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Akutagawa Ryūnosuke

(1892-1927). Short-story writer, poet, and essayist; noted for the superb style of his finely crafted stories that explore the darker side of human nature. Born in Tokyo. Soon after his birth, his mother went insane; he was then adopted by his maternal uncle. While majoring in English literature at Tokyo University, he began to publish a series of remarkable stories. They are based on Japanese tales of the 12th and 13th centuries, but are given sharp twists of modern psychological insight. Hana (1916; tr The Nose, 1930), for example, portrays a high-ranking Buddhist priest who is troubled by the gigantic proportions of his nose. Other works include Rashomon (1915; tr Rashomon, 1930), Hankechi (1916; tr A Hankerchief, 1930), and Kumo no ito (1918; tr The Spider's Thread, 1930). The final period of Akutagawa's literary career, 1923 to 1927, was marred by his deteriorating health. The most significant work from this period is Kappa (1927; tr Kappa, 1947), a satirical tale about amphibious elves. Worn out and haunted by the fear that he had inherited his mother's mental illness, Akutagawa committed suicide in 1927 at the age of 35. Eight years after his death the Akutagawa Prize, a yearly award for outstanding works by promising new writers, was established in his honor. It became and remains the most prestigious literary award in Japan. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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