Shiga Naoya (志賀直哉)

Naoya SHIGA (February 20, 1883-October 21, 1971) was a Japanese novelist.

He was born in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. He was one of the leading novelists of the Shirakaba school. His best known works are "A Dark Night's Passing," "Reconciliation (Novel)," "The Shopboy's God," and "At Cape Kinosaki."


Naoya SHIGA's grandfather, Naomichi SHIGA, served as a butler of the Soma Clan, the lord of the former Soma- Nakamura Domain; he developed Ashio Copper Mine together with Ichibe FURUKAWA, the founder of Furukawa Zaibatsu, and was involved in the Soma Incident. His father, Naoharu SHIGA, became an important figure in the Meiji period financial world through serving as the director of Sobu Railway and Teikoku Life Insurance. Naoya was born in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, where his father Naoharu worked at the First Bank's Ishinomaki Branch; he came to Tokyo when he was three and was raised by his grandparents.

He graduated from Gakushuin Primary School, Gakushuin Junior High School and Gakushuin High School (of the old system), after which he enrolled in the Department of English Literature at the University of Tokyo. Around 1908, he left Kanzo UCHIMURA, under whom he had studied for 7 years, and parted with Christianity. He dropped out of university after changing his major to Japanese literature.

In 1910, he published the first issue of the literary magazine "Shirakaba," together with Saneatsu MUSHANOKOJI, his friend from Gakushuin. Around this time, he left home because his conflict with his father, who had always been opposed to his becoming a novelist, worsened over his marriage and other issues. He reconciled with his father in 1917.

He published "At Cape Kinosaki" and "Reconciliation" in the same year. Afterward, he wrote masterpieces such as "The Shopboy's God" and "Bonfire." His minimalistic style, the result of many revisions, was admired as 'concise writing,' and significantly influenced subsequent generations of writers from the Taisho Era to the Showa Era; he was known as the "god of novels."

The author's only full-length novel, "A Dark Night's Passing" (1921-1937), is considered one of the most important works of Modern Japanese Literature; Shohei OOKA, a novelist, praised it as the highest achievement of modern literature.

He changed residences 26 times in his life. Before the war, he lived in places like Abiko City, Chiba Prefecture, Kyoto City, and Nara City, where he deepened his knowledge of art and edited and published an art catalog, "Zayu-hou (Timeless Treasures)." He moved back to Tokyo in 1938, but relocated to Oboradai, Atami for a period of time after the war and published short stories such as "Turtledove" and "Morning Glories." Throughout his life, he published very few stories.

Naoya SHIGA's accuracy of visual description still exerts a powerful influence today. One characteristic of his exceptionally clear writing is thorough realism. Needless to say, Hideo KOBAYASHI, who well understood and appreciated this characteristic, was his strongest supporter.

In the latter half of his life, Naoya SHIGA was awarded a Bunka Kunsho (Order of Culture) in 1949 together with Junichiro TANIZAKI, with whom he'd forged a friendship. His circle of friends was limited, but composed of highly-cultured people of the first order; these included Saneatsu MUSHANOKOJI, who had been his friend since Gakushuin days, Moritatsu HOSOKAWA, Muneyoshi YANAGI, and others, as well as Ryuzaburo UMEHARA, Yoshishige ABE, Kazuo HIROTSU, Sotaro YASUI, and Tetsuzo TANIKAWA. The state of his life at the time may be seen in the many letters and diaries he left.

In his later years, he moved to Tokiwamatsu, Shibuya Ward; he died of pneumonia and debilitation in 1971, at the age of 88.

After his death, many of his manuscripts and papers were donated to the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature. "The Complete Works of Naoya SHIGA" is published in multiple volumes by Iwanami Shoten.

Novelists who studied under him include Kousaku TAKII, Kazuo OZAKI, Hideo KOBAYASHI (critic), Kiku AMINO, Shizuo FUJIEDA, Toshimasa SHIMAMURA, Kiyoshi NAOI, Hiroyuki AGAWA, and Takiji KOBAYASHI.

Shirakaba Literary Museum (Abiko City, Chiba Prefecture) exhibits manuscripts, letters, and items associated with Shiga.

Chronological List of Main Events

Naoya Shiga was born on February 20, 1883 in Rikuzen-ishinomaki (present-day Sumiyoshi-cho, Ishinomaki City) as the second son of his father, Naoharu (a bank employee), and his mother, Gin. His grandfather, Naomichi, had been a feudal retainer of the Soma-Nakamura domain and a disciple of Sontoku NINOMIYA.

He enrolled at Gakushuin Primary School in 1889.

He advanced to Gakushuin Junior High School, enrolling in 1895.

In 1901, he and his father clashed over their views of the Ashio Copper Mine Mineral Pollution Incident. The dispute triggered the decisive conflict between SHIGA and his father.
(SHIGA wanted to participate in the excursion tour of the Ashio Copper Mine Mineral Pollution Incident; however, his father opposed it because SHIGA's grandfather used to run the Ashio Copper Mine jointly with Ichibe FURUKAWA.)

He enrolled at The University of Tokyo in 1906.

He and his father clashed again in 1907, over the issue of his marriage.

He published "One Morning," his first work, in 1908.

He published the first issue of "Boya (Perspective)," a circular magazine.

He published the first issue of "Shirakaba" in 1910.

He published "As Far as Abashiri."

He dropped out of the University of Tokyo. He took the conscription exam and passed it for Class A. He joined the artillery regiment in Ichikawa, but was discharged eight days later.

He published "Otsu Junkichi" and "A Righteous Man" in 1912.

In October, he moved away from Tokyo because of the conflict with his father, relocating to Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture.

He published "Seibei and His Gourds" and "Han's Crime" in 1913.

He got engaged to Yasuko KADENOKOJI, Saneatsu MUSHANOKOJI's cousin, in 1914.

In 1915, at the recommendation of Muneyoshi YANAGI, he moved to Abiko City.

He published "At Cape Kinosaki" and "Reconciliation (A Novel)" in 1917.

He reconciled with his father.

He published "The Shopboy's God " and "Bonfire" in 1920.

He published the first half of the two-part novel, "A Dark Night's Passing," in 1921.

In November of 1931, Takiji KOBAYASHI came to visit, and he let him stay and chatted with him.

He published "Banreki Akae" (Chinaware) in 1933.

In 1937, he published the second half of "A Dark Night's Passing," completing it.

He was awarded the Order of Culture in 1949.

He died on October 21, 1971.

Takahata Salon

Today, his old residence in Takahata-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture is preserved as 'SHIGA Naoya Kyukyo (the former residence of Naoya SHIGA),' and is open for public viewing. In 1925, SHIGA moved to Saiwai-cho, Nara City from Yamashina Ward, Kyoto City; in 1929, he built a residence in Takahata which was adjacent to Nara Park and had an excellent view of Mt. Wakakusa. He was involved in the design of the residence and lived there with his family for 10 years before moving to Kamakura City in 1983. The residence was built in the style of a tea-ceremony house, but incorporated European and Chinese architectural styles as well; it was modern and functional, with a western style sunroom, an entertainment room, a library, a tea room, and a dining hall. SHIGA wrote his masterpiece "A Dark Night's Passing" at this residence, as well as "Infatuation," "Platonic Love," and "Kuniko".

Writers of the Shirakaba school, painters, and other people of culture who admired Shiga, such as Saneatsu MUSHANOKOJI, Hideo KOBAYASHI (critic), Kazuo OZAKI, Tamezou WAKAYAMA, Seiyo OGAWA, Taikichi IRIE, Katsuichiro KAMEI, Takiji KOBAYASHI, and Takeo KUWABARA, frequently visited his residence; it became a major cultural salon where people met and discussed art and literature, and eventually came to be known as the Takahata Salon. The library and second-floor guest room had beautiful views of Mt. Wakakusa and Mt. Takamado; the garden was designed so that he could take a stroll when he was tired from writing.

While alive, he had a long and close relationship with Kaiun KAMITSUKASA, Betto (the head priest) of Todai-ji Temple. He expressed his affection for Nara, as shown below, even after he had left it and returned to Tokyo. He said, "Nara was a great place, but I was raising a boy and felt it wasn't quite the place for such a task, so we moved to Tokyo; that said, I have a lingering affection for Nara, and even today I often think that I would love to build a small house and live there again."

Kaiun KAMITSUKASA took over a portion of SHIGA's salon.


Although he was a novelist of the Shirakaba school, some critics have pointed out that his work also shows the influence of naturalism. His concise writing is seen as one type of ideal literary style, and is regarded highly. Therefore, his work is sometimes chosen as a model to imitate in order to study writing. Ryunosuke AKUTAGAWA thought highly of SHIGA's novels, calling them the ideal he aspired to in his own creative writing. He was worshipped by the literary youth of the time and was called a "god of novels" after his representative work, "The Shopboy's God"; however, he was offended by Osamu DAZAI's criticism of him in DAZAI's full-length novel "Tsugaru," and attacked him viciously at a round-table discussion. DAZAI fought back against SHIGA's attack by writing "Myozegamon," a serialized critical essay. Takiji KOBAYASHI adored Naoya SHIGA and asked for SHIGA's opinion of his work. However, SHIGA criticized the partisanship of the proletarian literature, pointing out that many writers of proletarian literature were strongly influenced by the communist party, and described proletarian literature as "literature with a master." He later retracted his remark somewhat in a 1935 interview after Kobayashi's death; in effect, he offered the comment that as long as a work touches people's hearts, it doesn't matter whether it has a master or not (Yamaji KISHI was the interviewer). He lent his name to The New Japanese Literature Society as a supporting member for a period of time after the war; however, he objected to the writing of Shigeharu NAKANO and resigned his position as a supporting member.

He published short essays ("The Fall of Singapore" and others) during the war, and tended to follow the militaristic trend of the time; however, after the defeat, he changed his attitude completely. He was criticized for advocating the abolishment of Japanese and adoption of French as the official language. Saiichi MARUYA was one of SHIGA's ardent critics. In contrast, Shigehiko HASUMI defended SHIGA in his writing, "Han nihongo ron (Against the Japanese Language)" and "Hyoso hihyo sengen (A Critique of the Surface Layer)."


"A Dark Night's Passing"

"At Cape Kinosaki"

"Reconciliation (A Novel)"

"As Far as Abashiri"

"Otsu Junkichi"

"Seibei and His Gourds"

"The Shopboy's God"


"Banreki akae (A Novel)"

"Han's Crime"

"Mother's Death and the New Mother"

"A Righteous Man"

"Bonfire (A Novel)"

"A Grey Moon"

"Shirakaba (Magazine)" (Magazine)

[Original Japanese]