Shūji Tsushima Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Osamu Dazai (dah-zi) was arguably one of the most important Japanese novelists in the first half of the twentieth century. He was born Shji 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.{$S[A]Tsushima, Sh{umacr}ji[Tsushima, Shuji];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....

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

All forms of autobiographical fiction are popular in Japan, especially the “I” novel, and Osamu Dazai’s fictional reenactment of his own life has become the hallmark of his style. Indeed, his personal entourage, including his wives, mistresses, intimate friends, and members of his immediate family, repeatedly turn up in his fiction under their own names or thinly disguised pseudonyms. A bare chronology of the principal events in Dazai’s life would be a somewhat sordid account of sexual encounters, family disputes, drugs, drinking, and attempted suicides. Only when accompanied by introspective analysis, artistic reflections, and literary parallels, as they are in the author’s fiction, do these events become material of universal human interest.

Dazai was a poor little rich boy born Shji Tsushima in the northernmost district of the main island of Japan. At the age of nineteen, shortly after meeting a geisha, Hatsuyo, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Four months later, he began the study of French literature at Tokyo University. In the same year, he made a joint suicide attempt with a waitress; he recovered, but she died. In the following month, he married Hatsuyo. Along with magazine editing and short-story writing, he engaged in leftist political activities. In 1933, he used for the first time his pen name, Osamu Dazai, with a story that won a newspaper prize. Three years later, he published his first collection of stories and entered a mental hospital. In 1937, he again unsuccessfully attempted suicide, this time with Hatsuyo; shortly thereafter, their union was dissolved, and he entered into an arranged marriage with a woman from his own social class. During the war, he was disqualified by ill health from active military service, but he engaged in various noncombatant activities while continuing to write. For some time, he carried on a correspondence with a young woman, Ota Shizuko, on literary subjects, and, shortly after their initial meeting in 1941, she became his mistress. In 1947, while writing The Setting Sun, he established a liaison with a beautician, Yamazaki Tomie, while still involved with and living with his wife. Shortly after completing No Longer Human, the most explicit of his confessional fiction, Dazai committed suicide with Tomie by drowning, leaving behind several notes, including one to his wife.