Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, 1 March 1892 – 24 July 1927) , art name Chōkōdō Shujin (澄江堂主人)[1] was a Japanese writer active in the Taishō period in Japan. He is regarded as the "Father of the Japanese short story" and Japan's premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him.[2] He committed suicide at the age of 35 through an overdose of barbital.[3]

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
芥川 龍之介
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Born1 March 1892
Kyōbashi, Tokyo, Japan
Died24 July 1927 (aged 35)
Tokyo, Japan
GenreShort stories
Literary movementNo movements
Notable works"In a Grove"


Children3 (including Yasushi Akutagawa)

Early life

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was born in the Kyōbashi district of Tokyo, the third child and only son of father Toshizō Niihara and mother Fuku Niihara (née Akutagawa). He was named "Ryūnosuke" ("Son [of] Dragon") because he was born in the Year of the Dragon, in the Month of the Dragon, on the Day of the Dragon, and at the Hour of the Dragon. His mother experienced a mental illness shortly after his birth, so he was adopted and raised by his maternal uncle, Dōshō Akutagawa, from whom he received the Akutagawa family name. He was interested in classical Chinese literature from an early age, as well as in the works of Mori Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki.

He entered the First High School in 1910, developing relationships with classmates such as Kan Kikuchi, Kume Masao, Yūzō Yamamoto, and Tsuchiya Bunmei, all of whom would later become authors. He began writing after entering Tokyo Imperial University in 1913, where he studied English literature.

While still a student he proposed marriage to a childhood friend, Yayoi Yoshida, but his adoptive family did not approve the union. In 1916 he became engaged to Fumi Tsukamoto, whom he married in 1918. They had three children: Hiroshi Akutagawa (1920–1981) was an actor, Takashi Akutagawa (1922–1945) was killed as a student draftee in Burma, and Yasushi Akutagawa (1925–1989) was a composer.

After graduation, he taught briefly at the Naval Engineering School in Yokosuka, Kanagawa as an English language instructor, before deciding to devote his full efforts to writing.

Literary career

Kikuchi Kan, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, and so on
A set photograph of 1919. The second from the left is Akutagawa. At the far left is Kan Kikuchi.

In 1914, Akutagawa and his former high school friends revived the literary journal Shinshichō ("New Currents of Thought"), publishing translations of William Butler Yeats and Anatole France along with their own works. Akutagawa published his second short story Rashōmon the following year in the literary magazine Teikoku Bungaku ("Imperial Literature"), while still a student. The story, based on a twelfth-century tale, was not well received by Akutagawa's friends, who criticized it extensively. Nonetheless, Akutagawa gathered the courage to visit his idol, Natsume Sōseki, in December 1915 for Sōseki's weekly literary circles, in November, he published his short story Rashomon on Teikoku Mongaku, a literary magazine[1] In early 1916 he published Hana ("The Nose", 1916), which attracted a letter of praise from Sōseki and secured Akutagawa his first taste of fame.[4]

It was also at this time that he started writing haiku under the haigo (or pen-name) Gaki. Akutagawa followed with a series of short stories set in Heian period, Edo period or early Meiji period Japan. These stories reinterpreted classical works and historical incidents. Examples of these stories include: Gesaku zanmai ("A Life Devoted to Gesaku", 1917) and Kareno-shō ("Gleanings from a Withered Field", 1918), Jigoku hen ("Hell Screen", 1918); Hōkyōnin no shi ("The Death of a Christian", 1918), and Butōkai ("The Ball", 1920). Akutagawa was a strong opponent of naturalism. He published Mikan ("Mandarin Oranges", 1919) and Aki ("Autumn", 1920) which have more modern settings.

In 1921, Akutagawa interrupted his writing career to spend four months in China, as a reporter for the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun. The trip was stressful and he suffered from various illnesses, from which his health would never recover. Shortly after his return he published Yabu no naka ("In a Grove", 1922). During the trip, Akutagawa visited numerous cities of southeastern China including Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. Before his travel, he wrote a short story "The Christ of Nanjing"; concerning the Chinese Christian community; according to his own imagination of Nanjing influenced by Classical Chinese literature. [5]


Akutagawa's stories were influenced by his belief that the practice of literature should be universal and can bring together western and Japanese cultures. This can be seen in the way that Akutagawa uses existing works from a variety of cultures and time periods and either rewrites the story with modern sensibilities, or creates new stories using ideas from multiple sources. Culture and the formation of a cultural identity is also a major theme in several of Akutagawa's works. In these stories he explores the formation of cultural identity during periods in history where Japan was most open to outside influences. An example of this is his story Hōkyōnin no Shi ("The Martyr", 1918) which is set in the early missionary period.

The portrayal of women in Akutagawa’s stories was shaped by the influence of three women who acted as a mother for Akutagawa. Most significantly his biological mother Fuku, from whom he worried about inheriting her mental illness. Though he did not spend much time with Fuku he identified strongly with her, believing that if at any moment he might go mad life was meaningless. His aunt Fuki played the most significant role in his upbringing. Fuki controlled much of Akutagawa's life, demanding much of his attention especially as she grew older. Women that appear in Akutagawa’s stories, much like the women he identified as mothers, were mostly written as dominating, aggressive, deceitful, and selfish. Conversely, men were often represented as the victims of such women, such as in Kesa to Morito ("Kesa and Morito", 1918), in which the leading female character attempts to control the actions of both her lover and husband.

Later life

Leg of the horse, manuscript by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, 1925 AD - Edo-Tokyo Museum - Sumida, Tokyo, Japan - DSC06916
"Horse Legs", manuscript page, 1925

The final phase of Akutagawa's literary career was marked by his deteriorating physical and mental health. Much of his work during this period is distinctly autobiographical, some even taken directly from his diaries. His works during this period include Daidōji Shinsuke no hansei ("The Early Life of Daidōji Shinsuke", 1925) and Tenkibo ("Death Register", 1926).

Akutagawa had a highly publicized dispute with Jun'ichirō Tanizaki over the importance of structure versus lyricism in story. Akutagawa argued that structure, how the story was told, was more important than the content or plot of the story, whereas Tanizaki argued the opposite.

Akutagawa's final works include Kappa (1927), a satire based on a creature from Japanese folklore, Haguruma ("Spinning Gears", 1927), Aru ahō no isshō ("A Fool's Life"), and Bungeiteki na, amari ni bungeiteki na ("Literary, All Too Literary", 1927).

Towards the end of his life, Akutagawa began suffering from visual hallucinations and anxiety over fear that he had inherited his mother's mental disorder. In 1927 he attempted suicide, together with a friend of his wife, but the attempt failed. He finally committed suicide by taking an overdose of Veronal, which had been given to him by Saito Mokichi on 24 July of the same year. His dying words in his will claimed he felt a "vague insecurity" (ぼんやりした不安 bon'yari shita fuan) about the future.[6] He was 35 years old.


Akutagawa wrote over 150 short stories during his brief life.[7] Akira Kurosawa's classic 1950 film Rashōmon retells Akutagawa's "In a Grove". The title and the frame scenes set in the Rashomon Gate are taken from Akutagawa's "Rashōmon".[8] Ukrainian composer Victoria Poleva wrote the ballet Gagaku (1994), based on Akutagawa's "Hell Screen". Japanese composer Mayako Kubo wrote an opera named Rashomon, based on Akutagawa's story. The German version premiered in Graz, Austria in 1996, and the Japanese version in Tokyo in 2002.

In 1935, Akutagawa's lifelong friend Kan Kikuchi established the literary award for promising new writers, the Akutagawa Prize, in his honor.

Selected works

Year Japanese Title English Title English Translation
1914 老年 Rōnen Old Age
1915 羅生門 Rashōmon Rashōmon
1916 Hana The Nose
芋粥 Imogayu Yam Gruel
手巾 Hankechi The Handkerchief
煙草と悪魔 Tabako to Akuma Tobacco and the Devil
1917 尾形了斎覚え書 Ogata Ryosai Oboe gaki Dr. Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum
戯作三昧 Gesakuzanmai Absorbed in writing popular novels
首が落ちた話 Kubi ga ochita hanashi The Story of a Head That Fell Off 2004, Jay Rubin
1918 蜘蛛の糸 Kumo no Ito The Spider's Thread
地獄変 Jigokuhen Hell Screen
枯野抄 Kareno shō A commentary on the desolate field for Bashou
邪宗門 Jashūmon Jashūmon
奉教人の死 Hōkyōnin no Shi The Martyr
1919 魔術 Majutsu Magic
Ryū Dragon: the Old Potter's Tale
1920 舞踏会 Butou Kai A ball
Aki Autumn
南京の基督 Nankin no Kirisuto Christ in Nanking
杜子春 Toshishun Tu Tze-chun
アグニの神 Aguni no Kami God of Aguni
1921 山鴫 YamaShigi A snipe
秋山図 Shuzanzu Autumn Mountain
上海游記 Shanhai Yūki A report on the journey of Shanghai
1922 藪の中 Yabu no Naka In a Grove, also In a Bamboo Grove
将軍 Shōgun The General
トロッコ Torokko A Lorry
1923 保吉の手帳から Yasukichi no Techō kara From Yasukichi's notebook
1924 一塊の土 Ikkai no Tsuchi A clod of earth
1925 大導寺信輔の半生 Daidōji Shinsuke no Hansei Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years
侏儒の言葉 Shuju no Kotoba Aphorisms by a pygmy
1926 点鬼簿 Tenkibo Death Register
1927 玄鶴山房 Genkaku Sanbō Genkaku's room
河童 Kappa Kappa
文芸的な、余りに文芸的な Bungeiteki na, amarini Bungeiteki na Literary, All-Too-Literary
歯車 Haguruma Spinning Gears
或阿呆の一生 Aru Ahō no Isshō Fool's Life
西方の人 Saihō no Hito The Man of the West
或旧友へ送る手記 Aru Kyūyū e Okuru Shuki A Note to a Certain Old Friend

Selected works in translation

  • Tales of Grotesque and Curious. Trans. Glenn W. Shaw. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1930.
Tobacco and the devil.--The nose.--The handkerchief.--Rashōmon.--Lice.--The spider's thread.--The wine worm.--The badger.--The ball.--The pipe.--Mōri Sensei.
  • Fool's Life. Trans. Will Peterson Grossman (1970). ISBN 0-670-32350-0
  • Kappa. Trans. Geoffrey Bownas. Peter Owen Publishers (2006) ISBN 0-7206-1200-4
  • Hell Screen. Trans. H W Norman. Greenwood Press. (1970) ISBN 0-8371-3017-4
  • Mandarins. Trans. Charles De Wolf. Archipelago Books (2007) ISBN 0-9778576-0-3
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories. Trans. Jay Rubin. Penguin Classics (2004). ISBN 0-14-303984-9
  • TuTze-Chun. Kodansha International (1965). ASIN B0006BMQ7I
  • La fille au chapeau rouge. Trans. Lalloz ed. Picquier (1980). in ISBN 978-2-87730-200-5 (French edition)
  • "পটচিত্র : নরক ও অন্যান্য গল্প"। অনুবাদ শেখর মৈত্র, আনন্দ পাবলিশার্স প্রাইভেট লিমিটেড (২০১২), ISBN 978-93-5040-154-5 (Bangla/Bengali edition).


  1. ^ a b 戸部原, 文三 (2015). 一冊で名作がわかる 芥川龍之介(KKロングセラーズ). PHP研究所. ISBN 978-4-8454-0785-9.
  2. ^ Jewel, Mark. "Japanese Literary Awards" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-28.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link). Retrieved 2014-06-25.
  3. ^ Books: Misanthrope from Japon Monday, Time Magazine. Dec. 29, 1952
  4. ^ Keene, Donald (1984). Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 558–562. ISBN 978-0-03-062814-6.
  5. ^ 関口, 安義 (2007). 世界文学としての芥川龍之介. Tokyo: 新日本出版社. p. 223. ISBN 9784406050470.
  6. ^ "芥川龍之介 或旧友へ送る手記". www.aozora.gr.jp.
  7. ^ Peace, David (27 March 2018). "There'd be dragons". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  8. ^ Arita, Eriko, "Ryunosuke Akutagawa in focus", Japan Times, 18 March 2012, p. 8.


  • Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West. Columbia University Press; (1998). ISBN 0-231-11435-4
  • Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford University Press (1971). ISBN 0-8047-0904-1
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories - the Chronology Chapter, Trans. Jay Rubin. Penguin Classics (2007). ISBN 978-0-14-303984-6


  • Nakada, Masatoshi. Akutagawa Ryunosuke: Shosetsuka to haijin. Kanae Shobo (2000). ISBN 4-907846-03-7
  • Shibata, Takaji. Akutagawa Ryunosuke to Eibungaku. Yashio Shuppansha (1993). ISBN 4-89650-091-1
  • Takeuchi, Hiroshi. Akutagawa Ryunosuke no keiei goroku. PHP Kenkyujo (1983). ISBN 4-569-21026-0
  • Tomoda, Etsuo. Shoki Akutagawa Ryunosuke ron. Kanrin Shobo (1984). ISBN 4-906424-49-X

External links

A Note to a Certain Old Friend

A Note to a Certain Old Friend (或旧友へ送る手記, Aru Kyūyū he Okuru Shuki) is the title of the suicide note left by the famed Japanese short story writer, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. This was the last thing Akutagawa wrote before he committed suicide at the age of 35 in 1927. The letter was addressed to his close friend and fellow writer Masao Kume.

Akutagawa begins the note by stating his reason for his decision. He mentions that the author Reigner wrote in one of his short stories that no one who commits suicide fully knows why they do. “A vague sense of anxiety about my own future” is the reason Akutagawa gives.

Next, he goes on to write that he had been thinking about death for the last two years with a specific interest in the process of death itself. He writes that A Fool's Life describes his thoughts completely except for the “social factor” which he purposely omitted from the story. “I think I analyzed it all in "A Fool's Life," except for a social factor, namely the shadow of feudalism cast over my life"

Akutagawa then writes his thought process on how he came to decide on his manner of his death. He does this in a straightforward calculated fashion. He states that he does not believe, unlike “the Westerners”, that suicide is a sin. He decides to commit the act in the least painful way possible and researches each manner of death to find the best way. He dismissed a variety of ways to commit suicide “for aesthetic and practical reasons”. Finally he concludes that death by drugs in his house is the best option, despite the hassle it might cause his family. He writes that He feels that he has enough courage to do it alone, without a partner. This whole process, he writes, took him several months to prepare.

Akutagawa then writes that he feels that humans have an animal fear of death and that his fear has been drained out of his body, so much so that he cannot enjoy food or women.

Lastly, he reassures his friend that he does not want to elevate himself to the status of a god, but that he is no more than an ordinary man. He remembers a conversation about "Empedocles on Etna" Kume and he had twenty years prior, in which he stated that he, at that time, did wish to be a god.


Akutagawa (written: 芥川) is a Japanese surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927), Japanese poet and writer

Yasushi Akutagawa (1925–1989), Japanese composer and conductor, son of Akutagawa Ryunosuke

David Akutagawa, 20th-century martial artist

Akutagawa Prize

The Akutagawa Prize (芥川龍之介賞, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke Shō) is a Japanese literary award presented semi-annually. Because of its prestige and the considerable attention the winner receives from the media, it is, along with the Naoki Prize, one of Japan's most sought after literary prizes.

Autumn Mountain

Autumn Mountain (秋山図, Shuzanzu) is a 1921 short story by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa first published the story when he was twenty-nine. The story tells the tale of a painting, supposed to be the greatest ever made. However, when the speaker sees the painting, it does not meet the expectations of the promised masterpiece of unparalleled beauty. However, even though the speaker does not know if the painting actually exists, he realizes that he can see the beauty in his mind. In the short story, Akutagawa deals with the subjects of truth and beauty.

Hell Screen

"Hell Screen" (地獄変, Jigokuhen) is a short story written by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. It was a reworking of Uji Shūi Monogatari and originally published in 1918 as a serialization in two newspapers. It was later published in a collection of Akutagawa short stories, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke zenshū.

In a Grove

"In a Grove" (藪の中, Yabu no Naka) is a short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa; it first appeared in the January 1922 edition of the Japanese literature monthly Shinchō. Akira Kurosawa used this story as the basis for the plot of his award-winning movie Rashōmon.

"In a Grove" is an early modernist short story, as well as a blending of the modernist search for identity with themes from historic Japanese literature, and as such is perhaps the iconic work of Akutagawa's career. It presents three varying accounts of the murder of a samurai, Kanazawa no Takehiro, whose corpse has been found in a bamboo forest near Kyoto. Each section simultaneously clarifies and obfuscates what the reader knows about the murder, eventually creating a complex and contradictory vision of events that brings into question humanity's ability or willingness to perceive and transmit objective truth.

Kappa (novel)

Kappa (河童) is a novel written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa in 1927.

The story is narrated by a psychiatric patient who speaks about his experiences in a country of Kappa. It is a satire of corruption in Japanese society. Akutagawa took his own life the year the novel appeared, partially out of fear that he was developing a mental illness. It is seen as his masterpiece and the anniversary of his death, "Kappaki" (河童忌), 24 July, is named after this novel.

Mita Bungaku

Mita Bungaku (三田文学) is a Japanese literary magazine established in 1910 at Keio University that published early works by young Japanese authors such as Yōjirō Ishizaka, Kyōka Izumi, Hakushū Kitahara, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Takitarō Minakami, Kojima Masajirō, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and Ayako Sono.

Mita Bungaku was established by student and author Mantarō Kubota and others with help from Kafū Nagai in 1910. The magazine is published monthly.


Rashomon (羅生門, Rashōmon) is a 1950 Japanese period psychological thriller film directed by Akira Kurosawa, working in close collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. It stars Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, and Takashi Shimura. While the film borrows the title from Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story "Rashōmon", it is actually based on Akutagawa's short story of 1922 "In a Grove", which provides the characters and plot.

The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident. Rashomon marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage; it won several awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, and an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards in 1952, and is considered one of the greatest films ever made. The Rashomon effect is named after the film.

Rashomon (play)

Rashomon is the name of several different stage productions, all ultimately derived from works by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

Rashōmon (short story)

"Rashōmon" (羅生門) is a short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa based on tales from the Konjaku Monogatarishū.

The story was first published in 1915 in Teikoku Bungaku. Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon (1950) is in fact based primarily on another of Akutagawa's short stories, "In a Grove"; only the film's title and some of the material for the frame scenes, such as the theft of a kimono and the discussion of the moral ambiguity of thieving to survive, are borrowed from "Rashōmon".


Ryu may refer to:

Ryū (龍, 竜, 隆, りゅう, リュウ, Ryū) listen is a Japanese origin name (which can be both a masculine given name or a family name) meaning dragon and can also refer to:

Ryū, the word for a Japanese dragon

Ryū (school), a school of thought or discipline (for example a fighting school)

Dragon: the Old Potter's Tale (龍, Ryū), a 1919 book by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Ryū (manga), a 1986 series by Masao Yajima and Akira Oze

Monthly Comic Ryū, a manga magazine in Japan


Ryūnosuke, Ryunosuke or Ryuunosuke (written: 龍之介, 龍之助, 隆之介 or 竜之介) is a masculine Japanese given name. Notable people with the name include:

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, 1892–1927), Japanese writer

Ryunosuke Kingetsu (金月 龍之介, born 1971), Japanese screenwriter

Ryūnosuke Kusaka (草鹿 龍之介, 1893–1971), Imperial Japanese Navy admiral

Ryunosuke Kamiki (神木 隆之介, born 1993), Japanese actor and voice actor

Ryunosuke Mochida (持田 龍之介, born 1993), Japanese weightlifter

Ryunosuke Noda (野田 隆之介, born 1988), Japanese footballer

Ryunosuke Okamoto (岡本 竜之介, born 1984), Japanese footballer

Ryunosuke Sugawara (菅原 龍之助, born 2000), Japanese footballer

Ryūnosuke Tsukigata (月形 龍之介, 1902–1970), Japanese actor


Shunkan (俊寛) (c. 1143 – 1179) was a Japanese monk who, after taking part in the Shishigatani plot to overthrow Taira no Kiyomori, was exiled along with two others to Kikai-ga-shima. His story is featured in the Heike monogatari, and in a number of traditional derivative works, including the Noh play Shunkan and jōruri play Heike Nyogo-ga-shima. Twentieth century authors Kan Kikuchi and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa also produced works entitled Shunkan.

The Nose (Akutagawa short story)

"The Nose" (鼻, Hana) is a satirical short story by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke based on a thirteenth-century Japanese tale from the Uji Shūi Monogatari. "The Nose" was Akutagawa’s second short story, written not long after "Rashōmon". It was first published in January 1916 in the Tokyo Imperial University student magazine Shinshichō and later published in other magazines and various Akutagawa anthologies. The story is mainly a commentary on vanity and religion, in a style and theme typical to Akutagawa’s work.

The Outrage

The Outrage (1964) is a remake of the 1950 Japanese film Rashomon, reformulated as a Western. It was directed by Martin Ritt and is based on stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Like the original Akira Kurosawa film, four people give contradictory accounts of a rape and murder. Ritt utilizes flashbacks to provide these contradictory accounts.The Outrage stars Edward G. Robinson, Paul Newman, Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom and William Shatner.

The Spider's Thread

"The Spider's Thread" (蜘蛛の糸, Kumo no Ito) is a 1918 short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, first published in the children's magazine Akai Tori.

Yasushi Akutagawa

Yasushi Akutagawa (芥川 也寸志, Akutagawa Yasushi, July 12, 1925 — January 31, 1989) was a Japanese composer and conductor. He was born and raised in Tabata, Tokyo. His father was Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Short stories
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's "In a Grove" (1922)

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