Nagai Kafū is the nom de plume of Nagai Sōkichi, a Japanese writer of short fiction, diaries, and essays. The literal translation of Kafū is “Lotus breeze, ” inspired by the name of a young lady, Ohasu (Lotus flower), the protagonist of his first (unpublished) short story.
Kafū was born in Tokyo at the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912), and his aesthetic development reflects the cultural trauma caused by the sudden modernization of his country. The attraction for the West that permeated his youth was compounded by nostalgia for the past and for his traditional cultural heritage. He personally lived out the modern dilemma in all its disruptive clash between progress and conservatism. His early attraction to the popular arts and to the literature of Edo (the name of Tokyo until 1868) marked his mature aesthetic vision. Looking to past literary tradition, he found a precious source of inspiration in the ninjōbon (books of sentiment) of Tamenaga Shunsui, a writer of popular narrative in the preceding era, but his first short stories, Oboroyo and Hanakago, are conscious imitations of the hisan shōsetsu (tragic novels) of the master, Hirotsu Ryūrō (1861-1928). His readings of Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Henri de Régnier, and French literature in general prompted him to acquaint Japanese readers with French Naturalism through his essays. This phase of his production, exemplified by Yashin and Jigoku no hana (both 1902) and Yume no onna (1903), has been called zoraizumu: in these texts Kafū himself recognized an unusual cross between the ninjōbon and the works of Maupassant.
His father, a high official of the new Japanese bureaucracy, loved to travel, which allowed his son to take a prolonged trip abroad (1903-8) and thereby escape Tokyo's demimonde. He spent four years in the United States, first studying, then working in the Japanese Embassy in Washington and the Yokohama