The Life and Works of Kikuchi Kan

Kikuchi Kan Background

In the peaceful city of Takamatsu, Takagawa prefecture in Japan, Mr. Hiroshi Kikuchi or mostly known by his pen name Kan Kikuchi was born. In the country of Japan, he is a well-known author, novelist and short story writer. He is famous for his contributions to Japanese literature and his influence in the customs and traditions through his writings. The theme of his literary pieces focuses on issues in society, gender, money, and morals.

By 朝日新聞社 (『アサヒグラフ』 1948年3月31日号) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kikuchi Kan Birthdate (Life and Death)

This author was born on the 26th of December 1888. He had a very fruitful yet short-lived life. He was great at his craft and is one of the well-known and most recognized literary artists in Japan. At the age of 59, he died on 6th of March 1948 due to a heart attack.

By 朝日新聞社 (『アサヒグラフ』 1948年3月31日号) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kikuchi Kan Education and Career

He studied English literature at Kyoto Imperial University. However, his works were greatly influenced Irish drama and literature. For this, he is known as a playwright who is known to translate Irish drama into Japanese context. In addition to this, he is able to develop his own style in Japanese writing. Together with authors like Ryunosuke and Masao, he contributed to the publishing of a magazine called Shinshicho or translated as New Current of Thoughts.

Kikuchi is a master at creating a one-act play. A one-act play, from the name itself, is a play that has only one act contrary to the common plays that have multiple acts and may include several scenes. One of his most famous one-act play is the Father Returns. His play focuses on a single event where the acts of the characters will revolve.

Bungei Shunju

After graduating from university, he started his career in publishing and eventually he created his own monthly magazine known as Bungei Shunju, from this company was he able to build his fortune. The publishing company with the same name as its magazine was established in 1923 by Kikuchi. This company grants the prestigious award for literature such as the Akutagawa and the Naoki.  It also publishes the Bungakukai that focuses on literary opinion, the weekly Shukan Bunshun that represents his political opinion, and a sports magazine called Number that talks about public opinion on sports culture.

Dai Nippon Film Co, Ltd.

Kikuchi was also the first president of Dai Nippon Film, which was established in 1942. This film company was considered as one of the major studios during the postwar age of Japanese cinema, which produced artistic literary masterpieces and popular film series. The company was later acquired and known today as Kadokawa Pictures. Due to Kikuchi's increasing fortune, he was able to provide financial support to rising and struggling writers.

Japan Writer's Association

In 1926, Kikuchi founded the Japan Writer's Association. This is an organization that provides a stable income for writers as well as protection to have the freedom to write anything without political influence. In modern times, this association extends assistance in providing copyright protection for writers.  He was very fond of playing Majong and was an enthusiast of horse racing and shogi. Shogi is also known as Japanese Chess or Game of the general; it is a two-player strategy board game. Due to his fondness for Majong, he became the first president of Japan Mahjong League.

The Prestigious Kikuchi Kan Prize

The Akutagawa Prize is a Japanese literary award that was named after the famous author Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who is a close friend of Kikuchi. Akutagawa was a Japanese author who was considered as the father of short stories; he committed suicide in 1927 at the age of 35. The Akutagawa Prize was established in the year 1935 and is normally given semi-annually. This prize is for rising and unknown novelists in short stories and novellas category.

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The winner of this award receives a commemorative pocket watch and one million Japanese Yen. In addition to this, the literary work of the winning author will have a chance for his work to be published in Bungei Shunju. On special instance where the decision between the judges cannot be concluded, no prize for the year will be given. Also, a former recipient of the award can receive it again the following year.

The Naoki Prize is awarded simultaneously with the Akutagawa Prize, which is also given semi-annually. It is named after the well-known novelist Naoki Sanjugo, who was also a personal friend for Kikuchi. He died in the year 1934 at the age of 34 due to Japanese encephalitis. This award also targets upcoming authors inside the world of literature. Due to its prestige, the winner is considered to be a celebrity because of the attention from media.

In addition to this, it is considered as the most aspired award in Japanese literature. The Kikuchi Kan Prize is an award name after himself that was established in 1938. It was aimed to give honor to writers and novelists who are already 46 and older. The winners are presented annually in the Bungei Shunju magazine; the receiver of the award varies from the world of cinema, broadcasting and contemporary Japanese literature. The panelist for judging consists of novelists and authors under the age of 45 years old. 

Madman on the roof

This is a famous short story by Kikuchi about a father and his 24-year-old son who loves to go up the roof of their house and loves to look out into the sea. Its setting is in a small island in the inland sea during the 1900s. The story revolves around the Katsushima family who is considered to be the wealthiest in the island. The characters of the story are: Yoshitaro who is the eldest son and called a madman for going up the roof, Gisuke who is the father of the two boys, Seujiro the younger brother of Yoshitaro, Oyoshi who is the mother of the family, Kichiji who is the young servant in the household, the priestess who is said to have the ability to remove the madness in Yoshitaro and Tosaku who is the family's neighbor. The theme is about perception in life, sanity, and family.

The plot starts when Gisuke, the father, is asking Yoshitori to come down the roof. Gisuke even asks his servant, Kichiji, to help his son get down. The people of the island says he is possessed by the fox spirit, but his father thinks otherwise and believes that the monkey spirit is the one within him. The neighbor, Tosaku, suddenly visits and recommended a priestess who could pray for his son. Immediately, the father summoned the priestess to cure and pray for his son.

Then, the priestess confirmed that the fox is within Yoshitori and to be able to remove it they have to hang him upside down in a tree. While hanging up in a tree, he is to be purified by the smoke of green pine needles. Then, Gisuke instantly obeys the priestess. Before even getting started, he is interrupted by his younger son, Seujiro. He tells his father that the priestess is a fraud and his older brother will not be cured by such act. In the end, Seujiro made his family realize his unconditional and brotherly love for Yoshitaro.

Other popular literary works of Kikuchi Kan

The Father Returns

This one-act play created by Kikuchi was published in 1917 in the journal Tides of thoughts. Then, the play officially opened in 1920.  It is a brief play that is only 30 minutes long. It focuses on a single dramatic scene that gives the most tension in the story. Its story is all about the relationship of a son and his father. The main character, Sotaro, is hated by his eldest son Kenichiro for abandoning his family when he was younger.

After his father left, Kenichiro as the eldest became the breadwinner of the family and was able to provide a better support in the absence of his father. The hatred towards his father has fueled his will to give a better life for his family. The conflict started when the father suddenly appears in front of the doorstep. Obviously, he was despised by Kenichiro for abandoning the family for another woman and mindlessly spending their fortune. To conclude the story, he eventually accepted his father back despite all his shortcomings.

By UnknownUnknown author (菊池寛 『菊池寛全集第二十巻 西住戦車長伝』 文芸春秋、1995年。) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the Pale of Vengeance

This is also one of the masterpieces of Kikuchi about a Buddhist Monk who fulfills his spiritual purpose to help those whom he had done harm. After a life of sin due murder and robbery, he turned his life around by changing the lives of others through selfless acts. This is based on the story of a real-life monk who lives in the 18th century.

Madame Pearl

This is one of the most popular dramas of Kikuchi, it is translated as Shinju fujin. The primary theme of the story is about the role of gender in society and how one woman overcame the male dominance. The main character, Ruriko, is likened to a pearl that is pure in body, soul, and mind.

The protagonist, Karasawa Ruriko, who is a young girl of noble birth and is arranged to be married to a rich man named Shoda Katsuhei. The main reason for the marriage is to save Ruriko's family from being bankrupt. Despite being married to Katsuhei, her feelings remain for her first love Sugino Naoya. She then decided to keep her chastity and to remain a virgin. Due to this decision, Katsuhei attempted to rape her but unfortunately died due to a sudden heart attack. From then on, she started to pursue men and play with their feelings, which the others mysteriously lead to their death. Eventually, Ruriko is killed by one of her suitors.

According to Michiko Suzuki who is an associate professor of comparative Japanese literature, this drama has become well known among audiences who are female. This play seems to inspire women to find their strength and entertains the idealism of female liberation. In addition to this, Suzuki and a lot of audiences also believed that this play was inspired by Yanagihara Byakuren. Byakuren read the play herself and even confirmed with Kikuchi if she is indeed the inspiration for the play.

Yanagihara Byakuren: Is she the inspiration for Madame Pearl?

There have been speculations that the play, Madame Pearl, was based on her life story. Byakuren is also born to a noble family, as she was the daughter of count Yanagahira and a first cousin of Emperor Taisho. At the young age of 15, she was sold to an aristocrat family and was also forced to marry. Fortunately, she was able to go back home after 5 years of being married but her brother had her under house arrest. For a second time, she was again forced to marry a man named Itou Denemon, who was a wealthy coal miner.

Byakuren's brother has hoped that he could gain wealth and status through this marriage. Eventually, their marriage ended up in divorce, in which that time was not considered respectable in a woman of her status. She published a letter to her husband explaining why she had to leave him and that there was no tinge of love in their marriage. It was indicated in the letter that she chose to leave Denemon because of his lack of morality and his many lovers. She also mentioned in the letter of her affair with Ryuusuke. This was considered a bold move during that time as infidelity was punishable by the law. Considering that the punishment for women was more severe than that of men.

The events in her life have led to an uproar and shed a light on the inequality of Men and Women in society. Inequality in a sense that women should not be forced into a marriage or to have the freedom to choose a husband whom they love. While married to Denemon, she began writing poetries as a way of escaping from her sad reality. In 1915, her poetry collection, Trodden Images, was published. After her second marriage with Denemon, she finally settled Ryuusuke whom she chose to be her husband. Eventually, she lived the rest of her life as a celebrity author filled with happiness and satisfaction.