Japan literature and Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916): The afterthought
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese novelist, Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), had a rather difficult upbringing. His own parents, already struggling to bring up five siblings, were shocked to find out that another child was to enter this world because his mother was already 40 years old. Therefore, he was adopted from a very young age.
Shiobara Masanosuke and his partner adopted him because they were childless. However, after divorcing when Sōseki was only nine years old, he returned to his biological parents.
Once more tragedy would unfold for Sōseki when only 14 years of age. This time, his mother, who welcomed him back into the family with warmth – unlike his more lukewarm father – would sadly die when he was a teenager. After this, his two older siblings died in 1887. Hence, one can imagine Sōseki’s feeling of anxiety and feeling morose.
It is important to note that adoption was more progressive before the modernization of Japan. Also, death was more common at an early age in this period of history, all over the world. However, the legacy of being abandoned at such an early age, followed by losing his mother, must have impacted his future novels and how he viewed the world.
His most famous novels include I am a Cat, Botchan, Kokoro, and Kusamakura. His unfinished novel, Light and Darkness, also reached acclaim.
Sōseki was encouraged to write by his esteemed friend, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Shiki was an esteemed poet. However, he also sadly died at a relatively young age.
Shiki wrote, “Until now I had mistaken the “Enlightenment” of Zen: I was wrong to think it meant being able to die serenely under any conditions. It means being able to live serenely under any conditions.”
If individuals desire to pick up a book that connects them with classic writers in Japan, then the book I am a Cat is a good start if you want to enter the world of Sōseki.
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