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Botchan (坊っちゃん) by Natsume Soseki is one of the most popular novels in Japan. Most Japanese read it during their childhood. It is a story about morals.

Background[edit | edit source]

The story is based on Natsume's personal experience as a teacher being transferred to Matsuyama, which sets the stage for this novel. Natsume was born in Tokyo, and dwelling in Matsuyama was his first experience in other places. The novel describes his feelings during that experience, though occupational position of his own and the hero were widely different.

Main characters[edit | edit source]

  • Botchan: the hero of this novel. He is born in Tokyo, and has the spirit of an Edokko. He becomes a teacher of mathematics. He has common sense and a strong moral grounding.
  • Yamaarashi (Porcupine): A fellow teacher. Yamaarashi (Porcupine) is the nickname for a teacher by the name of Hotta, born in Aizu. Yamaarashi has a great, Samurai-like sense of justice.
  • Akashatsu (Redshirt): Another fellow teacher. He is the typical intellectual. He actually represents the continental European intellectual tradition, in its modern form, as it drifts towards collectivism (socialism and communism (thus the red shirt) and relativism/nihilism. He speaks of morals but is Machiavellian, and immoral. A scoundrel who for a short period of time was able to deceive even Botchan. The battle for the heart and mind of Botchan, between Yamaarashi and Akashatsu represents the tensions existing in Japan at the turn of last century. Soseki clearly rejects Akashatsu and thus the modern Continental intellectual traditions.
  • Nodaiko (The Clown): Art teacher. Nodaiko is a Tokyoite, like Botchan. He prides himself with his good taste, but follows others without much thought which earns him Botchan's contempt.
  • Uranari (The Pumpkin): Uranari is a very melancholic, but refined gentleman. Botchan looks up to him. Most agree that Uranari, or some combination of Uranari and Botchan, is Soseki's representation of himself.
  • Tanuki (The Badger): The principal of the school Botchan teaches at. He has a very indecisive nature.
  • Kiyo: Botchan's servant in Tokyo. Now an old woman, she used to take care of him when he was young. She also is a fallen aristocrat, dealing heroically with her new situation.

Supporting characters[edit | edit source]

  • Geisha: Woman entertainers. They often perform Japanese dances at banquets.
  • Students of this school: Botchan thinks they are devious and they often puzzle him.

Main place[edit | edit source]

  • School: the main stage of the novel.
  • Dogo Onsen: Hot spring that Botchan likes to go to. Now, thanks to the novel, the springs are known as a famous sightseeing spot throughout Japan.

Main themes of the novel[edit | edit source]

  • Botchan's observations and considerations about Matsuyama, on Shikoku, one of the four main islands of Japan. Botchan lives in Tokyo until he goes there. Tokyo is a modern city, but Matsuyama is not. So Botchan is surprised at the odd customs.
  • The battle for the heart and mind of Botchan between Yamaarashi and Akashatsu. Will Botchan's common sense and moral grounding become corrupted by Akashatsu, or will he team up with Yamaarashi to battle the increasing break from tradition and morals, for purely selfish gain, that Akashatsu represents.

Main scenes and events of the novel[edit | edit source]

  • Botchan goes to Matsuyama: Eight days after Botchan graduates college in Tokyo his principal calls him to his office and tells Botchan that a middle school in Shikoku needs a mathematics teacher. The salary is forty yen a month and Botchan couldn't think of anything else he could become other than a math teacher.
  • Botchan is disappointed in the place of his appointment.
  • Fishing: Botchan recognizes that Akashatsu is a crafty quack when he and Akashatsu go fishing together.
  • Locusts: The students tease Botchan by putting locusts in his bed.
  • Uranari's transfer: Akashatsu schemes to transfer Uranari to another school for Akashatsu's own profit by using his authority.
  • And the end of the novel: Revenge: Botchan and Yamaarashi get revenge on Akashatsu and Nodaiko. Botchan resigns his job and returns to Tokyo. He finds a job as a tramway engineer.

Chapters[edit | edit source]

Public domain text, retrieved from the Aozora Bunko website.