Kan Kikuchi

Kan Kikuchi was a Japanese writer and playwright (1888-1948). He became acquainted with Ryunosuke Akutagawa when he was in high school and decided to pursue a career in literature. After graduating from university, he began producing novels and plays in earnest and soon established himself as a writer. At the same time, he became successful in the publishing business. He found two famous awards of the Japanese Literature.

Life of Kan Kikuchi

 Kan Kikuchi (菊池 寛:きくち かん) was born in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, into a family of elementary school employees. After attending junior high school in Takamatsu, he moved to Tokyo in 1908. He entered Tokyo Higher Normal School, but was expelled.

 In 1910, Kikuchi entered Daiichi High School. At this time, he became acquainted with Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Masao Kume. In 1913, just before graduation, he withdrew from the school.

 Success as a Writer

 In 1914, Kikuchi entered the English Literature Department of Kyoto Imperial University, where he studied British plays. Around this time, Akutagawa, who was a student at Tokyo Imperial University, published the third and fourth editions of “Shin Shicho” (New Thought). Akutagawa’s short stories, such as “the Nose,” were published in these magazines and received favorable reviews. Kikuchi joined the magazine and published a British play, “The Madman on the Rooftop”. However, it did not receive much response.
 In 1916, Kikuchi graduated from Kyoto University and entered the Jiji Shinpo company. It was here that he began to devote himself to writing novels and other works in earnest. It was also around this time that Kikuchi began to deepen his relationship with Akutagawa.
 During this period, Kikuchi wrote about his impression of Akutagawa. When they first met, Akutagawa was an excellent student and attended school diligently. His teachers trusted him very much. Later, when they began to publish magazines together, Kikuchi came to understand Akutagawa’s true value. Kikuchi said he could not praise Akutagawa enough for his intelligence. Akutagawa had a good memory and imagination. He had a sensitive understanding. So Kikuchi admired him. However, Akutagawa’s aphorisms and witticisms were often paradoxes and dogmatic.
 Kikuchi described Akutagawa’s works as follows. They were so carefully prepared and skillfully crafted that they had no weaknesses at all. Akutagawa’s works were of the highest artistic standard in Japan today. However, there was too much of a rationalistic coldness, as if he was toying with life with silver tweezers.
 Beginning in 1918, Kikuchi’s literary fame was enhanced by the recognition of his novel “Beyond the gratitude and enmity” as a clear thematic novel; from 1919, his plays “Tojuro’s Love” and “Father Returns” were performed to favorable reviews; in 1920, his popular novel “Madame Pearl” was serialized in newspapers, also with great success.

 Kikuchi continued to produce popular novels such as “Hibana” and plays such as “Gimin Jinbei”. He also wrote “The Beginning of Dutch Studies” about Genpaku Sugita, a Japanese scholar on Dutch studies in the Edo period. He also translated. He also translated Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling,” Tolstoy’s “Ivan the Idiot,” Eliza’s “The Little Princess,” Louise’s “A Dog of Flanders,” and others.

 In 1923, Kikuchi, together with Sanjugo Naoki, launched the literary magazine “Bungei shunju” and became successful in the publishing business as well. He also formed the Dramatists’ Association and the Novelists’ Association. He encouraged writers to interact with each other and organized writers into a single social group. These became the Literary Artists Society in 1926.

On Akutagawa’s death

 In 1927, Akutagawa suddenly committed suicide. Then, Kikuchi wrote about Akutagawa that same year. As for the main cause of his suicide, he said it was probably “vague anxiety,” as Akutagawa himself wrote in his will. Other factors included Akutagawa’s recent nervous breakdown, insomnia, physical exhaustion, gastrointestinal illnesses, the misfortunes of relatives, and worldly hardships.
 Akutagawa’s worldly hardships included, for example, the publication of the “Modern Japanese Literature and Art Reader.” Akutagawa took great pains to introduce as many different writers as possible equally. However, the book did not sell as well as he had hoped. It did not generate much profit. However, the authors of the works included in the book rumored that Akutagawa had made a fortune from the book and that he was lining his own pockets. Kikuchi told Akutagawa not to worry about the rumors, as they were false. But Akutagawa was so concerned about the rumors that he went out of his way to distribute his small amount of sales to the authors. Akutagawa was that fastidious.
 Kikuchi recalled his relationship with Akutagawa. Kikuchi had never had a falling out with Akutagawa since they had become close friends. Kikuchi was greatly indebted to Akutagawa for editing and other services. While Kikuchi concentrated on his duties as an editor, Akutagawa sometimes asked Kikuchi to resume his activities as a writer. In recent years, Kikuchi had not had the opportunity to talk with Akutagawa at length. Akutagawa had expressed a desire to speak with Kikuchi. So Kikuchi regretted that he had lost the opportunity forever. Akutagawa lacked the power to live in this world. He would have thought Kikuchi was reliable in this regard. Kikuchi should have had a long talk with Akutagawa and stimulated his power to live, Kikuchi said.
 Kikuchi commented on Akutagawa’s literary works. There would never be another writer who possessed such a high level of education and taste as Akutagawa, as well as knowledge of Japanese, Chinese, and Western literature. In the sense that he combined the old Japanese and Chinese tradition and taste with European scholarship, Akutagawa was a representative writer of the transitional period in Japan. In our next generations , the traditional Japanese and Chinese tradition and taste would not appear in the arts and literature at all.
 Kikuchi described Akutagawa’s personality as follows: Akutagawa was a cynic. But in real life he was a moralist. He did not take kindly to people he did not like, but he was very kind to his friends. He took good care of his friends. In the midst of the pain of his final years, he persevered with too great elegance. If only Akutagawa had been a worse person, he would have been able to live his life in peace and not dwell on so many of the trivial things that tormented him.

Establishment of Literary Awards

 To nurture new writers, Kikuchi established two literary prizes in 1935. The first was the Akutagawa Prize, named after the novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The other is the Naoki Prize, named after the novelist named after Sanjugo Naoki. Both awards are prestigious in Japan today. He became a member of the Art Academy in 1937 and died of illness in 1948.

Kan Kikuchi

Source: National Diet Library, Portraits of Modern Japanese (https://www.ndl.go.jp/portrait/)

 People associated with Kan Kikuchi

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Recommended or SelectedReferences

福田清人『菊池寛』清水書院, 2018

小林和子『菊池寛』勉誠出版, 2007

片山宏行『菊池寛の航跡 : 初期文学精神の展開』和泉書院, 1997

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