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  • Kokoro in the High School Textbook
  • Ken K. Ito (bio)

The best-known version of Natsume Sōseki's novel Kokoro (1914) is nine chapters long. I make this statement on the basis that students in Japanese high schools most often read Chapters 40 through 48 of the last part of the novel. Since other readers who read the novel in its entirety also read these chapters, we can say that the cultural knowledge about Kokoro, held by the greatest number of readers, converges upon this nine-chapter span.

If canonicity involves the inclusion of a text in the "institutional forms of syllabus and curriculum," as the literary scholar John Guillory argues in his influential study of canon formation,1 then there is no doubt that Kokoro occupies a central place in the canon. Along with a handful of other works,2 it has achieved the status of a "standard work" (teiban) in high school kokugo (national language) textbooks. A teacher's manual explains Kokoro's inclusion as follows:

It goes without saying that Kokoro has been reproduced in numerous high school kokugo textbooks, and can thus be called "standard teaching material" (teiban kyōzai). Along with such pieces as "Rashōmon," it is a work that should be studied by every Japanese, and is also read by many people outside of the school setting. For this reason, we wanted to, we needed to, provide it to the students who study using this textbook. It is a work that supports a portion of what may be called "national culture" (kokumin kyōyō).3

The circular logic of this statement bears noting: Kokoro needs to be read because it is already read by many people. It is a work of such prevalence and national importance—normatively assigned to the cultural knowledge of "every Japanese"—that its absence is unthinkable. A large majority of the approximately 3,200,000 students in Japanese high schools encounter the work at some point,4 usually in the "contemporary writing" [End Page 61] (gendaibun) curriculum taught in the second and third years. While Kokoro is a blockbuster outside of the classroom as well—for example, the Shinchō Bunko paperback edition of the work has sold 6,850,000 copies between its first publication in 1952 and 20135—the annual turnover of high school students and the coercion of the required assignment gives the radically shortened high school version of Kokoro a particularly large and important readership.

The abridgement of High School Kokoro,6 however, has drawn the ire of academic critics. The most vociferous has been the leading revisionist scholar of modern Japanese literature, Komori Yōichi, who has had the following to say:

As we see most symbolically in textbooks for high school kokugo courses and general education courses in college, Kokoro has been transformed into a "work" by cutting off "Part III—Sensei and His Testament," which is given sole and central importance, and using it as material to interpret the "Author" Sōseki's thinking and morality. What is more, the research and the criticism surrounding Kokoro is run through by this bias, which can be likened to a kind of sickness.7

If Komori had remembered that what appears in textbooks is not all of Part III but only a portion, his ire might have been even more pronounced. In any case, his indignation was serious and long lasting: In a later roundtable, Komori spoke in a more personal, but no less pointed, register when he said, "My basic approach was formed through my hatred of the lessons on Kokoro as it was taught in kokugo class during my high school days."8 Spurred by his anger, Komori wrote a groundbreaking study whose enduring contribution was a narratological reading that placed the parts of the novel in dialogue with each other. This approach, which sees the novel as a text whose meaning is generated through the interaction of its parts, a text driven and riven by the internal contestation of its two narrators, has become the common sense of academic criticism. Even a milder critic like Fujii Hidetada, who has written a thoughtful history of the high school version of Kokoro...


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