Born: Kamo, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, 15 February 1898. Education: Tutored and intellectually mentored by his maternal grandfather from early childhood through adolescence; attended a prestigious and strongly traditional high school in Fukuyama; studied French literature at Waseda University in Tokyo, 1917-22; briefly studied painting at the Japanese School of Arts in Tokyo, 1921-22. Military Service: Drafted into Imperial Army, 22 November 1941; served as war correspondent in Malaya until November 1942. Family: Married Setsuyo Akimoto, 1927. Career: Grew up as a member of a moderately wealthy land-owning family; associated himself during and immediately after his time at Waseda with literary figures such as H5mei Iwano, Seiji Tanizaki, and K5tar5 Tanaka; later became a close literary mentor to the writer Osamu Dazai; worked professionally as a writer throughout his life, often through associations with ”group journals” (dojin zasshi) such as Seiki, Bungei toshi, and Sakuhin. Awards: Naoki prize for popular literature by a rising author, 1938; Yomiuri prize for fiction, 1949; Art Academy prize, 1955; Noma prize for literature, 1966; Order of Cultural Merit, 1966. Died: 10 July 1993.
Ibuse Masuji zenshu [Collected Works]. 14 vols., 1965-74.
Ibuse Masuji jisen zenshu [Author-Selected Collected Works]. 13 vols., 1985-86.
”Yofuke to ume no hana.” 1925; as ”Plum Blossom by Night,” translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971; and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981.
”Koi.” 1926; as ”Carp,” translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971; and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981.
”Sansh5uo.” 1929; as ”The Salamander,” translated by Tadao Katayama, 1956; and also translated by Leon Zolbrod, 1964; as ”Salamander,” translated by Sadamichi Yokoo and Sanford Goldstein, 1966; and also translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971; and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981.
”Yane no ue no Sawan.” 1929; as ”Sawan on the Roof,” translated by Yokuchi Miyamoto with Frederick Will, 1966; and also translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971; and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981; as ”Sawan on the Rooftop,” translated by Tadao Katayama, 1967.
”Kuchisuke no iru tanima.” 1929; as ”Kuchisuke’s Valley,” translated by John Whittier Treat, in The Showa Anthology, edited by Van C. Gessel and Tomone Matsumoto, 1985.
”Tange-shi-tei.” 1931; as ”At Mr. Tange’s,” translated by Sadamichi Yokoo and Sanford Goldstein, 1969; as ”Life at Mr. Tange’s,” translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971; and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981.
”Shoga kott5 no sainan.” 1933.
”Aogashima taigaiki.” 1934.
”Mujint5 Ch5hei.” 1936.
”Ch5hei no haka.” 1936.
”Yama o mite r5jin no kataru.” 1939.
”Tajinko-mura hoi.” 1940.
”Oki Beppu-mura no Morikichi.” 1941.
”Kane kuy5 no hi.” 1943.
”Aru sh5jo no senji nikki.” 1943.
”Honjitsu kyushin.” 1949; as ”No Consulation Today,” translated by Edward Seidenstecker, 1964.
”Kakitsubata.” 1951; as ”The Crazy Iris,” translated by Ivan Morris, 1956, and reprinted in The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath, edited by Oe Kenzaburo, 1985.
Sazanami gunki (novella). 1930-38; as Waves: A War Diary, translated by David Aylward and Anthony Liman, in Waves: Two Short Novels, 1986.
Shukin ryoko. 1935-37.
Jon Manjiro hyoryuki (novella). 1937; as ”John Manjiro, the Castaway: His Life and Adventures,” translated by Hisakazu Kaneko, 1940; as ”John Manjiro: A Castaway’s Chronicle,” translated by David Aylward and Anthony Liman in Castaways: Two Short Novels, 1987.
Tajinko mura (novella). 1937; as ”Tajinko Village,” translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971; and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981.
Hana no machi. 1943.
Wabisuke (novella). 1946; as Isle-on-the-Billows, translated by David Aylward and Anthony Liman, in Waves: Two Short Novels, 1986. Hikkoshi-yatsure. 1947. Kashima ari. 1948.
Yohai taicho (novella). 1950; as ”A Far-worshipping Commander,” translated by Glenn Shaw, 1954, and as ”The Far-worshipping Commander,” in The Shadow of Sunrise, edited by Shoichi Sakei, 1966; as ”Lieutenant Lookeast,” translated by John Bester, in Lieutenant Lookeast and Other Stories, 1971, and in Salamander and Other Stories, 1981.
Karusan yashiki. 1953.
Hyomin Usaburo. 1954-55.
Ekimae ryokan. 1956-57.
Chimpindo shujin. 1959.
Bushu Hachigata-jo. 1961-62.
Kuroi ame. 1966; as Black Rain, translated by John Bester, 1966, 1969.
Tomonotsu chakaiki. 1983-1985.
Zuihitsu (essays). 1933.
Keirokushu (memoir). 1936.
Jokyo chokugo (memoir). 1936.
Kame (memoir). 1939.
Yama ya nodo (essays and sketches). 1941.
Shonan nikki (war diary). 1942.
Nanko Taigaiki (war diary). 1943.
Kawatsuri (stories and essays on fishing). 1952.
Nanatsu no kaido (travel essays). 1952-57.
Tsurishi; Tsuriba (essays on fishing). 1960.
Hanseiki (memoir). 1970.
Tsuribito (essays on fishing). 1970.
Waseda no mori (memoir). 1971.
Choyochu no koto (memoir). 1977-80.
Umi-agari (essays). 1980-81.
Ogikubo fudoki (memoir). 1981-82.
Dazai Osamu (biography), 1989.
Translator, Robinson hyoryuki, by Daniel Defoe. 1961.
Translator, Doritoru-sensei monogatari zenshu by Hugh Lofting. 12 vols., 1961-62.
”Black Rain” by Robert J. Lifton, in Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, 1967; ”After the Bomb” by Arthur G. Kimball, in Crisis in Identity and Contemporary Japanese Novels,1973; ”Tradition and Contemporary Consciousness: Ibuse, Endo, Kaiko, Abe” by J. Thomas Rimer, in Modern Japanese Fictions and Its Traditions, 1978; Pools of Water, Pillars of Fire: The Literature of Ibuse Masuji by John Whittier Treat, 1988; A Critical Study of the Literary Style of Ibuse Masuji by Anthony V. Liman, 1992; ”Ibuse Masuji: Nature, Nostalgia, Memory” by John Whittier Treat, in Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb, 1995.
Although his reputation outside Japan is still based chiefly on Kuroi ame (Black Rain), his novel about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, Ibuse Masuji is without a doubt one of the most prolific and important Japanese writers of the 20th century. Ibuse’s career spanned more than six decades and his literary output included dozens of volumes of fiction, essays, memoirs, and poems written in a direct, evocative style that obscured many of the distinctions among these genres. Largely because he refused to ally himself too closely with any particular political or aesthetic movement, Ibuse’s voice was prominent not only during the post-Hiroshima era of reconstruction and recovery, but also during the tumultuous 1920s and 30s, when Japanese society alternated between the conservatism of traditional values and the radicalism of foreign ideas such as Marxism. In retrospect, Ibuse stands next among Akutagawa, Kawabata, Mishima, Murakami, Oe, and Tanizaki as one of the luminaries of contemporary Japanese literary culture.
Having studied literature—especially French, English, and Russian literature—in the midst of many of Japan’s most noteworthy scholars and writers during his years at Waseda University, Ibuse rapidly burst onto the literary scene in the 1920s with a series of short stories including ”Koi” (”Carp”) and ”Sansh5uo” (”The Salamander”). These tales not only reflect elements of traditional Japanese culture with which Ibuse was intimately familiar from his youth, but also show the early development Ibuse’s uniquely perceptive narrative voice. Encouraged in his literary pursuits by his mentor and patron Kotaro Tanaka, Ibuse rapidly established himself by the early 1930s as a successful author. More than any other writer of his generation, Ibuse intermingled conventional Japanese literary themes and styles such as the sentimental watakushi shosetsu (”I-novel”) or naturalistic shaseibun (”nature-sketching” forms) with a distinctly modern perspective in creating works that maintain a clear link to cultural tradition and heritage without descending into chauvinism (as was often the case with writers such as Yukio Mishima).
Throughout his career as a writer, Ibuse took an interest in history. Influences on his work ranged from medieval Japanese epics, whose style he imitated in his first longer work of fiction Sazanami gunki (Waves: A War Diary), to his own experiences of being drafted during World War II as a correspondent for the Imperial Army. In essays like Nanko Taigaiki [''An Account of My Voyage South''] or in fiction like his novellas Wabisuke (Isle-on-the-Billows) and Yohai taicho (”Lieutenant Lookeast”), Ibuse refuses to moralize openly about events he witnessed while observing the Malayan campaign that were often shocking and dismaying to him. Instead, he allows his keen eye for detail and his sensitivity to human suffering to convey his intentions. Some critics have accused Ibuse of being overly uncritical in refusing to criticize the Japanese tactics in Singapore, but Ibuse extended a similar lack of judgment to most of his subject matter.
Coupled with his abiding interest in literal or figurative hyoryuki ("castaways"), this objectivity toward historical reality laid the foundation for his masterpiece, Black Rain.
As the only one of Ibuse’s novels to have been translated into English, Black Rain stands out regardless of its subject matter. However, given that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had such a radical effect on the psyche of Japan as a whole—as well as that of individual hibakusha (survivors; literally "the burned”)— Ibuse’s 1966 novel represented an important new perspective on the reality of atomic weapons at a time when the nuclear tensions of the Cuban Missile Crisis were still a relatively recent memory for the entire world.
As was the case with many of his prior works, Ibuse thoroughly researched the details of the novel. Ibuse himself had been thirty miles away in the village of Kamo during the bombing, but not near enough to have experienced it first-hand. Black Rain is based on a number of documentary sources, including eyewitness accounts of the bombing. Most important, though, was the journal of Shizuma Shigematsu, a survivor with whom Ibuse had regularly gone fishing in the immediate post-war years and whose story he would transform into that of his protagonist Shigematsu Shizuma. Ibuse indirectly depicts the events of 6 August 1945, setting his novel nearly five years after the bombing. Shigematsu, his wife Shigeko, and their niece Yasuko are still dealing with the lingering physical, psychological, and societal after-effects of the bombing, especially the ”black rain” contaminated with radioactive dust-particles that fell in and around Hiroshima in the hours after the explosion.
Shigematsu has been excused from normal work because of his mild radiation sickness. However, since he is not visibly ill, he is embarrassed at being perceived to be shirking his rightful share of labor. He decides to begin raising carp to restock a local lake that has been devoid of fish since the bombing. Shigematsu is also trying to arrange a marriage for Yasuko, but a false rumor that she was in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing (and thus would likely both to become ill and be infertile) has frustrated his attempts. In responding to an inquiry from a potential suitor, Shigematsu copies out excerpts from his niece’s diary to dispel this rumor, but quickly realizes that her reminiscences of being soaked by the ”black rain” will make her unmarriageable. He omits this passage and includes excerpts from his own journal instead. The remainder of the novel is made up of these excerpts, as well as pieces from other documents—e.g., an essay describing what survivors ate in Hiroshima, and a doctor’s memoirs of treating radiation sickness in the days after the bombing—that Ibuse adapted for his fictional purposes. The novel ends on an ambiguously hopeful note as Yasuko admits she has been suffering symptoms of radiation-induced illness and rapidly declines at the same time that Shigematsu’s carp pond begins to thrive.
Despite some mild protests that Ibuse’s somewhat distanced depiction of the bombing of Hiroshima lessened the horror of the event, critics almost immediately hailed Black Rain, and it garnered several of the most prestigious literary awards in Japan. Its reputation has hardly diminished with the passage of time—it has never been out of print in either Japanese or English and it was voted in 1987 as the most significant post-war Japanese novel in a poll of Japanese scholars. Although Ibuse’s output after the publication of Black Rain was mainly confined to collections of essays and memoirs, his status within Japanese literature has continued to grow, as demonstrated by the popularity of a thirteen-volume set of his works released in the mid-1980s. Ibuse was nominated for the Nobel prize several times in the late 1980s and 1990s and continues to be the subject of scholarship both in Japan and the West.