Dazai’s brand of egoistic pessimism dovetails organically with the emo chic of this cultural moment.

Andrew Martin, The New York Times

Osamu Dazai

Osamu Dazai was born in 1909 into a powerful landowning family of Northern Japan. A brilliant student, he entered the French Department of Tokyo University in 1930, but later boasted that in the five years before he left without a degree he had never attended a lecture. He attempted suicide in 1935, leaving behind an envelope of stories which he expected to be posthumously published as The Declining Years. His early works are filled with invention and wit, but it was after the war that he reached his full stature, first with the short story, “Villon’s Wife” (translated by Donald Keene and published in New Directions 15) and then with The Setting Sun, which created an immediate sensation when it was published in 1947. The phrase, “people of the setting sun,” referencing the phrase “land of the rising sun,” came to be applied to all the Japanese impoverished and dislocated by the war, the succeeding inflation and land reforms. It entered into common usage and even has appeared in dictionaries. Dazai published a second novel, and was publishing a third serially, when he committed suicide by throwing himself into the swollen waters of the Tamagawa Reservoir in Tokyo. His body was found on what would have been his 39th birthday: June 19, 1948.

cover image of the book The Beggar Student

The Beggar Student

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Sam Bett

A fictional writer in his thirties named Osamu Dazai has just mailed his publisher an awful manuscript, filling him with dread and shame. Wandering along a river in a nearby park in suburban Tokyo, he meets a high-school dropout and the two get into an intellectual spat. Eventually, Dazai finds himself agreeing to perform in the boy’s place that very night as the live narrator of a film screening…

So begins the madcap adventure of The Beggar Student, where there
is glamor in destitution, and intellectual one-upmanship reveals glimmers of truth. Replete with settings incorporated into the popular anime Bungo Stray Dogs and with echoes of No Longer Human, this biting novella captures the infamous Japanese writer at his mordant best.

More Information
cover image of the book Self-Portraits: Stories

Self-Portraits: Stories

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Ralph McCarthy

“Art dies the moment it acquires authority.” So said Japan’s quintessential rebel writer Osamu Dazai, who, disgusted with the hypocrisy of every kind of establishment, from the nation’s obsolete aristocracy to its posturing, warmongering generals, went his own way, even when that meant his death—and the death of others. Faced with pressure to conform, he declared his individuality to the world—in all its self-involved, self-conscious, and self-hating glory. “Art,” he wrote, “is ‘I.’”

In these short stories, collected and translated by Ralph McCarthy, we can see just how closely Dazai’s life mirrored his art, and vice versa, as the writer/narrator falls from grace, rises to fame, and falls again. Addiction, debt, shame, and despair dogged Dazai until his self-inflicted death, and yet despite all the lies and deception he resorted to in life, there is an almost fanatical honesty to his writing. And that has made him a hero to generations of readers who see laid bare, in his works, the painful, impossible contradictions inherent in the universal commandment of social life—fit in and do as you are told—as well as the possibility, however desperate, of defiance. Long out of print, these stories will be a revelation to the legions of new fans of No Longer Human, The Setting Sun, and Flowers of Buffoonery.

More Information
cover image of the book The Flowers of Buffoonery

The Flowers of Buffoonery

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Sam Bett

The Flowers of Buffoonery opens in a seaside sanitarium where Yozo Oba — the narrator of No Longer Human— is convalescing after a failed suicide attempt. Friends and family visit him, and nurses and police drift in and out of his room. Against this dispiriting backdrop, Yozo and his visitors try to maintain a lighthearted, even clownish atmosphere: playing cards, smoking cigarettes, vying for attention, cracking jokes, and trying to make each other laugh. Dazai is known for delving into the darkest corners of human consciousness, but in The Flowers of Buffoonery he pokes fun at these same emotions: the follies and hardships of youth, of love, and of self-hatred and depression. A glimpse into the lives of a group of outsiders in prewar Japan, The Flowers of Buffoonery is a fresh and darkly humorous addition to Osamu Dazai’s masterful and intoxicating oeuvre.

More Information
cover image of the book No Longer Human

No Longer Human

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Donald Keene

Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being.

Portraying himself as a failure, the protagonist of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human narrates a seemingly normal life even while he feels himself incapable of understanding human beings. His attempts to reconcile himself to the world around him begin in early childhood, continue through high school, where he becomes a “clown” to mask his alienation, and eventually lead to a failed suicide attempt as an adult. Without sentimentality, he records the casual cruelties of life and its fleeting moments of human connection and tenderness. Still one of the ten bestselling books in Japan, No Longer Human is an important and unforgettable modern classic: “The struggle of the individual to fit into a normalizing society remains just as relevant today as it was at the time of writing.” (The Japan Times)

More Information
cover image of the book The Setting Sun

The Setting Sun

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Donald Keene

This powerful novel of a nation in social and moral crisis was first published by New Directions in 1956. Set in the early postwar years, The Setting Sun probes the destructive effects of war and the transition from a feudal Japan to an industrial society. The influence of Osamu Dazai’s novel has made “people of the setting sun” a permanent part of the Japanese language, and his heroine, Kazuko, a young aristocrat who deliberately abandons her class, a symbol of the anomie which pervades so much of the modern world.

More Information
cover image of the book Early Light

Early Light

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Ralph McCarthy and Donald Keene

Early Light offers three very different aspects of Osamu Dazai’s genius: the title story relates his misadventures as a drinker and a family man in the terrible fire bombings of Tokyo at the end of WWII. Having lost their own home, he and his wife flee with a new baby boy and their little girl to relatives in Kofu, only to be bombed out anew. The father explains to his daughter: “‘Everything’s gone. Mr. Rabbit, our shoes, the Odagiri house, the Chino house, they all burned up.’ ‘Yeah, they all burned up,’ she said, still smiling.”

“One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji,” another autobiographical tale, is much more comic: Dazai finds himself unable to escape the famous views, the beauty once immortalized by Hokusai and now reduced to a cliche. In the end, young girls torment him by pressing him into taking their photo before the famous peak: “Goodbye,” he hisses through his teeth, “Mount Fuji. Thanks for everything. Click.”

And the final story is “Villon’s Wife,” a small masterpiece, which relates the awakening to power of a drunkard’s wife. She transforms herself into a woman not to be defeated by anything, not by her husband being a thief, a megalomaniacal writer, and a wastrel. Single-handedly, she saves the day by concluding that “There’s nothing wrong with being a monster, is there? As long as we can stay alive.”

More Information
cover image of the book No Longer Human

No Longer Human

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Donald Keene

Portraying himself as a failure, the protagonist of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human narrates a seemingly normal life even while he feels himself incapable of understanding human beings. Oba Yozo’s attempts to reconcile himself to the world around him begin in early childhood, continue through high school, where he becomes a ’clown" to mask his alienation, and eventually lead to a failed suicide attempt as an adult. Without sentimentality, he records the casual cruelties of life and its fleeting moments of human connection and tenderness. Semi-autobiographical, No Longer Human is the final completed work of one of Japan’s most important writers, Osamu Dazai (1909-1948). The novel has come to “echo the sentiments of youth” (Hiroshi Ando, The Mainichi Daily News) from post-war Japan to the postmodern society of technology. Still one of the ten bestselling books in Japan, No Longer Human is a powerful exploration of an individual’s alienation from society.

More Information
cover image of the book The Setting Sun

The Setting Sun

by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Donald Keene

This powerful novel of a nation in social and moral crisis was first published by New Directions in 1956. Set in the early postwar years, it probes the destructive effects of war and the transition from a feudal Japan to an industrial society. Ozamu Dazai died, a suicide, in 1948. But the influence of his book has made “people of the setting sun” a permanent part of the Japanese language, and his heroine, Kazuko, a young aristocrat who deliberately abandons her class, a symbol of the anomie which pervades so much of the modern world.

More Information

Dazai’s brand of egoistic pessimism dovetails organically with the emo chic of this cultural moment.

Andrew Martin, The New York Times

What I despise about Dazai is that he exposes precisely those things in myself that I most want to hide.

Yukio Mishima

Dazai was an aristocratic tramp, a self-described delinquent, yet he wrote with the forbearance of a fasting scribe.

Patti Smith

What I despise about Dazai is that he exposes precisely those things in myself that I most want to hide.

Yukio Mishima

From the point of view of wholesome common sense, Dazai’s writings may be regarded as the soliloquies of a deviant.

Yasunari Kawabata

Dazai was an aristocratic tramp, a self described delinquent, yet he wrote with the forbearance of a fasting scribe.

Patti Smith

Dazai offers something permanent and beautiful.

The New York Times Book Review

I like Dazai a lot.

Wong Kar-Wai

Seventy-five years later, No Longer Human still reads with an apt urgency. As the musician Patti Smith once put it, Dazai “wrote at the pace of a dying man, yearning for...the solution to an unresolved equation.” With the new translation of the novel’s prequel, The Flowers of
Buffoonery
, Dazai’s intimate, visceral writing now encounters a fresh audience. Taken together, the two works assert his mastery of the ironized confession. They also make clear a great paradox of his writing: For all his novels’ reputation as sketches of alienation, they’re
equally potent as modern portraits of human connection.

Jane Yong Kim, The Atlantic
Scroll to Top of Page