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Botchan (坊っちゃん) is a novel written by Natsume Sōseki in 1906. It is considered to be one of the most popular novels in Japan, read by most Japanese during their childhood. The central theme of the story is morality.
The time point the narrator is settled at is not given. It is also notable that pronouns are omitted in the first nine paragraphs.
The story is based on the author'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 living elsewhere. The novel reflects his feelings during that experience.
- Botchan: the hero of this novel. Born in Tokyo, he has the spirit of an Edokko. He graduates from the Tokyo Academy of Physics, currently Tokyo University of Science, and becomes a mathematics teacher. His defining characteristics are common sense and a strong moral grounding.
- Yamaarashi (Porcupine): A fellow teacher. Yamaarashi 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 and Doctor of Literature. He is the typical intellectual. He represents the continental European intellectual tradition, in its modern form, as it drifts toward collectivism (socialism and communism (thus the red shirt)) and relativism/nihilism. He speaks of morals but is Machiavellian and immoral. A rumormonger who for a short time was able to deceive even Botchan. The battle for the heart and mind of Botchan between Yamaarashi and Akashatsu represents the social and political tensions existing in Japan at the turn of the last century. Soseki clearly rejects Akashatsu. Soseki himself was a Doctor of English Literature graduated from Tokyo University and later wrote that "if I were to assign an actual person to every fictional character that appears in Botchan, then Akashatsu would have to be me." He also wrote, "The development of modern Japan must be seen as an on-the-surface phenomenon" and worried that Japan was absorbing European culture at a shallow and elitist level as represented by the character of Akashatsu.
- Nodaiko (The Clown): Art teacher. Nodaiko is a Tokyoite, like Botchan. He prides himself on his good taste but follows others without much thought, which earns him Botchan's contempt.
- Uranari (Green 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 ideal of contemporary Japan.
- Tanuki (The Raccoon Dog): The principal of the school where Botchan teaches. He has a very indecisive nature.
- Kiyo: Botchan's servant in Tokyo. Now an old woman, she took care of him when he was young. She is a fallen aristocrat, dealing heroically with her new situation.
- Geisha: Woman entertainers, often found performing Japanese dances at banquets.
- Students at the school: Botchan thinks they are devious, and they often puzzle him.
- School: the main stage of the novel.
- Dōgo Onsen: Hot spring where Botchan likes to go. Thanks in part to the novel, the springs are now a famous sightseeing spot in Japan.
- Botchan's observations and thoughts about Matsuyama, on Shikoku, one of the four main islands of Japan. Botchan lived in the ultra-modern Tokyo before moving to the traditional Matsuyama, and is often surprised by their unusual customs.
- The battle for the heart and mind of Botchan between Hotta and Akashatsu. Will Botchan's common sense and moral grounding become corrupted by Akashatsu, or will he team up with Hotta to battle the increasing break from tradition and morals, for purely selfish gain, that Akashatsu represents? This is the question posed throughout the novel.
- At the time of the writing of Botchan, Japan was in the midst of a rapidly accelerating westernization, where traditional Japanese values and way of life were disappearing, especially in big cities such as Tokyo. Soseki himself had spent 3 years in London to study English literature. In his later works, Soseki seems to imply that the antagonist Akashatsu represents the author himself; an elitist intellectual who has only a shallow understanding of European culture, at odds with Japanese values and morals.
Main scenes and events of the novel
- Botchan goes to Matsuyama: Eight days after Botchan graduates from a 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 can not think of anything else he could become other than a math teacher.
- Botchan is disappointed with his new position.
- Fishing: Botchan recognizes that Akashatsu is a devious man when he and Akashatsu go fishing together.
- Locusts: The students tease Botchan by putting locusts in his bed.
- Uranari's transfer: By abusing his authority, Akashatsu schemes to and succeeds in transferring Uranari to another school for Akashatsu's own profit.
- At the end of the novel, revenge: Botchan and Yamaarashi get revenge on Akashatsu and Nodaiko. Both resign from their jobs and leave for Tokyo. Botchan returns to Kiyo and finds a job as a tramway engineer.
Jiro Taniguchi adapted parts of the novel into his ten-volume series—published in Japan beginning in 1986—called The Times of Botchan in English. Others translations have appeared in French (Au temps de Botchan), Italian ('Ai tempi di Bocchan) and Spanish (La epoca de Botchan), all published by Coconino Press. A new translation has also appeared in Spanish, published by Editorial Impedimenta. There is also a 1935 film adaptation, as well as an adaptation as an episode in the anime television series Animated Classics of Japanese Literature (青春アニメ全集 Seishun Anime Zenshu?), which was released in North America by Central Park Media.