吉川英治

1892-1962

Yoshikawa Eiji was a popular Japanese historical novelist. He was born Yoshikawa Hidetsugu (吉川英次) in 1892 in Kanagawa prefecture, in what is now a part of Yokohama. Because of his father's failed business, he had to drop out of primary shcool to work when he was eleven years old. When he was 18, after a near-fatal accident working at the Yokohama docks, he moved to Tokyo and became an apprentice in a gold lacquer workshop. Around this time he became interested in comic haiku, joining a poetry society and writing comic haikus under the pseudonymn "Kijiro".

In 1914, with The Tale of Enoshima, he won first prize in a novel-writing contest sponsored by the publisher Kodansha. He joined the newspaper Maiyu Shinbun in 1921, and in the following year he began publishing serializations, starting with Life of Shinran.

He married Yasu Akazawa in 1923, the year of the Great Kanto Eathquake. His experiences in the earthquake strengthened his resolve to make writing his career. In the following years he published stories in various periodicals published by Kodansha, which recognized him as their number one author. He used 19 different pen names before settling on Yoshikawa Eiji. He first used this pen-name with the serialization of Sword Trouble, Woman Trouble. HIs name became a household word after Secret Record of Naruto was serialized in the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun. From then on the public's appetite for his brand of adventure writing was insatiable.

In the early thirties his writing became introspective, reflecting growing troubles in his personal life. But in 1935, with the serialization of Miyamoto Musashi in the Asahi Shimbun, his writing settled firmly in the genre of historical adventure fiction.

Upon the outbreak of war with China in 1937 the Asahi Shimbun sent him into the field as a special correspondent. At this time he also divorced Yasu Akazawa and married Fumiko Ikedo. During the war he continued writing novels, and became more influenced by Chinese culture. Among the works of this period are Taiko and his re-telling of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

At the end of the war he stopped writing and settled down to a quiet retirement in Yoshino (present-day Oumeshi) on the outskirts of Tokyo, but he soon started writing again in 1947. His post-war works include New Tale of the Heike, published in the Asahi Weekly (1950), and A Private Record of the Pacific War (1958).

He was awarded the Cultural Order of Merit in 1960 and the Mainichi Art Award just before his death in 1962, of cancer.

Four of his books have been translated into English. They are:

  • Miyamoto Musashi translated as Musashi by Charles S. Terry
  • Taiko ki translated as Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan by William Scott Wilson
  • Shin Heike monogatari translated as The Heike Story: A Modern Translation of the Classic Tale of Love and War by Fuki Wooyenaka Uramatsu. Illustrated by Kenkichi Sugimoto.
  • Wasurenokori no ki translated as Fragments of a Past: A Memoir by Edwin McClellan

The Japanese publisher Kodansha currently publishes an 80-volume series: Yoshikawa Eiji Rekishi Jidai Bunko, or Eiji Yoshikawa's Historical Fiction in Paperback. They are of course in Japanese, but I list them here with a translation of their titles to give a sense both of his subject matter and of how prolific he was. Kodansha numbers the series from 1 to 80.

  • 1 - 険難女難 - Kennan Jonan - Sword Trouble, Woman Trouble
  • 2 - 4 (in three volumes) - 鳴門秘帖 - Naruto Hitcho - Secret Record of Naruto
  • 5 - 7 (in three volumes) - 江戸三國志 - Edo Sangoku-shi - The Three Kingdoms of Edo
  • 8 - かんかん虫は唄う - Kankan Mushi wa Utau - "Kan-kan the insect sings" and other stories
  • 9 - 牢獄の花嫁 - Rougoku no Hanayome - The Jail Bride
  • 10 - 松の露八 - Matsu no Rohachi - Rohachi of the Pines
  • 11 - 13 (in three volumes) - 親鸞 - Shinran
  • 14 - 21 (in eight volumes) - 宮本武蔵 - Miyamoto Musashi
  • 22 - 32 (in eleven volumes) - 新書太閣記 - Shinsho Taiko ki - Paperback Life of the Taiko
  • 33 - 40 (in eight volumes) - 三國志 - Sangoku shi - Romance of the Three Kingdoms
  • 41 - 42 (in two volumes) - 源頼朝 - Minamoto Yoritomo
  • 43 - 上杉謙信 - Uesugi Kenshin
  • 44 - 黒田如水 - Kuroda Yoshitaka
  • 45 - 大岡越前 - Ooka Echizen
  • 46 - 平の将門 - Taira no Masakado
  • 47 - 62 (in sixteen volumes) - 新家物語 - Shin Heike monogatari - New Tale of the Heike
  • 63 - 70 (in eight volumes) - 私本太平記 - Shihon Taihei ki - Private Record of the Pacific War
  • 71 - 74 (in four volumes) - 新水滸伝 - Shin Suikoden - New Tales from the Water Margin
  • 75 - 治朗吉格子 - Jirokichi Goshi - "Jirokichi Goshi" and other stories
  • 76 - 柳生月影沙 - Yagyu Tsukikage sho - "The Papers of Yagyu Tsukikage" and other stories
  • 77 - 忘れ残りの記 - Wasurenokori no ki - Record of Things Left Unforgotten
  • 78 - 80 (in three volumes) - 神州天馬侠 - Shinshu Tenma Kyo

Sources/References

The Yoshikawa Eiji House and Museum website (in Japanese)
http://www.kodansha.co.jp/yoshikawa/jinbutsu.html

Encyclopedia Britannica
"Yoshikawa Eiji." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 09 Aug, 2003
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=80139.

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