Later years

1917-22 At the end of 1917, Mori is appointed Director General of the Imperial Museums and Director of the Imperial Archive. During his tenure, he promotes museum research activities and reforms their engagement with the public. Although he suffers increasingly from health problems, he spends several weeks a year in the old capital Nara to inspect antique objects in the Imperial Treasury. His long-standing commitment to the development of painting and sculpture in Japan leads to his appointment as Founding Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1919. In addition to his public duties, Mori devotes himself to work on historical biographies and studies until the last few months of his life. One of the last wishes recorded in his will, before he succumbs to kidney and lung disease in July 1922, is to be buried without state honours.

Memories and Thoughts

“I am reading books. The old Chinese classics. For modern Western works are hard to come by, and those I am able to occasionally obtain deal with the war in Europe. This is my receptive side. Yet as for my productivity, my remaining energy as a writer only permits me to continue composing lyric poetry and history. My vita minima I carry on.”

Ōgai– Settling the Accounts / Nakajikiri (1917). Transl. R. Bowring

“If one compares the contemporary literary world with the Greek camp before Troy, then my position would correspond to the one of Nestor. It is not a position that I wished for. I have lived the amphibious life of a frog for too long. I want to go home! I want to go home before the iron hammers of the fiery young descend on my head.”

Ōgai– Frog / Kaeru (1919). Transl. H. Salomon

“Whether I should stop writing and breathe for another year, or carry on my work and so shorten my life by one year is a debatable question. I am doubtful whether I could in fact lengthen my life if I abandoned the will to write. I have therefore decided not to see any doctor, no matter how famous he may be.”

Ōgai– From a letter to Kako Tsurudo (1922). Transl. R. Bowring

“Death is a momentous event that brings all things to an end. I am convinced that the authorities despite their powers are impotent in the face of death. I wish to die Mori Rintaro of Iwami. I have had connections with both the Department of the Imperial Household and the army, but at the very moment of death I repudiate all outward signs of this connection. I wish to die Mori Rintaro. All I want written on my grave are the words: ‘The Grave of Mori Rintaro’; not a single word more.”

Ōgai – From Mori’s final will (1922). Transl. R. Bowring.

Biographical Events


  • November: The serial publication of the historical biography of the scholar Hōjō Katei (1780–1823) begins (Tōkyō Nichinichi shinbun und Ōsaka Mainichi shinbun).
  • December: Appointment as Director General of the Imperial Museums and Director of the Imperial Archive.


1 July 1918: Suzuki Miekichi publishes the first issue of the childrenʼs literature magazine “Red Bird” (Akai tori).
August–September 1918: Violent protests break out nationwide against the sharp rise in rice prices.
29 September 1918: The Christian politician Hara Takashi is the first commoner appointed to the office of prime minister.
  • January: Appointment as “General Affairs Official” (goyō gakari) in the “Advisory Committee for the Organisation of the Imperial House” (Teishitsu Seido Shingikai), in which legal measures for the organization of the imperial court are discussed (until the end of his life in 1922).
  • February: Mori becomes a consultant in the “Association for the Preservation of Historical Sites, Scenic Places and Natural Monuments” (Shiseki Meishō Tennen Kinenbutsu Hozon Kyōkai). The Conservation Law is passed the following year.
  • March: Appointment as consultant of the “Japanese Art Association” (Nihon Bijutsu Kyōkai).
  • August: Appointment as member of the “Society for the Preservation of Ancient Shrines and Temples” (Ko Shaji Hozon Kai) (until 1922).
  • November: Journey to Nara for several weeks to view the objects in the Imperial Treasury (Shōsōin), during annual ventilation and exhibition for selected visitors.
  • December: Serious illness forces Mori to rest for weeks.


18 January 1919: The Paris Peace Conference begins. Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Saionji Kinmochi, the Japanese delegation negotiates the territories of the German Reich in East Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese delegates also advocate the inclusion of the principle of “racial equality” in the covenant of the League of Nations.
4 May 1919: In Beijing, students gather to demonstrate against Japan. (May Fourth Movement)
5 September 1919: Foundation of the Imperial Academy of Arts (Teikoku Bijutsu In).
  • January: Under Mori’s direction, the “Commission for the Editing of the Six National Histories” (Rikkokushi Kōtei Junbi I’inkai) – the oldest historical works in Japan – is established.
  • August: The first child of Mori’s oldest son Otto is born. Mori chooses the name Max (Makusu) for his first grandson. The reference to Max von Pettenkofer, his supervisor during the stay in Munich, is obvious.
  • September: Appointment as first president of the Imperial Academy of Arts.
  • October: Mori travels to Nara for a few weeks to inspect objects in the Imperial Treasury.
  • November: Mari, his oldest daughter, marries Yamada Tamaki (1893–1942), a scholar of French literature.


10 January 1920: The League of Nations is formed with Japan among its founding members.
February–March 1920: Japanese intervention forces and guerillas associated with the Red Army clash in the Siberian city Nikolaevsk-on-Amur.
  • January-February: Period of rest due to kidney disease.
  • April: At the end of the month, Mori reports in a letter to his longtime friend Kako Tsurudo that he is now working on a “study on the era names” (Gengō kō). Although only one name is assigned for each of the imperial periods after the Meiji reforms, the decisions “Meiji” and “Taishō” were made without sufficient research, according to Mori. His historical study of era name sources and their use in the dynasties of East Asia, aims to lay the foundation for careful choices in the future.
  • October: Serial publication of the historical story “The Last Year of [Hōjō] Katei” (Katei shōgai no sue ichinen) in the journal Araragi (Yew Tree) begins (until November 1921).
  • Participation in readings of the Diamond Sutra at the temple Zenshō-an in Tokyo.
  • November: Mori’s daughter Mari bears her first child. The boy is named Jaku (Jacques).
  • Travel to Nara to inspect objects in the Imperial Treasury.


1 October 1921: The first issue of the journal “Thought” (Shisō) is published.
4 November 1921: Prime Minister Hara Takashi falls victim to an assassination.
  • March: The “Study on the posthumous names of emperors” (Teishi kō) is published.
  • April: Mori bids farewell to his son-in-law Yamada Tamaki, who is traveling to Paris to study.
  • Participation in readings of the Diamond Sutra at the temple Zenshō-an in Tokyo.
  • June: Appointment as head of the “Extraordinary Commission for the Study of the National Language” (Rinji Kokugo Chōsakai).
  • November: “From an old notebook” (Furui techō kara) is published in the journal “Morning star” (Myōjō) until July 1922.


6 February 1922: The Washington Naval Conference ends with an agreement to limit the arms race.
28 August 1922: The Japanese government withdraws its intervention forces from Siberia.
  • January: “Fifty poems from Nara” (Nara gojū shu) are published in the journal Myōjō.
  • March: Mori’s children Oto and Mari depart for studies abroad in Europe. Mari spends a year in Paris, while Oto goes to Berlin.
  • April: Annu, Mori’s second daughter, enters the French-English-Japanese secondary school for girls (Futsu Ei Wa Jogakkō).
  • Mori travels to Nara on the occasion of the English Crown Prince’s planned visit the Imperial Treasury.
  • June: From the middle of the month, Moriʼs health deteriorates considerably. His colleague Yoshida Gakken (Masuzō) takes over official duties in the Imperial Household Ministry. Starting in late June, Yoshida keeps a private diary and is asked to complete the study on the Japanese era names.
  • July: Mori dictates his will to his friend Kako Tsurudo. He passes away in his  home Seaview Villa (9 July). The burial takes place at the temple Kōfuku Ji in the district of Mukōjima, Tokyo.


  • 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.