Lieutenant-General Mori Ogai (February 17, 1862 – July 8, 1922) was a Japanese Army Surgeon general officer, translator, novelist and poet. Gan (The Wild Geese, (1911–13)) is considered his major work.
Mori was born as Mori Rintaro in Tsuwano, Iwami province (present-day Shimane prefecture). His family were hereditary physicians to the daimyo of the Tsuwano Domain. As the eldest son, it was assumed that he would carry on the family tradition; therefore he was sent to attend classes in the Confucian classics at the domain academy, and took private lessons in rangaku, and in the Dutch language.
In 1872, after the Meiji Restoration and the abolition of the domains, the Mori family relocated to Tokyo. Mori stayed at the residence of Nishi Amane, in order to receive tutoring in the German language, which was the primary language for medical education at the time. In 1874, he was admitted to the government medical school (the predecessor for Tokyo Imperial University's Medical School), and graduated in 1881 at the age of 19, the youngest person ever to be awarded a medical license in Japan. It was also during this time that he developed an interest in literature, reading extensively from the late-Edo period popular novels, and taking lessons in Chinese poetry and literature.
After graduation, Mori enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army as a medical officer, hoping to specialize in military medicine and hygiene. He was commissioned as a deputy surgeon (lieutenant) in 1882.
Mori was sent by the Army to study in Germany (Leipzig, Dresden, Munich, and Berlin) from 1884–1888. During this time, he also developed an interest in European literature. As a matter of trivia, Mori Ogai is the first Japanese known to have ridden on the Orient Express.
Upon his return to Japan, he was promoted to surgeon first class (captain) in May 1885; after graduating from the Army War College in 1888, he was promoted to senior surgeon, second class (lieutenant colonel) in October 1889. Now a high-ranking army doctor, he pushed for a more scientific approach to medical research, even publishing a medical journal out of his own funds.
Meanwhile, he also attempted to revitalize modern Japanese literature and published his own literary journal (Shigarami soshi, 1889–1894) and his own book of poetry (Omokage, 1889). In his writings, he was an “anti-realist”, asserting that literature should reflect the emotional and spiritual domain. Maihime (The Dancing Girl (1890)), described an affair between a Japanese man and a German woman.
In May 1893, Mori was promoted to senior surgeon, first class (colonel). In 1899, he married Akamatsu Toshiko, daughter of Admiral Akamatsu Noriyoshi, a close friend of Nishi Amane. He divorced her the following year under acrimonious circumstances that irreparably ended his friendship with Nishi.
At the start of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, Mori was sent to Manchuria and, the following year, to Taiwan. In February 1899, he was appointed head of the Army Medical Corps with the rank of surgeon major-general and was based in Kokura, Kyushu. In 1902, he was reassigned to Tokyo. He was attached to a division in the Russo-Japanese War, based out of Hiroshima.
In 1907, Mori was promoted to Surgeon General of the Army (lieutenant general), the highest post within the Japanese Army Medical Corps. On his retirement in 1916 he was appointed director of the Imperial Museum.
Although Mori did little writing from 1892–1902, he continued to edit a literary journal (Mezamashi gusa, 1892–1909). He also produced translations of the works of Goethe, Schiller, Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, and Hauptmann.
It was during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) that Mori started keeping a poetic diary. After the war, he began holding tanka writing parties that included several noted poets such as Yosano Akiko.
His later works can be divided into three separate periods. From 1909–1912, he wrote mostly fiction based on his own experiences. This period includes Vita Sexualis, and his most popular novel, Gan (The Wild Geese (1911–13)), which is set in 1881 Tokyo and was filmed by Toyoda Shiro in 1953 as The Mistress.
From 1912–1916, he wrote mostly historical stories. Deeply affected by the seppuku of General Nogi Maresuke in 1912, he explored the impulses of self-destruction, self–sacrifice and patriotic sentiment. This period includes Sansho Dayu, and Takasebune.
From 1916, he turned his attention to biographies of late Edo-era doctors.
As an author, Mori is considered one of the leading writers of the Meiji period. In his literary journals, he instituted modern literary criticism in Japan, based on the aesthetic theories of Karl von Hartmann.
A house which Mori lived in is preserved in Kokura Kita ward in Kitakyushu, not far from Kokura station. Here he wrote Kokura Nikki ("Kokura Diary"). His birthhouse is also preserved in Tsuwano. The two one-story houses are remarkably similar in size and in their traditional Japanese style.
One of Mori's daughters, Mori Mari, influenced the Yaoi movement in contemporary Japanese comics. Mori's sister, Kimiko, married Koganei Yoshikiyo. Hoshi Shinichi was one of their grandsons.
Mori Ogai, along with many other historical figures from the Meiji Restoration is a character in the historical fiction novel Saka-no Ue-no Kumo by Shiba Ryotaro. He also plays a significant part in the historical fantasy novel Teito Monogatari by Aramata Hiroshi.