Shimazaki Tōson (1872–1943) may well have been prewar Japan's most prolific man of letters; he was also among its most controversial. Tōson's massive oeuvre left a lasting mark on Japanese poetry, fiction, and literary criticism alike, helping to craft the confessional voice that has become a hallmark of modern Japanese literature. It also left for posterity a singularly rich record of Japan's modernization as experienced by a proud provincial family in decline.

The late William Naff's posthumously published biography mines that record exhaustively. A monumental work in its own right—with lengthy translations from scores of lesser-known writings, a substantial “Index of important persons,” and eighty dense pages of notes—The Kiso Road represents a fitting tribute to its prolific subject. Unable to support his growing family through teaching alone, Tōson drove himself to produce thousands of pages of prose during his seventy-one years; his collected works in Japanese run to...

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