Natsume Soseki

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Natsume Soseki

Natsume Sōseki (1867 – 1916) is the literary pseudonym of Natsume Kinnosuke (in Japanese, Natsume Kin’nosuke 夏 目 金 之 助), was a Japanese novelist, teacher of English literature, haikus writer and Chinese poetry.

His best known works are Kokoro (heart), I am a cat, Botchan, The walker, The herbs of the road and Sanshiro.

Natsume_Soseki’s Biography

Sōseki was born into a family of public servants, descended from a family of samurai come to less. His parents gave him up for adoption to one of his servants at the age of two; He lived with him and his wife until he was nine years old.

In 1884 he enrolled to study Architecture at the Imperial University of Tokyo (today Tokyo University or Tōdai) at the request of his family, although he ended up studying English Language.

In 1886 he met and became friends with the poet Masaoka Shiki, who initiated him into the art of haikus composition, at which point he adopted the pseudonym Sōseki, which in Chinese means “stubborn”.

After graduating, he taught English in that capital, and at age 30 he accepted a job in Matsuyama on Shikoku Island, at that time considered an area outside the confines of civilization. His intellectual friends gave him their condolences, because that job seemed more like an exile than a job.

Despite this, Sōseki taught for a couple of years those rude schoolchildren, who he described with much sarcasm in Botchan (1906), and he married Kyoko Nakane, daughter of a local politician, but later received a scholarship from the University from Tokyo to study English in London. The three years he spent in London were lonely, miserable payments from the Japanese government, although he read as much as he could in the libraries of London. That’s why he owes a lot to English writers too.

On his return to Tokyo, Sōseki taught 4 years in the Chair of English Philology at the Imperial University, as agreed, replacing Lafcadio Hearn. But that occupation was odious to him, so he began to spend most of his free time writing.

Sōseki’s literary career began with comic-satirical serialized stories that appeared in literary magazines of the time, such as Hototogisu; in 1905 this humorous narrative was published with the title I am a cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru), where the protagonist animal analyzes civilization in a stark satire of the Meiji bourgeoisie.This same year he published Rondon to (The Tower of London) .

In 1906 he wrote Botchan, which some understand as his first novel, which was a great critical success, in which he narrates in a semi-biographical way the experiences of a professor from Tokyo destined for provinces. From that moment he began to write almost one work per year, and the theme revolves around the mixture of Japanese and Western behaviors that Japan lived and the contradictions it produced in people. Love triangles abound, betrayals between “friends”, sarcasm and satire. His Sanshiro, published in 1908, is also a novel with an introspective capacity outside series, considered the novel bridge between his two capital works.

At the age of 40 he began writing articles and literary criticism in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, the second largest in Japan at that time and current leader of the Japanese market. In this newspaper was published by installments, from December 6, 1912 to November 5, 1913, The Wayfarer (Kōjin), work of maturity that stands out for the deep psychological characterization of the characters (psychological novel) and the lucid analysis of Japanese society immersed in the deep political, economic and social transformation that took place during the Meiji period.

In 1914 he wrote Kokoro, his masterpiece, a must-read in any Japanese school today, considered as Don Quixote for Spanish speakers, or as Romeo and Juliet for Anglo-Saxons. His literature is sarcastic, but often humorous and bittersweet.

He died in Tokyo in 1916, at 49 years of age, because of a stomach ulcer, leaving an unfinished work: Light and darkness.

Natsume Sōseki, one of the most important writers in Japan, is required to study in high school, both in humanities and science. He is the author who best reflected in his work the instability that caused in Japanese society, and particularly among intellectuals, the opening of the country to the West that occurred in the so-called Meiji Restoration Era.

Due to its importance the Japanese government included in 1984 its effigy in the 1000 yen notes.

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