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  • Beach Boys in Manchuria:An Examination of Sōseki's Here and There in Manchuria and Korea, 1909
  • Angela Yiu (bio)

When I asked with a straight face what on earth does the South Manchurian Railway do, the President of Mantetsu looked bemused and said, "What an idiot you are."

—Natsume Sōseki, Here and There in Manchuria and Korea (Mankan tokorodokoro, 1909)1

In 1909, Natsume Sōseki accepted an invitation from his old school friend and president of Mantetsu,2 Nakamura Yoshikoto (a.k.a. Zekō, 1867-1927), to visit Manchuria and Korea. Between September 1 and October 17, Sōseki visited cities along the railway (Dalian, Lüshun, Shenyang, Fushun, Changchun, Harbin); from Changchun he took the Anhō Line and crossed the Yalu River to visit Pyongyang and Keijō (now Seoul). The resulting work was a travel journal titled Here and There in Manchuria and Korea (hereafter abbreviated as Here and There), serialized in the Tokyo and Osaka Asahi shimbun upon his return at the end of the year.3 While Sōseki took brief notes of the entire trip in his diary, Here and There only includes his travels up to the coalmine in Fushun, because he claimed that he did not wish the serialization to cross over into the New Year. As a result, Here and There only contains Manchuria and no Korea.

The abrupt termination of the serialization is not the only standing mystery of Here and There. In form, language, and content, the work remains highly ambiguous. Is it a travelogue, a reportage, a memoir, or a novel? Is the mode of writing lyrical, satirical, comical, critical, philosophical, aesthetic, or a mixture of the above? Is it about what Sōseki saw in the present or what he remembered in the past? Is he writing as a professional writer at the Asahi or a private individual? Does the work contribute to or undermine the myth of Mantetsu that subsequent writers, such as Matsuoka Yōsuke and Kikuchi Kan, perpetuated as part of Japan's expansionist propaganda?4 How does the alternating loquaciousness and reticence in the work betray Sōseki's reading of Japan [End Page 109] in relationship to the West and Asia in the age of imperialism? These are some of the questions that I would like to ask in this essay.

To address these questions, it is crucial to contextualize Here and There in Sōseki's time and his works. To that end, I will begin with a brief summary of its historical background and publication. I will examine essays, letters, and diaries that reveal a lifelong, intimate friendship with Zekō and comradeship with the "old boys" who became the elite of Mantetsu in order to understand the role of affect in Sōseki's assessment of Japan's involvement in Manchuria and Korea. Another clue to thinking about these questions is embedded in a recently discovered lecture, titled "The Relations Between Things and Three Types of People" (Mono no kankei to san'yō no ningen, 1909) (translated in full in this issue of RJCS), which Sōseki delivered in Dalian. I focus on the phantasmagoric and ambiguous space in-between texts, things, and people that allows Sōseki to deliver a work that hovers between fiction and journalism, trace a memory that is at once private and public, and maintain a political and moral stance that both challenges and acquiesces to the realities of his time. Finally, Here and There has to be contextualized in Sōseki's fiction and non-fiction for us to gain a full picture of the lingering effects of his travels and his views of Japan in relation to the West and Asia. I attempt to locate where Sōseki—the man, the boy, and the writer—stands as he gazes into the past, present, and future in Manchuria, in a text full of humor and stomachaches, sunlight and darkness.

Background to the Serialization of Here and There in Manchuria and Korea

Sōseki's visit to Manchuria came only four years after the Treaty of Portsmouth (1905) and two years after the formal operation of Mantetsu began. The Treaty of Portsmouth formally...


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pp. 109-125
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