Studies and Early Career

1872-84 As early Meiji reforms create a new political and societal order, the Mori family moves to Tokyo. At first, the father continues to serve the lord of Kamei; later, he opens his own practice and works as district doctor in the north of the imperial capital. The family wants Rintarō to receive the best education and sends him to a private language school. It is here that he studies German, which superseded Dutch as foremost language of medical education in Japan. He then joins the preparatory course of the Medical Faculty at Tokyo Imperial University, where he also studies from 1875 to 1881. After his graduation, Mori works for his father and eventually joins the Army Ministry. In line with his intentions, he is chosen in 1883 to continue his studies in Germany.

Memories and Thoughts

“I was enrolled in a school in Hongō where German was taught. Since the school was a long way from our home in Mukōjima, I moved into the Ogawamachi residence of Nishi Amane, an old family acquaintance, and commuted from there. On Saturdays I would return home to Mukōjima. Sundays were free, and later in the day I would go back to the Nishi residence.”

Ōgai - When I was Fourteen / Watakushi ga jūshigo sai no toki (1909). Transl. M. Marcus

“As usual, my daily lessons still didn’t give me any trouble. Whenever I had some free time, I read those books from the lending library. Because I was gradually able to read faster, I finished almost all the works of Bakin and Kyoden.”

Ōgai - Vita sexualis (1909). Transl. K. Ninomiya and S. Goldstein

“I have a friend whose name is Mori Rintarō. He is twenty-one years old. We have studied together for ten years and have just successfully graduated. Mori is by nature clever and enjoys studying. He is widely read and has an excellent memory. Exceptionally talented, he has no time for fools and is most concerned at the present confused state of medicine in Japan.”

Koike Masanao - From a letter of recommendation (1881). Transl. by R. Bowring

“Not long [after my graduation], I became an army doctor connected with Medical Headquarters. I marked time and was kept busy submerged in registers and documents for three long years. Now I am setting out on this journey. It is impossible not to feel great joy.”

Ōgai - Diary of a Travel to the West / Kōsei nikki (1884). Transl. R. Bowring

“I have wanted to travel to the West from the moment I graduated. Modern medicine stems from the West. I have always felt that even if you can read and speak their language, unless you become familiar with the country itself, you are in danger of putting your own interpretation on what they write.”

Ōgai - Diary of a Travel to the West / Kōsei nikki (1884). Transl. R. Bowring

Biographical Events


Juli 1872:  Hashimoto Tsunatsune, a future general surgeon of the Imperial Army (from 1885) begins his medical studies in Berlin. Later, he continues his studies in Würzburg, where he receives a doctorate in 1876. The following year, he returns to Japan.
September 1872: The Education System Order (gakusei), which outlines a national plan for elementary and secondary education, is promulgated.
  • June: Rintarō and his father Shizuo move to Tokyo. They first find accommodation in the Kamei residence in Mukōjima.
  • October: Rintarō begins to study German at a private language school, the Shinbun Gakusha. Dutch has become redundant as language of medical science by this time.
  • As the school is located in the distant Kanda district, Rintarō lives with his uncle Nishi Amane (1829–97), an official who is considered co-founder of the Japanese enlightenment movement.


  • June: Remaining members of the Mori family - grandmother, mother, brother Tokujirō and sister Kimiko – join Rintarō and his father in Tokyo.
  • November: To become eligible to attend the preparatory course of the Medical School of the First University District (i.e. the Medical Faculty of the later Tokyo Imperial University), Rintarō fakes an earlier birth date (1860). This date is used in official documentation from this time on.


11 February 1874: On National Foundation Day, the “Meiji [Year] Six Society” is established by Fukuzawa Yukichi, Nishi Amane and others to promote “civilization and enlightenment”.
May 1874: The Medical School of the First University District, which Rintarō attends, is renamed “Tokyo Medical School” (Tōkyō Igakkō).
August 1874: The “Medical Act” (Isei) is issued to establish the medical education system and to define the requirements for the licensing of physicians.


November 1875: The German geologist Edmund Naumann (1854–1927) arrives in Japan. He teaches at Tokyo Imperial University, until 1880. Later, during Ōgai’s stay in Germany, a public debate with Naumann will evolve.
Dezember 1875: Erwin Baelz (1849–1913), assistant professor at Leipzig University, is invited to Tokyo to teach medical studies. At the Japanese embassy in Berlin, Baelz signs a two-year contract.
  • April: Rintarō’s father purchases a house in Koumemura in present Sumida district. The family moves.
  • The family register (koseki) is transferred to Tokyo.
  • November: Rintarō is admitted to the main course of the Tokyo Medical School.


June 1876: Erwin Baelz arrives in Japan to teach physiology and internal medicine at Tokyo Medical School. He stays in the country until 1905.
  • December: The campus of Tokyo Medical School moves to Hongō; Rintarō moves to the dormitory. He now receives a government scholarship.


February 1877: Samurai from the Satsuma Domain under the leadership of Saigō Takamori revolt against the imperial government.
February 1877: The first issue of the “Tokyo Medical Journal” (Tōkyō iji shinshi) is published. It develops into the most important medical periodical of the country.
April 1877: Tokyo University is established; Tokyo Medical School is reorganized as the Medical Faculty of this institution.
1 May 1877: The predecessor of the Japanese Red Cross Society (Hakuai Sha) is established.
  • Rintarō studies in the second year of the main course; among his fellow students are Kako Tsurudo, who becomes a life-long friend, and Koike Masanao.
  • His father begins to work for the Tokyo City district doctor in the quarter of Senjū.


11 May 1878: The first issue of the “Medical Newspaper” (Iji shinbun), another influential periodical, is published.
  • Rintarō’s father becomes district doctor in Senjū.
  • In August, the sixteen-year-old finishes summarizing a lecture by physiologist Ernst Tiegel: “An outline of myology” (Kinniku tsūron). [The carefully edited manuscript was rediscovered in 2019 and is considered the first "work"].


The first group of students at the Medical Faculty of Tokyo University graduates.
  • April: The second younger brother Junzaburō is born.
  • June: Following the establishment of Minami-Adachi district, Rintarō’s father is appointed district doctor by the Tokyo City government.
  • The entire family moves to Senjū, in the Minami-Adachi district.
  • July: His father opens a medical practice (Kissen Dō) in Senjū.


  • Rintarō moves out of the student dormitory and rents a room in a pension in the vicinity of Tokyo University.
  • In his spare time, he studies classical Chinese poetry (kanshi) and literature (kanbun) as well as classical Japanese poetry (waka).
  • The medical doctor and scholar Satō Genchō (1818–97), alias Ōkyo, supports Rintarō’s studies of Chinese poetry. Satō Shōju, the son of the scholar, uses the nom de plume ‘Ōgai’ to publish poetry. Later, Rintarō will adopt this name.
  • The literary scholar and theater reformer Yoda Gakkai edits the Chinese texts that Rintarō writes for practice.


October 1881: The first issue of the “Oriental Journal of Science and Literature” (Tōyō gakugei zasshi) appears.
  • Spring: Rintarō suffers from pleurisy.
  • July: At the age of 19, he graduates in medical studies from Tokyo University as youngest among his 28 fellow students. As he ranks eighth, his wish to study abroad as a government student remains unfulfilled, for the time being.
  • He moves to the family home in Senjū and helps in the practice of his father, while taking lessons in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • September: His first publication appears in the daily Yomiuri newspaper.
  • December: Rintarō joins the army as assistant doctor and is assigned to the Army Hospital in Tokyo. From the family home he commutes daily by jinrikisha to his post.
  • He works on a translation of the fairy tale The Caravan by Wilhelm Hauff in Chinese verse.


4 January 1882: The “Imperial Rescript to the Soldiers and Sailors” (Riku-Kaigun gunjin chokuyu) is issued to promote loyalty of the military to the emperor.
20 March 1882: The “Museum in Ueno” (Ueno Hakubutsukan), the later Imperial Museum, opens in a building that was designed by the British architect Josiah Conder. 
24 March 1882: In Berlin, the later Nobel laureate Robert Koch (1843–1910) presents his findings regarding the etiology of tuberculosis to the Physiological Society.
  • February: Mori is assigned a new post as assistant doctor in the draft office of the first military district.
  • Until the end of March, he travels through Tochigi, Gunma, Nagano und Niigata. The “Diary of a Travel to the North” (Hokuyū nichijō) is written during these weeks.
  • May: He is assigned to the Army Hospital in Tokyo and to the Military Medical Headquarters.
  • He researches the Prussian system of military hygiene for the General Affairs Department of the Headquarters.
  • July: Mori is assigned to the military inspection of the eastern part of the country.
  • September: He travels to Hakodate by ship and inspects the prefectures Aomori, Iwate and Niigata. The “Second Diary of a Travel to the North” (Nochi no Hokuyū nichijō) is written during this time.


12 April 1883: The “Army War College” (Rikugun Daigakkō) is established.
28 November 1883: The state guesthouse “Deer Cry Hall” (Rokumeikan) opens. High-ranking Japanese and foreign dignitaries meet in the building that adapted French Renaissance style.
  • March: Mori presents a voluminous manuscript on military hygiene, which he has been working on since the preceding year, to the Military Medical Headquarters. The text is based on the description of the Prussian system by C. J. Prager (Berlin: 1864). []
  • May: Following a modification of the military ranks, Mori is classified as Army Surgeon, 2nd class.
  • He teaches military hygiene to military surgeons and nurses, which have graduated from the private medical school Saisei Gakusha (“Life Saving School”). The Compendium of Military Hygiene by Roth and Lex in three volumes serves as textbook. [Bayerische Staatsbibliothek digital: vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3]


16 February 1884: Army Minister Ōyama Iwao and Surgeon-General Hashimoto Tsunatsune travel to Europe to inspect the local military systems.
  • January: Mori presents a synopsis of provisions regarding the painting of hospital rooms in Prussian literature to the Medical Headquarters of the Army Ministry.
  • June: The Army Ministry orders him to prepare for studying in Europe and relieves him of other official duties.
  • August: Mori leaves Tokyo on the 23rd and embarks from Yokohama the following day. His experiences during the following week are recorded in Journal of a Voyage to the West (Kōsei nikki).
  • August to October: Sea voyage via Hongkong, Saigon, Singapore, Colombo, Aden and Suez to Marseille.
  • October: Arrival in Marseille on the 7th. The following day, he travels to Berlin via Paris.


  • Bowring, Richard John: Mori Ōgai and the Modernization of Japanese Culture, Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press 1979.
  • Kobori Kei’ichirō: Mori Ōgai: Nihon wa mada fushinchū da (Mori Ōgai: Japan is still under construction), Minerva Shobō 2013.
  • “Nenpu” (Chronicle), Ōgai zenshū, vol. 38, Iwanami Shoten 1975: 545–58.
  • Rimer, J. Thomas: Mori Ōgai, Boston: Twayne Publishers 1975.
  • Schamoni, Wolfgang: Mori Ōgai: Vom Münchener Medizinstudenten zum klassischen Autor der modernen japanischen Literatur, München: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 1987.
  • Yamasaki Kuninori: Hyōden Mori Ōgai (A critical biography of Mori Ōgai), Taishūkan Shoten 2007.