IT WAS during the Meiji era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, that Japan emerged as a modern nation; and it was towards the latter part of this period that the modern Japanese novel reached its maturity, and true masters of what was essentially a western literary form began to appear. Of these novelists, Natsume Soseki was perhaps the most profound and the most versatile.
Soseki was born in Tokyo in 1867, when the city was still known by its old name of Yedo. He was educated at the Imperial University, where he studied English literature. In 1896, he joined the staff of the Fifth National College in Kumamoto, and in 1900, he was sent to England as a government scholar. He returned to Japan in 1903, and in April of the same year, he succeeded Lafcadio Hearn as lecturer in English literature at the Imperial University. He was dissatisfied with academic life, and in 1907 decided to devote all his time to writing novels and essays.
Soseki wrote Kokoro in 1914, two years after the death of Emperor Meiji, and two years before his own death. It was written at the peak of his career, when his reputation as a novelist was already established. In it, as in all his other important novels, Soseki is concerned with man's loneliness in the modern world. It is in one of his other novels that the protagonist cries out: "How can I escape, except through faith, madness, or death?" And for Sensei, the protagonist of Kokoro, the only means of escape from his loneliness is death.
The suicide of General Nogi, which is referred to in Parts II and III of Kokoro, is, I think, of some significance to us in our understanding of the novel and of Soseki. The incident caused a great sensation at the time. He and Admiral Togo were probably the best-known heroes of the Russo-Japanese War. As a young officer, he had lost his banner to the enemy in the Satsuma Rebellion. Thirty-five years later, immediately after the death of Emperor Meiji, he killed himself. He had waited until he could no longer serve his emperor to redeem his honor. Soseki was too modern in his outlook to be fully in sympathy with the general; and so is Sensei. Despite Soseki's attitude toward the old-fashioned notion of honor, however, he could not help feeling that he was in some way a part of the world that had produced General Nogi. That is why in this novel, the passing of the Meiji era is mourned by Sensei. "On the night of the Imperial Funeral I sat in my study and listened to the booming of the cannon. To me, it sounded like the last lament for the passing of an age."
Kokoro is told in the first person all the way through. For this reason, the style is intentionally simple. In the original, there is beauty beneath the surface simplicity, especially in the third part. I can only hope that at least a little of the beauty has remained in the translation. I have tried, at any rate, to retain the simplicity.
The best rendering of the Japanese word "kokoro" that I have seen is Lafcadio Hearn's, which is: "the heart of things."
Without the great kindness of the members of the Committee on Social Thought, of The University of Chicago, I could never have done this translation. I want to thank my wife also for her help.
McClellan, Edwin, foreword to Soseki, Natsume. <cite>Kokoro</cite> <br />
Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1957. 21 Jan. 2000. <br />
McClellan, Edwin, foreword to Soseki, Natsume. Kokoro
Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1957. 21 Jan. 2000.