Furor Scribendi

1888-94 The six years from Mori’s return to Japan to his deployment in the war against China are marked with frenzied activities in the fields of medical studies and literature. Mori teaches at the Army Medical College for several years and eventually becomes director of this institution. The fresh perspectives he brings from Europe enable him to actively participate in societal debates concerning the Japanese transition to modernity. In doing so, he advocates a critical examination of both traditional and modern knowledge and seeks to create a globally oriented scholarly atmosphere. He also does not hesitate to launch attacks on his superiors and the medical establishment. As a writer, he publishes pioneering works, using the nom de plume Ōgai. Thus, the works of the ‘German trilogy’ – among them “The dancer” (Maihime), which is inspired by his experiences in Berlin – establish his fame as one of the founding figures of modern Japanese literature. No less influential are his translations of numerous masterpieces of European literature from German versions. Mori’s journal “The Weir” (Shigarami zōshi), which he publishes throughout the period, is considered the first periodical in Japan that was dedicated to literary criticism.

Memories and Thoughts

“I too studied with a will and dreamed of making some great discovery in the laboratory. On returning, I worked for a while in the laboratory of the Military Medical College researching into food stuffs, but thanks to the system we in army circles call ‘the conveyor belt’, whereby new students push up from underneath, I was ejected from the laboratory before I knew where I was, and I was put in charge of a department. Thereafter I dealt with assigning personnel and compiling statistics, so that my studies were limited to reading the most recent Western journals ... .”

Ōgai - A Talk on hygienics / Eisei dan (1903). Transl. R. Bowring

I was received with disappointment by my countrymen. It was not unreasonable. At that time it was not a common thing to return from abroad with an attitude such as mine. Until then the return from foreign lands had been an affair of faces beaming with hope, of taking gadgets from one’s wicker trunk and showing some new magic for particular inspection. I was one who did just the opposite of this.

Ōgai - Delusion / Mōzō (1911). Transl. John W. Dower

Being an inveterate reader, I was delighted to have friends who loved books and to be able to discuss them with them. One day, the editor-in-chief of Kokumin no tomo, my friend Tokutomi Iichirō [Sohō], came up with the idea of asking me to share these discussions with the public […]. Then one after the other newspapers and journals in Tokyo asked me to write for them.

Ōgai - Who is Ōgai Gyoshi? / From Ōgai Gyoshi to wa tare zo? (1900). Transl. by E. Lozerand.

By nature I am quite talkative, even in private, as long as an audience presents itself at the right time, and during that period I addressed the public at length. In the beginning I was in demand from newspapers and journals, but as time went by they became irritated with my verboseness and complained that my boasting and interminable sermons were a nuisance.

Ōgai - Who is Ōgai Gyoshi? / From Ōgai Gyoshi to wa tare zo? (1900). Transl. by E. Lozerand.

“Ogai waged war on all fronts, and a single blow in any one quarter was often enough to destroy his various enemies. His arguments ranged with undiminished authority from painting and drama to sculpture and even elocution. When you read his works today, they don’t seem particularly astonishing, but in those days of retarded ideology and puerile criticism he seemed like a snarling wolf among a pack of sheep. So it was that serious students of literature all turned respectfully to Shigarami zōshi.

Tayama Katai - Thirty years in Tōkyō / Tōkyō no sanjū nen (1917). Transl. K. G. Henshall

Biographical Events


  • July: Mori departs from Berlin with his superior Ishiguro Tadanori (5 July) and travels via London, Paris, and Marseille to Japan.
  • September: He arrives in Yokohama and continues his journey to Tokyo where is appointed as lecturer at the recently established Army Medical College (Rikugun Gun’i Gakusha). (8 September)
  • A few days later, Elise Weigert from Berlin follows Mori to Tokyo. Koganei Yoshikiyo, his future brother-in-law, convinces Elise to return to Europe.
  • November: Mori is also appointed as lecturer at the Army War College (Rikugun Daigakkō) in Tokyo.
  • He presents the findings of his research on Japanese food to the Greater Japanese Private Hygiene Association (Dai Nihon Shiritsu Eiseikai).
  • Mori is engaged to Akamatsu Toshiko (1871–1900), daughter of Vice-Admiral Akamatsu Noriyoshi. Moriʼs uncle Nishi Amane who has studied with Akamatsu in Leiden during the 1860s, has acted as a matchmaker.
  • December: Mori is admitted to the Japanese Red Cross Society (Nihon Sekijūji Sha) as honorary member.
  • He is appointed as secretary of the Army Hygiene Conference (Rikugun Eisei Kaigi).


11 February 1889: The Constitution of the Empire of Japan is promulgated on National Foundation Day.
16 May 1889: The Museum in Ueno, administered by the Imperial Household Ministry since 1886, receives the new name “Imperial Museum” (Teikoku Hakubutsukan). Satellite institutions will be in Nara und Kyoto. 
16 June 1889: The painter Asai Chū (1856–1907) and like-minded people establish the Meiji Art Society (Meiji Bijutsukai), the first association of Western-style painters in Japan. [Asai Chū]
21 November 1889: The Kabuki Theater (Kabuki Za) opens doors in downtown Toyko’s Ginza district. The building combines a Western facade and a Japanese interior. [Kabuki Za]
  • January: Mori publishes his first contribution to literary criticism, “On the novel” (Shōsetsu ron), and argues against naturalism (Yomiuri Newspaper).
  • The Yomiuri Newspaper also publishes his translation of Calderónʼs play “The Mayor of Zalamea” (Shirabe wa takashi gitarura no hitofushi, until February, 1889) from a German version.
  • Mori takes over the editorship of the “New Tokyo Medical Journal” (Tōkyō iji shinshi), which is considered to be the most influential medical periodical in Japan.
  • March: Mori and Akamatsu Toshiko are married.
  • The first issue of Mori’s “New Journal of Hygiene” (Eisei shinshi) appears.
  • April: His textbook on army hygiene (Rikugun eisei kyōtei) is published by the Army Medical College.
  • Summer: The couple moves to the district of Shitaya. In the house which is located in Ueno, the vicinity of Tokyo’s first modern public park, works of his literary debut are written. (Today, the building is a part of Suigetsu Hotel)
  • July: Mori contributes to the work of the Committee for the Examination of Soldiers’ Diet (Heishoku Shiken I’inkai).
  • He begins to teach anatomy for artists at the recently founded Tokyo Art School (Tōkyō Bijutsu Gakkō). The invitation can be traced to Okakura Tenshin (1862–1913), one of the founding directors; he continues to teach more or less regularly until the outbreak of the War against China, in 1894.
  • The New Voices Society (Shinsei Sha, S.S.S.) forms around Mori. The literary circle includes the writer Ochiai Naobumi (1861–1903), but also Mori’s siblings Kimiko and Tokujirō.
  • August: The New Voices Society publishes the poetry collection Omokage (“Vestiges”) as a special issue of the journal Kokumin no tomo (“The Nation’s Friend”). Translations of mainly German poems – among them Mignon’s Song by Goethe – intend to convey impressions of distant Europe.
  • Mori is invited to participate in the Japanese Society for Performing Arts (Nihon Engei Kyōkai); it unites representatives of politics and culture who seek to reform Japan’s traditional theater.
  • October: The Tokyo Urban Improvement Committee (Tōkyō Shiku Kaisei I’inkai) commissions Mori to examine building regulations from the point of view of public health.
  • Following the success of its poetry collection, the New Voices Society establishes the literary journal Shigarami zōshi (“The Weir”), which is edited by Mori and his brother Tokujirō. The journal contributes significantly to establishing literary criticism in Japan. In Shigarami zōshi Mori publishes his translation of – among many others – Emilia Galotti by Lessing (until June 1892).
  • December: The first issue of “Medical news” (Iji shinron) appears, and is the second new journal edited by Mori.


1 July 1890: On the basis of the new constitution, the elections for the first parliament take place. The constitutive session is held in November.
30 October 1890: The Imperial Rescript on Education is promulgated by Emperor Meiji to reform moral education in schools along Confucian lines.
4 December 1890: In the laboratorium of Robert Koch in Berlin, Emil Behring and Kitasato Shibasaburō succeed in developing the serum therapy against diphtheria.
  • January: Mori makes his literary debut with Maihime (“The Dancing Girl”) in Kokumin no tomo (“The Nation’s Friend”). The work is inspired by experiences during his stay in Germany and deals with the tragic love story of a Japanese student and a Berlin ballet dancer. [→ Translations]
  • February: The writer Ishibashi Ningetsu criticizes Mori’s literary debut in Kokumin no tomo. The Maihime debate unfolds (until May).
  • April: Since Mori has fallen out with the medical establishment, he does not participate in the first meeting of the Japanese Medical Society (Nihon I Gakkai).
  • July: He establishes the Public Medical Society of Japan (Nihon Kōshū Iji Kai).
  • August: The novella “A Record of Foam on the Waves” (Utakata no ki) appears in his journal Shigarami zōshi. It interweaves impressions from the life of Japanese artists in the bohemian world of Munich with the tragic death of Bavarian King Ludwig II. [→ Translations]
  • September: Mori’s first son Otto (Oto) is born.
  • Mori merges the two medical periodicals he is editing into the “Journal for Hygiene and Therapy” (Eisei ryōbyō shi).
  • Akamatsu Toshiko and Mori divorce.
  • October: Mori moves to the district of Sendagi and begins to refer to the new house as Sendagi Montain Villa (Sendagi Sanbō). [Later, he will repeatedly use this name as a nom de plume.]


1 October 1891: Tsubouchi Shōyō publishes the first issue of the journal “Waseda Literature” (Waseda bungaku). It promotes naturalism.
  • January: The third part of the German Trilogy appears. Fumizukai (“The Courier”) draws on experiences gained during the stay in Dresden. [→ Translations]
  • August: Mori receives a doctorate in medical studies by Tokyo Imperial University. At this point, only thirty Japanese physicians have been awarded this degree.
  • September: The debate with literary critic and Shakespeare translator Tsubouchi Shōyō begins. It revolves around the relevance of realism and idealism for the creative process. (Botsu risō ronsō, until June 1892).


March 1892: The historian Kume Kunitake publishes an essay, which is received as a critique of State Shintō. In the following, he has to relinquish his professorship at Tokyo Imperial University.
30 November 1892: The Greater Japanese Private Society for Hygiene (Dai Nippon Shiritsu Eiseikai) establishes the Research Institute for Infectious Diseases headed by Kitasato Shibasa­burō.
  • January: Mori moves to another house in the district of Sendagi (today Bunkyō-ku). His Grandmother and his parents come to live with him. The bay of Tokyo is visible from the second story of the house. [With intermissions, the Sea View Villa (Kanchō Rō) will be Moriʼs home until he dies in 1922.]
  • July: Minawa shū (“Spray Water Anthology”), a collection of his literary works and translations is published by Shunyō Dō.
  • September: Mori begins teaching aesthetics in the university department of the private Keiō School (Keiō Gijuku). The institution is led by Fukuzawa Yukichi, co-founder of the Japanese Enlightenment Movement.
  • November: The first part of Mori’s translation of Improvisatoren by Hans Christian Andersen is published (title: Sokkyō shijin). [The work continues until January 1901, when the last part appears.]


1 January 1893: The first issue of the journal “World of Literature” (Bungaku sekai) appears. It promotes the literary movement of romanticism.
11 June 1893: The German-Russian philosopher and musician Raphael von Koeber (1848–1923) arrives in Japan and takes on a teaching position at the faculty of Letters of Tokyo Imperial University.
  • July: Mori is appointed as Acting Director of the Army Medical College (Rikugun Gun’i Gakkō).
  • November: He is promoted to first class military surgeon and is appointed as Director of the Army Medical College.
  • December: He is admitted as a member to the Central Hygiene Association (Chūō Eisei Kai).


1 August 1894: The Japanese government declares war on Chʼing dynasty China.
  • May: Mori is appointed as medical adviser of the pension office of the cabinet.
  • October: His unit is transferred to the Liaodong Peninsula.


  • 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.