Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石, 1867 〜 1916) was a Japanese novelist and a scholar of British literature and composer of haiku, kanshi, and fairy tales.He was an author greatly admired by the people of Japan.
From 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1,000 yen note. In Japan, he is often considered the greatest writer in modern Japanese history.He has had a profound effect on almost all important Japanese writers since.
Travels in Japan and Abroad
In 1895, he left Tokyo for a job at a school in Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture. This small city on the southern island of Shikoku was the hometown of his friend Shiki, who suffered from tuberculosis and had returned to convalesce.
The two devoted their spare time to haiku, composing verse at poetry gatherings. Sōseki’s teaching experiences in Matsuyama also formed the basis for one of his early successes, the comic novel Botchan.
In 1896, he moved to Kumamoto Prefecture, where he married Nakane Kyōko.
The Meiji government brought an end to this provincial life in 1900, as the education ministry sent Sōseki to Britain to study English. While there he spent two months living with Ikeda Kikunae, the chemist who coined the name for the “fifth taste,” umami, and patented monosodium glutamate.
Ikeda’s learning extended to a deep knowledge of philosophy, which made for stimulating intellectual discussions.
In his final year in Britain, Sōseki spent every moment in study. His intense inquiry into the nature of literature later bore fruit in the critical work Bungakuron (trans. Theory of Literature).
However, the mental strain of his life overseas was considerable, such that the ministry of education even doubted his sanity for a period.
Sōseki as a World Author
Almost all of his literary works have been translated into English. Particularly the English translations of “Kokoro” and “Michikusa” by Edwin McClellan are well-known and highly valued for their fine English style.
But Japanese people are more fond of such works as “Bottchan”, “I am a cat”, and “Sanshiro”.
Natsume Sōseki was also highly skilled in reading the Chinese classics, and he was a fine haiku poet. And he was one of the first students to study English literature at Tokyo University.
He went to London in 1900 and stayed there until 1902 to study English literature, and after his return to Japan became the first Japanese ever to teach English literature at Tokyo University.
Before long, however, his great desire to write led him to give up his post at Tokyo University and devote himself to writing full-time.
Thus, it seems only natural that Natsume Sōseki, who is Japan’s most popular writer, be chosen to grace the one thousand yen banknote, which is the currency most frequently handled by the people of Japan.
The flow of culture between the West and Japan was only one way
But there is a specific point concerning the relationship between Japan and the West that I wish to draw your attention to at this time.
Fukuzawa Yukichi did a great deal toward introducing the modern systems and capitalist institutions of England and America to Japan, even to the extent that he is known as the father of English studies in Japan.
However, he never gave single lecture in English in front of Englishmen or Americans. Nor did Natsume Sōseki, who was the first Japanese professor of English literature as well as one of the greatest intellectuals of the Meiji era (1868 〜 1912).
Beginning with the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan showed great enthusiasm for Western culture and information. However, there were no Japanese in those days who set about to explain themselves and their own culture in English. The flow of culture between the West and Japan was only one way.
This tendency still prevails today?
As you are all aware, during the past twenty or thirty or forty years, Japan has grown into one of the world’s great economic powers.
And you are also aware of Japan’s remarkable exports in such far-flung fields as cameras, clocks and watches, motorcycles, radios, television sets, cars, and steel, and the international friction this has brought about.
Today, the reality of Japan is far better known in foreign countries through Japanese-made industrial products than through the people of Japan.
Now that 150 years have passed since his birth, the spotlight has fallen on the author once again. It is an opportunity to reassess him as both a Japanese and a world author.
《 Major works 》
◉ I Am a Cat (1905)
◉ Botchan (1906)
◉ The Three-Cornered World (Kusamakura) (1906)
◉ Sanshiro (1908)
◉ And Then (1909)
◉ The Gate (1910)
◉ Kokoro (1914)
◉ Grass on the wayside (1915)