Natsume Soseki


           夏目漱石 (明治40年)


"The two years I spent in London
were the most unpleasant two years of my life."

           Natsume Soseki - 1907


Just watched a programme about the Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki. I don't know much about him other than he wrote 'I am a cat' and was on the back of the old Y1000 note.

Natsume Soseki was adopted shortly after his birth in 1867. He was brought up to believe that his adoptive parents were his true, blood parents until, at the age of ten, they divorced. Neither of his adoptive parents seemed to want to care for Soseki any longer and his real parents took him back. However, he always felt he was the 'unwanted child'. His mother died when he was 14, his two older brothers dying shortly after. He studied haiku and classical Chinese at school, and majored in English literature at the University of Tokyo with the intention of becoming an architect.

After graduation he became a school teacher at various schools. He married and had his first child. In 1900, he was sent to England by the Japanese Government to study at university. Upon arrival however, he found that he couldn't afford the school fees, so ended up living in Clapham, London for 2 years. Whilst living in London he spent most of his time locked away in his room, his face hidden by books, slowly teaching himself the things he wanted to learn. His loneliness and poverty caused him to have some mental problems. He later remembered his time in London in the preface of the book 'Bungakuron' by writing the above quote.

Whilst Natsume Soseki was becoming a famous novelist, his home life was not as smooth. It wasn't until he himself had a near death experience that he suddenly realised how important his wife and family were. However, before he could reach them, he found out his youngest daughter had died. His marital problems continued and he died in 1916 from a stomach ulcer.

The programme I watched primarily looked into the reasons behind why Natsume Soseki became a recluse in London. It also hit upon why living abroad as the only foreigner can be mentally tough.

The place where he lived in Clapham is currently a museum. I'm curious ;)

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