Kinoshita, Junji (1914–2006) By Jortner, David
Kinoshita Junji was one of Japan’s foremost modern playwrights. His work consists of several plays based on Japanese folk tales and history, and often interrogates the interactions between war, guilt, and responsibility.
Kinoshita Junji was born in Tokyo on August 2, 1914. He remained in Tokyo until 1923, when his family moved to Kumamoto. After graduating from Kumamoto Fifth High School with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in 1936, Kinoshita attended the Tokyo University to study English literature, eventually graduating with a master’s degree in 1939 with a specialization in Elizabethan drama. Kinoshita also founded the theater company Grape Society [Budō no kai] in 1947 and taught for many years at Meiji University. Kinoshita died from pneumonia in 2006 at the age of ninety-two.
He began to write soon after graduation, with his first play, Wind and Waves (Fūrō) produced in 1939. Partially as a result of the increase in militarism and censorship during the war years, he began to write plays based on Japanese folklore and mythology. Based on both the ethnographic writings of Yanagita Kunio (1875–1962) as well as the influence of the Kotoba no Benkyōkai [Language Study Group] (1967) Kinoshita wanted to create a theater that merged both modern and premodern modes of performance. The result was what became known as his “folklore plays” [minwageki], including The Story of Hirokichi [Hirokichi banashi] (1946), Requiem on the Great Meridian [Shigosen no matsuri] (1979) and perhaps his best-known play, Twilight Crane [Yūzuru] (1949).