Natsume Sōseki

Natsume Sōseki
Natsume Sōseki

Natsume Sōseki in 1912
Born 9 February 1867(1867-02-09)
Tokyo, Japan
Died 9 December 1916(1916-12-09) (aged 49)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Writer
Genres novels, short stories, poetry
Notable work(s) Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat

Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石?, February 9, 1867 – December 9, 1916), born Natsume Kinnosuke (夏目 金之助?), is widely considered to be the foremost Japanese novelist of the Meiji period (1868–1912). He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat and his unfinished work Light and Darkness. He was also a scholar of British literature and composer of haiku, Chinese-style poetry, and fairy tales. From 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1000 yen note.


Early years

Born as Natsume Kinnosuke in the town of Babashita in the Edo region of Ushigome (present Kikui, Shinjuku), Natsume began his life as an unwanted child, born to his mother late in her life, forty years old and his father then fifty-three.[1] 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.[1] In 1868, a childless couple, Shiobara Masanosuke and his wife, adopted him until the age of nine, when the couple divorced.[1] He returned to his 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]

Natsume attended the First Tokyo Middle School (now Hibiya High School),[2] where he became 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.[1] However, his family disapproved strongly of this course of action, and when Natsume entered the Tokyo Imperial University in September 1884, it was with the intention of becoming an architect. Although he preferred Chinese classics, he began 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.[1]

In 1887, Natsume 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 name Sōseki, which is a Chinese idiom meaning "stubborn". In 1890, he entered the English Literature department, and quickly mastered the English language. Natsume graduated in 1893, and enrolled for some time as a graduate student and part-time teacher at the Tokyo Normal School.[citation needed]

In 1895, Natsume began teaching at Matsuyama Middle School in Shikoku, which became the setting of his novel Botchan. Along with fulfilling his teaching duties, Natsume 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. On June 10 of that year, he married Nakane Kyoko.[citation needed]

Natsume Sōseki's lodgings in Clapham, South London

In the United Kingdom, 1901–1903

In 1900, the Japanese government sent Natsume to study in Great Britain as "Japan's first Japanese English literary scholar".[3] 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.[4] He studied instead at University College, London (UCL). He had a miserable time of it in London, spending most of his days indoors buried in books, and his friends feared that he might be losing his mind.[5] He also visited Pitlochry in Scotland.

He lived in four different lodgings, only the last of which, lodging with Priscilla and her sister Elizabeth Leale in Clapham (see the photograph), 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.[6]

He got along well with the Leale sisters, who shared his love of literature (notably Shakespeare—his tutor at UCL was the Shakespeare scholar W. J. Craig[7]—and Milton) and 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 Natsume's incipient paranoia and successfully urged him to get out more and take up cycling.

Despite his poverty, loneliness, and mental problems, he solidified his knowledge of English literature during this period and returned to Japan in 1903.

After his return to the Empire of Japan, he replaced Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn) at the First Higher School, and subsequently became a professor of English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, where he taught literary theory and literary criticism.[citation needed]

Literary career

Natsume'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.[8]

He followed on this success with short stories, such as Rondon tō ("Tower of London") in 1905 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. Especially his early works 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.[9] He began writing one novel a year until his death from a stomach ulcer in 1916.

Obverse of a 1984 series 1000 Japanese yen banknote

Major themes in Natsume'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. Natsume 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.[citation needed]

Major works

Natsume's major works include:

Year Japanese title English title Comments
1905 吾輩は猫である Wagahai wa Neko dearu I Am a Cat
倫敦塔 Rondon Tō The Tower of London
薤露行 Kairo-kō Kairo-kō
1906 坊っちゃん Botchan Botchan
草枕 Kusamakura The Three Cornered World
(lit. The Grass Pillow)
latest translation uses Japanese title
趣味の遺伝 Shumi no Iden The Heredity of Taste
二百十日 Nihyaku-tōka The 210th Day
1907 虞美人草 Gubijinsō The Poppy
1908 坑夫 Kōfu The Miner
夢十夜 Yume Jū-ya Ten Nights of Dreams
三四郎 Sanshirō Sanshiro
1909 それから Sorekara And Then
1910 Mon The Gate
思い出す事など Omoidasu Koto nado Spring Miscellany
1912 彼岸過迄 Higan Sugi Made To the Spring Equinox and Beyond
行人 Kōjin The Wayfarer
1914 こころ Kokoro Kokoro
私の個人主義 Watakushi no Kojin Shugi My Individualism A famous speech
1915 道草 Michi Kusa Grass on the Wayside
硝子戸の中 Garasu Do no Uchi Inside My Glass Doors English translation, 2002
1916 明暗 Mei An Light and Darkness, a novel Unfinished

See also


  • Bargen, Doris D. Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ogai and Natsume Sōseki. University of Hawaii Press (2006). ISBN 0824829980
  • 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 0674721160
  • Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata. Kodansha International, 1993
  • Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era: Fiction, Chapter 12. 2nd Revised Edition, Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • 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 0847677397
  • Ridgeway, William N. A Critical Study of The Novels of Natsume Sōseki, 1867–1916. Edwin Mellen Press (January 28, 2005). ISBN 0773462309
  • Yu, Beongchoeon. Natsume Sōseki. Macmillan Publishing Company (1984). ISBN 0805728503


  1. ^ a b c d e McClellan, Edwin (2004). Two Japanese Novelists: Sōseki & Tōson. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3340-0. 
  2. ^ Takahashi, Akio (2006). 新書で入門 漱石と鴎外 (A pocket paperback == introduction: Natsume and Ōgai). Shinchosha. ISBN 4106101793. 
  3. ^ Brodey and Tsunematsu p.7
  4. ^ Brodey and Tsunematsu p.8
  5. ^ Introduction, p.V Natsume Soseki (2002). I Am A Cat. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0804832656. 
  6. ^ Theory of Literature, May 1907, introduction
  7. ^ Natsume, Sōseki; Tsunematsu, Ikuo (2002). Spring miscellany and London essays. Rutland, VT: Tuttle. p. 80. ISBN 0-8048-3326-5. 
  8. ^ Mostow, Joshua S. The Columbia Companion to modern East Asian literature, Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 9780231113144 p88
  9. ^ Takamiya, Toshiyuki (1991). "Natsume Sōseki". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, p. 424. (New York: Garland, 1991). ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.

External links

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  • Natsume Soseki — Natsume Sōseki (1912) Natsume Sōseki (jap. 夏目漱石 Natsume Sōseki; * 9. Februar 1867 in Edo; † 9. Dezember 1916) gehört zu den berühmtesten japanischen Schriftstellern der Meiji Zeit. Der Name Natsume Sōseki war nur ein Künstlerna …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Natsume Soseki — Sōseki Natsume Sōseki Natsume Sōseki Natsume en 1912. Activité(s) Écrivain Naissance 9 février …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Natsume Sôseki — Sōseki Natsume Sōseki Natsume Sōseki Natsume en 1912. Activité(s) Écrivain Naissance 9 février …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Natsume Sōseki — (1912) Natsume Sōseki (jap. 夏目 漱石, eigentlich Natsume Kinnosuke 夏目 金之助; * 9. Februar 1867 in Ushigome, Edo; † 9. Dezember 1916 in Tokio) gehört zu den berühmtesten …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Natsume Sōseki — Nombre completo Natsume Kinnosuke Nacimiento 9 de febrero de 1867 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Natsume Soseki — Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石, 1867 1916) es el pseudónimo literario de Natsume Kinnosuke (en japonés 夏目 金之助, Natsume Kin nosuke), novelista japonés, profesor de literatura inglesa y escritor de haikus y poesía china. Sus obras más conocidas son Kokoro y …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • NATSUME SOSEKI — Par sa culture, par la pénétration de son jugement, Natsume S 拏seki est l’un des meilleurs représentants de ce Japon de Meiji qui était allé à la rencontre de l’Occident et jetait les bases d’une civilisation nouvelle. Il eût pu en être un porte… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • NATSUME SOSEKI — (1867–1916)    Natsume Soseki, given name Kinnosuke, was a pioneering and influential Meiji novelist seen, along with Mori Ogai, as one of the two founding fathers of modern Japanese literature. He took an early interest in literature during… …   Japanese literature and theater

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