Osamu Dazai, Japan's "poet of despair," led a reckless existence marred by alcoholism, narcotics addiction, institutionalization, and extramarital affairs. Like Akutagawa and Tanizaki, the "dark romantics" of Japan, he was an obsessed artist who adopted the Byronic stance of tragic hero, a past master of the art of suffering, doomed to play his part in a continual round of trauma, failure, delinquency, and dereliction. His writings were a record of personal catastrophes, autobiographical chronicles capturing in "the prison of language" the romantic agony of his pitiful life. He attempted suicide four times, before his fifth try proved successful. His entire output was one long suicide note; "completing it," according to one critic, "meant long-overdue release from the pain of being." Shiga Naoya described Dazai's death as "self-euthanasia." From his precocious youth forward, Dazai was beset by problems of self-destruction and felt a sense of alienation, defeat, and defection from life; he complained of a lifelong "feeling of futility" and of the never-mitigated "perfidy of this world."
At the age of eighteen, Dazai published a magazine called Cell Literature, and caught the attention of the writer Masuji Ibuse, who became his patron and mentor and, by the mid-thirties, Dazai was well on his way to establishing his "unsavory reputation." During the next dozen years, Dazai struggled intermittently with lung hemorrhages stemming from tuberculosis, was hospitalized for peritonitis and respiratory complications, married a geisha and was disinherited by his wealthy family, succumbed to at least one accidental sleeping pill overdose, was confined to a sanitarium, became hooked on opiates, did his best to ignore the Pacific War through a self-prescribed program of "artistic resistance," suffered misery and penury, and managed to create such masterpieces as The Setting Sun and No Longer Human. Ironically, Dazai succeeded artistically because, as one commentator put it, "after the war, his own life mirrored Japan's state of prostration as it began once again to disintegrate; and his stories reflected the public and private despair of a society torn from its moorings, which had discarded old creeds and failed to find new." Dazai, nonetheless, unfailingly relapsed into a state of victimization, convinced there was no place for him on this earthly plane. The chronology of Dazai's suicide attempts runs as follows:
December 10, 1929: first suicide attempt (with overdose of sleeping pills at age 19); he recovers and recuperates at Owani Hot Spring . . .
November, 1930: attempts suicide (by drowning) with waitress Tanabe Shimeko at Enoshima; she dies, he survives and recuperates at Ikarigaseki Hot Spring . . .
March 1935: attempts to hang himself in Kamakura . . .
August 1936: goes to Tanigawa Hot Spring for rest . . .
March 1937: goes with wife Hatsuyo to Minakami Hot Spring where they attempt suicide together (both survive); visits hot springs near Kofu in 1942 and 1943 . . .
June 13, 1948: Dazai and girlfriend Tomie Yamazaki disappear, leaving behind farewell notes . . .
June 19, 1948: their drowned bodies are found in the Tamagawa Canal . . .
June 21, 1948: Dazai's cremated remains are entombed at the Zenrinji Temple in Mitaka. In his parting message to his wife, titled Goodbye, he wrote that he had come to hate writing. Thus, at the age of thirty-nine, passed the grand vizier of negative zen and crown prince of Nipponese nihilism.
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