The Life of Ryunosuke Akutagawa

There have been many great men that have graced Japan. It has seen all sorts of warriors, beliefs, traditions, cuisines, and art throughout the centuries of its existence. Its long history makes it easy to overlook some of the notable men that have contributed a lot to the culture and history of Japan but it forgetting or overlooking should never be the case for the man in Japanese history named Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

By Yokohama045 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

The Biography of Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Ryunosuke Akutagawa was a Japanese writer during the Taisho period in Japan. This period happened between the years of 1912 to 1926 but Ryunosuke was born way before that, particularly on the 1st of March in the year of 1892. Like a lot of writers from all over the world, he too used a pseudonym of some sort and the name that he chose to go by was “Chokodo Shujin”. Unlike most writers, it would be his real name that sticks in the minds of people and not his writer’s name.

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before all his success, he was merely a normal kid born in the Kyobashi district of Tokyo. His was the son of Toshizo Niihara and Fuku Niihara. You may not be aware of it but the exact time that Ryunosuke was born into the world is closely related to beliefs about the dragon. 1892 was a year of the dragon, March was the month of the dragon, and the hour he was born was believed to be the hour of the dragon. With all these coincidences lining up and with his parents giving these types of things great value, they actually named him according to this. You see, when you translate “Ryunosuke”, you will find out that what it really means is “son of the dragon”. This fact will help you appreciate his name all the more because it truly is a sick name to give your child with the unique and meaning explanation to match.

Unfortunately, tragedy would strike his life early as soon after his birth as the woman of his life in the form of his mother started to suffer a mental illness. This made her unfit to take care of her son so Ryunosuke was adopted and raised by his uncle from his mother’s side named Dosho Akutagawa. He took great care of Ryunosuke and he eventually even game his family name, the “Akutagawa” to Ryunosuke.

Being with his uncle influenced him into books early on in his life. As a youngster, he was already finding classical Chinese literary works to be interesting. He would follow authors like Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki who were authors that wrote for an older audience and he truly found their works and words fascinating for him already. This started his path into writing.

The life of writing seemed to follow him around because the friends he made in his first year of high school all became successful authors. These people were the likes of Kume Masao, Kan Kikuchi, Tsuchiya Bunmei, and also Yuzo Yamamoto. He made friends with all these writers but he never really started to write until he got into the Tokyo Imperial University in the year of 1913 and took up English literature. He was 21 years old at the time.

A couple of years after that, he attempted to marry his childhood friend named Yayoi Yoshida. Sadly, the Akutagawa clan did not give their blessing to their union so their relationship ended right then and there. Soon after this, Ryunosuke would once again find a love interest in Fumi Tsukamoto who he proposed to in the year of 1916 and married in the year of 1918.  Together they had 3 children who were namely Hiroshi Akutagawa, Takashi Akutagawa, and Yasushi Akutagawa. Hiroshi became an actor while Yasushi became a composer. Takashi, on the other hand, met his death early as a student draftee in Burma.

He had been writing since his college years but he did not dedicate himself to it immediately. After he graduated, he even tried to work as an English language teacher but it wasn’t for him and it was then that he decided to put all his energy and effort into his beautiful writing. He created so many world-class pieces of work that despite his short-lived life of only 35 years, he was and still is seen as the “Father of Japanese Short Stories”. Japan’s biggest literary award called the Akutagawa Prize was also named after him in the year of 1935 and this was made possible by his longtime friend, Kan Kikuchi who established the award for skilled an extremely talented new writers.

His artistic mind grew weary and his history haunted him in the latter years of his life. Knowing that his mother fell to a mental illness still bugged him deep down and as a result, it made up easily rattled and unsure of himself as he got older. He reached his limit in the year of 1927 and committed suicide through the use of vermol or barbital which is a sleeping aid that was sold back in the early 1900's. He overdosed on this hence ending his life at year 35.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Works and Quotes like “Kappa” and “In the Bamboo Grove”

By Courtesy of Daiei, (c) 1950. The author of this picture is Daiei Motion Picture Company (Daiei Kabushiki-gaisha). (Today as Kadokawa Herald Pictures, Inc.). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Considering the fact that he had a short life as well as the fact that he only started to seriously write at the age of 21, it can be jaw-dropping to some people to find out that he, out of all the Japanese short story writers, was honored as the “Father of Japanese Short Stories”. If you are one of the people who can hardly believe it, all you need to do is look at the timeline of his output to understand why he was given such a title and honor.

He created a total of 39 short stories from the year of 1914 until the year of this death in 1927. He would put out at least one story every year but there were a couple of streaks wherein he actually made around 3 to 4 short stories in a year. This production is what made it possible for him to create 39 amazing short stories in a span of 13 years. These literary works of art were also not plain. These works had meaning and content and were made all the more attractive with how he told his story.

Out of the 39 stories he made, there are a couple that really caught the attention of his mentors, peers, and the rest of the world. These works were namely “In a Grove” and “Hell Screen”. This may be debatable for some people but these short stories are the only ones that were used for different forms of art from the 1950’s onwards. In the year of 1950, Akira Kurosawa used the story of “In a Grove” which was a story about a samurai’s murder and a girl named Masago and made it into a film he entitled Rashomon. As for the story called “Hell Screen”, it was used by Victoria Poleva, who was a Ukrainian composer, to create the ballet she entitled “Gagaku” in the year of 1994.

There was also another artist that drew inspiration from Ryunosuke but he did not do so like the other artists mentioned above. The Japanese composer named Mayako Kubo actually wrote an opera play with the same name as Akira Kurosawa’s movie called Rashomon. This play took inspiration from the life story of Akutagawa himself. The Japanese version of the opera was shown in Tokyo in the year of 2002 but the German version of the play was shown in Graz, Austria much earlier in the year of 1996.

The Ryunosuke Akutagawa You May Know From Anime and His Rashomon

By Kasuga~commonswiki [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons

If you are a fan of the Japanese culture, you probably have encountered the name Ryunosuke Akutagawa in a different way. This “different way” is through the popular art of the anime and that particular anime to make use of this name is called “Port Mafia”. As its name suggests, this anime revolves around a gangster-themed storyline and it is quite a unique anime considering that there aren’t many creators that make use of the “mafia” idea.

In this anime, Akutagawa is depicted as a young 20-year-old man with black hair and is dressed like a classy Dracula who only wears clothes that are only either black or white, but mainly black. His eyes are described as empty as if he cared for nothing or loved nothing on this world but you will realize that it actually is the opposite because once you start watching more of the story and their development, you can clearly see the change with these things.

His character in this anime is heavily involved with characters who names are Daiza and Atsushi. Daiza becomes his master as a child and ultimately changed him because of how Daiza was when they first met. Akutagawa was highly impressed with Daiza as a person and wanted his approval so badly so that he did all he could to learn from the man. Unfortunately, things would not work out that way he wanted despite his best efforts and this led to his immediate negativity towards Daiza’s new student, Atsushi, later on in the story.

He didn’t have a sword to cut heads with but he did have something called the Rashomon. The term “Rashomon” was used many times in the real Ryunosuke’s life and that is why it would make sense for the creators of this anime to pay tribute to that fact. With this said, the “Rashomon” that can be found in this anime is actually Akutagawa’s magical friend and protector that comes out of any clothing he has on him. He looks like a shadow beast outlined in red lightning and it is said that it uses its abilities to give Akutagawa his offensive or defensive edge against his opponents. There are many other skills Rashomon has but you’ll have to watch the anime or research it on your own if you want to know more about this anime.

Ryunosuke’s depiction in anime certainly has its similarities to the real one. Both were orphans early on in their lives and both were also highly skilled in their respective arts. Aside from this though, it is worth noting that there isn’t much more you can accurate learn from the anime regarding the real Akutagawa so if the real information is what you need on the man, search elsewhere and not through this cool anime.

Considering all that has been said, it has probably become clear to you, as a reader, why this man got what he got in his life. He just had the skill to be a great writer and he certainly made use of that skill to the best of his abilities. His life was surely short but he did what he felt he had to do on this earth and he succeeded in doing so with flying colors as he was awarded the highest honors because of his work and his writing. He truly deserved to be called the “Father of Japanese Short Stories” and hopefully all the details of his life shared here also convinced you that he certainly deserved all that he received.