Ryunosuke Akutagawa 芥川龍之介
Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), the most famous short-story writer in Japan, is noted for finely crafted stories which, with sarcastic humor, explore the underside of human nature. Born in Tokyo, Ryunosuke ("Son of the Dragon") was named after his birth sign, taking the surname Akutagawa from his uncle, who adopted him owing to his mother's mental illness. A good scholar in English and Chinese classics, he majored in English literature at Tokyo University, where he made his debut as a writer in the literary journal Shinshicho (New Currents of Thought) with Hana (1916, tr. The Nose), earning praise from Soseki Natsume. From his graduation in 1916 until his marriage to Fumiko Tsukamoto in 1918, he published several important works while teaching English at Yokosuka Naval Engineering School, among them Imogayu (1916, tr. Yam Gruel), Hankechi (1916, tr. The Handkerchief), and Hokyonin no shi (1918, tr. The Martyr). Yabu no naka (tr. In a Bamboo Grove), one of the representative works of his middle period from 1919 to 1922, provided the material for the film Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, along with an earlier story, Rashomon (1915). His deteriorating health influenced his final, autobiographical works Kappa (1927) and Haguruma (1927, tr. Cogwheels). The Akutagawa Prize, which was established eight years after his suicide in 1927 at the age of 35, became the most prestigious biannual award for promising new writers in Japan.