Ms. Setouchi studied Japanese literature at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University and married Yasushi Sakai, nine years her senior, in 1943 during World War II. She was with him when the Japanese Foreign Ministry sent him to Beijing, where she gave birth to their daughter Michiko in 1944.
On July 4, 1945, shortly before the end of the war, the mother of Ms. Setouchi, who was hiding in an air raid shelter in Tokushima, was killed in an air raid by American B-29 bombers. In one of Ms. Setouchi’s final essays, published last month in The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest daily newspapers, she wrote about the horror of contemplating her mother’s death.
“When I picture her despair the moment she passes out,” she wrote, “my heart twists and can never be healed, no matter how many years have passed since then.”
She returned to Japan in 1946 and settled in Tokyo with her family in 1947. The following year, she left her husband and daughter for a relationship with a much younger man. Afterwards, as she once said in a newspaper interview, her father wrote in a letter to her that she “strayed from the human path and entered the world of the devil”. Ms. Setouchi later told reporters that the greatest regret of her life was abandoning her daughter.
She divorced her husband in 1950, the same year she published her first novel, which was published in a magazine. Her relationship with her young lover did not last long, and she got into successive affairs with married men. Areno Inoue, novelist and daughter of one of Ms. Setouchi’s lovers, the writer Mitsuharu Inoue, later told the public broadcaster NHK that Ms. Setouchi was a free spirit who “followed her own will” and “embodied freedom”.
In 1957 Ms. Setouchi received a literary award for “Qu Ailing, the Female College Student,” a love story between two women set in Beijing during World War II. Later that year she published another novel, The Core of a Flower, about an affair between a woman and her husband’s boss. When some critics called it pornographic, she fired back: “The critics who say such things must all be impotent and their wives must be frigid.”