Sōseki Natsume [夏目漱石(なつめそうせき)]

Sōseki Natsume[夏目漱石(なつめそうせき)](1867-1916) was one of the greatest Japanese novelist. His works feature delicate and beautiful descriptions and deep psychological insights.

'Sōseki' was his pen name which was named after a phrase from Chinese historical fable, 'Sōseki Chinryū[漱石枕流(そうせきちんりゅう)](In Japanese, Ishi ni Kuchi sosogi Nagare ni Makura su[石に漱ぎ流れに枕す])' which means 'stubborn person' and 'eccentric person' and he named himself that from his personality. His real name was 'Kinnosuke[金之助(きんのすけ)]'.

Japanese famous novelist, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa[芥川龍之介(あくたがわりゅうのすけ)] was one of his disciple.

Sōseki Natsume
Sōseki Natsume (In 1912, He wears a mourning band
because Emperor Meiji passed away.)

On February 9, 1867, he was born in Ushigome,Edo(present Shinjyuku City, Tokyo) as the fifth child of Naokatsu Natsume[夏目直克(なつめなおかつ)] who was a mayor of Ushigome district. His parents were old, Naokatsu was 50 and his mother, Chie[千枝(ちゑ)] was 41 years old when he was born. And his parents had many children. Therefore, he was adopted to Masanosuke Shiobara[塩原昌之助(しおばらまさのすけ)] because of their financial, health and social reasons.

But when he was 7 years old, Masanosuke and his wife were on bad terms due to Masanosuke's affair and he returned to his family. This complex circumstances were written in his autobiographical novel, Michikusa[道草](Grass on the Wayside).

Sōseki Natsume (about 25 years old).jpg
Sōseki (about 25 years old)

In 1893, he graduated from English Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University(now University of Tokyo) and enrolled the graduate school and at the same time, he became a teacher of the Higher Normal School. But he was annoying his study and suffered a nervous breakdown.

After that, he taught English at Matsuyama and Kumamoto. Matsuyama is the setting of a his novel, "Botchan[坊ちゃん](A Boy)". And he married Kyōko Nakane[中根鏡子(なかねきょうこ)], whose father was a bureaucrat, at Kumamoto in 1896.

Sōseki and Kyōko.jpg
Sōseki(2nd one from the left, 29 years old) and Kyōko(3rd one from the left, 19 years old) at their house in Kumamoto

In 1900, the Japanese government ordered Sōseki to study English education in UK. But he had a recurrence of nervous breakdown because his study didn't go well and he got homesick. In 1902, the rumor reached to Japan and he was ordered to go back to Japan.

After his return, in 1903, he became a teacher of English literature at the Tokyo Imperial University but his lecture was unpopular with his students. And that aggravated his nervous breakdown.

In 1904, under such a situation, on the advice of Kyoshi Takahama[高浜虚子(たかはまきょし)], who was a Haiku[俳句(はいく)] poet and editor of a Haiku magazine "Hototogisu[ホトトギス]", he wrote his first novel "Wagahai wa Neko de aru[吾輩は猫である](I Am a Cat)" for Hototogisu as an alleviation of his nervous breakdown and relaxation. And he started as a novelist.

Illustrations of Wagahai ha Neko de aru by Goyō Hashiguchi.png
Illustrations of Wagahai ha Neko de aru
by Goyō Hashiguchi[橋口五葉(はしぐちごよう)]

In 1906, he wrote "Botchan" and "Kusamakura[草枕](Grass Pillow)". In 1907, Sōseki quit being a teacher and he entered a newspaper company "Asahi Shimbun[朝日新聞(あさひしんぶん)]" as a professional novelist. Since that, he published novels in Asahi Shimbun and its first novel was "Gubijinsō[虞美人草](Poppy)".

After that, he wrote novels vigorously "Sanshirō[三四郎]"(1908), "Sorekara[それから](And Then)"(1909) and "Mon[門](The Gate)"(1910) and these works are called trilogy in his early period and they have common theme, love and conflict.

Sōseki (This photo was taken when he entered Asahi Shimbun in 1907, He was 40 years old.).jpg
Sōseki (This photo was taken when he entered Asahi Shimbun in 1907,
He was 40 years old.)

Sanshirō Pond at University of Tokyo
Sanshirō Pond at University of Tokyo: This is a set of "Sanshirō". That was originally a pond of feudal lord's house and Sanshirō meets a woman by the pond.

In 1910, he was hospitalized with gastric ulcer which had been his chronic disease and continued to be annoyed with that. After that, he went to Shuzenji[修善寺(しゅぜんじ)] Hot Spring for a cure but he vomited blood and temporarily fell into critical condition there. He wrote this experience in his essay "Omoidasu Koto nado[思い出す事など](Recollections)".

He wrote "Kōjin[行人](The Wayfarer)"(1912-13), "Kokoro[こゝろ](Heart)"(1914) and "Michikusa"(1915) and his last essay "Garasu-do no Uchi[硝子戸の中]"(1915) with suffering gastric ulcer. On December 9, 1916, he died of that disease at 49 when he was publishing "Meian[明暗](Light and Darkness)".

1000 Yen bill note.jpg
1000 Yen bill note which was issued from 1984 to 2007

Sōseki's main works are as follows;

  • Wagahai wa Neko de aru[吾輩は猫である](I Am a Cat)
    This novel starts with the following famous sentences: "I am a cat. As yet I have no name.(Wagahai wa Neko dearu, Namae wa mada nai)". This is Sōseki's first and unique novel which depicted human world with satire and humor from the perspective of a cat.

    The cat observes characteristic people centering on his owner, Kushami Chinno[珍野苦沙弥(ちんのくしゃみ)], whose model was Sōseki himself, and criticizes them, who are bound by their society, cynically through its eyes without fixed ideas. Sōseki wrote this freely as a person, not a novelist and we can see his humorous and witty aspect in this work.

    Sōseki had a black cat that had originally been a stray cat but it entered his house and settled down. That occurred in 1904 when Sōseki starts writing "Wagahai wa Neko de aru". In his essay "Eijitsu Shōhin[永日小品](Spring Miscellany)"(1909), he wrote about the death of the cat. And when it died, he sent death notices of the cat to his disciples.

    Illustration of Wagahai ha Neko de aru by Fusetsu Nakamura.png
    Illustration of "Wagahai wa Neko de aru"
    by Fusetsu Nakamura[中村不折(なかむらふせつ)]

  • Botchan[坊ちゃん](A Boy)
    This novel sets in Matsuyama where Sōseki taught English. Main character, Botchan goes to a school in Matsuyama as a math teacher. He is an impulsive and honest man. He and his colleague, Yamaarashi[山嵐(やまあらし)] punish Aka-shirt[赤シャツ] and Nodaiko[野だいこ] who let their colleague, Uranari[うらなり] transfer to far place with dirty trick. This work is humorous and the easiest novel to read in his works.

    Dōgo Hot Spring Public Bathhouse
    Dōgo Hot Spring Public Bathhouse in Matsuyama: Botchan often visits here in this novel.

  • Kusamakura[草枕](Grass Pillow)
    This novel sets in Oama Hot Spring[小天温泉(おあまおんせん)], Kumamoto Prefecture. The main character is a painter and he leaves secular society and stays at an inn in a hot spring. He pursues his ideal aesthetic.

    In this novel, the big incidents don't happen and Sōseki intentionally didn't write that. He narrated his art theories through a painter and developed his aesthetic and fantastic world with making full use of words in this work. And "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais is an important keyword. In this novel, he embedded criticism for naturalism which was in fashion at that time.

    "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais

  • Kokoro[こゝろ](Heart)
    The novel is divided into three parts; Sensei and I, My Parents and I, Sensei and His Testament.

    A main character "I" meet "Sensei[先生(せんせい)](teacher)" when he visit in Kamakura[鎌倉(かまくら)] for a trip. He respects Sensei and after going back to Tokyo, he often visits his house. He notices Sensei visits the grave of his friend every month. When he goes back to his hometown due to care his father, he receives a letter from Sensei and that is his testament. And the testament is written about relations with his wife and friend...

    Close psychological description is superb and especially, in Sensei and His Testament, Sensei's conflict of heart resulting from relations with his wife and friend is written with tranquil and transparent style.

    Cover of "Kokoro"

  • Michikusa[道草](Grass on the Wayside)
    It is said to be his autobiographical novel. One day, a teacher of university, Kenzō[健三(けんぞう)] comes across his foster father who abandoned him and after that, he sometimes comes to his house for begging him for money. In addition, Kenzō's sister and his wife, Osumi's father begs him for money. The intellectual, Kenzō want to be involved in his study but he is annoyed with secular money problems.

    And he is a stubborn person and thinks that his logic is absolutely correct. He doesn't get on well with his wife because he persists that. Sōseki depicted annoyance of an intellectual and criticized himself objectively and severely in this work.

  • Meian[明暗](Light and Darkness)
    Meian is Sōseki's last novel and uncompleted work because he died when he was writing that. With featuring a main character, Tsuda[津田(つだ)] and his wife, people struggle to acquire their benefits and egoistic desires in social coordination and commonsense. Sōseki depicted the light and darkness side of humans and their dilemma between egoism and sociality.

    In this work, various people appear and this is a polyphonic novel. And we can read Sōseki's genius and deep insight about human psychology in this. And Tsuda meets his old fiance, who betrayed him, in a scene of a hotel in a hot spring where is different from previous ordinary scenes and the story suddenly end. I think it has an attraction as an uncompleted novel and readers can image and develop their own plot.

    Sōseki Natsume (This photo was taken just before he died).jpg
    Sōseki (This photo was taken just before he died)

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