Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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MORI (RINTARŌ) ŌGAI

(1862-1922)

Matilde Mastrangelo


BIOGRAPHY

The period Mori Ogai spent in Germany (spanning almost four years, from October 1884 to July 1888) was to determine the direction of the rest of his life as a man of letters and man of science. He had been sent to Germany by the Japanese government, charged with broadening research in the health area, with particular reference to the provision of health services to the military. From birth he had been destined for a career in medicine: for thirteen generations the Mori family had constituted the medical class of the fief of Tsuwano, where the writer was born. In tandem with his research he studied art and literature, not only in Germany but in Europe as a whole. His cultural baggage was formed mainly through the German language, which he began studying at the age of ten. His language skills allowed him to read a wide range of literature, from Ibsen to Shakespeare to D'Annunzio. He proved himself proficient in German translation even before going to Germany, and during his stay there he seems to have read collections of poetry in German nightly in order to improve his literary knowledge and devote himself to scholarly practice in the language. Active in both the scientific and cultural fields, he not only delivered speeches at health conferences in German, but as a representative of Japan carried on a newspaper debate with the geologist Edmund Naumann in defense of Japanese culture as well.

On his return to Japan he used what was by now his second language to edit Omokage (1899), a collection of poetic works by Goethe, Hoffmann, and others. He made his first appearance as a prose writer with the publication of three stories described as a “German trilogy”—Maihime and Fumitsukai (both 1890), and Utakata no ki (1891), inspired by his stay in Germany and set in Berlin, Munich, and Dresden and Leipzig, respectively.

It is interesting to note the extent of the German influence in Ōgai's private

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