Toson, Shimazaki: see Shimazaki Toson.
is the pen-name of a Japanese author, active in the Meiji, Taishō and early Showa period Japan. He began his career as a poet, but went on to establish himself as the major proponent of naturalism in Japanese literature. His real name was Shimazaki Haruki.

Early life

Tōson was born in what is now part of the city of Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture and spent his childhood in the old post town of Magome-juku in the countryside of the Kiso District, which he left in 1881. He wrote about many aspects of life in this area, including in his most famous novel Before the Dawn, which was modeled on the life of his father, Shimazaki Masaki, who went insane and died by the time Tōson was fourteen, leading to Tōson being raised by friends of his family. Later, his oldest sister would also die from mental disorders. Tōson later described his nature as "melancholy inherited from my parents."

Tōson graduated from Meiji Gakuin University in 1891, and became interested in literature through his friendship with essayist and translator Kochō Baba (馬場孤蝶 Baba Kochō) and Shūkotsu Togawa (戸川秋骨 Togawa Shūkotsu). He joined a literary group associated with the literary magazine Bungakukai (文學界) and he also began to contribute translations to Jogaku Zasshi (女学雑誌 Magazine of Women's Learning).

He moved from Tokyo to Sendai in northern Japan to accept a teaching position, but continued to write as a hobby. His first verse collection, Wakanashū (若菜集 Collection of Young Herbs, 1897) was published while he was in Sendai and launched him on his future career.

However, around the same time, Tōson was discovered to be having an affair with one of his female students, which led to his resignation from the school. The suicide of his close friend, the Romantic writer Kitamura Tokoku, also came as a great shock and Tōson moved back to Tokyo.

Literary career

Although Tōson was lauded by literary critics for the establishment of a new Japanese verse form in Wakanashu and as one of the creators of the Meiji Romanticism (明治浪漫主義 Meiji Rōman Shugi) literary movement, he soon turned his talents to prose fiction.

His first novel, The Broken Commandment was published in 1906. It was considered a landmark in Japanese realism and is thus regarded as the first Japanese naturalist novel. It is a story of a burakumin schoolteacher, who keeps his out-caste status secret until near the end of the story. While he was writing, each of his three children died of illness.

His second novel, Haru (春 Spring, 1908) was much weaker and is a lyrical and sentimental autobiographical account of his youthful days with the Bungakukai.

His third novel, Ie (家 Family, 1910-1911) is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It depicts the slow moving decline of two provincial families to whom the protagonist is related.

Tōson created a major scandal with his next novel, Shinsei (新生 New Life, 1918-1919). A more emotional work than Ie, it is an autobiographical account of his own extramarital relations with his niece, Komako, and the knowledge that her father (his elder brother) knew of the incestuous affair, but concealed it. When Komako became pregnant, Tōson fled to France to avoid the confrontation with his relatives, abandoning the girl. Tōson attempts to justify his behavior by revealing that his father had committed a similar sin and that he could not avoid the curse of his lineage. The general public did not see it that way and Tōson was censured on many fronts for his behavior and for what was perceived as a gross vulgarity by attempting to capitalize on the disgraceful incident by turning it into a novel.

On his return to Japan, Tōson accepted a teaching post at Waseda University. He then wrote Yoakemae starting in 1929, a semi-historical novel about the Meiji Restoration from the point of view of a provincial loyalist, who is a thinly veiled representation of his father. Written unevenly, the protagonist dies in bitterness and disappointment. It was serialized in the literary magazine Chūōkōron over a six-year period and was later released as a two-part novel.

In 1935, Tōson became the founding chairman of the Japanese chapter of the International PEN organization. Tōson died of a stroke at the age of 71, in 1943. His grave is at the temple of Jifuku-ji, in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Published Works

Tōson's major works include:


  • Bourdaghs, Michael. (2003). The Dawn That Never Comes: Shimazaki Toson and Japanese Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-2311-2980-7
  • McClellan, Edwin. (1969). Two Japanese Novelists: Soseki & Toson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 10-ISBN 0-2265-5652-2 13-ISBN 978-0-2265-5652-9 (cloth) [reprinted by Tuttle Publishing, Tokyo, 1971-2004. 10-ISBN 0-8048-3340-0 13-ISBN 978-0-8048-3340-0 (paper)]
  • Shimazaki Toson. [Trans. William E. Naff] (1987). Before the Dawn. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0914-9
  • Shimazaki Toson. [Trans. Kenneth Strong] (1995). Broken Commandment. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press. ISBN 0-8600-8191-5

External links

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