chapter  7
20 Pages

Contesting the modern in the 1930s

As we examine more closely the developments of the 1930s, we will gradually enter that ‘dark valley’ by which Japanese designate the period of domestic repression and foreign expansion preceding and encompassing the Second World War. But even during the last years of the 1920s we can see darkness falling. Commentaries by intellectuals and the media on the novelist Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s suicide in 1927 suggest a foreboding that the new emperor’s reign would not bring the ‘light’ and ‘peace’ augured by his reign name Shōwa. Akutagawa had written to his prominent literary friend Kume Masao, trying to explain the motives for his suicide. Financial diffi culties may have played a role, but he concluded with anguish that an ‘indefi nable anxiety’ was the ultimate reason that he wanted to die. There had been other suicides by notable writers during the decade (for example the double suicide of Arishima Takeo and the feminist editor of Fujin kōron , Hatano Akiko), but none was represented as having the social signifi cance of Akutagawa’s. Perhaps it was not only because of the copycat suicides that followed, but because the economic situation was so bleak. A  bank panic hit fi nancial markets the same year, bumper crops pushed rice prices down further for farmers, and with the Wall Street crash in 1929 the world depression engulfed Japan as well.