Naoya Shiga's former residence in Nara
His father, the son of a samurai in the service of Sōma Domain, was a successful banker. The family moved to Tokyo when Shiga was three, to live with his grandparents, who were largely responsible for raising him. Shiga's mother died when he was thirteen and his father remarried not long after. Shiga's relationship with his father became increasingly strained after the former was converted to Christianity by Uchimura Kanzō, began advocating social causes and attempted to participate in protests in 1901 over the Ashio Copper Mine, which polluted an adjacent river and poisoned local inhabitants. Shiga's father, whose bank was part owner of the mine, managed to forbid his participation in the protest, but another crisis arose when Shiga declared his intention to marry one of the family's maids, with whom he was having an affair. The maid was removed from the household, and Shiga was severely criticized for what his father felt was an irresponsible and aimless lifestyle.
Shiga graduated from the Gakushuin Peer's Elementary School and attended Tokyo Imperial University from 1906. However, he was a mediocre student and left university in 1910 without graduating.
While Shiga was at the Gakushuin he became friends with Saneatsu Mushanokōji and Kinoshita Rigen. His literary career began with a handwritten literary magazine Boya ("Perspective"), which was circulated within their literary group at the school. In 1910 Shiga contributed the story Abashiri made ("To Abashiri") to the first issue of the literary magazine Shirakaba, which he helped to create.
To the dismay of his family, Shiga announced his intention to become a professional writer. In 1912, he published Otsu Junkichi, a thinly-veiled autobiography of his affair with the family maid. The family was so scandalized by the novella that Shiga was forced to move out of the family home. The work was also a forerunner of Shiga's adherence to the indigenous I Novel literary form, which uses the author's subjective recollection of his own experiences. During this period, Shiga established his reputation as a writer of short stories, including Kamisori ("The Razor", 1910), Seibei to hyotan ("Seibei's Gourd", 1913) and Manazuru (1920).
After Shiga married the cousin of Saneatsu Mushanokōji, who was a widow already with a child, in 1914, the break in relations with his father became complete, and he renounced his inheritance. However, after the birth of his second daughter in 1917, he was reconciled with his father, and related the story in his novel Wakai ("Reconciliation", 1917). This was followed by his major work, An'ya Koro (A Dark Night's Passing, 1921-1937), which was serialized in the socialist magazine Kaizō.
During his lifetime Shiga moved house an estimated 28 times in various locations around Japan. He wrote stories connected with most of the places he lived in, including Kinosaki ni te ("At Cape Kinosaki") and Sasaki no bai ("In the case of Sasaki"). One of his longer stays was in Nara, where he lived in a house facing Nara Park from 1925-1938.
He died of pneumonia, after a long illness, at the age of 88.