A modern classic in Japan on par with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Catcher in the Rye, Botchan is a very popular Japanese novel and still widely read decades after its first publication.
Botchen, a timeless Japanese novel written by Japan's most beloved novelist, Soseki Natsume, is now available in a revised edition featuring a new foreword by Dennis Washburn, Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages at Dartmouth College. Prof. Washburn's foreword places the importance of both the author and the book into perspective for the modern reader.
Botchan's story is a familiar one: the youngest son in a middle class Tokyo family, he is consistently in the shadow of his elder brother. With a practically nonexistent relationship with his family, Botchan finds himself cast adrift after both his parents die. Now on his own, Botchan drifts through college only to find himself thrust into a teaching job in the unfamiliar realm of a country school, far from Tokyo and the life he has known. Botchan's difficulty adjusting to his new life is eloquently described, from his nosy landlord to his students, who delight in tormenting the newcomer from the big city.
Through it all, Botchen's life is threaded with his vacillating concern for Kiyo, the family servant he left behind who was the only person to give him love and understanding in his life. Regardless of where he goes or what he does, he is always trying to apply the lessons she taught him to his life.
Soseki Natsume was born in Tokyo in 1867, and upon graduating from the prestigious Tokyo University, worked as an English teacher for a time. He was sent to London for three years by the Japanese government in 1900 on the first English literary scholarship, where he developed a love for Shakespeare. Returning to take up a position at Tokyo University, he began his writing career with Botchan. This is one of his most famous works, along with I Am a Cat and Kokoro. Soseki enjoyed tremendous popularity before his death in 1916 and his works are always cited as among the best in Japanese literature.
When Japanese readers and critics are asked which authors they admire, SosekiÆs name frequently appears at the top of the list. He is also the only Japanese author referred to by his personal name (Soseki) and not his family name (Natsume), and his image appears on the Japanese 1000 yen note.
Dennis Washburn is Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Translating Mount Fuji: Modern Japanese Fiction and The Ethics of Identity and translator of Temple of the Wild Geese and Bamboo Dolls of Echizen.