Meiji-Taisho Era novelist Soseki becoming trendy across the world 100 years later

April 20, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Even almost 100 years after his death, novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), who counts popular writer Haruki Murakami among his fans, is gaining new converts throughout the world amid globalization.

In South Korea, the complete collection of Soseki's long works, the first of that kind in the country, began to be published in 2013. In English-speaking countries, major publishers are publishing new translations of his novels in paperback versions in succession from 2008.

According to the government-affiliated Japan Foundation, Soseki’s masterpiece serial novel “Kokoro” (Heart) has been newly published in 10 languages, such as Arabic and Slovenian, since 2001.

Including the novel, about 60 of his works have been translated into more than 30 languages.

“In Western countries, translations of works of Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) and Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) have made progress so that people there can feel the Japanese sensibilities. In recent years, however, the universality of Soseki, who criticized civilization, as a contemporary man is gathering attention,” said Ryosuke Yamamoto, associate professor of modern Japanese literature at Toyo University.

Another reason for the growing popularity of Soseki overseas is that Murakami cites him as his favorite author.

The Chinese version of Soseki’s novel, “Gubijinso” (The poppy), published in 2010, said in the jacket blurb, “This is the literary classic Haruki Murakami admires the most.”

As to their common points, American translator Jay Rubin, who has translated their works, said, “Both Soseki and Murakami are digging deep into the thinking of the protagonists of their works.”

In the United States, a three-day international symposium on “Soseki’s Diversity” is under way at the University of Michigan from April 18. American researchers organized the event in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of “Kokoro” in The Asahi Shimbun, which started on April 20, 1914.

About 100 participants, many of them researchers and students, are reflecting on Soseki and his works. The observations of those who are giving speeches varies widely.

One of them read Soseki's “Kusamakura” (The grass pillow) while overlapping its protagonist with the thoughts of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Another noted the foreign books the protagonist of Soseki's “Michikusa” (Grass on the wayside) reads.

Keith Vincent, 45, associate professor of comparative literature at Boston University, who organized the symposium along with others, said that the difficulty of human relations, which were described by Soseki, has not become an outdated notion. Whenever he reads Soseki’s works, he discovers new things, he said.

Political scientist Kang Sang-jung, who is the principal of Seigakuin University, also said, “Soseki predicted the problems we are facing today. He had a long-term view of civilization.”

According to Kang, the biggest values that contemporary Japan or postwar Japan aimed to obtain are freedom or self-consciousness. Soseki said that those values will bring about the isolation of humans.

“After modernization or high (economic) growth, anyone (in the world) as well as those in Japan has to pass through the ‘disease of the times’ Soseki described. His popularity will become more global in the future,” Kang predicted.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yusuke Takatsu in Tokyo and Mariko Nakamura in Ann Arbor, Mich.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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University students show the names of their favorite works of author Natsume Soseki during an international symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., on April 18. (Hikaru Uchida)

University students show the names of their favorite works of author Natsume Soseki during an international symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., on April 18. (Hikaru Uchida)

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  • University students show the names of their favorite works of author Natsume Soseki during an international symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., on April 18. (Hikaru Uchida)
  • English versions of Natsume Soseki’s works are on sale during an international symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., on April 18. (Hikaru Uchida)

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