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Natsume Sōseki

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Natsume Sōseki
Sōseki in 1912
Sōseki on 13 September 1912
(day of Emperor Meiji's funeral)
BornNatsume Kin'nosuke
(1867-02-09)9 February 1867
Babashita-chō, Ushigome, Edo, Musashi Province, Japan
Died9 December 1916(1916-12-09) (aged 49)
Waseda minami-chō, Ushigome Ward, Tokyo, Empire of Japan
Resting placeZōshigaya Cemetery
Alma materTokyo Imperial University
University College London
Notable worksKokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat
Natsume Kyōko
(m. 1896)
Japanese name
Kanji夏目 漱石
Hiraganaなつめ そうせき
Katakanaナツメ ソウセキ

Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石, 9 February 1867 – 9 December 1916), pen name Sōseki, born Natsume Kin'nosuke (夏目 金之助), was a Japanese novelist. He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat, Kusamakura and his unfinished work Light and Darkness. He was also a scholar of British literature and writer of haiku and kanshi poetry and fairy tales.

Early years[edit]

Natsume Kin'nosuke was born on 9 February 1867 in the town of Babashita, Ushigome, Edo (present Kikui, Shinjuku, Tokyo), the fifth son of village head (nanushi) Natsume Kohē Naokatsu and his wife Chie. His father, a powerful and wealthy nanushi, owned all land from Ushigome to Takadanobaba in Edo and handled most civil lawsuits at his doorstep.[1] He was a descendant of Natsume Yoshinobu, a Sengoku period samurai and retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu.[2] Sōseki began his life as an unwanted child, born to his mother late in her life, forty years old and his father then fifty-three.[3] When he was born, he already had five siblings. Having five children and a toddler had created family insecurity and was in some ways a disgrace to the Natsume family.[3] A childless couple, Shiobara Masanosuke and his wife, adopted him in 1868 and raised him until the age of nine, when the couple divorced.[3] He returned to his biological family and was welcomed by his mother although regarded as a nuisance by his father. His mother died when he was fourteen, and his two eldest brothers died in 1887, intensifying his sense of insecurity.[citation needed]

Sōseki attended the First Tokyo Middle School (now Hibiya High School),[4] where he became deeply enamored with Chinese literature, and fancied that he might someday become a writer. His desire to become an author arose when he was about fifteen when he told his older brother about his interest in literature.[3] However, his family disapproved strongly of this course of action, and when Sōseki entered the Tokyo Imperial University in September 1884, it was with the intention of becoming an architect. Although he preferred Chinese classics, he started studying English at that time, feeling that it might prove useful to him in his future career, as English was a necessity in Japanese college.[3]

In 1887, Sōseki met Masaoka Shiki, a friend who would give him encouragement on the path to becoming a writer, which would ultimately be his career. Shiki tutored him in the art of composing haiku. From this point on, he began signing his poems with the epithet Sōseki, a Chinese idiom meaning "stubborn". In 1890, he entered the English Literature department, and quickly mastered the English language. In 1891 he produced a partial English translation of the classical work Hōjōki[5] upon request by his then English literature professor James Main Dixon.[6] Sōseki graduated in 1893, and enrolled for some time as a graduate student and part-time teacher at the Tokyo Normal School.[7]

Sōseki as English teacher at Matsuyama Middle School (1896)

In 1895, Sōseki began teaching at Matsuyama Middle School in Shikoku, which later became the setting of his novel Botchan. Along with fulfilling his teaching duties, Sōseki published haiku and Chinese poetry in a number of newspapers and periodicals. He resigned his post in 1896, and began teaching at the Fifth High School in Kumamoto (now part of Kumamoto University). On June 10 of that year, he married Nakane Kyōko.[8]

In the United Kingdom, 1900–1902[edit]

Natsume Sōseki's lodgings in Clapham, South London

In 1900, the Japanese government sent Sōseki to study in Great Britain as "Japan's first Japanese English literary scholar".[9] He visited Cambridge and stayed a night there, but gave up the idea of studying at the university because he could not afford it on his government scholarship.[10] He studied instead at University College London (UCL). He had a miserable time in London, spending most of his days indoors buried in books, and his friends feared that he might be losing his mind.[11] He also visited Pitlochry in Scotland, where he lodged with John Henry Dixon at the Dundarach Hotel.

He lived in four different lodgings: 76 Gower Street, near the British Museum; 85 Priory Road, West Hampstead; 6 Flodden Road, Camberwell; and 81 The Chase, Clapham (see the photograph). Only the last of these addresses, where he lodged with Priscilla Leale and her sister Elizabeth, proved satisfactory. Five years later, in his preface to Bungakuron (The Criticism of Literature), he wrote about the period:

The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years in my life. Among English gentlemen I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves.[12]

He got along well with Priscilla, who shared his love of literature, notably Shakespeare and Milton (his tutor at UCL was the Shakespeare scholar W. J. Craig),[13] and who also spoke fluent French, much to his admiration. The Leales were a Channel Island family, and Priscilla had been born in France. The sisters worried about Sōseki's incipient paranoia and successfully urged him to get out more and take up cycling.

Despite his poverty, loneliness, and mental torment, he consolidated his knowledge of English literature during this period and left the United Kingdom in December 1902, returning to the Empire of Japan in January 1903.[14] In April he was appointed to the First National College in Tokyo. Also, he was given the lectureship in English literature, subsequently replacing Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn) and ultimately becoming a professor of English literature at the Tokyo Imperial University,[14] where he taught literary theory and literary criticism.

Literary career[edit]

Sōseki's literary career began in 1903, when he began to contribute haiku, renku (haiku-style linked verse), haitaishi (linked verse on a set theme) and literary sketches to literary magazines, such as the prominent Hototogisu, edited by his former mentor Masaoka Shiki, and later by Takahama Kyoshi. However, it was the public success of his satirical novel I Am a Cat in 1905 that won him wide public admiration as well as critical acclaim.[15][16]

He followed on this success with short stories, such as "Rondon tō" ("Tower of London") in 1905[17] and the novels Botchan ("Little Master"), and Kusamakura ("Grass Pillow") in 1906, which established his reputation, and which enabled him to leave his post at the university for a position with Asahi Shimbun in 1907, and to begin writing full-time. Much of his work deals with the relation between Japanese culture and Western culture. His early works in particular are influenced by his studies in London; his novel Kairo-kō was the earliest and only major prose treatment of the Arthurian legend in Japanese.[18] He began writing one novel a year before his death from a stomach ulcer in 1916. After his death, his brain and stomach were donated to the University of Tokyo, and his brain has been preserved as a specimen there.[19]

Sōseki in his study (1906)

Major themes in Sōseki's works include ordinary people fighting against economic hardship, the conflict between duty and desire (a traditional Japanese theme; see giri), loyalty and group mentality versus freedom and individuality, personal isolation and estrangement, the rapid industrialization of Japan and its social consequences, contempt of Japan's aping of Western culture, and a pessimistic view of human nature. Sōseki took a strong interest in the writers of the Shirakaba (White Birch) literary group. In his final years, authors such as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke and Kume Masao became close followers of his literary style as his disciples.[20][21]


Obverse of a 1984 series 1000 Japanese yen banknote

In the 21st century, there has been a global emergence of interest in Sōseki.[22] Sōseki's Kokoro has been newly published in 10 languages, such as Arabic, Slovenian and Dutch, since 2001.[22] Kokoro also holds the distinction as the best-selling bunkobon in Japan, having sold over seven million copies in the country as of 2016.[23] From 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1,000 yen note.

In South Korea, the complete collection of Sōseki's long works began to be published in 2013.[22] In English-speaking countries there has been a succession of English translations since 2008.[22] About 60 of his works have been translated into more than 30 languages. Reasons for this emergence of global interest have been attributed in part to Haruki Murakami who said Sōseki was his favorite Japanese writer.[22] Political scientist and principal of Seigakuin University Kang Sang-jung argued that "Soseki predicted the problems we are facing today [and] had a long-term view of civilization," suggesting that "[h]is popularity will become more global in the future".[22]

In 2016, the centennial of Sōseki's death, Nishogakusha University in Tokyo collaborated with Hiroshi Ishiguro, robotics researcher at Osaka University, to create a robotic android version of Sōseki. Sōseki's grandson, Fusanosuke Natsume, voiced the 130 cm figure which depicted Sōseki at age 45. The robot gave lectures and recitations of Sōseki's works at the university, as a way to engage students' interest in literature.[24]

In 2017, as part of the 150-year commemoration of Sōseki's birth, the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art displayed the letter Sōseki had written suggesting names for the villa itself.[25] Sōseki had been on good terms with the owner, Shotaro Kaga, who asked him to name the house. Sōseki died before its completion in 1917. Sōseki's diary was also on display during the exhibition.[26][27] In June 2019, retired professor Ikuo Tsunematsu reopened the Sōseki Museum, in Surrey, dedicated to the writer's life in the United Kingdom. The museum originally opened in 1982 in London, but closed in 2016 due to high maintenance costs and a decreased rate of attendance.[28] The collection includes over 10,000 items including works in translation, collected books and magazines from Sōseki's stay in London, and census records.[29]

Sōseki appears as a character in The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, where he is charged with stabbing a woman in the back during his stay in London, and defended by the protagonist. In the game, he has a pet cat called Wagahai, a reference to I Am a Cat. He also appears in the sequel, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, where he is further charged with a man's poisoning in London, as well as appearing as a witness to a murder that occurs in Japan.[30] In the manga and anime Bungou Stray Dogs, a character is named and based around Sōseki. In homage to his novel of the same name, Sōseki's character uses the ability 'I Am a Cat' which allows him to transform into a calico cat.[31]

Major works[edit]

List of major works of Natsume Sōseki
Year Japanese title English title Notes
1905 吾輩は猫である Wagahai wa Neko de aru I Am a Cat Novel
倫敦塔 Rondon Tō The Tower of London [ja] Essay collection
薤露行 Kairo-kō Kairo-kō Novel
1906 坊っちゃん Botchan Botchan Novel
草枕 Kusamakura The Three-Cornered World Novel; also known as The Grass Pillow and Kusamakura
趣味の遺傳 Shumi no Iden The Heredity of Taste Novella
二百十日 Nihyaku-tōka The 210th Day [ja] Novel
1907 野分 Nowaki Nowaki Novel
虞美人草 Gubijinsō The Poppy [ja] Novel; also known as Field Poppy
1908 坑夫 Kōfu The Miner Novel
夢十夜 Yume Jū-ya Ten Nights of Dreams Short story collection
三四郎 Sanshirō Sanshirō Novel
1909 それから Sorekara And Then Novel
1910 Mon The Gate Novel
思い出す事など Omoidasu Koto nado Recollections Memoir
永日小品 Eijitsu shōhin Spring Miscellany Essay collection
1912 彼岸過迄 Higan Sugi Made To the Spring Equinox and Beyond Novel
行人 Kōjin The Wayfarer Novel
1914 こころ Kokoro Kokoro Novel
私の個人主義 Watakushi no Kojin Shugi My Individualism Essay collection
1915 道草 Michikusa Grass on the Wayside Novel
硝子戸の中 Garasu Do no Uchi Inside My Glass Doors Essay collection
1916 明暗 Meian Light and Darkness Unfinished novel; also known as Light and Dark

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Amino, Yoshihiro (2016). Natsume soseki. Kiyoto Fukuda. Shimizushoin. p. 9. ISBN 978-4-389-40102-3. OCLC 958287009.
  2. ^ Kikuchi, Masanori (2010). Zukai sengokushi = The sengoku history. Seitōsha. p. 152. ISBN 978-4-7916-1724-1. OCLC 703329428.
  3. ^ a b c d e McClellan, Edwin (2004). Two Japanese Novelists: Sōseki & Tōson. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8048-3340-0.
  4. ^ Takahashi, Akio (2006). 新書で入門 漱石と鴎外 (A pocket paperback == introduction: Natsume and Ōgai). Shinchosha. ISBN 978-4-10-610179-3.
  5. ^ Keene 1998 : 308.
  6. ^ Gouranga, Pradhan (2019). "Natsume Sōseki's English Translation of Hōjōki : Characteristics and Strategies". Japan Review. 32. International Research Center for Japanese Studies: 69–88. doi:10.15055/00007202. ISSN 0915-0986.
  7. ^ 夏目, 伸六 (1970). 夏目漱石 [Natsume Soseki] (in Japanese). 保育社. p. 151. 一八九三年(明二六)帝大英文科卒業。高等師範学校英語講師となる。
  8. ^ "Soseki's Life | Tohoku University Library". www.library.tohoku.ac.jp. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  9. ^ Brodey and Tsunematsu p.7
  10. ^ Brodey and Tsunematsu p.8
  11. ^ Introduction, p.V Natsume Soseki (2002). I Am A Cat. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8048-3265-6.
  12. ^ Theory of Literature, May 1907, introduction
  13. ^ Natsume, Sōseki; Tsunematsu, Ikuo (2002). Spring miscellany and London essays. Rutland, VT: Tuttle. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-8048-3326-4.
  14. ^ a b McClellan (1959) p.164
  15. ^ Mostow, Joshua S. The Columbia Companion to modern East Asian literature, Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-231-11314-4 p88
  16. ^ Nathan, Richard (10 September 2021). "Soseki's Cat: A Quantum Leap for Japanese Literature". The Circle, Red Circle Authors.
  17. ^ "'Braving the London fog': Natsume Sōseki's The Tower of London" (PDF). The IAFOR Journal of Literature and Librarianship. 2 (1): 57–65. Spring 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  18. ^ Takamiya, Toshiyuki (1991). "Natsume Sōseki". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, p. 424. (New York: Garland, 1991). ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  19. ^ Marcus, Marvin (2009). Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki. University of Hawaii Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-8248-3306-0. OCLC 1090204646 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Laflamme, Martin (19 August 2017). "Ryunosuke Akutagawa: Writing in the Shadow of Japan's Literary Giants". The Japan Times. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  21. ^ "Kume Masao". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Yusuke Takatsu; Mariko Nakamura (20 April 2014). "Meiji-Taisho Era novelist Natsume becoming trendy across the world 100 years later". The Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on 28 April 2014. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  23. ^ "「夏目漱石」の真実をどれだけ知っていますか". 東洋経済オンライン (in Japanese). 2 October 2017. Retrieved 25 October 2022. 日本で最も売れている文庫本は夏目漱石『こころ』" "新潮文庫の『こころ』の発行部数は718万部。新潮文庫の漱石作品17冊の合計は3020万部を超える
  24. ^ Otake, Tomoko (9 December 2016). "Let's Discuss the Soseki Robot". Japan Times. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  25. ^ "Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art".
  26. ^ "Soseki, Kyoto and the Oyamazaki Villa". Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art. March 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  27. ^ Tanaka, Yukari (14 March 2017). "Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Novelist's Birth". Japan Times. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  28. ^ "Museum Chronicling Novelist Natsume Soseki's Life in U.K. Begins New Chapter". Japan Times. 8 July 2019.
  29. ^ "Soseki Museum". Culture 24. 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  30. ^ "Dai Gyakuten Saiban/Great Ace Attorney scans from Weekly Famitsu 07/02". japanese3ds.com. Archived from the original on 19 June 2015.
  31. ^ Kafka, Asagiri (2017). "Chp. 50". 文豪ストレイドッグス (Bungou Stray Dogs) Volume 12. Kadokawa Shoten. ISBN 978-4-04-104287-8.


  • Bargen, Doris D. Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ogai and Natsume Sōseki. University of Hawaii Press (2006). ISBN 0-8248-2998-0
  • Brodey, I. S. and S. I. Tsunematsu, Rediscovering Natsume Sōseki, (Kent: Global Oriental, 2000)
  • Doi, Takeo, trans. by W. J. Tyler, The Psychological World of Natsume Sōseki. Harvard University Asia Center (1976). ISBN 0-674-72116-0
  • Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata. Kodansha International, 1993
  • Keene, Donald (1998) [1984]. A History of Japanese Literature, Vol. 3: Dawn to the West – Japanese Literature of the Modern Era (Fiction) (paperback ed.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11435-6.
  • McClellan, Edwin: An Introduction to Sōseki. In: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 22 (Dec., 1959), pp. 150–208.
  • Milward, Peter. The Heart of Natsume Sōseki: First Impressions of His Novels. Azuma Shobo (1981). ASIN: B000IK2690
  • Olson, Lawrence. Ambivalent Moderns: Portraits of Japanese Cultural Identity. Savage, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield (1992). ISBN 0-8476-7739-7
  • Ridgeway, William N. A Critical Study of The Novels of Natsume Sōseki, 1867–1916. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press (January 28, 2005). ISBN 0-7734-6230-9
  • Yu, Beongchoeon. Natsume Sōseki. Macmillan Publishing Company (1984). ISBN 0-8057-2850-3

External links[edit]