Mori Ōgai (1862-1922) was a towering figure in Japan's Meiji Period, reaching the pinnacle of achievement in two very different fields - medicine and literature.
Ōgai was born "Mori Rintarō" in 1862 to a samurai family in Tsuwano domain in what is now Shimane prefecture. His family was the hereditary physician to the lord of Tsuwano, and Ōgai's parents expected him to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before them. Raised harshly by a disciplinarian mother, he studied super hard all the time, and at age 19 became the youngest person ever to be licensed as a physician by the Japanese government.
By this point the Tokugawa Shogunate had been overthrown and the modern nation-state of Japan had been created. With no more feudal lord to serve, Ōgai enlisted in the newly created Japanese Imperial Army as an army physician. The army sent him for further medical training in Germany, where he learned more about the importance of hygiene in maintaining good health.
Ōgai returned to Japan in 1888 as a high-ranking doctor in the Imperial Army, and over the next two decades played a crucial role in dramatically improving the health of soldiers by getting the Imperial Army to adopt modern hygiene practices. His efforts led to his promotion to director of the Army Medical Corps in 1899, and finally to Army Surgeon-General, the highest medical post in the Imperial Army, in 1907.
At the same time, Ōgai also became increasingly interested in literary pursuits and avidly pursued a literary career, to the general consternation of his Army superiors. He founded and edited several literary journals, helped revive the ancient tanka form of poetry, and published several popular and influential novels, most notably the semi-autobiographical Maihime ("The Dancing Girl," 1890) and Gan ("The Wild Goose," 1911). In particular, Ōgai played a major role in helping move Japanese literature away from formalist mimicry of Western literary traditions toward a more indigenous form of Japanese literature that was both modern, yet also Japanese. For this reason he is considered second in importance only to Natsume Soseki in the establishment of modern Japanese literature, and despite the difficulties involved in reading Meiji-period prose (a time when the Japanese language was in a state of flux), his novels and poems remain widely read to this day.