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Authors: Ogai Mori

Vita Sexualis

V I T A    S E X U A L I S

Ogai Mori
(1862-1922) stands in the foremost rank of modern Japanese novelists. He was already a major literary figure by the time
Vita Sexualis
was published. His professional success as an army surgeon was outstripped by his even more brilliant ascent in the literary world of the Meiji and Taisho eras. His work is characterized by a strong humanistic element, a romantic quality effectively tempered by realism, and a lucid style that often rises to lyric intensity, as in another of his acclaimed novel,
The Wild Geese.


a novel

by Ogai Mori

translated from the Japanese
by Kazuji Ninomiya
& Sanford Goldstein


Tokyo • Rutland, Vermont • Singapore

Published by Tuttle Publishing,an imprint of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd.,
with editorial offices at 364 Innovation Drive, North Clarendon,
Vermont 05759 U.S.A

Copyright © 1972 Charles E. Tuttle Co.

All rights reserved

First edition, 2001

LCC Card No. 72079020
ISBN-13: 978-1-4629-0221-7

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Table of Contents





Vita Sexualis



When I was six


When I was seven


When I was ten


Autumn of that year


When I was eleven


When I was thirteen


When I was fourteen


When I was fifteen


Fall of the same year


When I was sixteen


When I was seventeen


When I was eighteen


When I was nineteen


When I was twenty


Beginning of winter that same year


When I was twenty-one


. . .



On July 1, 1909, in the forty-second year of the Meiji era (1868-1912),
Vita Sexualis
appeared in Ogai Mori's literary magazine
(The Pleiades). The censorship authorities waited until July 28 before banning the sale and distribution of the issue. It was to be the only work among Ogai's many publications that was so prohibited. Haruo Sato (1892-1964), the famous writer and critic, commented on this important event in the history of Japanese literature: "Because the author treated the problem of sexual desire, the authorities considered this a novel of sexual desire; they could not understand that Ogai's story was primarily philosophic. The reason the authorities thought this grave work might have an injurious effect upon public morals was probably due to the fact that further distribution might help other novels along this line become more popular and fashionable."

The first question that occurs to the Western reader of
Vita Sexualis
is why Ogai (1862-1922) ventured to write a novel of this type. By 1909, the date of its publication, Ogai's reputation was secure, thanks to his earlier brilliant record. At fourteen he had entered the preparatory course of Tokyo Medical College, graduating at the age of nineteen, and later, in 1884, he was sent by the army to Europe to study military hygiene. He had translated and published an anthology of French and German and English poems, had established his position as an important writer, had gained an advanced degree in medicine, and was director of the Military Medical College and chief of the medical staff to the Imperial Guard Division— all by 1899. Ogai himself founded
in 1909, and he was to consistently contribute to it, yet by 1909 he had already published twelve major works —eight stories and four plays. Ogai had dared bring
Vita Sexualis
to the literary world of Meiji even at the risk of his own high position as surgeon general. It was on August 6, 1909, that he was officially reprimanded by the vice-minister of war.

In a letter dated August 1, Ogai calmly wrote to his friend Tsurudo Kako (who appears as Koga in
: "The banning of
Vita Sexualis
was done through the banning of issue number 7 of
I have been rather prepared for this. Ten years ago nude pictures were also treated in the same way, whether they deserved it or not. Ten years from now the authorities will wake up. I have already talked to the Minister of War, Terauchi, about the banning. Please do not fail to read the reviews which have appeared."

When one considers the strict codes of morality in Meiji Japan, Ogai's
Vita Sexualis
demands even more attention. It is obvious, however, that in banning
the authorities were aware of Ogai's high position, for the censorship was not specifically leveled against
but against the entire issue of
In the September 1909 issue of the magazine
a critic notes that when the authorities censure a work, they usually point to specific places in the offending manuscript, but in Ogai's case they did not follow this procedure, mentioning only its harmful effect on public morals. That it took the authorities almost a month to decide to ban the magazine was quite strange. Strange indeed, for all critics and Ogai himself were certainly aware of censorship and the tradition of pornography in Japanese letters.

Before the Edo period (1603-1867), pornographic books were written exclusively by hand and passed around, only a few unusual examples of pornography appearing. During Edo, with the increase in literacy and sophistication and with the improvement in wood printing and the establishment of publishing houses, pornographic books were widely circulated, especially after the middle of the period. Earlier it was Saikaku Ihara (1642-1693) who vividly described the sexual aspects of his heroes and heroines in
Koshoku Ichidai Otoko
(A Man Who Loved Love, 1682),
Koshoku Ichidai Onna
(A Woman Who Loved Love, 1686), and
Koshoku Gonin Onna
(Five Women Who Loved Love, 1686). In those days the Yoshiwara in Edo (old Tokyo), Shimabara in Kyoto, and Shinmachi in Osaka were colorfully developing as the licensed quarters in Japan. Love affairs and the sexual life of ordinary citizens were described in paperback books called
sharebon, kusazoshi,
. The
were especially valued by citizens as guidebooks on love, some, however, deteriorating into mere erotica. As a result of the popularization of such guidebooks and erotica, two great suppressions followed, the first in the form of the Press Law on May 24, 1790. Three works of the famous novelist Kyoden Santo (1761-1816) were banned. The second suppression occurred on June 4, 1842. Shunsui Tamenaga (1790-1843), the author of
Shunshoku Umegoyomi
(Romance in Spring, 1832-1833), found his book banned. Later he was arrested and found guilty.

During Meiji pornographic works were secretly published, for the censorship laws remained severe. In Meiji 29 (1896),
(Make-Up Before Sleeping, 1896) by Fuyo Oguri (1875-926) was banned for describing the love affair of a brother and sister, born of the
class and parents of a child.
(Love of Her Former Master, 1902) by Toson Shimazaki (1872-1943) was banned for its too sensual descriptions of illicit intercourse between the young wife of a high school principal and a dentist.

Though Ogai must have been very much aware of the limitations under the strict codes of Meiji, he was, nevertheless, equally aware of the new movements in Japanese literary circles. We must not forget that in the first decade of the new century, dubbed the period of naturalism in modern Japanese literature, Zola and de Maupassant were much in vogue among young Japanese writers. In
Shosetsu Shinzui
(The Essence of the Novel, 1885-1886), Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859-1935) provided the first important attack on the overly moral and didactic tendencies of earlier Japanese authors. Tsubouchi insisted that Japanese writers abandon the stale concept of literature as a mere instrument for didacticism. To overcome this tendency, he urged writers to achieve a full understanding of European literature. He insisted on a literature independent of ethics, politics, and morality in any age or society. He advocated realism, especially psychological realism, as the standard for a new literature of Japan.

Perhaps the first successful attempt to follow this new call to literary independence was Toson Shimazaki's
(Broken Commandment, 1906), its hero, a member of the
class, finally revealing the secret of his caste in spite of his father's command that he never divulge his origins to anyone. In
(Bedding, 1907) by Katai Tayama (1871-1930), the author describes the spiritual struggle of a middle-aged married writer so swayed by passion for his youthful disciple that he cries with his face buried in the bedding in which the woman has slept, smelling her scent to his heart's content in his sexual desire, sadness, and helplessness. Readers inside literary circles and out were shocked by the frank descriptions of sexual desire.
is of further importance since it begins the tradition of the
the "I" novel in which the author depicts his own private life. Influenced by
Homei Iwano (1873-1920) wrote
(Debauchery, 1909). The narrator-hero of the novel, Tamura, becomes intimate with the geisha Kichiya. He discovers she is treating his rival Tajima in the same way she treats him. As the hero realizes his mistress will share herself with anyone, he suddenly thinks of her rough skin, an image so keen it causes him to shudder. In his own mind he regards himself as a kind of hairy beast, feeling he himself is sniffing some other female beast. Coming to realize that debauchery is the
raison d'etre
of life, Tamura persistently pursues the object of his debauchery, his keen sense of smell like that of a lean hungry dog rummaging in dirt.

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