Childhood in Tsuwano

1862–72 Mori is born on 17 February 1862 in the castle town of the domain Tsuwano in southwestern Japan (present-day Shimane prefecture). Mori Shizuo (born Yoshitsugu, 1836–96) and his wife Mineko (1846–1916) name their first son Rintarō. Belonging to the samurai, the family has served as personal physicians of the Kamei clan for several generations. Rintarō’s father Shizuo was adopted into the Mori family in order to marry their daughter. Grandmother Kiyoko also lives with the family, but it is the young mother Shigeko whose energy is devoted to the education of her son. Rintarō passes his childhood against the backdrop of the last years of the Tokugawa shogunate. Because of his parents’ ambitions, the future head of the family receives a lot of attention, and feels the pressure of having to meet their expectations as a result.

Memories and Thoughts

“I was born in the town of Tsuwano, in the old province of Iwami. Home of the Kamei daimyo, with a stipend of 43,000 koku of rice, Tsuwano is surrounded by mountains. In wintertime, wild boars used to run amok through the streets of the town. My father would take a bamboo spear with him when he went out. Mother and I would remain inside, close the shutters, and watch though the cracks as the wild animals stampeded through the snow.

Ōgai - When I was Fourteen / Watakushi ga jūshigo sai no toki (1909). Transl. M. Marcus

“Iʼve been told that ever since I was a child I was quite fond of books. Since I was born at a time when there were no magazines for boys and no fairy tales like those of Sazanami Iwaya, I would read ʻA Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poetsʼ (Hyakunin isshu), which my grandmother had brought with her when she married, books of jōruri ballad drams my grandfather used when he practiced chanting gidayū melodies, picture books with plots based on songs from nō plays, or anything I could lay my hands on.”

Ōgai - Saffron / Safuran (1914). Transl. S. Goldstein and Sh. Ono

“I had no interest in flying kites or spinning tops. Consequently, I was not able to make friends in my neighborhood. So I was more and more addicted to books, and in this way the names of persons and the names of things were stored in my mind like dust clinging to a utensil. I became a kind of cripple in that I knew names without knowing what they referred to.”

Ōgai - Saffron / Safuran (1914). Transl. S. Goldstein and Sh. Ono

“In this family, the father represented emotion and the mother, reason: Father spoiled the children while Mother admonished them.”

Ōgai - Main House - Branch House / Honke bunke (1915). Transl. Chr. M. Rich

“To the west of our house was a vacant lot. Among the stone tiles scattered along the ground were flowering clover and violets. I began picking some clover. After gathering them for a while, I remembered that on the previous day a boy in our neighborhood had said it was a strange habit for a boy to be gathering flowers, and suddenly looking around, I threw the flowers down. Fortunately no one had seen me. I stood there in something of a daze.”

Ōgai - Vita sexualis (1909). Transl. K. Ninomiya and S. Goldstein

“My father was what people called a Dutch physician. He told me he would teach me Dutch, and little by little, from my younger years on, I learned it. I used a Dutch grammar that consisted of two parts. The first part explained words, and the second part had to do with analyzing sentences. I borrowed a Dutch-Japanese dictionary to help me read that grammar book. The dictionary was printed in two volumes. They were big, thick ones bound in the usual Japanese way.”

Ōgai - Saffron / Safuran (1914). Transl. S. Goldstein and Sh. Ono

Biographical Events


September 1862: Nishi Amane, a relative of the family, is sent to the Netherlands by the shogunate. During his stay of several years, he studies in Leiden, among other places. After his return in 1865, he will become a leading figure in the Japanese Enlightenment movement. 
  • Rintarō is born as first son of the Mori family on 17 February (19.I. of the old lunisolar calendar).


August 1863: In the Bay of Kagoshima, the British Royal Navy and forces of the Satsuma domain clash.


  • September: The younger brother Tokujirō is born. Later on, he will be adopted by the Miki family and make a name for himself as theater critic.
  • Rintarō’s formal education begins with reading and memorizing the “Analects” (Lunyu) of Confucius. He is taught by Murata Yoshizane in the family home. Murata also teaches in the domain school Yōrō Kan.


3 January 1868: Direct rule of the emperor is restored and fundamental reforms of the Meiji era are introduced.
  • The head of the domain school, Yonehara Tsunae, who is also related to the Mori family, instructs Rintarō in reading the Confucian classic “Master Meng” (Mengzi).


July–August 1869: Most of the lords return their domains to the emperor and are appointed as governors by the Meiji state. 
  • Rintarō is accepted into the domain school, and is instructed in subjects such as the Confucian classics, national studies (kokugaku), martial arts, Chinese and western medicine, and mathematics.
  • The seven-year-old boy is awarded for his intellectual ability.
  • Supervised by his father and another doctor serving the domain, Rintarō begins to study Dutch. Knowledge of the only European language taught in Tokugawa Japan is required to study western medicine.


  • November: Rintarō’s sister Kimiko is born.


August 1871: Military surgeons Leopold Müller und Theodor Hoffmann arrive in Japan to introduce German medical education at the government’s school in Tokyo.
August 1871: The imperial government orders the dissolution of the remaining domains. The new prefectures are established.
  • June: The domain of Tsuwano is dissolved. Kamei Koremi, the former lord of Tsuwano, moves to his residence in the imperial capital.
  • November: The domain school closes.


  • June: The father Shizuo and his firstborn move to Tokyo and find initial accommodation in the Kamei residence in Mukōjima.


  • Bowring, Richard John: Mori Ōgai and the Modernization of Japanese Culture, Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press 1979.
  • Kobori Kei’ichirō: Mori Ōgai: Nihon wa mada fushinchū da (Mori Ōgai: Japan is still under construction), Minerva Shobō 2013.
  • “Nenpu” (Chronicle), Ōgai zenshū, vol. 38, Iwanami Shoten 1975: 545–58.
  • Rimer, J. Thomas: Mori Ōgai, Boston: Twayne Publishers 1975.
  • Schamoni, Wolfgang: Mori Ōgai: Vom Münchener Medizinstudenten zum klassischen Autor der modernen japanischen Literatur, München: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 1987.
  • Yamasaki Kuninori: Hyōden Mori Ōgai (A critical biography of Mori Ōgai), Taishūkan Shoten 2007.