Shūji Tsushima Biography

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(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.

In 1939, Dazai decided seriously that he was going to make his career as a writer. He married Michiko Ishihara, a high school teacher and the daughter of a good family. Dazai seemed to find peace in his married life, and this mood is reflected in the works of this period, such as “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.” From 1940 to 1945, during World War II, Dazai was, by critic Donald Keene’s estimate, the only Japanese writer who managed to be published and maintain his artistic integrity. He published several long novels: Seigi to bish (democracy and smile) and Udaijin Sanetomo (Sanetomo, minister of the right).

Dazai’s most important literary activity, however, came after the war. His best-known novels, The Setting Sun and No Longer Human, and short stories, “Cherries” and “Villon’s Wife,” were published in 1947 and 1948; they reflected the public and private despair prevalent in postwar Japan. His own life also mirrored the chaos of the time. Still married, he began several affairs. He and his mistress Shizue Ota had a child, and he used this experience in writing The Setting Sun. Suffering from alcoholism and ill health, he completed No Longer Human. In June of 1948, Dazai finally succeeded in committing suicide by throwing himself into the water with his other mistress, Tomie Yamazaki. The two bodies were found on the nineteenth of June, his thirty-ninth birthday.

The most persistent characteristic of Dazai’s work is its description of “the beauty of...

(The entire section is 1,401 words.)