This project showcases student project work from Japan and the World, a modern Japanese history course offered at Kanda University of International Studies. It focuses on important themes and individuals from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, when Japan was beginning to open to the world after centuries of government-enforced isolation.

All submissions are researched, whether in English or Japanese, and references provided. Comments responding to and exploring ideas, suggesting connections or further reading, are most welcome. As entries are written by non-native English speakers, please refrain from non-constructive comments about language use.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Natsume Soseki

By Saki Rokuhara
Natsume Soseki on the old 1,000 yen note
Natsume Soseki on the old 1,000 yen note


Natsume Soseki was a famed Japanese novelist of the Meiji Era (1868–1912). He became the portrait on the thousand-yen note in old days. Therefore there would not be anyone who does not know him in Japan. He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat, and his unfinished work Light and Darkness. My image of Soseki is that he could speak English well, he had an excellent record and he is the famous writer. However the reality is a little less positive. He grew up in an unhappy environment. I am interested in his life though his surroundings. That is why this essay focuses on three points of his life: his background, people who were around him and what he has contributed to modern society.

First, Soseki was born Natsume Kinosuke in Edo in 1867. However he had a difficult childhood. He was sixth child and unwanted by his family. His mother was 40 years old and his father was 53 so it was late in their lives (Books and writers, 2008). He was sent to live with a childless couple from 1868 to 1877, but they divorced so he returned to his home. His mother died when he was 14, and his eldest brothers died in 1887. In 1893 he became an English teacher but he was worried about many things, including his disease, and English literature as learned by Japanese. Therefore in 1895 he resigned as teacher in Tokyo and he went to different school in Ehime where he continued teaching.

Second, I will talk about people who were around him. Natsume Soseki and Masaoka Shiki were classmates in their cram school. They met in 1889 and they were influenced by each other. Tohoku University Library (2003) said that “In May 1889 Soseki contributed a critical essay to a collection of Shiki's compositions. It is reasonable to suggest that their parting was foreseeable for them from the outset: it is said that Shiki was diagnosed as being tuberculosis of the lungs during this period and realized he had "only ten years" to live.” That is why I think they formed a close friendship. Shiki taught Haiku to Soseki. They were the same age but Shiki was conceited so he treated Soseki like a younger brother (Hoshimiruhiro, 2010). It was Shiki Masaoka who acted as a middleman for Soseki to become a novelist. However Shiki was already dead when Soseki started writing novels. Shiki died in September 1902 during Soseki's stay in England (Tohoku University Library 2003).

Finally, Soseki published many books and he made speeches. Tohoku University Library (2003) said that “Influenced by Shiki, Soseki composed Chinese poems and haikus. Later, encouraged by Kyoshi Takahama, one of a disciple of Shiki, Soseki published I am a Cat in Hototogisu, a magazine started by Shiki.” Soseki gave a famous speech to students at Gakushuin school in 1914. This speech was called My Individualism. He talked about his experience of growing up in the early Meiji era. He argued that it was important for everybody to find their individual identity, but also to respect other people’s individualism as well. Books and writers (2008) says that “In 'My Individualism', a speech delivered to the students of the Gakushuin, an elite academy, he said: "... a nationalist morality comes out a very poor second when compared with an individualistic morality. Nations have always been most punctilious over the niceties of diplomatic language, but not so with the morality of their actions."

In conclusion, I think Natsume Soseki was probably quite good at communication in the sense of his language skill and understanding of people. However maybe he was a high achiever. That is why he was unhappy in spite of the fact he could speak English by going abroad. Moreover the background of his speech is Japanese who were learning about English literature. Could Japanese understand English literature? If a British judgment was different from one's own judgment as a Japanese person, could you insist on your opinion? (Shirolog, 2007). I think this speech is very important even now.


References 

Books and writers, (2008), Natsume Soseki, Retrieved 20 July 2013, from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/natsume.htm

Hoshimiruhito, (2010), Shiki to Soseki, Retrieved 25 July 2013, from http://morinnko.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2010/03/post-caee.html

Shirolog, (2007), My individualism, Retrieved 25 July 2013, from http://blog.hakoniwa.net/archives/404

Tohoku University Library, (2003), Natsume Soseki Library, Retrieved 24 July 2013, from http://www.library.tohoku.ac.jp/collect/soseki/