English Teacher Natsume Sōseki

... is the (translated) title of a book by KAWASHIMA Kōki that I am reading right now, and it is proving quite the read.

Many Japanese people derive comfort, not to mention glee, from Sōseki's having gone on the record as a student hater of English (although his love of kanbun ([Classical] Chinese) is not generally found as inspiring an example), so it's interesting to see some samples of his actual work from that period. Like:

An Ennichi

In Tokyo, there are so many temples, dedicated to gods, that almost every day in the month is a festival day, held in memory of one of those gods. Near my house, there is a small temple dedicated to Inari. Though the temple is not magnificent, the festival is very popular. It is called Goto-Inari. The 5th instant was a festival day and I went at night to it. On that night the weather was very clear and the street was so crowded by people that I hardly made my way through them. By the road, market gardeners arranged their plants to sell them. I bought a plant from a market-gardener and returned home at 9 o'clock.

That was apparently written when Sōseki was 17 or 18, not long after he entered Tokyo Imperial University.

Kawashima also helpfully includes an example of DAZAI Osamu's work at around the same age, forty-odd years later in the early Shōwa period:


Do you know why Japanese costume has two big "SODE"? Perhaps, you do not know. This "Sode" has an interesting story. I will tell it to you. Long long years ago, there was a very very fair woman. She was so tender and fair that many men of that day wrote to her many love-letters. If she took a walk, men flung their letters into her pocket. At last, she had no space to receive their letters on her person. And then that very clever woman made "SODE" in her costume. Is this story not interesting, Sir? All Japanese wish to have love-letters flung to them.

"... Note," says Kawashima, "that unlike Sōseki's composition, [Dazai's] is constructed with a certain 'story-ness.' At this age, Dazai was already thinking of becoming a novelist, but this idea could not have been further from Sōseki's mind. This is readily apparent in their respective compositions."

Indeed, one cannot but observe that Dazai is already a writer in all but paycheck: he ups the word count with obvious hearsay and nonsense, and the finished product is an embarrassingly plaintive and desperate plea for approval.

Popularity factor: 6

Carl Johnson:

Ah, the sad decline of English education in Japan. Haha. Here are some titles of my favorite essays for my school's upcoming speech contest:

"I feel I'm overprotected" (This girl rags on her parents like crazy! Confucianism is dead!)

"MEN" (Girl starts out about how comedians say men are slobs, then shifts into how the author's father is also a slob. Mourn Confucius!)

Untitled about being an Korean Emigrant in Japan, excerpt:

Many people ask me " Which country do you cheer for? Japan or Korea?" I can't understand why they ask me such a question. If you were in my place being in another country and people ask you the same kind of question , what would you answer to that ? Probably your answer is "Japan." My answer is of course Korea.


I wish I'd been alive during a time when one could walk down the street and see gentlemen flinging loveletters into women's pockets.


The gentlemen of yesterjapan do seem to have been rather more vigorous, don't they? They'd probably scoff at today's annoying-whine nampa kings.

Carl: Speech contests! I remember those. I always rooted for the kids who wrote about their antique shoe collection instead of "I wish for world peace."

Your last student had me a bit confused, until I realized that their words were designed to be heard by a Japanese audience imagining themselves as emigrants to elsewhere (rather than me, a non-Japanese person in Japan. Although I probably would cheer for Japan.)


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