Koda Rohan (幸田露伴)

Rohan KODA (August 22, 1867 - July 30, 1947) was a Japanese novelist. His real name was Shigeyuki. He had many other noms de plume, including Kagyuan, Sasa no tsuyu, Yukine-doshu, Datsu-tenshi. He was born in Shitaya, Edo (present Tokyo Prefecture). His daughter, Aya KODA, was also an essayist and a novelist. He was a member of the Imperial Academy. He was a member of the Imperial Art Academy. He was one of the first to receive the Order of Culture.

First recognized by "Furyu butsu" (The Elegant Buddha) he established his position in the "bundan" (coterie of recognized writers, critics and publishers) with his "Goju no To" (The Five-Storied Pagoda), "Unmei" (Destiny) and other works. He built an era of Ko-Ro together with Koyo OZAKI. He was one of the leading quasi-classical writers. Versed in classical literature and religion, he wrote many essays, historical novels and critical studies on classical literature such as "Basho Shichibu-shu Hyoshaku" (A Commentary on the Seven Collections of the Basho School).


Rohan KODA was born as the fourth son in Sanmaibashi-yokocho, Shitaya, Edo (present Taito Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) on July 23, 1867. His father was Toshizo (Shigenobu) KODA, a retainer of the Tokugawa Shogunate and his mother was Yu. During the Edo period the Koda family served as "Omote Obozushu" (footmen) whose duties included admitting feudal lords who visited Edo Castle. Rohan's childhood name was Tetsushiro. He was born frail. He was looked after by a doctor when he was only twenty-seven days old. He was often on the verge of death when he was very young. A year after his birth the Battle of Ueno took place, and his family moved to Suwa-cho, Asakusa.

They returned to Shitaya and then settled in Kanda (Chiyoda Ward). Rohan studied writing at the private school of Chiyo KAN (who was the elder sister of Sekko SEKI, a calligrapher) located in Izumibashi-dori Street, Shitaya as well as the recitation of Chinese classics at Mr. Aida's school in Okachimachi. Encouraged by Chiyo, he entered an Elementary School affiliated with the Tokyo Higher Normal School (later an Elementary School affiliated with the University of Tsukuba and the present Elementary School affiliated with the University of Tsukuba) in 1875. Since then he had been fond of reading "kusazo-shi" (chapbooks) and "yomihon" (prose narratives).

Graduating from the Elementary School, he entered Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya High School (normal course) in 1878. He was a classmate of Koyo OZAKI, Kazutoshi UEDA, and Kokichi KANO. Later he was forced to drop out as his family was impoverished. At the age of fourteen he went on to Tokyo English School (present day Aoyama Gakuin University), which he later dropped out of. He began to frequent the Tokyo Metropolitan Library where he made the acquaintance of Kangetsu AWASHIMA. Influenced by Shigetsune, his elder brother, he took interest in haikai, and went on to study Sinology and Chinese classical poems at Gyogi Private School run by Shoken KIKUCHI.

Given a scholarship he entered the National School of Electro-Communications at sixteen. After graduating he was stationed as a telegraph operator in Yoichi City, Hokkaido. Discovering "Shosetsu shinzui" (The Essence of Novels) and "Tosei shosei katagi" (The Character of Modern Students) by Shoyo TSUBOUCHI, he passionately pursued literature. In 1887 he abandoned his job and returned to Tokyo.
His return route from Hokkaido to Tokyo became the subject of his Tokkan Kiko (Journal of a Desperate Journey) which begins with the following passage: 'Physically wounded, mentally depressed, I cannot ward off misfortune no matter how hard I may try.'

Dismissed from his governmental post, he began to work for his father's paper shop called Aiai-do while avidly reading Saikaku IHARA's works. After returning from Hokkaido in 1889, he wrote 'Tsuyu dandan' that was published in 'Miyako no Hana' (an influential fictional journal) an intermediary of Kangetsu. This work was highly praised by Bimyo YAMADA. Based on Tenno-ji Temple (in Taito Ward), Rohan further published "Goju no to" and "Furyu butsu," through which he came to establish himself as a professional writer.

Together with Koyo OZAKI, a writer in this period, he enjoyed the golden age of 'The Ko-Ro Era.'
They were jointly referred to as 'Koyo OZAKI the realist, Rohan KODA the idealist.'
Building an era of Meiji literature, Rohan was instrumental in determining the way modern Japanese literature developed. The era was also called 'the era of Ko-Ro-Sho-O,' that of Koyo OZAKI, Rohan KODA, Shoyo TSUBOUCHI, and Ogai MORI.

After he published "Shin Hagoromo Monogatari" (A New Tale of Hagoromo) in 1904, he finally abandoned 'Sora Utsu Nami' (Waves Dashing against Heaven) which he discontinued many times over. He shifted his focus to historical novels and commentaries on classical literature.
The former include 'Yoritomo,' 'TAIRA no Masakado' and 'Ujisato GAMO.'
He wrote commentaries on Saikaku IHARA and "Nanso Satomi Hakken-den" (The Eight Dog Chronicle) as well as co-authoring "Basho-haiku kenkyu" (Studies on Basho's Haiku) with six members of the Basho Society, including Keion Nunami and Mizuho OTA. In 1947, just before his death, he completed "A Commentary on the Seven Collections of the Basho School" which he began seventeen years ago back in 1920.

Invited by Kokichi KARINO, one of his old friends, he became a lecturer of Japanese literature at the College of Letters, Kyoto University in 1906. Konan NAITO was appointed as a lecturer of Oriental History at the same time. Although Rohan was a distinguished writer and Konan was a well-known journalist, they were totally unknown as scholars. Their appointments by Karino were described as unheard of.

According to Masaru AOKI who studied under the supervision of Rohan, he taught literary theory and criticism, including studies on Japanese rhetoric (the history of Japanese stylistics), "Soga-monogatari" (The Tale of the Soga Brothers), "Wasan" (Buddhist hymns in vernacular Japanese) and Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU. He was not really a good speaker, said Aoki, though he was very popular among his students. His students however had a hard time taking notes during his class since he had cursive handwriting, and moreover, being well-built, he often covered the blackboard with his big head. Erudite scholar as he was, he was so bored with the bureaucratic and straitjacketed university that he did not return to Kyoto from Tokyo after his summer holidays, and he resigned from the university only a year later.

In 1911 he received a Ph. D. in literature. On April 28, 1937 he was one of the first recipients of the Order of Culture and became a member of the Imperial Art Academy. On July 30, 1947 he died at seventy-nine in Ichikawa City, Chiba Prefecture where he moved to after the War. He was buried in Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple. His kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist name) was Rohan.

His Family and Relatives

He was born as the fourth son of Narushige and Yu KODA. His eldest brother, Shigetsune, was a businessman and became the president of Sagami-boseki. Adopted by the Gunji family, his elder brother named Shigetada GUNJI was a navy officer and explorer. His younger brother, Shigetomo KODA, was a historian, whereas his younger sisters, Nobu KODA and Ko ANDO, were both musicians. Except for Rohan, his siblings were all Christian.

His daughter, Aya KODA, was noted for her essays on Rohan while he was alive. Whereby she became an essayist and later wrote novels. Her daughter, Tama AOKI, is also an essayist and so is her daughter Nao AOKI.

Major Works by Rohan
Furyu butsu (Yoshioka Shoseki-ten, 1889)
Tsuyu dandan (Kinko-do, 1890)
Goju no to (novel) (included in "Shosetsu: Obana-shu" (Pampas Grass: A Collection of Short Stories) Kozando, 1892)
Renkan-ki (Memoir of Chained Rings)
Yuki-tataki (Dusting of Snow)
Isana-tori (The Whaler)
Shin Hagoromo-monogatari (Murai-shokai, August 1897)
Sora utsu nami (Shunyo-do, January 1906 to January 1907)

Historical Novels
Unmei (in the Kaizo (journal), vol. 1, April Issue, 1919)
The story is based on a legend in which Kenbun-tei (Emperor Jianwen) kept hiding himself for several decades from Eiraku-tei (Emperor Yongle) who chased him. Rohan used "Min Shiki-ji Honmatsu" (A History of the Ming Dynasty) and other works. Toshio TAKASHIMA has recently collated this book with Chinese historiographical texts in his work. He argues that "Min Shiki-ji Honmatsu" whose 'style' impressed Junichiro TANIZAKI, Mokichi SAITO and Shinzo KOIZUMI was a simple prose retelling in Japanese of its Chinese original and is a work of no literary merit. He further discusses that what Rohan regarded as truth in writing "Unmei" is just a legendary account and is not a historical fact.

Toko KON suggests that Tanizaki was the god father of the work. The work was originally entitled "Rei" (Brought to Ruin). Tanizaki immediately read through Rohan's manuscripts which Sanehiko YAMAMOTO, the director of Kaizo-sha Publishers, brought to him.
He said, 'This is a great work, but nobody can understand what it is about just by reading the title "Rei," and this would be a better title if I may be bold enough to suggest.'
And he called the work "Unmei."

Ujisato GAMO
TAIRA no Masakado

Essays and Literary Criticisms
Shiomachi-gusa (Grass Waiting for the Tide) (Toa-do, 1906)
Kagyuan Yobanashi (Night Stories by Kagyuan) (Shunyo-do, November 1907)
Shohin Jusshu (Ten Short Essays) (Seiko-zasshisha, June 1908)
Futsu bunsho-ron (On Ordinary Prose) (Hakubun-kan, October 1980)

Commentaries on Haikai
Fuyu no Hi Sho (A Commentary on Basho's Winter Days) (Iwanami Shoten, Publishers, September 1924)
Haru no Hi/Arano Sho (A Commentary on Basho's Spring Days and Wasteland) (Iwanami Shoten, Publishers, June 1927)
Hisago/Sarumino Sho (A Commentary on Basho's The Gourd and The Monkey's Raincoat) (Iwanami Shoten, Publishers, December 1929)
Sumidawara/Zoku Sarumino Sho (A Commentary on Basho's A Sack of Charcoal/The Monkey's Raincoat, Continued) (Iwanami Shoten, Publishers, January 1930)

Travelogue and Diary
Chinto Sansui (A Travelogue) (Hakubun-kan, September 1893)
Kagyuan Nikki (The Diary of Kagyuan) (Chuo Koronsha, August 1949)

[Original Japanese]