Clicking on the picture will take you to a very nice overview of Ueda Akinari’s life and works.
Ueda Akinari or Ueda Shūsei (上田 秋成, July 25, 1734, Osaka – August 8, 1809, Kyoto) was a Japanese author, scholar and waka poet, and perhaps the most prominent literary figure in eighteenth century Japan. He was an early writer in the yomihon genre and his two masterpieces, Tales of Moonlight and Rain ( Ugetsu monogatari ) and Tales of Spring Rain ( Harusame monogatari ), are central to the canon of Japanese literature.
Born to an Osaka prostitute and an unknown father, Ueda was adopted in his fourth year by a wealthy merchant who reared him in comfort and provided him with a good education. As a child he became gravely ill with smallpox, and although he survived, he was left with deformed fingers on both hands. During his illness, his parents prayed to the god of the Kashima Inari Shrine, and Ueda felt that this deity had intervened and saved his life. Throughout his life he remained a strong believer in the supernatural, and this belief seems to inform important elements of his literature and scholarship such as his most famous work, a collection of ghost stories titled Tales of Moonlight and Rain .
He inherited the Ueda family oil and paper business when his adopted father died. However, he was not a successful merchant, and he lost the business to a fire after running it unhappily for ten years. During this time, he published several humorous stories in the ukiyo-zōshi style (literally translated as “tales of the floating world”, the name of a style of books of popular fiction published between the 1680s and 1770s).
Taking the fire as opportunity to leave the business world, Ueda began studying medicine under Tsuga Teishō, who in addition to teaching Ueda to be a doctor also taught him about colloquial Chinese fiction. In 1776 he began to practice medicine and also published Tales of Moonlight and Rain . This work places Ueda Akinari alongside Takizawa Bakin among the most prominent writers of yomihon — a new genre that represented a dramatic change in reading practices from the popular fiction that came before it.
In addition to his fiction, Ueda was involved in the field of research known as kokugaku (National Learning), the study of philology and classical Japanese literature. Kokugaku was often typified by a rejection of foreign influences on Japanese culture, notably Chinese language, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Ueda took a highly independent position within these circles, and his vigorous polemical dispute with the leading scholar of the movement, Motoori Norinaga, is recorded in the latter’s dialogue Kagaika (呵刈葭 1787-1788). Some argue that Ueda also worked out this conflict in stories such as Tales of Moonlight and Rain by beginning his stories grounded on Chinese stories and moral and intellectual discourses and that he then foregrounded a Japanese sensibility by calling on supernatural elements and having his characters feel deep emotion (as opposed to Chinese reliance on the intellect). However it is also true that he had a strong rational, empirical temper, dismissed as nonsensical the myth-reviving fantasies of kokugaku scholars, and throughout showed an intense curiosity, distinctive for its lack of patriotic superiority, in foreign cultures, both within Japan (the Ainu and Okinawan cultures) and abroad ( China, and Western countries).
In the years after his wife’s death in 1798 he suffered from temporary blindness, and although eventually sight returned to his left eye from that point on he had to dictate much of his writing. It was at this time that he began working on his second yomihon , and he finished the first two stories of what would be Tales of the Spring Rain ( Harusame monogatari ) in around 1802. The complete version was not published until 1951, when missing sections of the manuscript were discovered. Spring Rain is quite different from Tales of Moonlight and Rain, and there is some discussion among scholars as to which is the superior work. Among other differences, Spring Rain does not invoke the supernatural, and the stories are of greatly varied length. The story titled “Hankai” is about a disreputable ruffian who suddenly converts to Buddhism and spends the rest of his life as a pious monk. The story anchors the collection by virtue of its length and the literary skill it exhibits.
In 1809, Ueda died at the age of 76 in Kyoto.
Ueda Akinari timeline
- 1755 Published first haikai at the age of 21.
- 1760 Married Ueyama Tama
- 1761 Adopted father died.
- 1766 Published Worldly Monkeys with Ears for the Arts ( Shodō kikimimi sekenzaru ).
- 1767 Published Characters of Worldly Mistresses ( Seken Tekake Katagi )
- 1771 The family oil and paper business was destroyed in a fire.
- 1776 Published Ugetsu Monogatari . Began to practice medicine.
- 1788 Retired from medicine and devoted himself full time to writing and scholarship.
- 1797 Wife died. He suffered from temporary blindness.
- 1802 Oldest extant versions of “The Bloodstained Robe” and “The Celestial Maidens”, the first two stories of Harusame monogatari ( Tales of the Spring Rain ).
- 1808 Published Tandai shōshin roku ( Notes Bold Yet Pithy ).
- Tales of Moonlight and Rain (雨月物語 Ugetsu monogatari ) (1776)
- Tales of the Spring Rain (春雨物語 Harusame monogatari ) (1809)
- Hamada, Kengi. “About the Author.” In Tales of Moonlight and Rain . New York: Columbia University Press.
- Keene, Donald. 1976. World within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 . Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
- Reider, Noriko T. 2002. Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan: Kaidan, Akinari, Ugetsu Monogatari . Edwin Mellen Press.
- Shirane, Haruo, ed. “Early Yomihon: History, Romance, and the Supernatural.” In Early Modern Japanese Literature . New York: Columbia University
- Takata Mamoru. “Ugetsu Monogatari: A Critical Interpretation.” In Tales of Moonlight and Rain . New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.
- Ueda Akinari. 1974. Ugetsu Monogatari: Tales of Moonlight and Rain Trans. by Leon M. Zolbrod. George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
- Ueda Akinari. 1975. Tales of the Spring Rain. Trans. by Barry Jackman. The Japan Foundation.
- Washburn, Dennis. “Ghostwriters and Literary Haunts: Subordinating Art to Ethics in Ugetsu Monogatari.” Monumenta Nipponica 45.1 (1996)
- Zolbrod, Leon M., trans. and ed. Introduction. Ugetsu Monogatari: Tales of Moonlight and Rain . London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974.