Places, Images, Times & Transformations

Nagai Kafū

(1879-1959). Novelist and essayist. Noted for his lyrical portrayals of the rapidly vanishing remnants of late-Edo-period (1600-1868) and Meiji period (1868-1912) urban culture. Real name Nagai Sōkichi. Born in Tokyo, the eldest son of a high-ranking bureaucrat. Early in his literary career, he became one of the leading advocates of Zola and "naturalism," a phase in his life that he later renounced but that nonetheless left a deep imprint on his entire career. He spent from 1903 to 1907 in the United States, and during part of that time served as a clerk in a Japanese bank in New York City. His collection of short stories and essays written about the United States was published under the title Amerika monogatari (1908, American Stories). Its highly lyrical and vivid style caught the imagination of the Japanese reading public, and he became a popular writer, producing short novels, stories, and essays in quick succession. Other notable works include Furansu monogatari (1909, French stories), Udekurabe (1916-17; Geisha in Rivalry, 1963), Ame shōshō (1922; tr Quiet Rain, 1964), and Bokutō Kidan (1937; tr A Strange Tale from East of the River, 1958), which is considered his masterpiece. His principal theme was the ever-changing city of Tokyo and its pleasure quarters. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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