Japanese novelist and poet; b. Nagano Prefecture, March 25, 1872; d. Aug. 22, 1943. He achieved stature as one of modern Japan's leading writers chiefly as a master of shi shōsetsu, a genre peculiar to Japanese literature, partially paralleled in the West by the Ich Roman.
Shimazaki was born in the mountain district of central Japan into a family that traced its ancestry back 200 years, and reared under the sharp discipline of his father, who was a scholar of Chinese and Japanese classics. He first went to Tokyo as a boy of ten; at 16 he entered a Tokyo mission school, Meiji Gakuin, and here first encountered Christianity. In the next year, 1888, he was baptized by Pastor Kumaji Kimura at the Daichō Church. After graduation in 1892, he joined the faculty of Meiji Girls' School, also a mission school, where he came under the influence of his colleague, the Christian critic Tōkōku Kitamura. These two joined several other friends in founding Bungaku kai (The World of Literature), the magazine that developed as the fountainhead of the Romantic movement in Japan, and which frequently reflected the impact of Christian thought.
Like many Japanese literatteurs, Shimazaki gradually drifted away from Christianity. Although he lacked any definite consciousness of his apostasy, the severance seems to have been complete by 1893. Nevertheless his work clearly points to the influence of Christianity at considerable depth.
His first book, Wakana shu (1897, Young Herbs), was a collection of early poems in colloquial style with minimal use of Chinese characters; the movement is graceful and fluid after the mode of certain hymns to which he was at that time deeply attached. The poem, for example, that begins, "Yūgure shizuka ni …" ("Quiet is the evening …") is plainly fashioned after a hymn. Hakai (1906, The Breach of the Code) launched his career as a novelist. The novel's main theme, in which Christian influence appears, is compassionate indignation over the treatment accorded the burakumin ("the out cast community"). One of his later major works, Shinsei (1919, New Life), treats delicately the problem of incest.
Bibliography: Collected works. Shimazaki Tōson zenshū, 31v. (Tokyo 1956–57). k. kamei, Shimazaki Tōson ron (Tokyo 1956). k. hirano, Shimazaki Tōson (Tokyo 1957).