Japanese Literature discussion

Book Club > Botchan: A Modern Classic - July read

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message 1: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 23 comments Still waiting for my copy, so it might be a few days before I can join in.

message 2: by Motheaten (new)

Motheaten | 4 comments I've started the book, it's entertaining and like Ellie said, modern. Similar to the Makioka Sisters, one of the major themes is westernisation; contrasting Tokyo's way of life and the one in Matsuyama.

message 3: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (elliearcher) Given that the tone of the book is extremely consistent, I found it was more interesting to read quickly. Putting down the book really disrupted the flow for me.

I hate to say it but I don't think the academic world has changed much or is that different in this culture than the one of the book.

message 4: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 23 comments Now I really can't wait to get this!

message 5: by Ray (new)

Ray | 14 comments just finished the book

i found Botchan to be an entertaining book, it was full of comic touchs, and a light read yet insightful at times

for a book written in 1906, it has a timeless quality to it

message 6: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 23 comments I read it yesterday, and I think it might've been a case of inflated expectations affecting the final enjoyment of the read. I liked it, and it was funny, but I continually had the feeling I was missing something in translation, particularly where Botchan's talent for insults was concerned.

message 7: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 23 comments Agreed! The interesting thing was the vague sense of recognition I had with all the characters, especially Porcupine and Red Shirt, even beyond their general types. I used to watch a lot of anime, and these two character types--the effete dandy and the gruff but sharp strong guy--crop up in most anime I've seen. There's a suggestion there that the characters in Botchan are cultural archetypes, and this gave me a sense of why this book is a classic in Japan.

message 8: by David (new)

David Haws Was it originally published as a newspaper serial? My copy doesn't have much in the way of notes.

message 9: by David (new)

David Haws The tone reminds me a little of Jerome Jerome, and I found myself wondering if the fishing sequence was an homage to "Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)."

message 10: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (elliearcher) Funny you should bring that up David-I had the same thought & I've started rereading Three Men in a Boat and there are similarities.

message 11: by David (new)

David Haws I have an old translation (almost a century) and I think Natsume's humor suffers. I can see it poking through, now and then, but it surprises me when it does. My favorite part of the book was in chapter 6 where he presents what is basically the feminist argument against western moral thought (based on Kantian reciprocity). He's talking about not having paid the 3 yen to Kiyo "not because I regard her lightly, but because I regard her as part of myself." That's a pretty amazing idea, voice by a man at the beginning of the 20th Century

message 12: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 23 comments How is that a feminist argument?

message 13: by David (new)

David Haws Ethics of Care; Gilligan, Baire, 1980s stuff. The male approach was that moral behavior was a kind of contractual relationship between equals (for Kant, moral behavior was only owed other moral agents) and so hopelessly focused on material property. Care focuses more on relationship (not necessarily the relationship between equals). Of course, there are males who follow an ethics of care, but it began with a feminist critique. Baire complained that nearly all classic ethical theories were developed by male, miscogenist, gay (she later cut that one) bachelors.

message 14: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 23 comments That's an interesting point, but I'm not sure about retroactively applying late 20th century feminist theory to a satiric work written more than half a century earlier in Japan. If there is a commonality, it seems to me to rest more with the universality of empathy than any explicit or implicit feminist ideas.

But there seems to be a difference of interpretation; I read the line you quoted in post 13 as tongue-in-cheek, not literal. Botchan certainly believes he's being considerate, but it's not evident Soseki does. His characterization of Botchan suggests, though not unkindly, the protagonist thinks more highly of himself than he should.

message 15: by David (new)

David Haws I read the paragraph again and didn't see any humor until he started talking about paying the sen and a half back to Porcupine. Of course, maybe I'm trying to read in a rejection of western moral theory because I think that would make Natsume (in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War) special. But that's an interesting point; my translation was so poor, I wasn't primed to see the humor in it.

Maybe it's an artifact of the first-person narrative, but I think that when Natsume is making fun of Botchan, he's making fun of himself (or it wouldn't work). He allows himself to be juvenile (Natsume is clearly going for a juvenalia tone).

I'm sure feminist would argue that a rejection of moral reciprocity was there at the beginning of the 20th Century; it's just that no one (read: no white male ethicist) bothered to consider it.

message 16: by David (new)

David Haws I think I want to read kokoro.

message 17: by Kiyomi (new)

Kiyomi | 60 comments Macc wrote: "Just finished the book and it's really good, I definitely relate to the temperament of the main character, the way he sees the world and those around him and the way he reacts to it. I did find som..."

Hi, Macc.

I see you're reading Kokoro. Do you like it so far?

How about "I Am a Cat"?
It's a story about lives of ordinary people, funny with puns and jokes and satirical, narrated by a cat. We read it in junior high, but I guess you need to be more mature to really enjoy it.


message 18: by David (new)

David Haws Is Sōseki (漱石) an actual thing, or is it meant to be something absurd? Does it conjure an image of 夏目さん choking on his ink stone? The only thing I could think of was the old story about Demosthenes, learning oratory by forcing himself to talk with a mouthful of pebbles. It’s an onyomi reading, so does it have a meaning in Chinese?

I've started reading 行人 and it looks pretty good so far.

message 19: by Kiyomi (new)

Kiyomi | 60 comments David wrote: "Is Sōseki (漱石) an actual thing, or is it meant to be something absurd? Does it conjure an image of 夏目さん choking on his ink stone? The only thing I could think of was the old story about Demosthenes..."

Hi, David
It’s said that 漱石 cames from 漱石枕流 sosekichinryu, meaning being obstinate. It’s Chinese and means “to rinse your mouth with a stone and to sleep on a stream". When pointed out that a stone should be a stream (to rinse your mouth with) and a stream should be a stone (to sleep on), this Chinese man is said to have tried to make himself sound right, coming up with far-fetched reasons.

message 20: by David (new)

David Haws 清美さん、


That’s great, I would never have gotten it. Is it an example of 四字熟語?

How are things in 関東?

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