Ryuunosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介); (March 1, 1892 - July 24, 1927) was a Japanese writer active in Taishou period Japan. He is regarded as the "Father of the Japanese short story", and is noted for his superb style and finely detailed stories that explore the darker side of human nature.
In 1914, Akutagawa and his former high school friends revived the literary journal Shinshichou ("New Currents of Thought"), publishing translations of William Butler Yeats and Anatole France along with their own works.
Akutagawa published his first short story Rashoumon the following year in the literary magazine Teikoku Bungaku ("Imperial Literature"), while still a student. The story, based on a twelfth-century tale, with a sharp twist of psychological drama, was largely unnoticed by the literary world, except by noted author Natsume Souseki. Encouraged by the praise, Akutagawa thereafter considered himself Souseki's disciple, and began visiting the author for his literary circle meetings every Thursday. It was also at this time that he started writing haiku under the haigo (or pen-name) Gaki.
These meetings led to Hana ("The Nose", 1916), which was published in Shinshicho, and again highly praised by Souseki. Akutagawa followed with a series of short stories set in Heian period, Edo period or early Meiji period Japan, and were based on the themes of the ugliness of egoism and the value of art. These stories reinterpreted classical works and historical incidents from a distinctly modern standpoint.
Noted examples of these stories include: Gesaku zanmai ("A Life Devoted to Gesaku", 1917) and Kareno-shou ("Gleanings from a Withered Field", 1918), Jigoku hen ("Hell Screen", 1918); Houkyounin no shi ("The Death of a Christian", 1918), and Butoukai ("The Ball", 1920).
Akutagawa was a strong opponent of naturalism, which had dominated Japanese fiction in the early 1900s. He continued to borrow themes from old tales, and giving them a complex modern interpretation, however the success of stories like Mikan ("Mandarin Oranges", 1919) and Aki ("Autumn", 1920) prompted him to turn increasingly towards more modern settings.
In 1921, at the crest of his popularity, Akutagawa interrupted his writing career to spend four months in China, as a reporter for the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun. The trip was stressful and he suffered from various illnesses, from which his health would never recover. Shortly after his return he published his most famous tale, Yabu no naka ("In a Grove", 1922).
Towards the end of his life, Akutagawa began suffering from visual hallucinations and nervousness over fear that he had inherited his mother's mental disorder. In 1927 he tried to take his own life, together with a friend of his wife, but the attempt failed. He finally committed suicide by taking an overdose of Veronal, which had been given to him by Saito Mokichi on July 24 of the same year. His dying words in his will claimed he felt a "vague uneasiness" （「ぼんやりとした不安」）. He was only 35 years old.