Takeo Arishima

Takeo Arishima was a Japanese novelist (1878-1923). After studying in the United States, he began his writing career in earnest. He gained a literary reputation as a realist novelist. At the same time, he was impressed by anarchism and socialism. As a result, as we will see below, in his later years he did things that astonished society.

Life of Takeo Arishima

 Takeo Arishima(有島 武郎:ありしま たけお)was born in Tokyo into a bureaucratic family. His father was an official in the Ministry of Finance. His younger brothers were novelist Ton Satomi and painter Ikuma Arishima.

 His father was the head of customs in Yokohama. As a result, Arishima became familiar with Western culture at an early age. He also attended a mission school. After studying at Gakushuin, he moved to Hokkaido in 1896 and entered Sapporo Agricultural College. Sapporo Agricultural College had among its alumni Kanzo Uchimura, a famous Japanese Christian in this era. Arishima also converted to Christianity while attending the college.

 Studying in the U.S.: Western Literature and Anarchism

 In 1901, Arishima graduated from Sapporo Agricultural College. In 1903, he went to the United States to study. He studied at Haberford College and Harvard University’s graduate school. While in school, he became familiar with Western literature. He enjoyed the works of Russian novelists Tolstoy and Gorky, American poet Whitman, and Norwegian playwright Ibsen. He was also deeply influenced by anarchism during his studies. But he began to have doubts about the Christian faith.

 On his way back to Japan, Arishima stopped in Europe to appreciate art. Furthermore, during a stopover in England, he met with Kropotkin, a Russian theorist of anarchism.

 Development as a Novelist

 In 1907, Arishima returned to Japan. He taught English at the Sapporo Agricultural School, which had become the Agricultural College of Tohoku Imperial University.

 In 1910, along with writers Saneatsu Mushanokoji and Naoya Shiga, Arishima launched the magazine “Shirakaba”. He published “Kankan-mushi” , which he had written while studying in the U.S., and “Futatsu no Michi” (Two Roads), which was strongly influenced by Christian thought. Thus, he became one of the main writers of the Shirakaba school.

 In 1915, Arishima resigned from his position at the university to take care of his wife. In 1916, his wife and father died. This marked a turning point in Arishima’s career as a novelist.

 In 1917, he published “Cain’s Descendant”. In this book, he depicted the story of an ignorant and unrestrained peasant who is unable to overcome nature in the harsh natural environment of Hokkaido, and is enslaved by the farm owner and alienated from the peasants around him. This work was a success, and Arishima gained a literary reputation as a realist novelist.

 In 1918, Arishima published “The Agony of Coming Into the World”. In 1919, he published his best-known work, “A Certian Woman. In this novel, a female protagonist who has awakened to the modern ego destroys herself in the midst of conflict with society.
In 1920, he published “Love Without Generosity Takes Away,” in which he expressed his unique philosophy of life.

 Late Years: Confronting Social problem

 The peak of Arishima’s creative activities as a novelist had passed. During this period, the influence of socialism began to grow in Japan. Arishima was an owner of the Arishima Farm in Hokkaido. He was inspired by the criticism raised by socialism. In 1922, he published “Manifesto Hitotsu” (One Declaration).

One Declaration (宣言一つ)

 In it, Arishima emphasizes the importance of the phenomenon of the fourth class, the working class, which he says began to work on its own to solve Japan’s social problems. According to Arishima, until then, workers have expected and believed that scholars and thinkers are the ones who can solve social problems related to workers. Many scholars and thinkers identified themselves as leaders and spokesmen for the working class. Indeed, some scholars and thinkers are determined to solve their problems fundamentally.
 However, Arishima argues that it is a superstition that scholars and thinkers can solve the workers’ problems. This is because scholars and thinkers do not belong to the working class and do not live their lives. For example, Marx and Kropotkin “could not live, think, and work as workers” because they are not workers themselves. If Marx could do anything, he could do it only for people except the working class.
 The awakening of the workers and the global development of the fourth class would have been achieved without such scholars by the internal forces of the working class.
What if the workers had studied the theories of Marx and others, campaigned, and revolutionized? In that case, there would be a revolution that would not contribute to solving the problems of the working class. Just as the French Revolution was based on the ideas of Rousseau so that it came to benefit the third class. Just also as the recent Russian Revolution also failed to liberate the peasants, the fourth class in Russia. “A reform movement that is fulfilled by an idea or motive that does not originate from the true fourth class will have no choice but to go and stop somewhere other than its original purpose”.
 Arishima stresses that Japanese workers have begun to realize that only the workers themselves can solve their own problems. They began to return the pity, sympathy, and favors from other classes. They began to look with suspicion at academics and thinkers who claimed to speak for the workers. Thoughtful workers attempt to break the habit of leaving their fate in the hands of those who live differently from them. This movement was bound to happen. So neither the state nor scholars will be able to stop it.
 After making this argument, Arishima himself says that he himself does not produce works of proletarian literature. Arishima himself was born, raised, and educated in a class other than the fourth. Therefore, he cannot truly contribute to the working class. Those who identify themselves as proletarian writers in the world belong to a class other than the fourth class, but they produce literature and art for this class. But this in turn hinders the movement of the working class. Therefore, “my work must end up appealing to people other than the fourth class”.

 Further Efforts

 In the same year, Arishima liberated his Arishima Farm. This surprised the public. It was rare for a wealthy man to practice socialist ideas even at the cost of his own assets.
 In “The Story of the liberation of the Farm,” Arishima explains why he decided to liberate the farm. Arishima believed that the means of production, such as farms, should not be privately owned, but publicly owned or shared. The profits from his farm should be obtained not by the owner, Arishima himself, but by sharecroppers who generated them. Therefore, Arishima himself should not get the sharecroppers’ profits as tax.
 In “The Liberation of the Karafuto Farms,” Arishima also states that his motivation was “not to be respected or to pretend to be a good person.It was an unavoidable event to satisfy my conscience”.
 In “From Private Farm to Common Farm,” Arishima describes the liberation of his farm in more detail. As for his reasons for deciding to liberate his farm, Arishima says, “I realized how bad the modern capitalist system really is. Moreover, I am directly motivated by the fact that I have learned about the lives of the peasants, especially the sharecroppers, who live under the capitalist system”.

 How miserable is the life of sharecroppers? In the land of Hokkaido, they continue to live in shanty huts. Even if they wanted to improve their living conditions, their incomes are low. But they have a lot of expenses due to tenant fees and taxes. Moreover, merchants sneak up on them and cunningly take the remaining money from them. As a result, they cannot improve their lives. This is Arishima’s motive.
 Arishima says that the liberation of his farm was not a sham. According to Arishima, at the time, there were many cases of farm liberation that “benefited under the guise of a beautiful name”. For example, farmers were forced to borrow money to purchase land on their farms. Arishima says that his own farm liberation was different from such cases of profiteering under the guise of service for the society.
 Nevertheless, Arishima also considered the risk that his farm liberation would end in vain. For example, he wondered if, in today’s capitalist society, liberating a farm would only result in its resale to other capitalists for their own profit. Arishima tries to create as many mechanisms as possible so that his attempts will not be in vain.
 At the same time, however, he also says that even if it fails, that is just the way it is. If Arishima’s own attempts make it known how stubborn the modern capitalist system is, how bad the results are, and that farmers who are given land will not become happy, then his attempt has enough value. It is unlikely that this experiment will work out as ideal, especially since the farmers have no knowledge and no training.
 Nevertheless, Arishima devised a system to ensure that his land donated free of charge would not fall into the hands of capitalists. He did not give the land to the sharecroppers as their private property. Instead, he asked them to form an organization and donate the land as their common property. By involving outside intellectuals in the management of the organization, Arishima did everything in his power to ensure that this attempt would not fail.

 Arishima was also interested in the women’s liberation movement of Raicho Hiratsuka and others. At the same time, Arishima continued to write. He wrote not only novels but also children’s stories such as “A Bunch of Grapes”. However, his full-length novel “Constellation” was never completed.

 In 1923, Arishima committed suicide with a married woman in Karuizawa.

Takeo Arishima

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

 People associated with Takeo Arishima

Saneatsu Mushanokoji: A colleague who founded “Shirakaba” with Takeo Arishima and Naoya Shiga. He supported Arishima’s debut as a writer. Mushanokoji Saneatsu himself came under the influence of socialism. As a result, he took experimental actions that surprised society in a different way from Arishima.

Gorky: One of Arishima’s favorite authors. A Russian novelist. He depicted people living at the bottom of society and struggling to make ends meet.

Recommended or Selected References

杉淵洋一『有島武郎をめぐる物語 : ヨーロッパに架けた虹』青弓社, 2020

荒木優太『有島武郎』岩波書店, 2020

福田清人『有島武郎』清水書院, 2018