Kunikida Doppo Critical Essays

Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Kunikida Doppo 1869-1908

(Born Tetsuo Kamekichi) Japanese short story writer, journalist, editor, biographer, and poet.

Doppo is considered one of Japan’s preeminent naturalist writers. His short stories and poems evidence his deep affinities with Christianity and the poetry of William Wordsworth.

Biographical Information

While some doubt exists as to his biological father, Doppo was raised by his mother and her samurai husband in Choshi, a southern region of Japan. The family moved to Tokyo in 1874, relocated to Yamaguchi two years later, and settled in Iwakuni until 1893. The bucolic Choshi region deeply affected Doppo’s life-long love of nature and influenced his literary naturalism. In Yamaguchi, Doppo attended the Imamichi Elementary School, where he lived with other students in the principal’s house, attended classes, and studied fencing. The school principal, Nakayama Shin’ichi, exerted a strong influence on the young Doppo’s love of nature. Doppo later used Shin’ichi as a model for the character Oshima Shin’ichi in his short story “Hi no de” (“Sunrise”). Doppo attended Yamaguchi Middle School, where he read works that influenced his affinity for a democratic government rather than the Japanese oligarchic system. When Doppo’s father lost his job in 1888, Doppo quit school in order to help support his family. In 1889 he was admitted into the English Department at Tokyo Senmon Gakko, where he embraced Western political thought and was baptized a Christian. His politically defiant actions toward the school’s administration expedited his withdrawal from the school in 1891. An increasing devotion to Christianity caused him to abandon politics and focus more on literature. He founded the magazine Seinen bungaku (Literature for Youth) in 1892 and began his journal “Azamaukazaru no ki” (“An Honest Record”) in 1893, the same year he began teaching English, mathematics, and history at the Tsuruya School in Saiki, another rustic area of Japan. In Saiki, Doppo’s Christian beliefs and his love of the poetry of the English Romantic William Wordsworth were reaffirmed. When Japan declared war on China in 1894, Doppo was assigned as a war reporter for the Kokumin Shinbun newspaper. The pieces he wrote during this period are collected in Aitei tsushin (Communiques to a Dear Brother). The following year Doppo settled with his parents in Tokyo, where he edited the magazine Kokumin no Tomo (The Nation’s Friend) and met his future wife, Sasaki Nobuko. Against her parent’s wishes—Nobuko's mother encouraged her to commit suicide rather than marry Doppo—the couple celebrated a Christian marriage in 1895. Doppo's ensuing financial difficulties caused the pregnant Nobuko to divorce him a year later. At this time Doppo published several poems that would eventually be collected in Doppo gin as well as the short story, “Gen Oji” (“Old Gen”). Doppo remarried in 1898, to Enomoto Haruko, and published his first short-story collection, Musashino (The Musashi Plain) in 1901. Following the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Doppo began a career in publishing that went bankrupt two years later. He contracted tuberculosis in 1907 and died from the disease in 1908.

Major Works

Doppo's first short story, “Gen Oji,” considered to be among his finest, is evidence of his thematic concerns with naturalism, tragedy, and the controlling power of fate. Along with the other stories that Doppo wrote while living in Sakei, “Gen Oji” contains autobiographical elements as well. Many of these stories reaffirm the innocence of childhood, although the adult protagonists escape their fates by committing suicide. “Haru no tori” (“Bird of Spring”) is considered to display the influence of William Wordsworth's Romanticism. In the story a young retarded boy chases birds, eventually falling from a stone wall and dying. The tragedy is underscored when the boy's mother and the bird he had been chasing discover the boy's body. “Gen Oji” appeared in Doppo's first collection, Musashino. The volume's title story reveals Doppo's reading of Futabatei Shimei's translation of Russian author Ivan Turgenev's short story “Svidaniye” (“The Rendezvous,” translated in Japanese as “Aibiki”) in its detailed descriptions of fallen leaves. The stories in Doppo's third collection, Unmei (Fate), are noted for their combined autobiographical and subjective nature. “Unmei ronsha” (“The Fatalist”), for example, concerns a man who has married a woman he discovers is his half-sister, which many critics believe reveals Doppo's uncertainty as to his own parentage and his eventual discovery that his first wife, Nobuko, had given birth to their daughter. The last stories that Doppo wrote are collected in Doppo shu daini (A Second Doppo Collection) and Nagisa (The Waterside). Many of these stories reveal Doppo's personal financial and health problems. The poems collected in Doppo gin communicate Doppo's love of nature and his affinity with English Romanticism.