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The Kiso Road

The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Tōson

William E. Naff
EDITED BY J. Thomas Rimer
Copyright Date: 2011
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  • Book Info
    The Kiso Road
    Book Description:

    William E. Naff, the distinguished scholar of Japanese literature widely known and highly regarded for his eloquent translations of the writings of Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943), spent the last years of his life writing a full-length biography of Toson. Virtually completed at the time of his death,The Kiso Roadprovides a rich and colorful account of this canonic novelist who, along with Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai, formed the triumvirate of writers regarded as giants in Meiji Japan, all three of whom helped establish the parameters of modern Japanese literature. Professor Naff's biography skillfully places Toson in the context of his times and discusses every aspect of his career and personal life, as well as introducing in detail a number of his important but as yet untranslated works.

    Toson's long life, his many connections with other important Japanese artists and intellectuals, his sojourn in France during World War I, and his later visit to South America, permit a biography of depth and detail that serves as a kind of cultural history of Japan during an often turbulent period.The Kiso Road,as approachable and exciting as any novel, with Toson himself as its complex protagonist, is arguably the most thorough account of any modern Japanese writer presently available in English.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6073-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editor’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
    J. Thomas Rimer
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    William E. Naff’s Tōson and Janet A. Walker

    The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Tosonis a biography of a man considered by the Japanese to be one of their greatest modern writers, a writer who modernized Japanese poetry through his individualistic lyricism and invented a subjective novel form that focused on the quiddities of the individual’s life. But Tōson (1872–1943), as he is called in Japan, was also an intellectual who, through his poetry, fiction, and essays, was a participant in and a witness to the cataclysmic events that brought Japan into the modern world, from the opening of Japan to Western ideology,...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-2)
  7. Introduction: The Meiji Literary Scene
    (pp. 3-26)

    The history of the Meiji period constitutes an important chapter in the political, economic, intellectual, and artistic history of not only Japan but of the entire modern world. For the first time, a non-European nation created a viable and productive synthesis—however marked by the characteristic byproducts of human imperfection—of European and non-European cultures. That synthesis changed the shape of the world forever. Japan’s success was the product of an extraordinary combination of native creativity grounded in an exceptional hospitality to foreign ideas and institutions, of clear vision, and of good fortune, particularly in geographical location and in the...

  8. 1 Home and Family: Before 1872
    (pp. 27-62)

    Tōson delivered this verse in a speech at the Misaka Elementary School in Magome on April 30, 1928, while on his final tour of the Kiso region preparatory to the writing of his masterpiece,Before the Dawn. It was preserved only in notes kept by Miyaguchi Shizue, a teacher in the school and writer of children’s books who, in spite of a lifelong association with Tōson, was then actually seeing him for the first time.¹ The verse has been inscribed in the calligraphy of his son Kusuo on a tablet at the entrance of the Tōson Memorial in Magome.


  9. 2 Childhood and Education: 1872–1892
    (pp. 63-102)

    Shimazaki Haruki, pen name Tōson, was born in Magome no Shuku, the post station of Magome, on the seventeenth day of the old second month of 1872, a date that corresponds to March 25 under the international calendar that Japan would adopt later that year. His given name, literally “Spring tree,” was inspired by the camellias in bloom at the time of his birth in the garden of the oldhonjincompound. He did not adopt his pen name until 1894, but it is common practice to use that name even when speaking of his childhood and youth.¹

    Tōson was...

  10. 3 A Shaky Start: 1892–1893
    (pp. 103-131)

    In September 1892 Tōson took up his teaching position at Meiji Jogakkō, the women’s school that Kimura Kumaji and his wife Tō had opened seven years earlier. Meiji Jogakkō would carry out a long and often productive struggle to chart a new course for women’s education during those years in which changes in educational fashions and social ideals, some officially sponsored, some spontaneous, were placing extreme pressures on educational programs. Such pressures tended not only to run far ahead of the actual changes that were occurring in Japanese society, but often on divergent courses. They nevertheless contributed substantially to the...

  11. 4 A Poet’s Apprenticeship: 1893–1896
    (pp. 132-153)

    TheBungakkaigroup appeared to have assimilated many of the major ideas, techniques, and stances of European literature, but its members had had little success in clothing these ideas in acceptable literary dress. While there was much in the harvest of National Learning that made some of the superficial aspects of European Romanticism seem not only congenial but familiar in the Japan of the last half of the nineteenth century, in its deeper aspects the European movement drew on a body of intellectual, spiritual, and material experience not shared by Japan.

    The particular visions of Shakespeare that informed Tōson’s works...

  12. 5 Escape to Sendai: 1896–1898
    (pp. 154-187)

    The castle town of Sendai was founded in 1600 by Date Masamune, daimyo of Sendai han and a trusted ally of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Date’s nominal revenues of 620,000kokuof rice placed him near the top in the daimyo hierarchy, while his wealth and his connections combined with his considerable political gifts made him a major power in northeastern Japan. Date Masamune built his Aoba castle on the bluffs that overlook the right bank of the Hirose River, and he laid out the town on the low ground along the opposite bank. From the very beginning the Date were assiduous...

  13. 6 To Komoro: 1899–1900
    (pp. 188-218)

    In the spring of 1899 Tōson was offered a position at a Nara middle school. The salary was good by the standards of the day and the position was a secure one, but he turned it down to accept a far less remunerative and much less secure position on the staff of Kimura Kumaji’s struggling Komoro Gijuku.²

    Many reasons lay behind this decision to go into the countryside. High on the list was the brutal review “The Nap” had received from Mori Ōgai the previous year. Another was the danger of becoming enmeshed yet again in the familial decline and...

  14. 7 From Poetry to Fiction: 1900–1904
    (pp. 219-249)

    There were both steeper and gentler pitches in the Komoro reaches of that long hill up which Tōson carried his lifelong burden. It was during these years that he would begin to find his way back into the life of the Japanese countryside from which he had been uprooted at such an early age. To create a new literary identity for himself, he had first to establish a firm sense of who he was, and that could not be done without once again sinking roots into the countryside, replete though it might be with those traditional ways of life so...

  15. 8 Personal Catastrophe, Public Triumph: 1905–1907
    (pp. 250-293)

    Now that Tōson’s plans to leave Komoro were beginning to take concrete form, many of his colleagues at the school joined leading members of the community in imploring him to stay, but he was already committed. His note to Osanai Kaoru said that he would be coming down in late March or early April to look for a house and asked him to keep an eye out for a suitable place.² In the lyrically optimistic opening pages ofMebae(Swelling Buds, 1909), the fictional treatment of the nightmarish first year and a half in Tokyo, Tōson describes what he found...

  16. 9 A Bleak Spring and a Harsh Summer: 1907–1913
    (pp. 294-338)

    The year 1907 began with Tōson deep into the research for a second full length novel. He had gone to work almost as soon as the family had settled in at the Shinkatamachi house, the money making it all possible again coming from Kōzu Takeshi.¹

    The novel was to be calledHaru(Springtime). It took its hopeful title from Botticelli and its gray mood from the trials and struggles of the author’s early years. Masamune Hakuchō has commented on the ironic contrast between the joyous tone of the painting and the agonies suffered by the characters in the novel. He...

  17. 10 The French Years: 1913–1916
    (pp. 339-391)

    By 1913 Tōson was actively planning yet another escape from yet another intolerable situation. In early March he wrote to Tayama Katai that he was “planning to undertake a journey” because his life had “fallen into stagnation.” He confessed he had tried twice to write in detail about his reasons but that he would have to leave that until their next face-to-face meeting. On the same day he wrote to Togawa Shūkotsu to say that he would like to discuss his travel plans with him, Baba Kochō, and Hirata Tokuboku.¹ To Kōzu Takeshi he is more specific, saying that he...

  18. 11 A New Life: 1916–1923
    (pp. 392-438)

    The most urgent problem confronting Tōson upon his return home was still the family’s desperate financial condition. Hirosuke’s always limited means were now exhausted. His selfless service to the people of the Kiso valley had not even brought him full compensation for his expenses, much less any provision for maintenance. At the end of the year, Tōson sent an urgent request to Hideo in Taiwan that he begin to share in the burden of supporting Hirosuke and his family.²

    Tōson stretched his own meager resources as far as they would go in improving conditions in the overcrowded, gloomy, and stress-filled...

  19. 12 The Opening of the Last Act: 1923–1927
    (pp. 439-466)

    In spite of—perhaps because of—its characteristically low-keyed presentation,Sannin(The Three) is one of Tōson’s most effective shorter works. It is a statement from a perceptive, masculine point of view about the racking uncertainties still experienced in the 1920s by independent-minded Japanese women trying to take control of their lives. Matsuo Saneko, the central character, is modeled on Katō Shizuko (1896–1973), who would become Tōson’s second wife.

    Although he never completely purged himself of a slightly condescending paternalism, the experience withVirgin Soil, with its intense daily involvement in the lives of his female colleagues, helped to...

  20. 13 Before the Dawn: 1927–1935
    (pp. 467-492)

    Tōson’s preoccupation with the nineteenth century continued to deepen and intensify throughout the 1920s. The pivotal year was 1927 andSan’in miyage(Souvenirs from the San’in Region) was the pivotal work, both as a marker of progress in his preparations forBefore the Dawnand in determining its character.²

    Souvenirshad its beginnings in a prosaic promotion scheme by the Asahi newspaper company in which Tōson was invited to contribute to a projected volume to be titledTravels of Famous Writers.³ As soon as he finished “Sharing,” he set out on a tour of the Japan Sea coast of southwestern...

  21. 14 The Final Years: 1936–1943
    (pp. 493-520)

    In early July of 1936, Tōson and Shizuko moved at last out of the dark and uncomfortable little house in Iigura where he had lived for more than eighteen years and Shizuko for nearly eight to stay in the Chiyoda Ryokan in Nihonbashi-ku until the time to leave for South America. The move marked the beginning of the last chapter in Tōson’s life, one that would again take him in radically new directions. Not only was he for the first time assuming a quasi-official public role as president of the Japan P.E.N. Club, but he was about to become a...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 521-596)
  23. Index of Important Persons
    (pp. 597-630)
  24. Significant Works of Shimazaki Tōson
    (pp. 631-632)
  25. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 633-648)
  26. Index
    (pp. 649-664)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 665-666)