Naoya, Shiga 1883-1971
Japanese short story writer, novelist, critic, and essayist.
Shiga was one of the most influential Japanese fiction writers of the TaishŌ period (1912-26). Despite his comparatively modest output of one novel, three novellas, and a few dozen short stories, he has had a significant impact on subsequent generations of writers and remains one of Japan's most revered literary figures of the twentieth century. Shiga was associated with the Shirakaba (White Birch) school, a group of writers united by their opposition to naturalism, a pessimistic and deterministic literary philosophy prevalent in Japan in the early part of the century. Shiga and the other Shirakaba members were humanistic in their outlook and tended to base their fiction on autobiographical material. These authors, known as I-novelists, became the narrator-protagonists of novels which focused on the hero's emotional development. Shiga's An'ya Kōro (A Dark Night's Passing) is considered a major I-novel, and many of his most-admired short stories are fictionalized accounts of events in his life. Paradoxically, by focusing narrowly on his own personal experiences, often to the exclusion of events from the larger world, Shiga was able to create stories that capture something of a larger, quintessentially Japanese, view of life; and he himself, isolative and introspective, was hailed as a "god of fiction."
Shiga was born in Ishimaki, in the northern part of Honshū, Japan's largest island. His family belonged to the samurai class, but his father, a strongly independent man, embarked on a successful business career. He was employed as a banker in Ishimaki but took a position with a business firm in Tokyo and moved his family there when Shiga was three years old. They moved into their clan's residence, and from this point on Shiga was raised by his grandparents. Shiga deeply loved his grandparents—his grandmother doted on him, and, as he later attested, his grandfather was one of the most influential people in his life. When Shiga was thirteen his mother died. He later recounted her death and his father's subsequent remarriage in "Haha no hi to atarashii haha" ("My Mother's Death and the Coming of My New Mother"). Shiga and his stepmother were fortunate in having a mutually affectionate and respectful relationship. In contrast, Shiga's relationship with his father was increasingly discordant. In 1900 Shiga became a follower of the Christian evangelist Uchimura Kanzo and as a result began to espouse social causes. The following year he planned to join a protest against the Ashio Copper Mine, which was polluting a local river and poisoning the nearby residents; but his father, who had business dealings with the mining company, forbid his son to participate. Although Shiga eventually complied with his father's demands, this incident marked the beginning of an estrangement between the two. Another clash centered around Shiga's love affair with one of the family's servants and his declared intention to marry the girl. His father, proud of the family's distinguished ancestry, vehemently opposed such a match. He separated the two by removing the maid from the household, and Shiga's infatuation eventually cooled. Tensions were exacerbated by what Shiga's father considered his son's idle and aimless lifestyle. Shiga had consistently been a mediocre student, first at Gakushuin Elementary School and later at Tokyo Imperial University. While in college Shiga became interested in writing—an activity his father thought useless—and he and his friends founded the literary magazine Shirakaba, which gave rise to the group of writers of the same name. Shiga dropped out of college in 1908, much to his family's dismay, and entered what was to be the most productive period of his writing career. In 1912 he published the novella Ōtsu junkichi, based on his love affair with the family servant. The publication of the novella occasioned another dispute between father and son which resulted in Shiga's moving out of the family residence.
In addition to ōtsu junkichi, Shiga produced several of his most famous short stories in the 1910s, including "Claudius's Journal," "Sebei's Gourds," "An Incident," and "Han's Crime." He also began work on A Dark Night's Passing, though the novel would not be completed until 1937. His marriage in 1914 to a widow who had a child precipitated a complete break from his family, and Shiga renounced his inheritance. However, after the birth of his second daughter in 1917 (the first had died shortly after birth the previous year), Shiga reconciled with his father, recording the reunion in his novella Wakai (Reconciliation). By the middle of the 1920s Shiga's productivity had markedly declined. He continued to work on A Dark Night's Passing throughout the decade, but after the novel's publication he produced little for the remainder of his life.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Many of Shiga's stories are autobiographical in origin, but the lines between fiction and reportage are frequently blurred in his works. Shiga has explained his technique of blending fact and fiction in his comments on the hero of A Dark Night's Passing. Shiga observed: "Kensaku the hero is by and large myself. I would say his actions approximate the things I would do, or would wish to do, or actually did, under the given circumstances." Thus, he may begin with an actual person (often himself) or event as his subject, but he then builds a fictional world around it. "An Incident," for example, is based on an actual accident that Shiga witnessed in which a young boy was run over by a streetcar. Around this account, he constructs a story told by a fictive narrator who focuses on the imaginary thoughts and impressions of the passengers on the streetcar. Also characteristic of much of Shiga's fiction is its psychologically probing quality. Whether he himself is clearly the narrator, as in Reconciliation, or the central figure is fabricated, as in "Han's Crime," he continually analyzes the psychological complexities of the protagonist. Shiga's stories are also noted for their careful structure, their precise detail, and evocative, poetic language.
Shiga occupies a dominant position in modern Japanese fiction. As Donald Keene has noted, "No modern writer was more idolized than Shiga Naoya. A half-dozen writers were recognized as his disciples, and innumerable others were so greatly influenced by his writings as to recall Shiga on every page." Such prominent writers as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Tanizaki Junichiro, and Kawabata Yasunari have admired his work. Although some post-World War II critics have questioned the value and significance of his work, they concede that he remains an important figure, not only for his contribution to the development of the I-novel, but for his flawless style. Precise, compressed, and carefully controlled, Shiga's writing has been extolled for its ability to convey complex psychological states through suggestion, implication, and allusion.
ōtsu junkichi (novella) 1912
Wakai [Reconciliation] (novella) 1917
Yoru no hikari (short stories) 1918
Aru otoko, sono ane no shi [A Certain Man and the Death of His Sister] (novella) 1920
Haiiro no tsuki, Manreki akae (short stories) 1968
Shiga Naoya shü (short stories) 1969
The Paper Door and Other Stories (short stories) 1987
Other Major Works
An' ya Kōro [A Dark Night's Passing] (novel) 1937
Kamakura zakki (essays and poems) 1948
Yamabato (essays) 1951
Pōtorēto (essays) 1954
Shiga Naoya zenshū. 17 vols. (collected works) 1955-56
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SOURCE: "A Golden Ten" and "The Achievement of Shiga Naoya," in Shiga Naoya, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974, pp. 105-36; 165-75.
[In the following excepts from his book-length study of Shiga, Mathy analyzes eight of the author's most famous short stories and summarizes how his work differs from Western standards of great literature.]
Shiga was hampered by a literary theory that inhibited the writing of fiction, but he could, when he wished, turn out a well-made story with an exemplary unity of structure. The unifying principle might be plot or character or even atmosphere or mood, but every element, every separate part of the story, was tailored to create this unity. In the present [essay] we will consider what we judge to be the best of these stories. Western readers and critics, while generally critical of his autobiographical works, have found these short stories of Shiga's more to their liking and have singled out several for particular praise, especially "Han's Crime" and "Seibei's Gourds.".. . .
"The Old Man" (1911)
Shiga calls "The Old Man" an exercise in form, interesting and successful only as such. The inspiration for it came from a story by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (whose title he later forgot) in which the three most important events of one man's life—his baptism, marriage, and death and burial—are described by a priest who assisted at all three....
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SOURCE: "Shiga Naoya," in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Stanford University Press, 1976, pp. 85-110.
[In the excerpt below, Makoto examines Shiga's literary aesthetic through a survey of his fictional and autobiographical writings. ]
More than most other contemporary Japanese novelists of importance, Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) seems to have been fond of writing about his own works. When the first collection of his prose was published in 1928, he wrote a postscript explaining the motive and intent of each work included in it. He did the same for the nine-volume Collected Works of Shiga Naoya (1937-38), and for the five-volume Library of Shiga Naoya's Writings (1954-55), so that today's readers have the author's notes on virtually all his fiction. The works themselves also throw a good deal of light on his attitude toward literature, because many of them have a writer, often identifiable as Shiga, for their principal character. This is true of his only full-length novel, Voyage Through the Dark Night, as well as of his three novelettes, Ōtsu Junkichi, Reconciliation, and A Certain Man: His Sister's Death. Then there are such literary essays of his as "Notes in My Leatherbound Box," "Rhythm," "Notebook of a Green Youth," and "On the Appreciation of Art," which directly touch on the art of writing or problems in aesthetics. When all these are put...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Shiga Hero, University of Chicago Press, 1979, pp. 1-34.
[In the following excerpt, Sibley argues that the narrator of Shiga's stories is a distinct persona that, while often serving as the author's alter-ego, is separate from him. He names this figure the "Shiga hero. "]
Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) wrote a fairly large number of short stories, many pieces that are still shorter and essentially nonfiction, a few narratives of intermediate length (so-called chūhen shōsetsu), and only a single full-length novel, entitled An'ya kōro, which has been translated by Edwin McClellan as A Dark Night's Passing. In spite of the modest quantity of his works that would be considered by conventional Anglo-American standards belleslettres or "serious literature," in his own country Shiga has at various times over the past sixty years been exalted as a master craftsman of the modern literature and a special spokesman for the genius of the nation (bungaku no kamisama, "the lord of literature," is the journalistic tag he was given late in his career), and has alternately been excoriated, particularly in the years after the Second World War, as one of those most responsible for the stunting of modern Japanese fiction.
In an often cited sweeping comment on much of modern Japanese fiction, Kobayashi Hideo stated, "Since Tayama Katai learned from...
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SOURCE: "The Knife Thrower's Bad Aim," in The New York Times Book Review, April 5, 1987, p. 16.
[In the following review, Sato offers a favorable assessment of Shiga's collection The Paper Door and Other Stories.]
Naoya Shiga (1883-1971) was once described as "a god of fiction." Such an accolade might be a little excessive, even if the characterization were confined to his country, Japan. But he did write a number of short stories that are nearly perfect in their simplicity, directness and mastery of subject matter.
Take "The Razor." It begins: "Yoshisaburo, of the Tatsudoko in Azabu-Roppongi, a man almost never ill, took to his bed with a very bad cold. The Festival of the Autumn Equinox being close at hand, it was a very busy time for his barbershop." Yoshisaburo has a well-earned reputation for honing razors and shaving. He takes pride in these skills. So, when a regular customer sends a maid to leave a razor to be sharpened, Yoshisaburo is both unable to decline the request and unwilling to let either of his two new apprentices do the work. In his feverish state, and despite his wife's worried admonitions, he struggles to strop the razor in his bed. The maid picks up the razor but late in the evening returns it as not adequately sharpened. Awakened from his sleep, Yoshisaburo stubbornly tries to sharpen the razor once again. Just then, a young man, on his way to have fun at a nearby...
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SOURCE: "Shiga Naoya: The Hero as Sage," in The Rhetoric of Confession: Shishōsetsu in Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Fiction, University of California Press, 1988, pp. 187-247.
[In the following excerpt, Fowler surveys Shiga's novellas, particularly Wakai. He then goes on to contend that Shiga "depopulates " his fiction, showing his main characters in relative isolation in order to better explore the nature of personal experience.]
Both the power and the limitations of Shiga's confessional rhetoric are revealed perhaps most plainly in the "Wakai trilogy" (Wakai sanbusaku): Ōtsu Junkichi (Ōtsu Junkichi, 1912), Wakai (Reconciliation, 1917), and Aru otoko, sono one no shi (A certain man and the death of his sister, 1920). It is united loosely by the theme of the hero's troubled relationship with his father. In Ōtsu Junkichi, the first-person narrator (a would-be writer) chronicles his ambivalent feelings toward his friend's sister, his special relationship with his grandmother, who raised him since he was an infant, and finally his unsuccessful attempt to marry a housemaid in the face of family opposition. The father remains in the background, although his presence is continually felt—most keenly when the narrator discovers that he was behind the maid's removal from the house. In Wakai the father again is very much in the...
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SOURCE: A review of The Paper Door and Other Stories, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 1, Winter, 1989, p. 166.
[In the review below, Miller admires the "truthfulness" of the pieces in this collection of Shiga's stories.]
Shiga, a member of the White Birch Movement (Shirakabaha), which was the most articulate group of writers advocating realism in fiction, absorbed the tenets of Western realism and married it to traditional Japanese esthetics and subjects. Like Natsume Sōseki, Shiga was interested in the subtleties of human psychology and human relationships. His realism never degenerated into the excesses of the watakushi-shōsetsu or I-novel, because he was always aware of his craft, his own subjectivity, his own imagination, and their influence on the writing and the story it created. In Shiga's work, as aptly demonstrated in story after story in The Paper Door, there is a strong tension between the truth of experience and the truth that arises out of the storytelling, the act of creation, the writing's own logic.
Always frank about the experiential basis for his stories, Shiga created in his fiction an authenticity that validates for any reader the reality of the author's perceptions. Still, it was Shiga himself who reminded the reader that although every writer is dependent on experiences for materials, it is "the depth with which a writer...
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SOURCE: "The Destiny of Hamlet in Modern Japan: Concerning The Diary of Claudius by Shiga Naoya," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4, 1993, pp. 351-60.
[In the essay below, Shigekazu suggests that Shiga's revision of Shakespeare's Hamlet in "The Diary of Claudius" illustrates significant differences between Japanese and Western literary modernism.]
D. H. Lawrence writes on Hamlet in his brilliant essay Twilight in Italy (1916):
I had always felt an aversion from Hamlet: a creeping, unclean thing he seems, on the stage, whether he is Forbes Robertson or anyone else. His nasty porking and sniffing at his mother, his setting traps for the King, his conceited perversion with Ophelia make him always intolerable. The character is repulsive in its conception, based on self-dislike and a spirit of disintegration.
Lawrence sees in Hamlet a thesis about corruption in the flesh and the individual's conscious revolt from it. It is this consciousness that makes Hamlet frenzied, for he cannot admit that his flesh is corrupted too. Thus, in this essay Lawrence interprets the theme of Hamlet as the struggle between the being of the flesh and the not-being of the spirit.
This interpretation came from Lawrence's impression of an Italian performance of the play he...
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Hisaaki Yamanouchi. 'The Rivals: Shiga Naoya and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke." In The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature, pp. 82-106. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Includes an assessment of the autobiographical elements of Ōtsu Junkichi and "The Diary of Claudius."
Keene, Donald. "Shiga Naoya (1883-1971)." In Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Volume I: Fiction, pp. 458-70. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.
Biographical and critical introduction to the author and his major works.
Kohl, Stephen W. "Shiga Naoya and the Literature of Experience." Monumenta Nipponica 32, No. 2 (Summer 1977): 211-17. Investigates the stories "Manazuru" and "The Ashen Moon," concentrating on how Shiga conveys the subjective experiences of the characters.
Additional coverage of Shiga's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 101, 33-36 (rev. ed.); and Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 33.
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