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NATSUME SŌSEKI (in the Japanese order, surname first) is universally recognized to be Japan’s greatest modern novelist. Born Natsume Kinnosuke in Edo in 1867, the year before the city was renamed Tokyo, he survived a lonely childhood, being traded between foster and biological parents, was deeply schooled in both the Chinese classics and English, and at the age of twenty-two chose from a Chinese source the defiantly playful pen name Sōseki (“Garglestone”) to signify his sense of his own eccentricity. In 1893, Sōseki became the second graduate of (Tokyo) Imperial University’s English Department and entered the graduate program, but in 1895 he abruptly took a position teaching English in a rural middle school. Though hoping to become a writer as early as the age of fourteen, Sōseki chose the more respectable path of English literature scholar, was sent to London by the Ministry of Education in 1900 for two years, and taught in his alma mater until 1907, when his early success as a part-time writer of stories and novels led him to accept a position as staff novelist for the Asahi Shinbun newspaper, in which he serialized the rest of his fourteen novels. Sōseki also published substantial works of literary theory and history (and contemplative essays, memoirs, lectures on the individual and society, etc.) and continued to think of himself as a scholar after his controversial resignation from the University. His works quickly lost any hint of academic artifice, however, relying initially on a freewheeling sense of humor, and then darkening as Sōseki wrestled with increasingly debilitating bouts of depression and illness. Sanshirō, his seventh novel, written in 1908, was the last in which the humor predominated. Sōseki wrote many Chinese poems and haiku as a form of escape from the stresses of the world he had created. He died in 1916 with his last—and longest—novel still unfinished. Each new generation of Japanese readers rediscovers Sōseki, and Western readers find in him a modern int; ellect doing battle in familiar territory, a truly original voice among those artists of the world who have most fully grasped the modern experience.

HARUKI MURAKAMI (in Western order) has written twelve novels, eight volumes of short stories, and over thirty books of nonfiction, while also translating well over thirty volumes of American fiction, poetry and nonfiction since his prizewinning debut in 1979 at the age of thirty. Known in the English-speaking world primarily for his novels A Wild Sheep Chase, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore, Murakami has also published commentary on the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in Underground, written a book of essays on the relationship of long-distance running to his fiction, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and edited a book of American, British and Irish fiction, Birthday Stories. His works have been translated into more than forty languages.

JAY RUBIN has translated Natsume Sōseki’s novel The Miner, Akutagawa Ryūnosoke’s Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin, 2006), and Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, after the quake, and After Dark. He is the author of Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State and Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, and the editor of Modern Japanese Writers. He began his study of Japanese at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970, and taught Japanese literature at the University of Washington and at Harvard University, where he is now an emeritus professor.


Sanshirō: a Novel

With an Introduction by HARUKI MURAKAMI

Translated with Notes JAY RUBIN



Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published 1908–9

This translation first published in Penguin Classics 2009

Translation, Chronology, Further Reading and Notes copyright © Jay Rubin, 2009

Introduction copyright © Haruki Murakami, 2009

All rights reserved

The moral right of the translator and introducer has been asserted

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject

to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,

re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s

prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in

which it is published and without a similar condition including this

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

ISBN: 9781101488225


Note on Japanese Name Order and Pronunciation



Further Reading

Translator’s Note



Note on Japanese Name Order and Pronunciation

All Japanese names that appear after this page in the book are written in the Japanese order, surname first. The author is known in Japan as Natsume Sōseki, and the writer of the Introduction as Murakami Haruki. “Sōseki,” however, is a traditional pen name (much like that of the seventeenth-century haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō), and it is by this, rather than the family name, that most Japanese and Western readers refer to the author. Sōseki’s name has been given in the Japanese order but Murakami’s in the Western order on the cover and title page because of their greater familiarity in the West and for convenience in cataloging.

Some guidelines to pronouncing Japanese names and terms:

All a’s are long, as in “father,” e is pronounced as in “bed,” i sounds like “ee,” and three-syllable names tend to have a stress on the first syllable. Thus, “Natsume” is pronounced “NAH-tsoo-meh” (three syllables) and “Sanshirō” is pronounced “SAHN-she-row.” “Yojirō” sounds like “YO-jee-row.” “Mineko” is “MEE-neh-ko.” “Hirota” has a very slight stress in the middle: “Hee-ROW-tah.”

Macrons have been included to indicate long syllables but have been eliminated from the place names Tōkyō, Kyōto, Ōsaka, Kōbe, Honshū, and Kyūshū, and from familiar words such as “shōji” and “Shintō.”


1854 February: Commodore Matthew Perry returns to Japan with gunboats to enforce previous year’s demand from U.S. President Fillmore that Japan open its doors to trade. Tokugawa regime of warrior-bureaucrats, headquartered in city of Edo, agrees in writing to open the country, political unrest increases.

1854 or 1855: Widower with two daughters, Natsume Kohē Naokatsu (1817–97), an Edo nanushi (landowning merchant-class “headman” with local administrative and police powers), marries Fukuda Chie (1826–81), divorced daughter of a pawnbroker. Chie will give Naokatsu six more children between 1856 and 1867.

1867 9 February: Chie gives birth to her sixth child on day designated by astrological charts as “Elder Brother of Metal,” which dooms the child to a life of thievery unless he is given a name with the character for “metal/gold/money” (kin) in it. Adding the male suffix “-nosuke” to “Kin,” the Natsumes name the boy “Kinnosuke”. Parents are embarrassed to have had a child at their advanced ages of forty-nine and forty (fifty and forty-two by Japanese count). Shortly after birth, Kinnosuke is sent to the relative of a Natsume family maid to nurse but is soon brought home by sixteen-year-old half-sister, who is scolded by father. A neighbor nurses the child.

1868 (1 year old) Tokugawa rule ends with the “restoration” of the emperor to a position of theoretical sovereignty. 3 September: Edo is renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital). 23 October: the modernizing Meiji Period1 (1868–1912) begins. Naokatsu retains some authority under Meiji government and later holds various police positions, but family’s fortunes decline.

November: Kinnosuke adopted by Naokatsu’s former ward, Shiohara Masanosuke and wife Yasu. He remains “Shiohara Kinnosuke” until 1888. Shioharas shower him with love, nurture a fondness for traditional plebeian entertainments, storytelling and comedy, by taking him to the variety theater (see Chapter 3 of Sanshirō).

1874 (7) Shiohara marital turmoil. Kinnosuke changes hands, homes, schools several times over next two years. Growing consciousness of being traded like a piece of property will emerge in novel Michikusa (Grass on the Wayside, 1915).

1876 (9) April: Shioharas divorce. May: Kinnosuke is returned to the Natsume household, though still legally a Shiohara. Learns from a maid that his “grandparents” are actually his parents. Father stern, mother more loving.

1878 (11) Kinnosuke enters middle school, chooses course that emphasizes Chinese studies instead of English, though this invalidates him for entry into University Preparatory School.

1881 (14) Mother dies. Around this time, Kinnosuke leaves middle school for a private academy of Chinese studies. Enjoys Chinese literature, Japanese novels, thinks of becoming a writer, but elder brother scolds him for considering such an unworthy profession. Beginning to think of pursuing a university education.

1883 (16) Enters English academy, sells beloved Chinese books, begins serious study for University Preparatory School entrance exams.

1884 (17) Begins rooming-house life, returning to Natsume home occasionally when ill.

September: Enters University Preparatory School Preparatory Course.

1885 (18) English schoolwork consistently signed “K. Shiohara” until 4 January 1888.

1886 (19) April: Preparatory School renamed First Higher Middle School. Pleurisy causes him to fail exam for advancement to higher class. Shock of failure inspires him to go to the head of his class and remain there until graduation. Teaching to support himself. Tokyo University renamed Imperial University; will remain the only Imperial University until 1897 when it is renamed Tokyo Imperial University after the founding of Kyoto Imperial University. Others added in 1907 (Tōhoku), 1910 (Kyushu), etc.

1887 (20) Two of three elder brothers die of tuberculosis. Suffers first of many eye diseases, acute trachoma. Considers studying architecture, but friend persuades him to change his mind.

September: University English Literature Department founded.

1888 (21) 28 January: Name transferred from Shiohara to Natsume family registry upon large payment (¥170 down, ¥3 monthly, ¥240 total) by Naokatsu to Shiohara: legal name once again “Natsume.”

September: Advances to regular course of First Higher Middle School, Faculty of Letters, more or less certain he will major in English literature. (“Middle” dropped from school name in 1894. This is the prestigious First Higher School or First National College where Sanshirō’s Professor Hirota teaches.)

1889 (22) January: Becomes friends with tubercular classmate and budding haiku poet Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902). Begins writing haiku, which remains a lifelong practice.

11 February: Minister of Education, Mori Arinori (1847– 89), leaving home for ceremonial promulgation of new Meiji constitution, assassinated for supposed offenses against the national gods. 16 February: Like Sanshirō’s Professor Hirota, Kinnosuke and classmates may have stood in formation at Mori Arinori’s funeral. May: Speaks against mindless nationalism at student patriotic society. Writes a critique and nine poems—all in Chinese—for Shiki’s hand-circulated literary anthology, using playful pen name “Sōseki” (Garglestone) for the first time. Identifies himself with the eccentric protagonist of a Chinese story who stubbornly insisted on the correctness of his all-too-obviously mistaken declaration, “I shall pillow my head on the stream and rinse my mouth out with stones.”

1890 (23) July: Graduates from First Higher Middle School, but feeling depressed. September: Enters Imperial University English Literature Department with annual tuition advance of ¥85.

1891 (24) Outstanding record wins him a full scholarship, but Scottish instructor’s insistence on rote-learning dulls his enthusiasm for English literature, which he will never love like Chinese. July: Deeply saddened by death of sister-in-law Tose (a secret love?) from complications of pregnancy. Boarding-house friend Tachibana Masaki becomes first graduate of English Literature Department (and later becomes customs official in Shanghai and Da-lien).

1892 (25) April: Changes official domicile to Hokkaidō, perhaps to avoid draft. May: Begins part-time teaching at private college (until 1895). Publishes several literary essays.

1893 (26) July: Becomes second graduate of Imperial University English Department, the only graduate that year. Enters graduate program, but has doubts about devoting himself to literary research, feeling he has been “deceived by English literature.” October: Takes second part-time lectureship, in English, at Higher Normal School (annual salary ¥450), helping to support his father and half-sister Fusa.

1894 (27) Diagnosed with possible early stages of tuberculosis, afraid of meeting two brothers’ fate, works to improve health, but plagued by depression.

1 August: Sino-Japanese War begins.

December–January: Seeks Zen enlightenment in Kamakura temple, befriends monks but leaves feeling he has failed.

1895 (28) April: Abruptly takes teaching position at middle school in Shiki’s rural home town, Matsuyama. Hoping to save up for a trip to the West, but ¥80 monthly salary lasts only two weeks. 23–27 April: Sino-Japanese War ends with demeaning treaty that will be avenged with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. Long-distance negotiations for arranged marriage begin. Writing haiku, especially after Shiki comes to live with him in August. October: Feeling lonely after Shiki leaves for Tokyo. December: Visits Tokyo to meet Nakane Kyōko (1877–1963), daughter of Chief Secretary of the House of Peers, at formal “interview” (miai). Decides to marry.

1896 (29) Increasingly depressed by life in Matsuyama. April: Resigns teaching post in Matsuyama, takes instructorship (¥100/month) at Fifth National College in Kumamoto (Sanshirō’s alma mater). June: Kyōko and father come to Kumamoto, wedding performed in Sōseki’s rented house. July: Promoted to professor.

September: Terada Torahiko (1878–1935), the model for Sanshirō’s scientist, Nonomiya, enters the College. Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) appointed lecturer in English literature at Imperial University in Tokyo. Meanwhile, in Kumamoto, Sōseki actively involved with student journal, class outings, peaceful home life, writing haiku, Chinese verse, occasional scholarly papers.

1897 (30) Father-in-law urges him to take a teaching post in Tokyo, but he declines. April: Writes to Shiki that he wants to quit teaching, spend all his time reading and writing literature. 29 June: Naokatsu dies, but Kinnosuke continues supporting half-sister Fusa until 1915. July: Travels to Tokyo with Kyōko, who experiences a miscarriage. September: Returns to Kumamoto, Kyōko follows in October. Peaceful life resumes, but letter from adoptive mother Yasu threatens complications.

1898 (31) Writing Chinese verse, literary essays, guiding students in haiku composition. Kyōko suffers from attacks of hysteria, attempts suicide in June or July, especially bad with bouts of extreme morning sickness in autumn. November/December: Publishes playful literary essay in Shiki and friends’ haiku magazine Hototogisu under the pen name “Hechima Sensei” (Professor Loofah).

1899 (32) 31 May: Daughter Fudeko born.

August: Terada Torahiko leaves to study science at Tokyo Imperial University. Good friends leaving Kumamoto for Tokyo.

1900 (33) April: Appointed acting assistant principal. Kyōko becomes pregnant with second child. 12 May: Ordered by Ministry of Education to spend two full years in England studying the language at government expense (annual stipend of ¥1,800 plus meager family support in his absence of ¥300 per year). Initially declines (neither the Ministry nor he had any idea what he should do in England), but eventually accepts. July: Sells or gives away all household goods, leaves Kumamoto, depositing Kyōko and Fudeko with Tokyo in-laws. 8 September: Boards German ship for Genoa, arriving 19 October. 21 October: Arrives in Paris by train. Visits Louvre, World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle). 28 October: Arrives in London without a clear purpose. Sees the sights. November: Visits Cambridge, but concludes that government stipend too low for study there. November/December: Attends a class at University College, London. Lives in a series of shabby rooming houses, mostly reading in his room, but contracts with Shakespeare scholar William James Craig (1843–1906) for weekly individual tutoring at 5 shillings per hour (an arrangement that would continue until October 1901). No more formal study than this.

1901 (34) 27 January: Second daughter, Tsuneko, born. 2 February: Views Queen Victoria’s funeral cortège in Hyde Park. Letters from this time express anger at Kyōko for writing infrequently, and desire to teach at the First National College in Tokyo upon his return to Japan instead of continuing to teach in Kumamoto. May/June: His informative letters to Shiki are published in Hototogisu as “Letters from London” and signed, haiku-style, “Sōseki.”

5 May–26 June: Chemist Ikeda Kikunae (1864–1936), later inventor of MSG, introduced to Sōseki by a Fifth National College colleague, takes temporary lodging in Sōseki’s rooming house on his way back to Japan after a period of study in Leipzig; Sōseki is so impressed by Ikeda’s erudition and cultivated intelligence that their long, intense conversations stir him to engage in more substantial, systematic research.

July: Changes rooming houses one last time, and for final year and a half in London, spends practically all his time in his room, reading and taking notes for what will be his Bungakuron (“Theory of Literature”, 1907). The strain and isolation take a toll on his mental stability.

1902 (35) 30 January: Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed, clearing the way for Japan to fight Russia over control of Korea; war fever builds slowly. The first “equal” military treaty between Japan and a Western power (in force until 1922), it causes great elation in Japan, but Sōseki derides it, comparing it to a poor man running around the village ringing bells and beating drums because he’s bagged a rich wife (see Sanshirō, Chapter 6).

Autumn: Rumors of a mental breakdown reach Japan, putting University plans to hire him to work with Lafcadio Hearn on hold. Tries to calm his nerves by taking up cycling. Late November: Receives word that Shiki has died. 5 December: Leaves London for return to Japan.

1903 (36) 24 January: Arrives in Tokyo, finds father-in-law has lost his political appointment, and Kyōko and children living with him in near-poverty. Moves Kyōko and children into new rental house; must now partially support father-in-law. Friends have arranged part-time teaching positions for him: twenty hours of English at First National College (¥700/year) and six hours of literature at Tokyo Imperial University (¥800/year). Manages to resign from Kumamoto with doctor’s certificate of mental problems. April: lectures begin. University students complain about his dry, analytical lectures after the more flamboyant style of predecessor Lafcadio Hearn (see Translator’s Note). Disappointed with students’ limited abilities, considers resigning. June: Publishes sardonic London memoir, “Bicycle Diary” (“Jitensha nikki”), in Hototogisu, signed “Sōseki.” Nervous strain leads to over two months’ separation from pregnant Kyōko. Fall lectures on literary theory and English literature well attended.

3 November: Third daughter, Eiko, born. He seeks diversion in painting and calligraphy. Newspapers calling for war against Russia.

1904 (37) February: Lectures to University faculty in the hilltop “Mansion” (see Sanshirō, Chapter 2) on his London theatre-going. Scholarly publications appear under “Natsume Kinnosuke.” War fever leads to outbreak of Russo-Japanese War, inspires Sōseki (writing as “Natsume Sōseki”) to publish jingoistic “new style” poem (shintaishi), “Jūgun-kō” (“Onward With the Troops”), extolling “swords that thirst for blood.” April: Adds a third part-time teaching job, at Meiji University (¥30/month). Much creative writing toward the end of the year. Others publish anti-war sentiments toward end of year and are accused of harboring “dangerous thoughts.”

1905 (38) New Year’s issues of three magazines carry his work: the story “Wagahai wa neko de aru” (“I Am a Cat”), signed “Sōseki,” essays “Rondon-tō” (“The Tower of London”) and “Kārairu hakubutsukan” (“Carlyle Museum”), signed “Natsume Kinnosuke”. Soon begins using “Natsume Sōseki” regularly. Sequels of “I Am a Cat” continue through August 1906, humor rising from high jinks and wordplay to genuine satire, scathing critique of war fever, darkening portrait of mustachioed, heavy-smoking depressive scholar protagonist.

May: Japan destroys Russia’s Baltic fleet. Sōseki’s explosive productivity continues. Torn between academic career and full-time writing. Short pieces from this time draw on Arthurian legends and London experience. A dozen young “disciples” begin to frequent the Natsume home.

September: New University student from Kyushu, German literature major Komiya Toyotaka (1884–1966), the model for Sanshirō, visits. Portsmouth Treaty seals Japan’s victory in Russo-Japanese War.

October: First volume of I Am a Cat published.

15 December: Fourth daughter, Aiko, born.

1906 (39) January: Publishes “Shumi no iden” (“The Heredity of Taste”), harsh critique of Russo-Japanese war fever, horrific sacrifices of over 100,000 Japanese fighting men under “heroic” General Nogi Maresuke (1849–1912). February: Refuses academic committee work.

March: Shimazaki Tōson (1872–1943) publishes novel Hakai (The Broken Commandment), beginning the rise of Japanese naturalism, the mainstream literary movement discussed in Sanshirō (Chapter 9); enthusiastically praised by Sōseki.

April: Simultaneously publishes tenth chapter of “Cat” and short novel Botchan (“Little Master”), based on Sōseki’s year in Matsuyama but set against the Russo-Japanese War and ending in a rush of “righteous” violence. May: Suffering with chronic gastric catarrh; asks “disciple” to organize theoretical lectures for book publication. August: Eleventh and final chapter of I Am a Cat appears. September: Publishes “haiku novel,” Kusamakura (“Pillow of Grass”, or The Three-Cornered World) on the tension between modern life and poetic detachment. Father-in-law dies, reducing the number of relatives Sōseki must support. This and income from writing enable him to resign third job, at Meiji University, in October. Begins custom of welcoming visitors every Thursday after 3 p.m., initiating the Thursday Group. November: Middle volume of I Am a Cat published. Turns down invitation to join the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper staff in charge of literature. Family moves into rental house in the University neighborhood: Nishikatamachi ten, block B, number 7 (cf. Professor Hirota’s Nishikatamachi ten, block F, number three).

1907 (40) January: Publishes short novel, Nowaki (“Autumn Wind”) in Hototogisu, much ranting against the rich, called by some the best novel of 1907. 24 February: Asahi Shinbun newspaper inquires if he might consider becoming a staff novelist. Negotiations continue until 15 March (government sponsorship of foreign study obligates him to teach until this month). ¥200 monthly salary higher than editor-in-chief’s, book royalties are his to keep, all fiction to be serialized in the Asahi. Submits resignations to University and College, joins the newspaper officially in April. The news causes a sensation, but Sōseki insists that working for a newspaper is neither more nor less a trade than working for a university. May: Advertisement for his first professional novel, Gubijinsō (“The Poppy”), appears, inspires feverish marketing of “Poppy” robes and “Poppy” rings. Volume of University lectures, Bungakuron (“Theory of Literature”) appears under the name “Natsume Kinnosuke.”

5 June: First son, Jun’ichi, born. Government becoming concerned about corrupting effects of individualistic literature on compliant populace, Prime Minister invites writers to a gathering, but Sōseki declines. Serialization of The Poppy begins in Asahi Shinbun, continues through October. Warmly received by public, less so by critics. Overwritten and moralistic, it disappointed even Sōseki, who soon wanted to kill off his overwrought heroine. Final volume of I Am a Cat published.

September: Angrily moves out of Nishikatamachi house when landlord raises the rent.

November/December: writing next novel.

1908 (41) 1 January: Naturalist movement coalescing in all the major journals, prompts government to increase censorship of “dangerous thoughts” in literature. Serialization of Kōfu (The Miner) begins, continues until 6 April to universally negative reviews. Abstract, phantasmagorical, written in a simple style in contrast with The Poppy’s jewel-encrusted language, too radically modernist for most readers. General disappointment with Sōseki; 1906 was “his year,” but 1907 showed his decline, his lack of seriousness as compared with the naturalists, say critics. July: Linked stories, “Yume jūya” (Ten Nights of Dream), serialized. 1 September: serialization of Sanshirō begins, continues until 9 December; it is warmly received, and has significant element of humor.

October: Government announces a “campaign of national mobilization” to stem the tide of “dangerous thought” such as socialism, naturalism, anarchism, individualism, etc.

17 December: Birth of second son, Shinroku.

1909 (42) 1 January: Literary journals discuss rumors of impending establishment of a government-sponsored literary academy. 19 January: Attends Minister of Education’s party for literary men, opposes idea of an official academy of literature as a form of control. March: Publishes Bungaku hyōron (“Criticism of Literature”), a compendium of University lecture notes on topics in English literature, signed “Natsume Sōseki.” Former foster father, Shiohara, begins pressuring him for money; unpleasant negotiations continue through November. May: Sanshirō published in book form. Readers of Taiyō magazine choose Sōseki as the best writer to serve on a government literary academy, if established; he rejects the award. National Diet issues first Press Law, strengthening government’s control of literature. Censorship and protests increase. 27 June: Serialization of Sore kara (And Then) begins, continuing until 14 October. Protagonist more intelligent and internalized than Sanshirō, much darker view of human and international relations, awareness of police as ominous presence: the first of Sōseki’s late novels. August: Attack of acute gastric catarrh. 2 September: Leaves for tour of Manchuria and Korea until 17 October. 21 October–30 December: Serializes “Man-Kan tokoro-dokoro” (“Travels in Manchuria and Korea”), a victor’s eye view of the land wrested from Russian control, cut short at year’s end (nothing on Korea). 25 November: Inaugurates weekly “Bungei-ran” (Literary Column) in Asahi Shinbun, featuring wide variety of writers. 28 November: Pays Shiohara ¥100 to end their relationship.

1910 (43) 1 March–12 June: Serialization of Mon (‘The Gate’), dark culmination of trilogy that began with Sanshirō; protagonist fails to find comfort in religion.

2 March: Fifth daughter, Hinako, born. June–February: Suffering with stomach ulcers, nearly dies at Shuzenji Hot Spring on 24–25 August, hospitalized until February 1911.

June–January: Government crushes leftist political and literary activity in trumped-up “High Treason Incident,” execution of prominent socialists; decade-long “winter years” of socialism begin.

September–December: Writing poetry and memoirs; painting.

1911 (44) February–April: Spars publicly with Ministry of Education over honorary Doctorate of Letters; Sōseki refuses to accept it, Ministry refuses to take it back. 18–20 May: Publishes three-part critique of Ministry of Education’s new “academy,” the Committee on Literature, and its goal to encourage the production of “wholesome” literature. 11 August: Leaves Tokyo on four-lecture tour for Osaka Asahi Shinbun (includes “Gendai Nihon no kaika” (“The Civilization of Modern-day Japan”)) but hospitalized for ulcers after final lecture on 18th, unable to return to Tokyo until 14 September. Hemorrhoid surgery; treatment into following year. 12 October: Personnel problems lead to end of Asahi Literary Column. 1 November: Sōseki tenders pro-forma resignation but remains on Asahi staff.

29 November: Sudden death of daughter Hinako (at twenty months). Memorializes his sorrow in next novel.

1912 (45) 1 January: Begins serializing Higan-sugi made (To the Spring Equinox and Beyond), until 29 April; episodic parody of detective story notable for “Rainy Day” chapter on sudden death of small daughter. Stomach ailments, nervous tension.

30 July: Meiji emperor dies; name of period changed from Meiji to Taishō. 13 September: Cannon fire in imperial palace signals massive funeral of Emperor Meiji; General Nogi Maresuke commits ritual disembowelment, following the emperor in death.

26 September–2 October: Hospitalized for second hemorrhoid surgery. 6 December: Begins serialization of Kōjin (The Wayfarer); unfocused, interrupted by health problems.

1913 (46) January–June: Period of intense depression. March–May: flare-up of ulcers. 7 April: Last installment of Kōjin until September. In bed at home until late May. Summer: Unsuccessful attempt at oil painting. 16 September: Serialization of Kōjin resumes, completed 15 November with intense portrait of intellectual who sees only possible release from breakdown in human communication in faith, madness or death. Watercolor painting.

1914 (47) 20 April: Serialization of masterpiece Kokoro begins, until 11 August; set against end of Meiji period, protagonist’s struggle with ego ends in death. June: Transfers official domicile from Hokkaidō to Tokyo.

15 July: Dines with Raphael von Koeber, who plans to return to Germany. 28 July: Outbreak of First World War, Koeber trapped in Japan. Enjoying calligraphy and ink painting.

September–October: Fourth flare-up of ulcers. Painting to pass the time. Creates original binding design for Kokoro, which becomes maiden publication of Iwanami Shoten, Japan’s soon-to-be premier publisher and authoritative publisher of Sōseki’s posthumous Complete Works. 25 November: Lecture, “Watakushi no kojinshugi” (“My Individualism”).

1915 (48) January–February: Serializes memoir “Garasudo no uchi” (Inside My Glass Doors). March–April: Fifth flare-up of ulcers while traveling to Kyoto with friends; Fusa dies in March. 3 June–10 September: Serializes Michikusa (Grass on the Wayside), overtly autobiographical novel on childhood adoption, aftermath, becoming a writer. November: Resting at hot springs. Begins reading Dostoevsky with mounting interest.

December: First visit to Sōseki’s home by budding writer Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892–1927), author of Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin, 2006), who joins the Thursday Group and becomes one of Sōseki’s “disciples.” Apparent rheumatism making writing painful.

1916 (49) January: Serializes “Tentōroku” (“A Record of Affirmation”), reflections on the current war in Europe as a battle between German militarism and British individual freedom, declaring his gratitude for life and his determination to use the time he has left as well as he can. 19 February: Lavishly praises Akutagawa’s maiden work, “Hana” (“The Nose”). Mid-April: New diagnosis reveals that his “rheumatism” is actually diabetes; treatment continues until July. 7–16 May: Bedridden with stomach pain, begins writing last novel, Meian (Light and Darkness), serialization begins 26 May: modern life and marriage as a battlefield of egos. By August he is writing one unpleasant installment of Meian in the morning, and spending afternoons on comforting traditional pastimes (watercolor painting, calligraphy, Chinese poetry).

Early November: Speaks to Thursday Group about phrase sokuten kyoshi (“follow heaven, abandon the self”), possibly just a slogan for successful calligraphy, sincerity of expression in writing, or the ultimate answer to the pain of modern life, as seen in works as early as I Am a Cat.

22 November: Final ulcer flare-up begins, ending on 9 December with death. A national event. Funeral services presided over by Zen priest friend who failed to guide him to enlightenment in 1894. Ashes buried in Zōshigaya Cemetery.

14 December: Final installment of unfinished Meian appears.

1918–19 Iwanami Shoten publishes first of many Sōseki zenshū (Complete Works of Sōseki), in 14 volumes, with colorful binding Sōseki designed for Kokoro. Disciple Komiya Toyotaka, the model for Sanshirō, participates in editing, becomes major editor of later editions and Sōseki biographer.

1984–2004 Sōseki replaces Itō Hirobumi (1841–1909), the Restoration leader and autocrat he mocked in I Am a Cat, on the face of the ¥1000 bill.


1. Meiji Period: On Japanese era names, see the article headed “nengō” in Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 2 vols (Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 1993) vol. 2, p. 1073.


The (Generally) Sweet Smell of Youth

I confess, I became seriously interested in the works of Natsume Sōseki only after I had reached adulthood. Between my university graduation and the time of my marriage, I hardly looked at anything of his—which is not exactly accurate, come to think of it, because I was already married before I graduated from the university. But the main thing about that time in my life is that I was poor.

Why didn’t I bother to read Sōseki before then? I really can’t remember, but perhaps the biggest reason is that, from my early teens, I was obsessed with foreign fiction and simply never bothered to read Japanese novels. Another reason might be that I had not been much moved by the Sōseki novels we read in school (the problem there being with the choice of works, perhaps). Then again, during the turbulent 1960s, when I was in my teens, the reading of Sōseki was not fashionable: it won you no admiration or praise. That was the age of revolution and counter-culture, the time of Che Guevara and Jimi Hendrix. Nowadays, of course, Natsume Sōseki is the representative modern Japanese novelist, a figure of truly national stature, but his works were not all that warmly received back then, I think—at least not amongst the younger generation.

I got married in 1972 to a university classmate of mine (who remains my wife to this day). She graduated before I did and went to work as a proofreader under contract to a publishing company. I took a series of part-time jobs while attending the university a few days a week to earn the remaining credits I needed to graduate—clerking in a record store, waiting on tables, that sort of thing. And when I had time, I did housework—laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking care of the cats. I was a kind of house-husband. It was a hard way to live, but I didn’t mind it too much, except for the fact that we didn’t have enough money to buy books.

We were, as I said, poor, or perhaps I should say that we were trying hard not to spend money. We were planning to open a little jazz club. For us, leading secure lives by taking respectable jobs with respectable companies was simply not an option. It didn’t interest us. And so the two of us worked hard and saved our money. If we couldn’t afford a gas stove, we made it through the cold nights by sleeping with our cats, all huddled together. If the alarm clock broke, we couldn’t buy a new one. But we were young and healthy and eager, and we had a goal.

Not being able to buy books, though: that was hard. Far from buying them, we often found ourselves having to sell some of the books we owned just to make ends meet. In those days (not so much anymore), I absolutely devoured books. I would hurry from one book to the next as if in a race with time. I felt it was the only way I could go on living, which is why not being able to buy new books was as painful and constricting to me as not being able to breathe fresh air.

Soon I found myself having to reread my books. And when I had no more books left to read a second time, I started reading the books that remained in my wife’s bookcase. She had majored in Japanese literature, so she owned quite a number of books I had never read. Among them were two sets of “Complete Works” that piqued my curiosity: one belonging to the poet Miyazawa Kenji (1896–1933) and the other the Complete Works of Natsume Sōseki. My wife had originally planned to write her graduation thesis on Miyazawa Kenji. She saved her money and bought the complete works, but somewhere along the way she gave up on writing about Miyazawa (I’m not sure why) and switched to Sōseki. A friend of hers had used the Sōseki set to write a graduation thesis and no longer needed the books, so my wife was able to buy them cheaply. It was the height of practicality. She also owned a number of books by the novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886–1965), the eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji, and the publisher Iwanami’s World Literature for Boys and Girls. These were all very different from my own literary tastes, but at least there was no overlap—none at all.

Since I had nothing else to read, I turned to these books in my spare time, though without much enthusiasm. Miyazawa Kenji, I have to say in all honesty, did not do much for me, nor could I see—in those days, at least—anything to like about The Tale of Genji. Sōseki and Tanizaki, though, were not so bad. And so it came about that the novels of Sōseki and Tanizaki always bring back to me scenes from my life as a poverty-stricken newly-wed at the age of twenty-two. Our place was cold indoors, and the water in the kitchen sink was usually frozen on winter mornings. The alarm clock was broken, so if I wanted to know the time I had to go peek at the clock out in front of the tobacco shop at the bottom of the hill (I still smoked back then). We had a large window facing south, so at least there was plenty of sunshine coming in, but the National Railways’ Chūō Line ran by just below the window, which made it horribly noisy (on a par with Dan Aykroyd’s apartment next to the elevated railway in the movie Blues Brothers). When there was a strike and the National Railways stopped running for twenty-four hours, most people were greatly inconvenienced, but it gave us pure relief. We used to have long freight trains running by until the sun came up.

This, then, was the setting in which I read Sōseki’s works, which is why, for me, they are permeated with memories of reading while stretched out in the sunshine and hearing the roar of passing express trains. Of course the sun wasn’t always pouring in, but that is the impression that remains the strongest. The cats would lie next to me, sleeping. I didn’t read all of Sōseki’s works at the time but chose the most important ones, some of which I liked better than others. My favorite novels were the three that compose his so-called “first trilogy,” Sanshirō, Sore kara (And Then), and Mon (“The Gate”). I especially remember the strong sense of identification I felt with Mon, the story of a young married couple living in far-from-ideal circumstances.

For me, Sōseki’s apparently most popular novel, Kokoro, left something to be desired, and while I did enjoy the late works so widely praised for their psychological insight, I could never fully identify with the deep anguish of the modern intellectual depicted in them. “What’s the point of going on and on about this?” I would often feel. In that sense, I’m probably a bit removed from the “mainstream” Sōseki reader. There is no doubt, however, that the “Sōseki experience” I had at that time, belated though it was, remains firmly rooted within me to this day, and that, whenever I have a chance to reread Sōseki’s novels, I am always struck by how fine they are. Sōseki is always the name that first comes to mind when someone asks me who my favorite Japanese author is.

By the time I had my “Sōseki experience,” the student movement was already past its most ferocious peak, and the mood was heading swiftly toward something more tranquil. The university campuses were still full of huge signboards scrawled with political slogans, but the possibility of revolution had simply evaporated (not that it was there to begin with, of course), and hopes for reform were swiftly fading. The banners of idealism had mostly been furled. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison were dead. In this somewhat listless, dead-end atmosphere, the worlds of writers like Sōseki and Tanizaki may have been taking on a new meaning once again. We could almost feel it in the skin. Or at least, that is how it seems to me looking back from my current vantage point. In any case, this was my first genuine encounter with Sōseki.

In terms of my own feeling, Sanshirō was the right novel to be reading on a sunny veranda. Confused though he may be, the protagonist generally has his eyes trained on the future. His face is tilted slightly upward, and broad skies open up before him. This is the kind of impression the book gives. And in fact, the novel’s characters are constantly looking at the sky, descriptions of which figure prominently in the narrative.

Novels like this are rare among Sōseki’s works—or perhaps I should say they are virtually non-existent. Most of his protagonists face real-life contradictions. They experience anguish over how they ought to live, and are confronted with real-life decisions that are being forced upon them. They struggle earnestly to find where they stand amid the competing demands of the pre-modern and the modern, between love and morality, between the West and Japan. They don’t seem to have the freedom to spend time gazing up at the sky. Instead, the characters who appear in Sōseki’s other novels all seem to be looking at the ground as they walk. The protagonists of the late novels, especially, appear to the reader to be suffering with severe stomach pains just as the author himself actually did (though, strangely enough, Sōseki’s pen never lost its natural quality of humor).

The protagonist of Sanshirō, however, is different. He, too, is unable to find his proper place amid dislocated circumstances, but he never fully confronts those circumstances as a problem within himself. Instead, he accepts them in a relatively natural way, with a young man’s particular kind of nonchalant resignation, as something entirely external to himself. “Oh, well, that’s how it goes,” he seems to say. Stomach pain has not yet entered his world. I think that Sanshirō is a personal favorite of mine because it depicts this natural functioning of the young protagonist’s psyche in an utterly mellifluous style. Sanshirō watches life sweeping him along the same way he looks at clouds sailing through the sky. The free movement of his gaze draws us in almost before we know it, and we forget to view him critically.

Of course, such a carefree, detached style of life cannot go on forever. The person may stand back and declare “I have decided nothing,” but this only remains possible during one short—and possibly happy—stage of life. Eventually, like it or not, one must bear the burdens of responsibility, and once that happens, the cloud-gazing must come to an end. This is what happens to Daisuke, the protagonist of Sōseki’s next novel, And Then, and with even greater severity to Sōsuke, the protagonist of the following work, “The Gate”. Together, the books comprise a trilogy, which Sōseki completed as serialized newspaper novels in the short space of three years, depicting with absolute mastery the youth—and the end of youth—of young intellectuals living in the Meiji era. We could probably call the three novels “The Growing Up Trilogy.” Sōseki’s own growth as a writer during those three years was almost shockingly swift, like a movie on fast-forward.

But let me get back to Sanshirō. The protagonist of this novel is still in the pre-dawn of life. He is unaware of the burdens he will eventually have to bear, and this lack of awareness is precisely what makes him Sanshirō: a young man who still has the time to look up at the sky and gaze at the clouds in all innocence. We see here not anguish but omens of anguish to come, of suffering that still has no concrete form. Sōseki is in no hurry in this novel. He is not pushing Sanshirō from behind, urging him to move ahead, forcing him toward anguish or defeat before his time. He neither criticizes him nor praises him. Sōseki merely allows Sanshirō to be Sanshirō, and he paints him as he is, with free and leisurely strokes, and here is where we see the author Sōseki in all his greatness.

When I first read Sanshirō at the age of twenty-two, I, too, had little sense of the burdens to come. I was newly married, still a student. However poor my daily existence might be, however noisy the trains rushing by, I was still sprawling in the sunshine with two soft, warm cats sleeping nearby.

I grew up in a quiet suburb near the city of Kobe and went to Tokyo at the age of eighteen when I entered Waseda University. Originally I had no strong desire to go to Tokyo and was planning to take the relaxed route by attending a local college, but at the very last moment I started to feel I would like to leave home and test myself—to live alone for the first time in my life. I packed my stuff and said goodbye to my girlfriend. Having sent the larger packages on ahead to my dormitory, I was carrying one bag with me when I boarded the recently-built Shinkansen “bullet” train from Osaka station. In my pocket was a paperback copy of John Updike’s The Music School. The cover of that book remains seared in my brain as part of that special time. (Updike died a matter of days before I wrote this Introduction, I am sorry to say.)

I was doing the same thing we see Sanshirō doing at the opening of the novel, going to Tokyo from the provinces to enter a university, though of course the details were very different. Sanshirō was written in 1908, and I went to Tokyo in 1968, exactly sixty years later. Travelling from Kobe to Tokyo at that time took fifteen or twenty hours on a steam train. For me, on the electrically powered Shinkansen, it took only four. Traveling from distant Kyushu to Tokyo, Sanshirō spent two nights on the road. In other words, we grew up in very different environments. The social standing of university students was different as well. Anyone entering a university in Sanshirō’s day was treated with respect, but it was nothing special in my day. The educational systems were also different. Sanshirō has just graduated from a “higher school” (kōtōgakkō), which was more like a modern-day liberal arts college, and he is already twenty-two (in Western terms) when he enters the university for more focused study, whereas I was only eighteen. Perhaps there was not so great a difference between us, however, in our excitement at going to a strange big city and beginning a new life.

Needless to say, the kind of erotic encounter that Sanshirō experienced on his trip to Tokyo did not happen to me on the Shinkansen. He stayed overnight in an inn, after all, while I spent only four hours on the bullet train. To tell the truth, however, something a little bit like Sanshirō’s experience did happen to me. To save money on the fare, I took the slower bullet train, the Kodama, which made more stops along the way than the usual Hikari, and at one of those stops—Shizuoka, I think—a young woman got on and sat down next to me. The car was practically empty, and it would have been easy for her to occupy a two-person seat all to herself, but she nevertheless decided to sit by me. She was a nice-looking woman in her early twenties—no more than twenty-five, I’d say—not exactly a beauty, but attractive enough. Not surprisingly, having her sit next to me like that made me rather tense.

Once she had settled in, she started talking to me with friendly smiles. Where did I come from? Where was I going? She spoke in a very open, straightforward way, and I answered her questions as honestly as I could. I told her I was from Kobe and going to enter a university in Tokyo, that I would take a major in literature, that I liked to read books, that I would be living in a dormitory in the Mejiro neighborhood, that I was an only child, and so on and so forth. I don’t really remember the details. Even at the time my head was not that clear, and my answers just seemed to spill out.

In any case, this young older woman remained seated next to me all the way to Tokyo. We talked the whole time, and I recall that she bought me some kind of drink. We stepped down to the platform when the train reached Tokyo. “Good luck in school, work hard,” she said to me, and with a wave of the hand, she was gone. That was the end of that. I have no idea why she chose to sit next to me on that nearly empty train. Maybe she just wanted someone to talk to and figured a kid like me would pose no threat (I’m pretty sure that was it). Or maybe she had a younger brother close to my age. Whatever her reason, she left me standing on the platform at Tokyo Station with a strange, almost buoyant sort of feeling. So this was the start of my new life in Tokyo, tinged from the outset with the faint scent of something female, a young woman’s wonderful fragrance, like a sign of things to come. Unquestionably, such smells would help determine the course of my life from that point forward.

I have read Sanshirō several times now, and each time I am reminded of that period in my life. Always the book revives in me that strange sensation I felt upon going to Tokyo and sensing that I was slowly but surely separating from the streets of my home town, from my life as a typical suburban teenage boy, from the security my parents had given me, from the girlfriend I had left behind, and from the values I had known until then. But what had I gained—and what would I gain—to take their place? Of that I could not be sure. Indeed, I had no certainty that there even existed real things that could take their place. I felt both an exhilarating sense of freedom and a terrifying sense of loneliness, like a trapeze artist who has let go of one trapeze before he is sure that the next one is there for him to grab.

What makes Sanshirō such an outstanding work of fiction, it seems to me, may well be the way its protagonist, Sanshirō, never openly displays this clash between his excitement and his terror. It certainly isn’t there on the surface—in the form of modern novelistic “psychological complications.” In his story, Sanshirō is always an observer. He accepts everything and lets it all pass through him. He does at times make judgments about good and bad, about his likes and dislikes, and he sometimes even offers his impressions with a degree of eloquence, but always in the form of “tentative rulings.” He uses far more psychic energy in seeing than in thinking. He is not so much deciding things as gathering materials for decisions to be made later. His footwork is hardly the lightest; indeed, he can be clumsy, but at the same time he is not hobbled. Sōseki succeeds beautifully in investing this innocent—but still fundamentally intellectual and, in his own way, richly endowed—provincial with a free and open point of view.

This freedom and openness, coupled with a kind of danger lurking in the background, are simultaneously characteristic of the adolescence of Sanshirō the individual and, perhaps, of the adolescence of Japan itself, that turn-of-the-century period known as “mid-to-late Meiji.” In the youthful Sanshirō’s foot-work and gaze we may be able to see elements in common with a young nation undergoing a growth spurt, its pulse heightened after having cast off the old feudal system, breathing deeply of the newly introduced air of Western culture, and questioning its future direction and goals. But neither in the footwork nor in the gaze do we find a strong consistency. Things happen to be in balance for the moment, but no one can predict how events might cause them to falter.

One character, however, does seem to sense the danger to come. Professor Hirota, the odd fellow whom Sanshirō chances to meet on the Tokyo-bound train and who will become a mentor to him, offers a harsh assessment of Japan’s fate. Japan might swagger like a first-class power following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War (in 1905, just three years before the novel was written), but as a country, he says, it still has shallow roots. What do the Japanese have to boast of abroad? Mount Fuji? It’s nothing but a natural object that has been there for all time. The Japanese didn’t make it. Japan may give the impression of having modernized, the Professor points out, but it’s all on the surface. Psychologically, the country still has one foot deeply thrust into the pre-modern world.

Sanshirō is not especially patriotic, but the strange man’s words offend him, and he tries his best to defend the country: “But still,” he protests, “Japan will start developing from now on at least.” To which the man replies curtly, “Japan is going to perish.” Sanshirō is shocked, but at the same time he has to admire the man. Yes, he thinks, Tokyo people are different. No one in his home island of Kyushu (an especially conservative region) would dare to say anything so outrageous. “Japan is going to perish.” But Sanshirō never thinks to ask, “Why?”

You have to look at the world from a broader perspective, the Professor admonishes Sanshirō, and, even more importantly, you have to look hard at yourself. Perhaps he is being deliberately provocative, but his words become a kind of prophesy that hangs over the story—a warning—with regard to both Japan’s latent fragility and, simultaneously, the limits of the psyche of one young Meiji intellectual named Sanshirō.

Sanshirō is treated to another, more direct, prophesy with regard to the erotic side of things. It is delivered by the woman he meets on the train and with whom, on their stopover in Nagoya, he happens to share a room. As they part the next morning, she gives him a knowing look and says, “You’re quite a coward, aren’t you?”, both mocking and reproaching him for having failed to take any initiative with her during their night together. Sanshirō feels “as if he were being flung onto the platform” when he hears this. He flushes red to the tips of his ears and stays that way for a very long time; he knows that what stopped him from touching her in the night was not morality but a sheer lack of courage. Her feminine intuition enables the woman to jab at his greatest weakness.

As strongly as he is capable of doing, Sanshirō takes the two shocking prophesies or warnings to heart as he plunges into his new life in Tokyo. In this sense, his train trip from Kyushu to Tokyo is the first in a series of rites of passage for Sanshirō. In terms of myth, the prophesies comprise the first two important motifs for the innocent prince who enters the forest. Will Sanshirō successfully overcome the prophesies or warnings on his journey to maturity? Will the young hero of this coming-of-age myth forge his way into the deep, unknown forest, do battle with his shadow, and take for himself at least part of the treasure of wisdom that awaits him there?

No easy answers await the reader of Sanshirō, a novel that contains only the palest hint of mythical elements. The protagonist himself gives little sign of being poised to do battle with someone or to take something into his own hands. Indeed, he still has no idea what might be out there for him to take. Making such a person the hero of a myth would be virtually impossible. In this sense, Sanshirō is rather different from a typical modern European Bildungsroman, in which a young person—usually, like Sanshirō, an unspoiled young man or woman from the provinces—encounters many obstacles, endures many wounds and defeats, internalizes new psychic and erotic values, matures as a human being, and passes through the gates to a broader society, now a fully fledged “citizen,” as in Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe or Flaubert’s L’Éducation sentimentale.

Compared with such novels, the course of Sanshirō’s growth seems to have little straight-line continuity. He does experience his stumbles, and his expectations are undercut, but though things fail to go as he might wish, the story never really clarifies whether such experiences amount to defeat for him—or whether, indeed, a clear standard exists in Sanshirō’s own mind as to what would constitute “defeat.” To confront a situation thrust before him, to experience anguish from it, to demand answers from it: such a posture is wholly lacking in Sanshirō. If something unexpected occurs, Sanshirō merely feels surprised or moved or baffled or impressed.

In Tokyo, Sanshirō re-encounters Professor Hirota, the man he chanced to meet on the train, and he comes to regard him as a kind of mentor. There is little hint, however, that Sanshirō feels anything like a resolve to learn something important from the older man as someone who has preceded him to a (seemingly) superior state in life. He simply observes the Professor the same way he would watch a majestic cloud sailing through the sky. He does a similar thing with his small circle of acquaintances, viewing them as he would particularly beautiful or interesting clouds. He is more or less drawn to the Professor’s lifestyle, but it never occurs to him to take him as a role model. He falls in love with one member of his circle of his own age, the beautiful and intelligent Mineko (and she seems attracted to Sanshirō’s radiant innocence), but he takes no positive steps to make her his own. With regard to both psyche and eros, he always keeps himself in a warm zone of comfort. Never once does he corner himself with logic.

Perhaps Sanshirō harbors too little longing for maturity for a young man, and it may well be that he lacks any conception of what constitutes a “citizen.” From a Western point of view, his stance may appear all too immature and irresponsible, both individually and socially. He is already twenty-two (twenty-three by Japanese numbering), and as a Meiji period student at Tokyo Imperial University, he is a member of the super-elite, one of those groomed to shoulder the burdens of the nation. How can such a character stay this way, arms folded, vacillating, unable to choose a path through life? If a foreign reader were to press me with such questions, I would probably have little choice but to answer, “You may be right.” And yet, quite honestly, that arms-folded, lukewarm life stance of Sanshirō’s that wraps logical and ethical complications in the softest possible emotional cloak is strangely comfortable for me and probably for most Japanese readers.

It may be possible, in that sense, to define Sanshirō as a novel of growth without maturity. The innocent Sanshirō enters a new world, and he moves toward becoming an adult by meeting new people and having new experiences, but it is doubtful that he ever grows to the point of entering society as a “mature citizen” in the European sense. Nor is there any strong expectation in the society that surrounds him that he will do such a thing, for Japanese society had slipped sideways from a feudal system into the authoritarian emperor system that held sway until the Second World War without experiencing the maturation of a middle-class citizenry. This is something I feel very strongly.

Western “modernity” in that sense had not yet taken root in Meiji Japan, nor, perhaps, is it all that firmly rooted even in our own day. The concept of the “mature citizen” does not seem to hold much importance among us now, for better or worse (not that anyone can say for sure what is “better” and “worse”). This may be precisely why Sanshirō has become a perennial classic for the Japanese, attracting over the years a steady stream of readers who identify with it strongly. Such thoughts come to mind almost inevitably as I read the novel.

As an avid reader and outstanding scholar of English literature, Sōseki must surely have had a clear concept of the Western Bildungsroman, and his storytelling shows the obvious influence of Jane Austen. He willingly adopted such Western novel forms as models and modified them in his own way. In fact, with his profound knowledge of two cultures, he may have been the perfect writer to perform such a feat: Sōseki was deeply versed in English literature, and several of his compositions in the Complete Works display considerable mastery of the language, but he also wrote haiku through most of his adult life and was highly educated in the Chinese classics.

As a result, in Sanshirō, despite its Western framework, cause and effect become confused here and there, the metaphysical and the physical are jumbled together, and affirmation and negation are nearly indistinguishable at times. This is the author’s conscious choice, of course, and Sōseki keeps the story progressing smoothly while supporting this fundamental fuzziness by bringing into play his uniquely sophisticated sense of humor, his free-ranging style, the sheer rightness of his descriptions, and above all the simple honesty of his protagonist’s character.

Sōseki has long been known as a Japanese “national author,” and I would not dispute that designation. Into the format of the modern Western novel, he smoothly and very accurately transplanted the many forms and functions of the Japanese psyche he observed around him, and which we can easily recognize even now. He did so with great sincerity and, as a result, with great success.

Sanshirō is the only full-length novel that Sōseki wrote that focuses on the coming of age of a young man. One such novel may have been enough for him to write in his lifetime, but he had to write at least one. It thus occupies a special place among Sōseki’s works. Virtually all novelists have such a work. In my own case, it is Norwegian Wood (1987). I don’t especially want to reread it, nor do I have any desire to write another one like it, but I feel that in completing it, I was able to take a great step forward, that the existence of that work provides a solid backing for what I produced later. That feeling is important to me, and I imagine (based on my own experience if nothing else) that Sōseki must have felt the same way about Sanshirō.

I look forward to seeing how readers abroad receive Sōseki—and especially Sanshirō—in this highly accurate and lively translation. I will be happy if you enjoy the book. It is a personal favorite of mine, and I suspect you will find that, no matter where in the world you are, and no matter what the particular shape and direction of your adolescence, the special fragrance of that important stage in life we all pass through is just about the same.

Murakami Haruki

Further Reading


(arranged chronologically)

Wagahai wa neko de aru (1905–06), translated by AikoItō and GraemeWilson as I Am a Cat, 3 vols (Rutland and Tokyo: CharlesE. Tuttle Co., 1972, 1979, 1986).

“Rondon tō” (1905), translated and introduced by DamianFlanagan in the collection The Tower of London (London: Peter Owen, 2005). (Also contains short selections from 1901–09.)

“Koto no sorane” (1905): see “Yumejūya.”

“Shumi no iden” (1906): see “Yumejūya.”

Botchan (1906), translated by J.Cohn as Botchan (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2005).

Kusamakura (1906), translated by AlanTurney as The Three Cornered World (London: Peter Owen, 1965). Also translated by MeredithMcKinney as Kusamakura (London and New York: Penguin Classics, 2008).

“Nihyakutōka” (1906), translated by SammyI. Tsunematsu as 210th Day (Boston and Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2002).

Bungakuron (1907), partial translation in Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings, edited by MichaelBourdaghs, AtsukoUeda and JosephA. Murphy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).

Kōfu (1908), translated, and with an Afterword, by JayRubin as The Miner (Stanford University Press, 1988).

“Yume jūya” (1908), “Koto no sorane” (1905), “Shumi no iden” (1906), translated by AikoItō and GraemeWilson as Ten Nights of Dream, Hearing Things, The Heredity of Taste (Rutland and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1974).

Sanshirō (1908), translated by JayRubin as Sanshiro (Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 1977). Distributed by the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sore kara (1909), translated by NormaMoore Field as And Then (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978). Distributed by the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Man-Kan tokoro-dokoro” (1909), translated as “Travels in Manchuria and Korea” by IngerSigrun Brodey and SammyI. Tsunematsu in their Rediscovering Natsume Sōseki (Folke-stone, Kent: Global Oriental, 2000).

Mon (1910), translated by FrancisMathy as Mon (London: Peter Owen, 1972).

“Gendai Nihon no kaika” (1911), translated by JayRubin as “The Civilization of Modern-day Japan,” in EdwinMcClellan (tr.), Kokoro, A Novel, and Selected Essays (Lanham: Madison Books, 1992).

Higan-sugi made (1912), translated by KingoOchiai and SanfordGoldstein as To the Spring Equinox and Beyond (Rutland and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1985).

Kōjin (1913), translated by BeongcheonYu as The Wayfarer (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967).

Kokoro (1914), translated by EdwinMcClellan as Kokoro (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1957). Also in Kokoro, A Novel, and Selected Essays (Lanham: Madison Books, 1992).

“Watakushi no kojinshugi” (1914), translated by JayRubin as “My Individualism,” in EdwinMcClellan (tr.), Kokoro, A Novel, and Selected Essays (Lanham: Madison Books, 1992).

“Garasudo no uchi” (1915), translated by SammyI. Tsunematsu, with an Introduction and Afterword by MarvinMarcus, as Inside My Glass Doors (Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2002).

Michikusa (1915), translated by EdwinMcClellan as Grass on the Wayside (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).

Meian (1916), translated by V. H.Viglielmo as Light and Darkness (London: Peter Owen, 1971).


DoiTakeo, The Psychological World of Natsume Sōseki, translated by WilliamJefferson Tyler (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976).

Fujii,James A., Complicit Fictions: The Subject in the Modern Japanese Prose Narrative (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

Gessel,Van C., Three Modern Novelists: Sōseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993).

Hibbett,Howard, “Natsume Sōseki and the Psychological Novel,” in DonaldH. Shively (ed.), Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture (Princeton University Press, 1971), pp. 305–46.

Iijima,Takehisa and JamesM. Vardaman, Jr. (eds), The World of Natsume Sōseki (Tokyo: Kinseido Ltd., 1987).

Keene,Donald, “Natsume Sōseki,” in Dawn to the West: A History of Japanese Literature, Volume 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984–98), pp. 305–54.

Marcus,Marvin, Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Sōseki (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009).

MatsuiSakuko, Natsume Sōseki as a Critic of English Literature (Tokyo: Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies, 1975).

Matsuo,Takayoshi, “A Note on the Political Thought of Natsume Sōseki in his Later Years,” in BernardSilberman and H. D.Harootunian (eds), Japan in Crisis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 67–85.

McClellan,Edwin, Two Japanese Novelists: Sōseki and Tōson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).

_____, “The Implications of Sōseki’s Kokoro,” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 14 (1958–9), pp. 356–70.

MasaoMiyoshi, Accomplices of Silence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).

Rubin,Jay, Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984). (On Sōseki’s resignation from the University, rejection of the Doctorate of Letters and critique of the Committee on Literature, etc.)

Sakaki,Atsuko, Recontextualizing Texts: Narrative Performance in Modern Japanese Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999). (See especially “The Debates on Kokoro: A Cornerstone,” pp. 29–53.)

Washburn,Dennis, “Translating Mount Fuji,” in Translating Mount Fuji: Modern Japanese Fiction and the Ethics of Identity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 71–106.

Yiu,Angela, Chaos and Order in the Works of Natsume Sōseki (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998).

Yu,Beongcheon, Natsume Sōseki (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1969).

Translator’s Note

Sanshirō is a novel about a young man from the sleepy countryside who opens his eyes to the modern world of the city and to the women who are that world’s most alluring—and frightening—denizens. The opening phrases of the book, “He drifted off, and when he opened his eyes the woman…” are thus powerfully symbolic of Sanshirō’s journey as a whole, but they are securely anchored in the practical realities of travel in 1908, when the novel was serialized from 1 September to 29 December in the pages of the Asahi Shinbun newspaper. By the time we see him on an evening train, Sanshirō might well have been dozing because he would have been on the road for some thirty-one hours, with another twenty-six to go. (Travelers in 2008 could complete Sanshirō’s entire itinerary in under six hours by connecting to one of Japan’s famous bullet trains.)1

When he stops in Nagoya for his second night on the road, Sanshirō writes in the hotel registry that he lives in “Masaki Village, Miyako County, Fukuoka Prefecture,” an address in Japan’s southern main island, Kyushu, of which only the name of the village is fictional. It is based on the home of Sōseki’s “disciple,” Komiya Toyotaka (1884–1966), who came from the village of Saigawa.2 The train station nearest to Komiya’s home has been named Higashi-Saigawa Sanshirō to commemorate its connection with the now classic novel. Toyotsu, an actual town a few minutes away on the same line, is where Sanshirō occasionally went to the bank, as mentioned in Chapter 8. Like the name Masaki Village, however, most of Sanshirō is pure fiction, and Sōseki felt perfectly free to stipulate that the train to Nagoya was due in at 9.30 even though the “real” train was scheduled to arrive at 10.39, to mention only one of many divergences from fact that have been noted by Japanese scholars.3

The novel’s Tokyo setting is also quite real, and the layout of the University of Tokyo’s central campus in Hongō—the hospital, the athletic field, the faculty center on the hill above the pond—remains much as it was in Sōseki’s day, though few of the buildings described by Sōseki in such detail survived the devastating 1923 earthquake. The pond is now known as “Sanshirō Pond.” Sanshirō is one of Sōseki’s most beloved novels, both for its nostalgic view of student life and its panorama of Meiji-period Tokyo—or at least the University district. Edward Seidensticker wrote that “Sanshirō lives in Hongō, and does not have a very exciting time of it… students had to go to [the neighboring] Kanda [Ward] for almost everything, from school supplies to Kabuki… Hongō was dominated by more austere sorts, professors and intellectuals and the young men of the future.”4 Indeed, when Sanshirō and his friend Yojirō go out for a good time, they board the streetcar to leave the neighborhood. Sanshirō does a lot of walking throughout the city, and many place names are briefly mentioned in the course of his rambles, but only a few significant ones are annotated in the translation.

The action of the novel begins in early September and ends some time after the New Year, and most references to actual people and events suggest that the old year is 1907. The Literary Society’s drama performance near the end, for example, is clearly based on one that Sōseki attended on 22 November 1907, and the storyteller En’yū, who died in November 1907, is discussed in the present tense. The off-track betting system that allowed Yojirō to lose money on a horse race in November was outlawed in October 1908 but was still perfectly legal in 1907. The few details that date indisputably from 1908 are relatively unimportant.5

Verisimilitude has nothing to do with the sub-plot involving the University students’ campaign to hire a Japanese professor of foreign literature. The botched plan is a major source of humor in the novel, but it masks some bitter experience for Sōseki in the academic world and it gestures toward some intriguing parallels between the lives of Sōseki and his predecessor on the Tokyo Imperial University English faculty, Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904).

Hearn had been dead for four years by the time Sōseki wrote Sanshirō in 1908. Sanshirō and his friend Yojirō are walking by the University pond when Yojirō mentions “how the late Professor Koizumi Yakumo [Hearn’s Japanese name] had always disliked the faculty room. After his lectures he would walk around the pond.” Of Greek-Irish descent, Lafcadio Hearn made his reputation as a journalist in the United States until 1890, when, at the age of thirty-nine, he went to Japan, married a Japanese woman, and became world-famous for his imaginative writings on Japan, most notably his beautifully wrought retellings (and occasional inventions) of Japanese folk-tales. Hearn never felt fully accepted in Japan, however, and he was only able to achieve Japanese citizenship—with the name Koizumi Yakumo—in 1896, the year he began teaching at the University. From 1891 to 1894, he had taught at Sanshirō’s alma mater, the Fifth National College in Kumamoto, where Sōseki taught as a full professor from 1896 to 1900.

As popular as he was with students in both Kumamoto and the University, Hearn was never more than a hired hand, a lecturer, and although his literary fame and his good relationship with the University president earned him twice the lecturer’s usual 200-yen monthly salary, he had to be reappointed from year to year. Especially now that he was a fully fledged Japanese citizen, he felt he deserved a professorial appointment. Instead, his position became increasingly insecure when the University president died in 1900 and was replaced by a man who was far more conscious of Hearn’s lack of academic credentials than he was impressed by his literary reputation. Hearn’s foreign colleagues at the University also made him uncomfortable. Two were devout Catholics, and made it clear they resented his abandonment of Christianity—and perhaps resented both his marriage to a Japanese woman and the worldwide fame of his exoticist writings as well. He heard the philosophy lecturer Raphael von Koeber (1848–1923) declare that all heretics should be burned alive to save their souls and that the world should be ruled by the Catholic Church, after which he never again set foot in the faculty room. (Koeber was also a very popular lecturer; Sōseki had attended an aesthetics lecture of his in 1896 and socialized with him in later years.) Instead, he would go out to the pond during class breaks with his native Japanese smoking paraphernalia in a bag, sit on a rock and smoke his long, slim kiseru pipe.6

Things came to a head for Hearn in November 1902, when he requested a year’s leave to accept an invitation to lecture on Japanese culture at Cornell University. Annoyed at Hearn’s expectation of special treatment, the strongly nationalistic president, Inoue Tetsujirō (1855–1944), rejected his request and resolved to augment the English teaching staff with a native Japanese professor. The administration immediately began considering a plan to reduce Hearn’s weekly classroom hours from twelve to eight and use the savings to hire a Japanese instructor to share teaching duties with Hearn. The best candidate for that position, they determined, was Natsume Kinnosuke (i.e. Sōseki), who was then studying in London on a government stipend. The one problem with that plan was that rumors had been reaching Tokyo that Natsume might be having mental problems, so they decided to wait for him to return, and they sought Hearn’s advice on the matter. Hearn, of course, was already steaming over the Cornell debacle, and he absolutely refused to take reduced teaching hours with lower pay.

Sōseki was on his way back to Japan when a letter arrived at Hearn’s home on 15 January 1903, expressing President Inoue’s regret that the University would be unable to continue his contract beyond 31 March. Word of Hearn’s resignation reached students at the end of February, and a heated campaign erupted to retain him. Some of the English students at a meeting on 2 March called for a mass resignation from the University if the administration moved to suppress the campaign (a position that did not receive unanimous support). A few student representatives visited Hearn at his home on 8 March and were allowed to read Inoue’s letter. Hearn was almost inaudible when he delivered his last lecture the next day, and he never came back to the University. Shocked at this sudden development, President Inoue visited Hearn and offered to let him stay with reduced hours, but Hearn would not hear of it. The break was final.

Far from being the object of a student movement to force the administration to bring a Japanese professor into the faculty, then, Sōseki arrived at the University with the administration’s backing and with the students dead set against him. His first class, on the morning of 21 April 1903, only confirmed their antipathy. He called on individual students to read aloud and translate from Silas Marner and found himself correcting one error after another. Hearn had never trained them to look at texts closely and had even ingrained in the students an attitude of contempt for the learning of English for utilitarian purposes, providing inspirational lectures instead of requiring effort on their part in grammar, composition and conversation. They hated this new instructor for correcting their pronunciation and embarrassing them as if they were middle-school students. Who was this stiff-necked intruder with the plebeian name of Kinnosuke and a few essays in a haiku magazine who presumed to replace the world-famous Hearn? Natsume’s afternoon lecture, a theory of English literature with more psychology than literature in it, only made things worse. The students felt that his objective, Western-style analysis, in contrast to Hearn’s more emotive “Japanese” approach, was like taking a scalpel to things of rare beauty. Some students walked out and never came back. One First National College student, scolded by Sōseki for his poor performance, committed suicide that May, and Sōseki was not entirely convinced, despite assurances from others, that his scolding had not been the immediate cause. He blamed himself, too, for the large number of students who failed his University spring examinations (including Osanai Kaoru (1881–1928), who would later become one of the leading figures in modern Japanese drama), and he offered his resignation, which was not accepted.

Yojirō’s campaign to make Hirota a University professor, then, is in effect a reversal—and a parody—of the situation that pertained when Sōseki began to teach at Tokyo Imperial University. Subsequent events also had their ironical implications. That fall, Sōseki’s lectures on Shakespeare transformed him from the least popular to the most popular lecturer in the Faculty of Letters. As for Hearn, once his break with the University was complete, he was dealt a final blow in the form of a letter from Cornell withdrawing their invitation because the city of Ithaca and the university campus were experiencing a typhoid epidemic that eventually killed eighty-five people. Hearn took one final teaching position, at the less prestigious, private Waseda University, beginning in March 1904, but he died from a heart attack in September at the age of fifty-four and was buried in Tokyo’s Zōshigaya Cemetery.7

Meanwhile Sōseki, who had been scolded by his brother for wanting to be a writer in his mid-teens, and who had fantasized at thirty about leaving academe for the writer’s life, would shock the public in 1907 by resigning from the nation’s most prestigious educational institution to become a newspaper staff novelist. He continued to think of himself as a scholar, however, and he surrounded himself with a dozen young “disciples,” some of them former students, as he produced a prodigious stream of publications (including two sizeable tomes of literary theory and criticism based on his University lectures) before joining Hearn in Zōshigaya Cemetery in 1916.

This translation is based primarily on the virtually identical texts of Sanshirō in volume 5 of the 29-volume Sōseki zenshū (Complete Works), published by Iwanami shoten in 1993–9, with annotations by Yoshida Hiroo, and in volume 26 of the 60-volume Nihon kindai bungaku taikei (Shōgakkan: 1969–74), annotated by Shigematsu Yasuo. Most of the annotations are taken from these copiously annotated editions without individual attribution. The Iwanami text is unusual in that it indicates the breaks between newspaper installments, and though the present translation does not go so far as to number each section, the breaks are indicated here with the symbol *.

The choices made in the translation of three very common words are worth noting: kage (shadow), mori (forest), and onna (woman).

Focusing as it does on a generally innocent young man, Sanshirō is a work with much radiant imagery, but it does have its shadows, hinting at disillusionment to come. Sōseki often uses the word kage, which can also mean “image” or “reflection” or “the hidden side” of an object, to convey these dark hints almost subliminally. The English text employs the word “shadow” somewhat more frequently than strictly idiomatic translation would require.8

Mori usually means “woods” or “forest,” and as such it is often as richly symbolic as any forest in a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale, but it can also mean “a grove where a Shinto shrine is located,” and when it appears in Sanshirō as the surname of the assassinated Minister of Education, Mori Arinori (1847–89), it is also an important element in one character’s deepest memories. Ironically, Mori was a renowned modernizer who once suggested that English should be made Japan’s national language, and he was murdered for having supposedly violated the sanctity of a nationally revered Shinto shrine.

Onna can mean a woman of any age, and in Sanshirō it refers to the dangerous woman on the train, to that woman as a mother, to Sanshirō’s own mother, to the lovely young women in Tokyo who figure so prominently in Sanshirō’s new world, and to the pretty little girl of twelve or thirteen glimpsed in a funeral procession by Professor Hirota twenty years before. Mineko, the young woman loved by Sanshirō, removes herself from the progress of his life when she becomes enshrined in a painting, unchanged, as “Woman in Forest” (mori no onna). The little girl whose image was burned into the brain of Professor Hirota, after which he went on changing with the passage of time, was someone he saw first in the funeral procession for Mori Arinori, and then in the forest of his dream, which makes her also an unchanging mori no onna.

I felt some urgency about translating Sanshirō when I first read it in my early thirties, thinking that its youthful appeal might not outlast my own youth. Students I recommended it to always loved it, and my own enthusiasm for the novel has only grown over the years. I have probably spent more time reworking it for this edition, in my mid-sixties, than I did for the original translation, which was published by the University of Washington Press in 1977 and made available to students until 2009 by the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan. Much of the pleasure this time around came from consulting with Professor Maeda Shōsaku, a linguist with insatiable curiosity about the English translation of Japanese literary texts. Other friends who have read and commented on the manuscript include Ted Goossen, Lindeth Vasey, Shibata Motoyuki, Shibata Hitomi and, as always, my wife Rakuko. My first translation of Sanshirō was dedicated jointly to my young son, Gen, and his grandmother, my mother Frances or “Baba.” Let this version be dedicated to the memory of Baba and to my own wonderful grandchildren—Makena, Kaia, and my daughter Hana’s new baby, Kai.


1. Sanshirō comes from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, and is taking a 730-mile, 3-day trip to Tokyo, spending almost 40 hours on the train, plus two stopovers. After the first 50 miles (covered in about 2½ hours by train), he would have taken a 15-minute steam ferry connection from the port of Moji on the northeastern corner of Kyushu to Shimonoseki on the southwestern tip of the main island, Honshu (tunnels were not completed until 1942 and 1944), and continued on by a San’yō Line train to Tokyo, with stops at Hiroshima (175 miles from home), Kobe (365 miles, where the line becomes the Tō kaidō ), Osaka (385 miles), Kyoto (410 miles) and Nagoya (500 miles). When we first meet him, Sanshirō is on the Kyoto-Nagoya leg of his trip and is about to spend his second night on the road. A 29-hour “Extreme Express” [saikyūkō] from Shimonoseki to Tokyo was available at the time of the novel, but this would not have matched Sanshirō’s itinerary, most notably his all-important stopover in Nagoya. A likely itinerary was this: depart Saigawa on local Kyushu train at 11.12 a.m., arrive Yukuhashi 11.36; depart Yukuhashi 12.06, arrive Kokura 13.08; depart Kokura 13.16, arrive Moji 13.43; ferry 13.45–14.00; San’yō Line train #42 depart Shimonoseki 14.40, arrive Kyoto (end of line) 8.58 the next day. Tour Kyoto. Tōkaidō Line train #36 depart Kyoto 16.58, arrive Nagoya (end of line, still 230 miles from Tokyo) 22.39. Overnight in Nagoya. 8.00 a.m. train #24 from Nagoya, arrive Tokyo 20.06; Professor Hirota’s presence on this train is never explained.

2. In 2006, Saigawa became part of the town of Miyako-machi. The area is still rural and remote, and rail service is limited to a small line, the Heisei–Chikuhō Railway, which runs only one or two one-car trains an hour.

3. See Takagi Fumio, “Sanshirō no jōkyō,” in Tamai Takayuki et. al. (eds), Sōseki sakuhin-ron shūsei 5: Sanshirō (Tokyo: Ōfūsha, 1991), pp. 149–160. My re-creation of Sanshirō’s itinerary is based partly on this source and largely on Tezuka Takemasa (ed.), Kisha-kisen ryokō annai, No. 164 (May 1908), pp. 36–40, 72–5, courtesy of Kōtsū kagaku hakubutsukan (Modern Transportation Museum), Osaka, kindly obtained for me on a blazing summer day in 2008 by Professor Maeda Shōsaku.

4. Edward Seidensticker, Low City, High City (New York: Knopf, 1983), p. 243.

5. See Nihon kindai bungaku taikei, 60 vols (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1969–74), vol. 26, pp. 106 n5, 197 n17, 198 n1, and 576 n 87.

6. Etō Jun, Sōseki to sono jidai: Dai-ni-bu (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1970), pp. 242–3. On kiseru, see note 26 to the main text.

7. Ibid., pp. 243–8.

8. For a more detailed discussion of this and other elements of the book’s visual imagery, see my “Sanshirō and Sōseki: A Critical Essay” in the earlier version of this translation, as published by the University of Washington Press (1977), Perigee Books (1982), and the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan (2002), pp. 213–48.



He drifted off, and when he opened his eyes the woman was still there. Now she was talking to the old man seated next to her—the farmer from two stations back. Sanshirō remembered him. The old man had given a wild shout and come bounding onto the train at the last second. Then he had stripped to the waist, revealing the moxibustion scars1 all over his back. Sanshirō had watched him wipe the sweat off, straighten his kimono, and sit down beside the woman.

Sanshirō and the woman had boarded this train in Kyoto, and she immediately caught his eye. She was very dark, almost black. The ferry had brought him from Kyushu the day before, and as the train drew closer to Hiroshima, then Osaka and Kyoto, he had watched the complexions of the local women turning lighter and lighter, and before he knew it he was homesick.2 When she entered the car, he felt he had gained an ally of the opposite sex. She was a Kyushu-color woman.

She was the color of Miwata Omitsu. At home, he had always found Omitsu an annoying girl, and he had been glad to leave her behind. But now he saw that a woman like Omitsu could be very nice after all.

The features of this woman, however, were far superior to Omitsu’s. Her mouth was firm, her eyes bright. She lacked Omitsu’s enormous forehead. There was something pleasant about the way everything fitted together, and he found himself glancing at her every few minutes. Several times their eyes met. He had a good long look at her when the old man took his seat. She smiled and made room, and soon after that Sanshirō drifted off.

The woman and the old man must have struck up a conversation while he was sleeping. Awake now, Sanshirō listened to them.

Hiroshima was not the place to buy toys, she was saying. They were much cheaper and better in Kyoto. She had to make a brief stop in Kyoto in any case and bought some toys near the Tako-Yakushi Temple. She was happy for this long-delayed return to her native village where her children were staying, but she was concerned about having to live with her parents now that the money was no longer coming from her husband. He was a laborer at the Kure Navy Yard near Hiroshima, but had gone to Port Arthur during the War.3

He came back for a while when the War ended, but left again for Da-lien because he thought he could make more money there. His letters came regularly at first, and money arrived every month, but there had been neither word nor money for the past six months. She knew she could trust him, but she herself could no longer manage to live in Hiroshima without work. At least until she learned what had become of him, she would have to go home to her parents.

The old man did not seem to know about the Tako-Yakushi Temple or care about toys. He responded mechanically at first. But the mention of Port Arthur brought a sudden show of compassion. His own son was drafted into the Army and died over there, he said. What was the point of war, anyway? If there were prosperity afterward, that would be one thing, but people lost their sons and prices went up; it was so stupid. When there was peace, men didn’t have to go off to foreign countries to make money. It was all because of the War. In any case, he said, trying to comfort her, the most important thing was to have faith. Her husband was alive and working, and he would come home soon. At the next stop the old man wished her well and stepped briskly from the car.


Four other passengers followed the old man out, and only one got in. Far from crowded to begin with, the car now seemed deserted. The sun had gone down: maybe that had something to do with it. Station workers were tramping along the roof of the train, inserting lighted oil lamps into holders from above. As though reminded of the time, Sanshirō started to eat the box lunch he had bought at the last station.

The train started up again. It had been running for perhaps two minutes when the woman rose from her seat and glided past Sanshirō to the door of the car. The color of her obi caught his eye now for the first time. He watched her go out, the head of a boiled sweetfish in his mouth. He sunk his teeth into it over and over and thought, she’s gone to the toilet.

Before long, she was back. Now he could see her from the front. He was working on the last of his dinner. He looked down and dug away at it with his chopsticks. He took two, three bulging mouthfuls of rice, and still it seemed she had not come back to her seat. Could she be standing in the aisle? He glanced up and there she was, facing him. But the moment he raised his eyes, the woman started to move. Instead of passing by Sanshirō and returning to her seat, however, she turned into the booth ahead of his and poked her head out of the window. She was having a long, quiet look. He saw how her side locks fluttered in the rush of wind. Then, with all his strength, Sanshirō hurled the empty wooden lunchbox from his window. A narrow panel was all that separated Sanshirō’s window from the woman’s. As soon as he released the box into the wind, the lid appeared to shoot back against the train in a flash of white, and he realized what a stupid thing he had done. He glanced toward the woman, but her face was still outside the window. Then she calmly drew her head in and dabbed at her forehead with a print handkerchief. The safest thing would be to apologize.

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right.”

She was still wiping her face. There was nothing more for him to say, and she fell silent as well, poking her head out of the window again. He could see in the feeble light of the oil lamps that the three or four other passengers all had sleepy faces. No one was talking. The only sound was the ongoing roar of the train. Sanshirō closed his eyes.

“Do you think we’ll be getting to Nagoya soon?”

It was the woman’s voice. He opened his eyes and was startled to find her leaning over him, her face close to his.

“I wonder,” he answered, but he had no idea. This was his first trip to Tokyo.

“Do you think we’ll be late?”


“I get off at Nagoya. How about you?”

“Yes, I do too.”

This train only went as far as Nagoya. Their remarks could not have been more ordinary. The woman sat down diagonally opposite Sanshirō. For a while again the only sound was that of the train.

At the next station, the woman spoke to him once more. She hated to bother him, she said, but would he please help her find an inn when they reached Nagoya? She felt uneasy about doing it alone. He thought her request reasonable enough, but he was not eager to comply. She was a stranger, after all, a woman. He hesitated as long as he could, but did not have the courage to refuse outright. He made a few vague noises. Soon the train reached Nagoya.


His large wicker trunk would be no problem: it had been checked all the way to Tokyo. He passed through the ticket gate carrying only a small canvas bag and his umbrella. He was wearing the summer cap of his college4 but had torn the school patch off to indicate that he had graduated. The color was still new in just that one spot, though it showed only in daylight. With the woman following close behind, he felt somewhat embarrassed about the cap, but she was with him now and there was nothing he could do. To her, of course, the cap would be just another battered old hat.

Due at 9.30, the train had arrived forty minutes late. It was after ten o’clock, but the summer streets were noisy and crowded as though the night had just begun. Several inns stood across from the station, but Sanshirō thought they were a little rich for him—three-story buildings with electric lights.5 He walked past them without a glance. He had never been here before and had no idea where he was going. He simply headed for the darker streets, the woman following in silence. Two houses down a nearly deserted backstreet he saw the sign for an inn. It was dirty and faded, just the thing for him and this woman.

“How about that place?” he asked, glancing back at her.

“Fine,” she said.

He strode in through the gate. They were greeted effusively at the door and shown to a room—White Plum No. 4. It all happened too quickly for him to protest that they were not together.

They sat opposite each other, staring into space, while the maid went to prepare tea. She came in with a tray and announced that the bath was ready. Sanshirō no longer had the courage to tell her that the woman was not with him. Instead, he picked up a towel and, excusing himself, went to the bath. It was at the end of the corridor, next to the toilet. The room was poorly lit and dirty. Sanshirō undressed, then jumped into the tub and gave some thought to what was happening. He was splashing around in the hot water, thinking what a difficult situation he had gotten himself into, when there were footsteps in the corridor. Someone went into the toilet. A few minutes later the person came out. There was the sound of hands being washed. Then the bathroom door creaked open halfway.

“Want me to scrub your back?” the woman asked from the doorway.

“No, thank you,” Sanshirō answered loudly. But she did not go away. Instead, she came inside and began undoing her obi. She was obviously planning to bathe with him. It didn’t seem to embarrass her at all. Sanshirō leapt from the tub. He dried himself hastily and went back to the room. He was sitting on a floor cushion, not a little shaken, when the maid came in with the register.

Sanshirō took it from her and wrote, “Name: Ogawa Sanshirō. Age: 23. Occupation: Student. Address: Masaki Village, Miyako County, Fukuoka Prefecture.”6 He filled in his portion honestly, but when it came to the woman’s he was lost. He should have waited for her to finish bathing, but now it was too late. The maid was waiting. There was nothing he could do. “Name: Ogawa Hana. Age: 23. Address: As above,” he wrote and gave back the register. Then he started fanning himself furiously.

At last the woman came back to the room. “Sorry I chased you out,” she said.

“Not at all,” Sanshirō replied. He took a notebook from his bag and started a diary entry. There was nothing for him to write about. He would have plenty to write about if only she weren’t there.

“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” the woman said and left the room. Now, writing was out of the question. Where could she have gone to?


The maid came in to put down the bedding. She brought only a single wide mattress. Sanshirō told her they must have two mattresses, but she would not listen. The room was too small, the mosquito net too narrow, she said. And it was too much bother, she might have added. Finally she said she would ask the clerk about it when he came back and then bring another mattress. She stubbornly insisted upon hanging the single mosquito net and stuffing the mattress inside it.

Soon the woman came back. She apologized for taking so long. She started doing something in the shadows behind the mosquito net and eventually produced a clanking sound—probably from one of the children’s toys. Then she seemed to be rewrapping her bundle, after which she announced that she would be going to bed. Sanshirō barely answered her. He sat on the doorsill, fanning himself. It occurred to him that he might best spend the night doing just that. But the mosquitoes were buzzing all around him. It would be unbearable outside the net. He stood up and took a muslin undershirt and underpants from his bag, slipped them on, and tied a dark blue sash around his waist. Then, holding two towels in his hand, he entered the net. The woman was still fanning herself on the far corner of the mattress.

“Sorry, but I’m very finicky. I don’t like sleeping on strange mattresses. I’m going to make a kind of flea guard, but don’t let it bother you.”

He rolled his side of the sheet toward the side where the woman lay, making a long, white partition down the center of the bed. The woman turned the other way. Sanshirō spread the towels end to end along his side of the mattress, then fitted his body into this long, narrow space. That night, not a hand nor a foot ventured out beyond Sanshirō’s narrow bed of towels. He spoke not a word to the woman. And she, having turned to the wall, never moved.

The long night ended. The woman washed her face and knelt at the low breakfast table, smiling. “Did you have any fleas last night?”

“No, thank you for asking,” Sanshirō said gravely. He looked down and thrust his chopsticks into a small cup of sweet beans.

They paid and left the inn. It was only when they reached the station that the woman told him where she was going. She would be taking the Kansai Line to Yokkaichi. Sanshirō’s train pulled in a moment later. The woman would have a brief wait for hers. She accompanied Sanshirō to the ticket gate. “I’m sorry to have put you to so much trouble,” she said, bowing politely. “Goodbye, and have a pleasant trip.”

Bag and umbrella in one hand, Sanshirō took off his hat with the other and said only, “Goodbye.”

The woman gave him a long, steady look, and when she spoke it was with the utmost calm. “You’re quite a coward, aren’t you?” A knowing smile crossed her face.

Sanshirō felt as if he were being flung onto the platform. It was even worse after he boarded the train; his ears started to burn. He sat very still, making himself as small as possible. Finally, the conductor’s whistle reverberated from one end of the station to the other, and the train began to move. Sanshirō leaned cautiously toward the open window and looked out. The woman had long since disappeared. The large clock was all that caught his eye. He e