The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson
800pp. January 2011
The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson
Author: Naff, William E.; Editor: Rimer, J. Thomas;
William E. Naff, the distinguished scholar of Japanese literature widely known and highly regarded for his eloquent translations of the writings of Shimazaki Toson (1872–1943), spent the last years of his life writing a full-length biography of Toson. Virtually completed at the time of his death, The Kiso Road provides a rich and colorful account of this canonic novelist who, along with Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai, formed the triumvirate of writers regarded as giants in Meiji Japan, all three of whom helped establish the parameters of modern Japanese literature. Professor Naff’s biography skillfully places Toson in the context of his times and discusses every aspect of his career and personal life, as well as introducing in detail a number of his important but as yet untranslated works.

Toson’s long life, his many connections with other important Japanese artists and intellectuals, his sojourn in France during World War I, and his later visit to South America, permit a biography of depth and detail that serves as a kind of cultural history of Japan during an often turbulent period. The Kiso Road, as approachable and exciting as any novel, with Toson himself as its complex protagonist, is arguably the most thorough account of any modern Japanese writer presently available in English.

"The Kiso Road sets Toson’s long and eventful life in the context of its historical and cultural moment, providing a depth of coverage that cannot be matched by any of the existing English-language books on Toson. As Naff argues, Toson is simultaneously an extraordinary and an ordinary figure, and tracing through his career provides a useful window onto an entire era of Japanese history. This is an important and authoritative book, an original contribution, and the culmination of a life’s work." —Michael Bourdaghs, University of Chicago

"[Naff’s] biography not only introduces Toson the writer in his intellectual-historical context but also attempts to present ‘a broad area of Japanese artistic and intellectual life between the 1880s and the 1940s as viewed through the life, career, and connections’ of this major figure. . . . [W]e have yet to see a biography of Naff’s sort of any other non-Western writer, a biography that attempts, in such detail and with such insight, to capture a writer in the act of creating a new intellectual and aesthetic culture and a modern literature out of this intermingling."—from the Foreword by Janet A. Walker

Author: Naff, William E.; Editor: Rimer, J. Thomas;
William E. Naff (1929–2005) was founding chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was professor of Japanese literature. His translation of Toson’s Before the Dawn (Yoake mae) was awarded the 1987 Japan–U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese literature. J. Thomas Rimer is professor emeritus of Japanese literature at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been the author, editor, or translator of many books, most recently two co-edited volumes, Traditional Arts and Culture: An Illustrated Sourcebook (2006) and The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature (2005).