Kokoro (1914) – NATSUME Sōseki

題名: こゝろ
著者: 夏目 漱石
出版年: 1914年

It’s been one hundred years since the publication of Kokoro, so it seems like as good a time as any to finally read it, and write down some thoughts about the most popular Japanese novel of all time.

It’s the summer holidays, and our narrator has gone to the seaside to escape the stifling heat of Tokyo (we’ve all been there). While there, he meets a middle-aged man he calls Sensei. The two of them form an odd friendship over their time in Kamakura, and it is continued when they both return to Tokyo. But friendship is a fragile thing, and as the two learn more about each other, past events threaten their relationship.

When our narrator meets Sensei for the first time, he is enamoured. Not in the modern sense, perhaps, but her certainly wants to get to know this older gentleman. He is about to finish university, and with his whole life in front of him, he sees Sensei as a potential mentor, as someone who can guide him to the right decisions. Reluctantly, Sensei begins to let the young man in. It quickly becomes clear, though, that there is a barrier to the their friendship, one our narrator is determined to break down, despite his ailing father moving ever closer to death.

And when our narrator is forced to choose between Sensei and his father, he makes a choice that will change Sensei’s life forever.

The second half—Sensei’s story—is the stronger of the two, and once you realise this was the first part Natsume wrote, it’s easy to see why. This is not an earth-shatteringly epic story, nor is it trying to place Japan in a modern context, as so many contemporary Japanese novelists try to do. This is a deeply human story, a story about the heart, and the completely illogical things it makes us do.

Desperate to make sure that this young man he has come to see as a friend does not make the same mistakes he did, Sensei writes him a letter. The letter is the key to understanding everything about him, and why he has wasted his life hidden away as a recluse, with only his wife to keep him company.

The story Sensei tells is a classic tale—boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, second boy arrives, second boy falls in love with girl. The two boys in question, Sensei and K, are friends, though not perhaps as close as we might imagine. Sensei feels a sense of obligation to K, who has been depressed and isolated as of late. Thinking he is doing the right thing by inviting him to live together, Sensei sets in motion a series of events that will shape the rest of his life.

This is a novel about the choices we make as young men, and the way these choices shape and influence our lives forever. We may have regrets, and we may try all we can to escape them, but as Natsume so elegantly draws, it simply cannot be done. Rather than try and escape the past, one must face it head-on.

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One thought on “Kokoro (1914) – NATSUME Sōseki

  1. Tony says:

    Another beautiful Soseki book – I read it a good while back, so it’s definitely up for a reread.

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