pp. 55–58.
  18. O'Brien, James; G.K. Hall & Company (1999). Dazai Osamu. New York: G.K. Hall & Co. pp. 74–76.
  19. Dazai, Osamu; Keene, Donald (2002). The setting sun. Boston: Tuttle. ISBN   4805306726.
  20. Dazai, Osamu; Keene, Donald (1958). No longer human. New York: New Directions. ISBN   0811204812.
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