Ozaki Koyo: An Author Gone Too Soon

Every few generations, people with great potential are born into this world. These people shape the world in their own way and through their own craft. Unfortunately, no matter how significant their contributions are to society, some of these great-minded people pass away too soon. One such example of a great man known as an amazing writer and poet would be none other than Ozaki Koyo.

The Novelist and Haiku Poet Ozaki Koyo

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born on the 28th of January in the year 1869, Ozaki Tokutaro grew up to become an essayist and a haiku poet. More commonly known by his pseudonym Ozaki Koyo, Tokutaro was a novelist and considered to be among the pioneers who spearheaded and developed modern Japanese literature. He passed away on the 30th of October in the year 1903.

Koyo’s hometown was Shibachumonmae, located in Edo, which is now known as Tokyo. At the tender age of 4, Koyo’s mother sadly passed away. As a result, his grandparents adopted him and took care of him in Shibashinmei-cho. He went to Baisen Primary School and graduated in the year 1880.

After which, Koyo enrolled in Tokyofu Daini Junior High School, which is now known as Hibiya High School. Just two years after he entered, he dropped out of the said school. Instead, he entered Mita English School in the year 1883, which was located in Atago-cho, Shiba Ward. His childhood that was spent in Shiba made Koyo proud, which led him to think of a pen name associated with the place. His pen name Koyo was based on Mt. Koyo of Zojo Temple.

Koyo’s father is a famous netsuke carver in the Meiji Period known as Kokusai. Koyo also went to Tokyo Prefecture Middle School. Finally, he enrolled at Tokyo Imperial University, where he, along with some of his friends, published Ken’yusha. Translated to “Friend of the Ink Stone,” Ken’yusha was a literary magazine first published in the year 1885. Some well-known writers who had their pieces published in the magazine include Yamada Bimyo and Kawakami Bizan.

He studied literature from the Tokugawa period, which lasted from the year 1603 to the year 1867. From this, he became interested in Ihara Saikaku, a writer from the 17th century. He made a new style of romantic realism by creating a perfect blend of his poetic aesthetic and Saikaku’s sharp perceptions. One of Koyo’s goals was to make a new colloquial language in the literary sphere.

Koyo’s was quite well-known for his elaborate style of writing. His style seemed to fit love themes as well as descriptions of women. He was also interested in literature from the 17th century and the 18th century. This interest of his was reflected in some of his works including “Ninin bikuni iro zange,” which can be translated to “Amorous Confessions of Two Nuns.” Published in the year 1889, this piece gave Koyo the opportunity to be part of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper company.

Another example of his work that reflected such interest was entitled “Kyara makura,” which can be translated to “The Perfumed Pillow.” This work of his was published in the year 1890. Some of his works also showed a realistic tendency. These include “Tajo takon,” which can be translated to “Tears and Regrets,” and “Kokoro,” which can be translated to “The Heart.” “Tajo takon” was published in the year 1896 while “Kokoro” was published in the year 1903.

The most well-known piece of work of Koyo would be none other than the novel entitled “Konjiki yasha.” Translated to “The Golden Demon,” the writing of the novel began in the year 1897. However, Koyo was not able to finish this because of his sickness that led to his death. The famous novel reflected the effects of materialism and obsession on money and power over human affection and social responsibility.

Because of Koyo’s expertise in the field of literature, it comes as no surprise that several young writers sought to be the apprentice of Koyo. They wanted to be guided by such an incredible and in-depth writer. Two of the most well-known disciples of Koyo who turned out to be great writers were Izumi Kyoka and Tokuda Shusei.

Most of Koyo’s works were published in the Yomiuri Shimbun. At the time, it was the most famous newspaper company in the country. His disciple who continued writing in the style very similar to Koyo’s was Izumi Kyoka. His work entitled “The Golden Demon” was so inspiring that it was adapted into a movie set in Atami, Japan.

His Well-Known Father Ozaki Kokusai and His Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from being a well-known novelist and essayist, Koyo was also known as the sole son of Ozaki Kokusai. Being the only child of Kokusai, people rather took notice of him frequently. After all, Kokusai was a very famous netsuke carver during his time.

For people who are not aware what a netsuke is, it is basically a series of small sculptures that had its own practical purpose. These sculptures were invented in the 17th century in Japan. The Japanese character “ne” stands for “root” while “tsuke” stands for “to attach.”

Back in the day, traditional clothing in Japan such as kimono and kosode did not contain any pockets. Because of this, Japanese men did not have any place to keep their small personal belongings. Examples of these include tobacco, seals, pipes, money, and medicine.

To solve this problem, they thought of making containers called sagemono that would be hung from the sashes of their garments called obi. The fastener used to secure the cord of the container to the sash of the garment was known as a netsuke. The purpose of netsuke evolved over time. They became pieces of art and showmanship.

The popularity of netsuke reached its peak during the Edo period. As of today, the art of netsuke still exists in collections and museums. One of the most well-known netsuke carvers from the Meiji period was Ozaki Kokusai. At present, some of his works can still be found in Japan. A number of his sculptures are currently kept at a museum in the United States of America.

Specifically, in Los Angeles County Museum of Art or LACMA, these pieces are kept at pristine condition. One of these pieces is a sculpture of an elongated monkey. Made from stag antler, the sculpture is an obihasami type. Its dimensions are 4 ½ by 1 by ¾ inches, which are equivalent to 11.4 by 2.5 by 1.9 centimeters. Another elongated monkey with similar properties is kept in the museum. Its dimensions are 4 ¾ by 11/16 by 13/16 inches, which are equivalent to 12.1 by 1.8 by 2 centimeters.

Another monkey sculpture by Kokusai can be found inside the museum. A long-legged monkey, this sculpture was made from stag antler and is a sashi type. Its dimensions are 4 13/16 by 2 7/8 by 1 inches, which are equivalent to 12.2 by 7.4 by 2.5 centimeters. One other sculpture by Kokusai in LACMA is called Stylized Rakan Mask. Made from stag antler with inlays, its dimensions are 1 by 13/16 by 9/16 inches, which are equivalent to 2.5 by 2 by 1.5 centimeters.

There are several others sculptures created by Koyo’s father that can be found in LACMA. These include a smiling elephant, an elongated kappa, and a hairpin called kogai. These sculptures are under the Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection.

His Two Disciples Izumi Kyoka and Tokuda Shusei

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Out of all his disciples, the two most successful ones were Izumi Kyoka and Tokuda Shusei. Izumi Kyoka is only the pen name of Izumi Kyotaro. Born on the 4th of November in the year 1873, Kyoka’s hometown is Kanazawa. His works incorporated supernatural themes that were quite distinct from the rest. He passed away on the 7th of September in the year 1939 in Tokyo.

Growing up in a family of artists and artisans, dabbling in any form of art was encouraged in the Izumi clan. In the year 1890, Kyoka set off to Tokyo in the hopes of finding Ozaki Koyo and becoming his disciple. At the time, Koyo was seen as the head of the literary scene. At first, Kyoka was too shy to let people know of his presence.

Undeterred, he went to meet Koyo again the following year. Right away, Kyoka was accepted as a houseboy. He lived with his idol until the year 1894. He worked for Koyo by cleaning the latter’s home and running errands. In return, Koyo guided him in his literary career and gave careful and precise instructions on how to properly write and convey manuscripts.

The first work of Kyoka to be successful was entitled “Giketsu kyoletsu.” Translated to “Noble Blood, Heroic Blood,” this work of his was published in the year 1894. Albeit melodramatic, Kyoka was able to portray his characters as vivid and lively. As a result, his story was adapted into a play after a short amount of time.

Other works made by Kyoka include “Yako junsa,” which can be translated to “Night Patrolman,” and “Gekashitsu,” which can be translated to “Surgical Room.” Both short stories were published in the year 1895, just a year following Kyoka’s first successful literary piece. These stories portray people who sacrifice themselves, as they are moved by their own convictions.

On the other hand, Tokuda Shusei was the pen name of Tokuda Sueo. Born on the 23rd of December in the year 1871, he also hailed from Kanazawa, Japan. Along with Masamune Hakucho, Shimazaki Toson, and Tayama Katai, Shusei was considered as one of the “four pillars” of naturalism. He passed away on the 18th of November in the year 1943 in Tokyo.

Similar to Kyoka, Shusei also left his hometown to seek apprenticeship under Ozaki Koyo. Unfortunately, his talents were not exactly well fitted to the writing style of Koyo. While it took him a long time to finally gain recognition, he was able to find success following the Russo-Japanese War in the early 1900s.

One of his earlier works was entitled “Arajotai,” which can be translated to “The New Household.” Published in the year 1907, the story revolved around the life of the spouse of a businessman. This piece of work was what first brought Shusei his first taste of public recognition.

Just three years after, he published another work entitled “Ashiato,” which can be translated to “Footprints.” Appearing in the year 1910, the story revolved around his own wife’s early life. Following this work was entitled “Kabi,” which can be translated to “Mold.” Published in the year 1911, this work of his recounted the events and situations they faced during their marriage. His other works include “Tadare” or “Festering,” “Arakure” or “The Tough One,” “Kaso jimbutsu” or “A Disguised Man,” and “Shukuzu” or “Miniature.

Ozaki Koyo’s Works and Legacy

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ozaki Koyo passed away at the considerably young age of 34. Nonetheless, he left behind several of his works and his legacy. Probably the most famous of them all was “The Golden Demon.” It was so popular that it was adapted into a film.

The story revolved around a poor young boy named Kanichi and his long-time friend called Miya, with whom he fell in love. Kanichi was but a poor student while Miya was the daughter of his debtor. Even though they were besotted with each other, their relationship was broken at the hands of a wealthy man in their town known as Tomiyama, who set his eyes on Miya.

After several circumstances, Miya and Tomiyama got married. Their marriage was far from a happy one. On the other hand, Kanichi grew up harboring hatred and revenge in his heart. The story was definitely a sad and eye-opening one. Both love and regret were portrayed well in both the novel and the film.

Despite having passed so early, Ozaki Koyo was able to leave behind a legacy that future generations would still be able to enjoy and learn from. With his works being adapted into films, readers and viewers alike would be able to appreciate the stories that Ozaki Koyo spun while he was still alive.