Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro

I decided that I should take the time to write this now. It’s getting a bit late tonight, and I’m afraid that if I fail to intentionally sit down and expunge the inner workings of my current state of mind — right now, in this present moment — then I will fail to do so following my inevitable slumber. That is, if I do indeed wake up in the morning.

Earlier this morning, Saturday this 31st of July, I got up around 7-8 am. I can’t recall exactly what time, but I am certain it was during that time window. Having nothing to do today, an average Saturday for me as of late, I wandered into my room and took a look at my books. For the sake of the unlikelihood that someone is reading this, let it be known that I am the type of person that buys things for the sake of buying them. Books I may not read? Buy. Games I will never play? Buy. Useless microtransactions for games I don’t play all that often? Buy.

I wish I were not like this, but I must confess that this is who I am. I buy more and more books, despite already owning many that have yet to be read. One book, in particular, has haunted me for some time. I decided that today was the day.

Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro has been sitting on top of my dresser for a while. I had planned on reading it earlier in the year, but I never got around to it. Like I said though, today was different. I picked it up, and I gave it a whirl…a worthy whirl. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea that at around 3 in the afternoon, I would be in such a headspace as I am at the present. It has yet to leave me completely, as I sit here and write this out roughly nine hours later.


If there’s anything I wish to do in life, it is to avoid being (or even sounding) pretentious. When it comes to me as a person, I loathe pompousness. When it comes to others, I refrain from casting judgement. Looking at myself though is an entirely different matter. If there is anything worth being critical of myself for, it is for committing any act that could, should, or would be considered “pretentious.” Nothing is more cringe than that, for me.

What I mean to establish with my desire to avoid being pompous is that when I talk about Kokoro as a creative work, I don’t want to act like I know what I’m talking about. I take no pleasure in trying to sound smart. I take no pleasure in trying to act like I know anything. In other words, I do not think myself special — in any way, shape, or form. I just want to make it known that this book made an impact on me, though I know that my life from this day forward will hardly bear evidence of that fact.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.


Kokoro is a novel written by Natsume Sōseki, who is considered the father of the modern Japanese novel. A scholar and professor of English literature, he ended up working on and developing his own literary theory during his studies. This would prove to be a worthy pursuit, as he went on to become one of Japan’s most fruitful writers ever. Here is a solid biography that is worth checking out for anyone who wants a glimpse into the life of this incredible man: http://authorscalendar.info/natsume.htm


It’s been some time since I have even attempted to approach “literature.” Though I’ve been reading on a regular basis for quite some time, I haven’t been consuming literary works — so to speak. The bulk of my reading material these days consists of manga, light novels, web novels, and greentexts. There is nothing wrong with this, but the jarring experience I had earlier today with Kokoro reminded me of the power of the written word. It brought me face-to-face with that reality.

Classics are classics for a reason.

Kokoro is written from a first-person point of view. In the initial exposition of the book, the narrator is reflecting on his life as a younger man — specifically during his time as a college and university student. It was in this brief blossoming of adulthood that he met someone of great importance, a figure who made an unforgettable impact in his life.

I always called him “Sensei.” I shall therefore refer to him simply as “Sensei,” and not by his real name. It is not because I consider it more discreet, but it is because I find it more natural that I do so. Whenever the memory of him comes back to me now, I find that I think of him as “Sensei” still. And with my pen in hand, I cannot bring myself to write of him in any other way.”

-Narrator, Kokoro

Kokoro is separated into three stages (i.e. chapters). Each of these stages are different time periods of the narrator’s life. In essence, they are reflective of his relationships with the people in his life.

1. Sensei and I

The first stage lays the groundwork for the rest of the novel. It is, after all, the subject of the work. It encompasses the foundation of the relationship dynamic that affects the trajectory of the narrator’s life.

2. My Parents and I

This second stage demonstrates the nature of the relationship the young man has with his parents. It illustrates the ongoing evolution of the narrator. It is another key component in exemplifying underlying theme of the novel.

3. [~~~~~~]

I don’t have the wherewithal to talk about it right now.


In the foreword of the translation by Edwin McClellan, he states that his most favorable rendering he has encountered of the word “kokoro” is “the heart of things.” I’ve always known kokoro to be synonymous with heart. There is something to be said about the way that this favorable definition illustrates the word: a beautiful depth. It’s difficult to not have things be lost in translation. I appreciated this tidbit; I felt that it adds to the work. Keeping this understanding of the title in mind is integral, in my mind, as this novel is about the heart of hearts — specifically the heart of man, which is “deceitful above all things…who can understand it?”


The rising action was one of the most brutal, gut/heart-wrenching reads I’ve ever experienced. No pun intended when I say this, but my heart was basically beating out of my chest. For the latter 150 pages until I reached the conclusion, my heart was racing. I would not be surprised if my pulse was triple digits for those hours my face was buried in the novel. Regardless, I refused to put the work down, despite some of my bodily functions encouraging me otherwise.


My intention with this post was not to analyze Kokoro. I would need to be in a far more sober mind to accomplish that. If I were to do that, it would need to be of the utmost of scrupulousness. This work does deserve that amount of courtesy, at the very least.


All I can bear to say, at this moment in time, is that life is truly bleak and brutal. I wish that we could all understand each other. I wish that we were honest with each other. I wish that human beings would not be overcome with fear. I wish that we could all be free to express our feelings. I wish that we were not overcome with passions, but that we could all be free from the anxieties of this life. I wish that we could let our guard down around others, in a place where all could be in harmony — together living carefree.

I wish love extended from each and every one of us to one another.


There is far more that I could say about Kokoro, assuredly. I am ashamed to admit that I have neither the strength nor the will to do so. To me, it is no exaggeration that for those people that mean the most to us, or the experiences that leave the deepest impressions on our hearts and souls, it is most difficult to illustrate how much they mean to us. It is almost as if words fail to demonstrate such meaning — at least in a way that seems worthy of them.


At any rate, I loved this book. It will remain close to me, I would imagine, for quite some time.

I doubt anyone read this, but thanks.

Take care,

Joe

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