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  • From Postcolonial (2001)
  • Komori Yōichi (bio)
    Translated by Andre Haag (bio) and Robert Tierney (bio)

For more than thirty years, University of Tokyo narratologist Komori Yōichi (b. 1953) has pioneered new ways of reading Natsume Sōseki's work in relationship to questions of empire. Komori's 2001 primer Postcolonial (Posutokoroniaru), first published as part of Iwanami's "Frontiers in Thought" series, draws on currents in postcolonial criticism to trace the "doubled structure" of Japanese colonialism that took shape through the nation's preemptive "self-colonization" and "mimicry" of imperialist Western powers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The excerpt translated here is the book's second section, which is devoted entirely to Sōseki. Komori explores how, during his stay in London from 1900-2, the future novelist Natsume Kinnosuke came to acquire a critical understanding of the contradictions of nationalism, social class, and cultural identity in a non-Western colonizing power that itself occupied a semi-colonial status vis-à-vis the political and cultural hegemony of the West. In the remainder of the excerpt, he shows how the novelist Sōseki dramatized these insights in his I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru, 1905-6), Botchan (1906), The Gate (Mon, 1910) and To The Spring Equinox and Beyond (Higan sugi made, 1911).

Counter-Discourses to the Colonial Unconscious

I. Revolutions and Ripples

Japanese Eyes

Over the course of Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the ensuing Triple Intervention, Japan's colonial unconscious and its colonialist consciousness stood in a mutually reinforcing and distorting relation to each other. One writer who sought to give verbal expression to this complex situation was Natsume Kinnosuke. [End Page 207]

Kinnosuke, who spent the late 1890s working as a teacher at a middle and a higher school despite graduating from Tokyo Imperial University and the First Higher School, was selected in 1900 among the first group of students sent abroad by the Ministry of Education. The scholarship was at once a chance to study abroad in Britain and an opportunity to get back on the elite track to success befitting someone of his educational achievement.

Kinnosuke spent the first year of the twentieth century in London, the capital of the British Empire, where he was present during Queen Victoria's death on January 22, 1901. The day after witnessing the queen's funeral procession, he recorded the following impressions in his journal: "Tonight I sit on the third floor of the boarding house thinking long and hard about the road ahead for Japan. Japan must become more serious. Japanese eyes must grow larger."1

The pivotal significance of this period of study in London for the birth of the novelist Natsume Sōseki lies in this new awareness that "Japanese eyes must grow larger." The British Empire had served as the central model for mimicry determining the "road ahead for Japan"—a path that included "civilization and enlightenment" (bunmei kaika), enriching the country and strengthening the army (fukoku kyōhei), promoting new industry, and ultimately escaping from Asia to enter the West (datsu-A nyū-Ō).2 The death of Queen Victoria was an event that acutely foreshadowed the decline of the British Empire that was assumed to embody Japan's future path.

Kinnosuke's experiences in London at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century resulted in the acquisition of a new pair of "eyes." Whereas he had previously seen Japan from the inside, Kinnosuke now had eyes to see the future path of the Japanese Empire from the outside. At the same time, he was able to view from the inside the external present that was the British Empire, which had long served as the goalpost for Japan's future.

We can see those "eyes" in operation, for example, in "Letter from London" (Rondon shōsoku), a private letter dated April 19, 1901 that Sōseki wrote to his friend Masaoka Shiki, who was confined to his bed with tuberculosis back in Tokyo.3 When published, the letter became Kinnosuke's first work of prose under the penname "Sōseki." Here is an excerpt:

Russia and...


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