The Life and Works of Arishima Takeo

Every period that occurred in the history of Japan, a batch of great-minded people emerged. These people helped shape the minds and touch the hearts of the Japanese people. Specifically, during the Meiji period, a number of writers started publishing their works and getting recognized by the masses because of how they thought ahead of their time. One of these writers was known as Arishima Takeo.

Biography of Arishima Takeo

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Born on the 4th of March in the year 1878, Arishima Takeo was a writer of short stories and an essayist from Japan. He was also an essayist who emerged during the last Meiji period and Taisho period. He had two younger brothers who also grew up to become authors. These two were known as Arishima Ikuma and Satomi Ton. Artistry seemed to run in their veins, as his son Mori Masayuki grew up to become a famous stage and film actor.

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Takeo came from an affluent family. His father was a former samurai official from the Ministry of Finance. At first, Takeo attended a mission school located in Yokohama. In this school, he was able to learn the English language. At the age of 10, he enrolled in the Gakushuin peer’s school, a prestigious preparatory school in Japan.

After 9 years, Takeo graduated from the Gakushuin and proceeded to enroll in Sapporo Agricultural College, which is now known as the Faculty of Agriculture at Hokkaido University, at 19 years old. Due to certain circumstances, Takeo attempted to commit suicide with Kokichi Morimoto. Fortunately, their attempt at suicide failed.

Eventually, having been influenced by Uchimura Kanzo, Takeo became a Christian in the year 1901. On the other hand, Morimoto proceeded to build schools for women. Following graduation from college, Takeo was mandated to train under the Imperial Japanese Army for a short period of time.

After which, Takeo again took lessons in the English language from the wife of Nitobe Inazo, Nitobe Mary Elkinton. Having mastered the language, he was able to acquire a job in the Mainichi Shimbun as a foreign correspondent in the United States of America in the year 1903. At the time, position was a prestigious job that opened many opportunities to Takeo.

Flying to the United States, Takeo attended Haverford College. A Quaker institution, Haverford College was located just outside of Philadelphia. After which, he enrolled at Harvard University. Upon graduating from university, Takeo obtained a job at an insane asylum that was being operated by the Quaker sect for a short amount of time. All of his experiences from his journey to the United States were recorded in Takeo’s journal.

During his stint in the United States, his belief in Christianity wavered. Socialism became more appealing to him. Works of certain writers like Henrik Ibsen, Walt Whitman, and Peter Kropotkin also influenced his mindset about the world. After his journey to the United States, he went to travel to Europe the following year. His experiences in both western countries shaped not only his style in writing but also the way he saw the world. As a result, he felt distant and alienated from Japanese society.

He returned to his homeland in the year 1907. After which, he entered the army again. After a short period of time, he obtained a job at his alma mater as an English and ethics teacher in the year 1909. Through the years, he developed a socialist philosophy, which he applied in the year 1922. He gave up ownership of a vast tenant farm in Hokkaido that he got from his father as an inheritance.

Takeo got married in the year 1910 and had three beautiful children. Sadly, his wife passed away just 6 years into the marriage due to tuberculosis. Six years after the passing of his wife, Takeo met Akiko Hatano in the year 1922. A married woman, Hatano was a successful editor for a popular women’s magazine known as the Fujin Koron. They had an extramarital affair that was discovered by her husband later on.

As a result of this discovery, both Takeo and Hatano committed suicide by hanging. They did this in Karuizawa, specifically somewhere isolated. Hence, their bodies were found more than a month after it happened. They left a suicide note behind, which helped investigators identify them. Today, the grave of Takeo can be found at the Aoyama Cemetery located in Tokyo.

His Literary Career: The Descendants of Cain and A Bunch of Grapes

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Because both of his younger brothers were authors as well, he was able to get acquainted with several known writers prior to jumpstarting his own career. He got to know writers who were alumni of the Gakushuin through his brother Ikuma. These authors include Saneatsu Mushanokoji and Naoya Shiga. Together with these writers, they formed a group called Shirakaba, which can be translated to “White Birch.”

With his outstanding works and novels, he was considered as among the central figures in their group. It was in the year 1917 that Takeo was finally able to gain recognition when his work entitled “Kain no Matsuei,” which can be translated to “The Descendants of Cain,” was published. It revolved around a self-destructive tenant farmer whose eyes reflected God’s curse not just on human beings but on nature as well.

Just two years after, he again published another work that became his most famous work of all time. This novel was entitled “Aru Onna,” which can be translated to “A Certain Woman.” Published in the year 1919, the story revolved around a woman living in a society that was dominated by males. The society she lived in was hypocritical but she remained strong and willful.

Many critics applaud the writing style of Takeo. However, the themes and characters that he employed in his works did not exactly appeal to some contemporary readers in Japan. Aside from serious novels, Takeo also dabbled into children’s stories. He published his own collection of children’s short stories just a year prior to his suicide. The collection was in dedication to his three children. Takeo even did the binding and the illustrations himself.

The first work that Takeo did for children was entitled “Hitofusa no Budo,” which can be translated to “A Bunch of Grapes.” The story was based on his own experiences when he was still in school. It revolved around a protagonist who was quite a painter. Sadly, he was unable to reproduce certain colors using his own paint such as blue for the sea and red for the ship. Hence, he decided to steal two colors from his classmate Jim.

Jim found out about the theft and brought the case to their teacher. The teacher reprimanded the protagonist calmly. After which, she gave him a bunch of grapes to take home and instructed him to return to school the following day. Naturally, the protagonist did not want to attend school the next day but he did so anyway. Surprisingly, Jim greeted and welcomed him warmly. Then, the teacher divided the grapes and gave both children each a smaller bunch.

While this story appealed to people because it was created by a well-known author, they also received the story quite well because of the basis of the story. The mind of a child and how it works was properly conveyed in the story based on Takeo’s own childhood experience. Takeo once stated in a newspaper article that people should be able to look about on their own childhood experiences and reflect its events and how these affected them as a person.

Following his death, Takeo’s name attained more recognition because of his detailed journals. Composed of over 20 volumes, his diaries depict not just his life through his eyes but also his hopes and fears. These diaries portray Takeo not just as a novelist but also as a human being with strengths and weaknesses. Aside from being a novelist, Takeo’s contemporaries also saw Takeo as a social critic as well as a philosopher.

A Certain Woman: Arishima Takeo’s Most Famous Work

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The most famous work of Arishima Takeo is undoubtedly the one entitled “A Certain Woman.” The first half of the story initially appeared in Shirakaba, a literary magazine. It was published in the form of a series beginning in January of the year 1911. It ran for 16 episodes and ended in March of the year 1913. It took 6 years after the last episode of the first half of the novel before the second half was published in the year 1919. When it was published that time, the two volumes appeared as a set.

“A Certain Woman” can be considered partially biographical. The protagonist named Yoko was actually based on a real-life person named Nobuko Sasaki, the former wife of Kunikida Doppo. One can say that the primary theme of the story was the constant changing of women’s position in the society of Japan. The setting of the novel was at the end of the Meiji period as well as the Taisho period.

The protagonist of the story was Yoko Satsuki, the eldest of three sisters. They were raised by their mother, who appeared to be “progressive.” Yoko met and fell in love with a journalist. Eventually, she married him out of love, which was uncommon at the time since most people into arranged marriages.

Unfortunately, Yoko became bored and fell in love. Ultimately, she divorced him and left for her parents’ home. The journalist was heart broken over the short marriage but Yoko felt nothing but contempt towards her ex-husband. Her parents passed away after some time, which led to Yoko being pressured by family friends and relatives to marry again.

Because of peer pressure, Yoko decided to marry again but this time to a friend of a friend known as Kibe. Kibe lived in Seattle, United States, so Yoko had to board a steamer from Yokohama to travel to him. Aboard the streamer, Yoko engaged in an affair with Kuraji, a married man. Despite the look of disapproval from other passengers, she remained oblivious.

Upon reaching the US, Yoko decided she no longer wanted to marry Kibe. Instead, she took his money and went back to her homeland with Kuraji. They lived together even though Kuraji was still married to another woman. Yoko also still had to take care of her younger sisters. By the end of the story, Yoko was unsuccessful in finding happiness. She ended up constantly fighting with Kuraji, who turned out to be unreliable. Eventually, he disappeared with police searching for him.

The novel was adapted into a film in October of the year 1942. Directed by Minoru Shibuya, it was produced by Shochiku Studios. A cinematic version of the novel was re-issued on the 13th of March in the year 1954. This time, it was directed by Shiro Toyoda.

Learning More About Him in Arishima Takeo Memorial Museum

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One can also learn a lot about Arishima Takeo by heading over to Arishima Takeo Memorial Museum. Located in 048-1531 57, Arishima, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, the museum is dedicated to the author himself. Their contact number is 0136-44-3245. The museum is open from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, admission is only until 4:30 PM.

Aside from being a novelist, Takeo was also known as a man who gave to the poor. The museum was actually built in dedication to him because of this. Recognizing the hardships of the poor, he subdivided his own land to peasants in their region. He let them farm in his land so that they would be able to make a living for themselves. He allowed this without asking for rent.

The museum offers parking spaces for visitors who would be bringing a vehicle. However, it is closed on Mondays and on New Year holidays. Should Monday be a holiday, the museum would be closed the following day (Tuesday). Admission fee costs 500 yen for adults, 100 yen for junior high school students, and free for children in elementary or younger.

Arishima Takeo was truly an incredible writer and novelist. His works were not only entertaining but also powerful enough to challenge readers into thinking about how the world naturally works. Being a philosopher, Takeo constantly reflected about society and how it affects the mindset of people. Indeed, Takeo was able to impart knowledge and inspiration through his works and good deeds.