Jun Tsuji


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Jun Tsuji
Tsuji jun.jpg
Born(1884-10-04)October 4, 1884
DiedNovember 24, 1944(1944-11-24) (aged 60)
Tōkyō, Japan
Cause of deathStarvation
Era20th century philosophy
SchoolNihilism, Epicureanism, Egoist anarchism, Individualist anarchism, Lifestylism, Dada
Main interests
Stirnerism, vagabondage, Shakuhachi as Dada, Japanese Buddhism
Notable ideas
Dada as the Creative Nothing, the Unmensch
The cover of Jun Tsuji's translated edition of The Ego and Its Own.

Jun Tsuji (辻 潤, Tsuji Jun, October 4, 1884 – November 24, 1944) was a Japanese author: a poet, essayist, playwright, and translator. He has also been described as a Dadaist, nihilist, Epicurean, shakuhachi musician, actor and bohemian. He translated Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own and Cesare Lombroso's The Man of Genius into Japanese.

Tōkyō-born Tsuji Jun sought escape in literature from a childhood he described as "nothing but destitution, hardship, and a series of traumatizing difficulties".[1] He became interested in the works of Tolstoy, Kōtoku Shūsui's socialist anarchism, and the literature of Oscar Wilde and Voltaire, among many others. Later, in 1920 Tsuji was introduced to Dada and became a self-proclaimed first Dadaist of Japan, a title also claimed by Tsuji's contemporary, Shinkichi Takahashi. Tsuji became a fervent proponent of Stirnerite egoist anarchism, which would become a point of contention between himself and Takahashi. He wrote one of the prologues for famed feminist poet Hayashi Fumiko's 1929 (I Saw a Pale Horse (蒼馬を見たり, Ao Uma wo Mitari) and was active in the radical artistic circles of his time.

Individualist anarchism

Tsuji was influenced by the philosophy of Epicurus, and many characteristics of Epicureanism show through his lifestyle. For example, Tsuji avoided active engagement in politics and sought after a form of ataraxia, which he was apparently able to experience through vagabond wandering and Egoism.[2] He also spent his time primarily trying to enjoy a simple life free of suffering (see Aponia).[3] While his writings themselves are significant, it seems Tsuji's own emphasis was on developing an experimental, liberated lifestyle. Most of Tsuji's writings describe the philosophy behind this, as well as the personal process Tsuji went through towards this aim. As Hagiwara Kyōjirō (萩原 恭次郎) wrote, “Tsuji chose not to express himself with a pen so much as he chose to express himself through living, as conveyed by his personality. That is, Tsuji himself was his expression's piece of work”.[4] It is no coincidence that this resembles the Egoist anarchism described by Max Stirner, who seems to be the most influential philosopher in Tsuji's development.

Death of an Epicurean

One notable play written by Tsuji is the dadaist/absurdist Death of an Epicurean (享楽主義者の死, Kyōraku-shugi-sha no Shi), in which a figure must confront Panta Rhei (Ancient Greek: Πάντα ῥεῖ), or the transient nature of all things. Tsuji saw the concept of Panta Rhei to be related to Stirner's Creative Nothing, wherein it is because of the nihility of all things that there is potential for creativity and change. Tsuji also found this relevant to the Buddhist concept of nothingness,[5] sometimes translated as mu.

In Death of an Epicurean, Tsuji comments on the destruction of the Ryōunkaku (Cloud-surpassing Tower) in the area of Tokyo he often called home, Asakusa. This building was a skyscraper that had become very much a symbol of modernity in Japan,[6] and its destruction in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake came as a harrowing omen to many who saw it as reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. This symbol would become a popular one in literature, used by such authors as Ishikawa Takuboku.[7]

Written in the wake of this event, Tsuji's Death of an Epicurean reads:

The tower in Asakusa was burnt in columns of fire and from their ashes came the young 'Varieté d' Epicure.' Saddled with the grief of the notion that 'All things are in flux,' children who have used rouge and powder are playing tambourines and castanets. Just chant the incantation 'Panta rhei' and bless the lips and thighs of the young men.[8]

In this passage Tsuji describes the birth of an Epicurean out of someone who experienced the transience of such eternal-seeming icons as the Ryōunkaku and greater Tokyo. The Epicurean is portrayed here as someone who, in their despair, embraces the Arts in response to tragic ephemerality. For Tsuji, whose residence was reduced by the earthquake to a "monster right out of Cubism",[9] this passage comes off as autobiographical, describing his own turn to revelling in Epicureanism and the Arts.

Censorship and vagabondage

Tsuji wrote during the 1920s, a dangerous period in Japanese history for controversial writers, during which he experienced the wages of censorship through police harassment. He also experienced this vicariously through the persecution of close associates such as his former wife, anarcho-feminist Itō Noe, who was murdered in the Amakasu Incident.

For being a controversial writer in the heart of Tokyo's radical art scene, Tsuji himself believed that had he been living instead as a peasant in the Soviet Union at the time, he would surely have been shot to death.[10] This political climate exacerbated Tsuji's urges towards vagabondage:

That I, without an objective and completely light-heartedly, walk – having unawares become absorbed in the winds and water and grass among other things in nature, it is not unusual for my existence to become suspicious. And because my existence is in such a suspicious position, I am flying off from this society and vanishing. In such circumstances there is a possibility of feeling the "vagabond's religious ecstasy". At such times one may become utterly lost in their experience. Thus, when I set myself to putting something down on paper, at last feelings from those moments drift into my mind, and I am compelled to make these feelings known.

When I am driven to write, it is already too late and I become an utterly shackled captive ... Thus, after writing and garrulously chatting I often feel I have surely done something tremendously pointless. This results in me lacking the spirit to write. Nevertheless, thus far and from here on out, I have written, will continue to write.

My impulse to wander comes about from the uneasiness of staying still ... and this uneasiness is for me quite dreadful.

— Tsuji Jun, Vagabond Romance. July 29, 1921[11]

Institutionalization, Buddhist renunciation, and death

In 1932 Tsuji was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital after what would become popularly known as the "Tengu Incident".[12] According to some accounts, one night during a party at a friend's residence, Tsuji climbed to the second floor and began flapping his arms crying "I am the Tengu!", eventually jumping from the building, running around, and jumping onto the table calling "kyaaaaaa, kyaaaa!!"[13]

After hospitalization, Tsuji was diagnosed as having experienced a temporary psychosis probably resulting from his chronic alcoholism. During this hospitalization Tsuji came to idealize the Buddhist monk Shinran and read the Tannishō many times over.[14] Thereafter the once prolific Tsuji gave up his writing career, and he returned to his custom of vagabondage in the fashion of a Komusō monk, apparently as a sort of Nekkhamma.[15]

For the next few years Tsuji fell into various incidents with police and was readmitted to mental hospitals several times. At the age of 41 Tsuji suffered a major asthma attack and after hospitalization became weighed down with substantial hospital bills. While book royalties and a sort of "Tsuji Jun Fan Club" (辻潤後援会, Tsuji Jun kōenkai) provided some economic support, Tsuji was caught up in a harsh late World War II economic environment and spent the last few years of his life in vagabond poverty. Tsuji often made ends meet by going door to door as a busking shakuhachi musician.

However, in 1944, Tsuji settled down in a friend's one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo, where he was found dead from starvation.

Tsuji is now buried in Tokyo's Saifuku Temple.[16]


Tsuji is remembered for having helped found Dadaism in Japan along with contemporaries such as Murayama Tomoyoshi, MAVO, Yoshiyuki Eisuke, and Takahashi Shinkichi. Moreover, he was one of the most prominent Japanese contributors to Nihilist philosophy prior to World War II. He is also remembered as the father of prominent Japanese painter, Makoto Tsuji (辻 まこと).

Tsuji was depicted in the 1969 film Eros + Massacre and has been the subject of several Japanese books and articles. Tsuji's friend and contemporary anarchist, Hagiwara Kyōjirō, described Tsuji as follows:

This person, "Tsuji Jun", is the most interesting figure in Japan today ... He is like a commandment-breaking monk, like Christ ...

Vagrants and labourers of the town gather about him. The defeated unemployed and the penniless find in him their own home and religion ... his disciples are the hungry and the poor of the world. Surrounded by these disciples he passionately preaches the Good News of Nihilism. But he is not Christlike, and he preaches but drunken nonsense. Then the disciples call him merely "Tsuji" without respect and sometimes hit him on the head. This is a strange religion ...

But here Tsuji has regrettably been portrayed as a religious character. It sounds contradictory, but Tsuji is a religious man without a religion ... As art is not a religion, neither is Tsuji's life religious. But in a sense it is ... Tsuji calls himself an Unmensch ... If Nietzsche's Zarathustra is religious ... then Tsuji's teaching would be a better religion than Nietzsche's, for Tsuji lives in accord with his principles as himself ...

Tsuji is a sacrifice of modern culture... In the Japanese literary world Tsuji can be considered a rebel. But this is not because he is a drunkard, nor because he lacks manners, nor because he is an anarchist. It is because he puts forth his dirty ironies as boldly as a bandit ... Tsuji himself is very shy and timid in person ... but his clarity and self-respect exposes the falsities of the famous in the literary world ... [though] to many he really comes across as an anarchistic rogue ...

The literary world only sees him as having been born in this world to provide a source for gossip, but he is like Chaplin producing seeds of humour in their rumours ... The common Japanese literati do not understand that the laugh of Chaplin is a contradictory tragedy ... In a society of base, closed-minded people idealists are always taken as madmen or clowns.

Tsuji Jun is always drunk. If he doesn't drink he can't stand the suffering and sorrow of life. On the rare occasion he is sober ... he does look the part of an incompetent and Unmensch-ian fool. Then his faithful disciples bring him saké in place of a ceremonial offering, pour electricity back into his robot heart, and wait for him to start moving... In this way the teaching of the Unmensch begins. It is a religion for the weak, the proletariat, the egoists, and those of broken personalities, and at the same time – it is a most pure, a most sorrowful religion for modern intellectuals.[17]


  1. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 1. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 313.
  2. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 1. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 24-25.
  3. ^ 1993. Setouchi, Harumi. Beauty in disarray. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle.
  4. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 9. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 220-221.
  5. ^ 2001. Hackner, Thomas. Dada und Futurismus in Japan: die Rezeption der historischen Avantgarden. München: Iudicium. 98.
  6. ^ 2005. Ambaras, David Richard. Bad youth: juvenile delinquency and the politics of everyday life in modern Japan. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  7. ^ 1985. Ishikawa, Takuboku, Sanford Goldstein, Seishi Shinoda, and Takuboku Ishikawa. Romaji diary ; and, Sad toys. Rutland, Vt: C.E. Tuttle Co. 125.
  8. ^ 1998. Omuka, Toshiharu, and Stephen Foster, ed. “Tada=Dada (Devotedly Dada) for the Stage”. The Eastern Dada orbit: Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Central Europe and Japan. Crisis and the arts : the history of Dada Stephen C. Foster, general ed, vol. 4. New York: Hall [u.a.]. 237.
  9. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. "Humoresque". Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 1. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000159/card852.html
  10. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 1. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 23.
  11. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 1. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 24–25. http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000159/files/850.html [permanent dead link]
  12. ^ 1932. "Tsuji Jun Shi Tengu ni Naru", Yomiuri Shimbun (Newspaper), April 11th Morning Edition.
  13. ^ 1971. Tamagawa, Nobuaki. Tsuji Jun hyōden. Tōkyō: San'ichi Shobō. 270.
  14. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 3. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 153. http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000159/files/851.html
  15. ^ 1949. Shinchō, v. 80. Tokyo: Shinchōsha. 310.
  16. ^ 1971. Tamagawa, Nobuaki. Tsuji Jun Hyōden. Tōkyō: Sanʻichi Shobō. 335.
  17. ^ 1982. Tsuji, Jun ed. Nobuaki Tamagawa. Tsuji Jun Zenshū, v. 9. Tokyo: Gogatsushobo. 219–223.

External links

  • Select e-texts of Tsuji's works. at Aozora bunko (in Japanese)
  • Tsuji Jun no Hibiki. (in Japanese)
  • English translations of Tsuji's work. at The Brooklyn Rail