Bot Chan by Soseki Natsune

Botchan_pbCvr.inddI’ve read a few Japanese novels over these past few years, like Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, or Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto, and have done many critical comparison blog posts of Japanese literature and American literature. Every time I finish reading a book written by an American author, and immediately read a novel by a Japanese author, I could sense the difference.

I did a small amount of research about the novel itself, and I found out that this book is one of the most popular books in Japan, to the point where its used in many Japanese schools. Jiro Taniguchi had adapted parts of this small novel into a ten part volume series, published in Japan at 1986. This book had gone worldwide, with many other translations such as French and Spanish. There is a film adaptation, and an anime adaptation of this book too. Comparing this to American literature, if it has gone world wide enough, it would gain the title ‘best-seller’ and eventually will win an award, or become adapted into a movie.

Let’s be honest here. How many books that has reached the top 100 greatest novels ever were neither American nor European? I checked out this list, and I barely found books written outside Europe and America. I believe literature books that had originated from Asia and the Middle East should gain more popularity around the world. I’m emphasizing the word ‘literature’ here. If I ask someone to tell me a name of a book originated from Japan, I am pretty certain the answer would be the comic, or as they call it manga.  So what happened to Bot Chan and Guest Cat? Only people who actually hunts for literary books will find them eventually. Can’t they be everywhere too?

The story Bot Chan is narrated by a boy who spent his childhood doing reckless things, one of which he jumped out of a second floor and spending his days fighting with the boy next door. Bot Chan means ‘young master’ in Japanese. As the story progressed, I never really learnt Bot Chan’s name in the end. The first part of this story is about Bot Chan growing up. He spent his time being compared to with his big brother, and after his mother passed away, he got disowned by his remaining family.

The only person that Botchan talked to was his family’s eldery maid servant named Kiyo. Kiyo was the only person who believed in Botchan–both his character and personality. Kiyo was also the only person who called Botchan, Botchan. A few years after his mother’s death, his father fell ill and passed away. His brother who was in collage gave him money, before disowning Botchan forever.

You just can’t disown your brother after your mother and father passed away. Of course, Botchan was pretty annoying, but it gave his brother absolutely no reason to pass Botchan a medium amount of money before disappearing forever from his life. I found this part of story has a philosophical thought. We all are somehow related because we are the exact descendants from the very first living cell in earth that always multiplies. If one looks back, human might realize that there is a very long chain into who we are right now. If a single generation is severed, there would be no future for the future generations.

Again, this story revolves around morality anyways. It’s a story that talks about the proper manner as social culture. Morality is distinguished between character, behavior, and personality between people. Morality is also pretty much neck to neck with the ethic-logic. Botchan turned from a reckless boy in his young age to a very honest and quiet adult, who took a job as a teacher away from Tokyo, hoping to gain enough money so he was able to go back and make a good life for himself and Kiyo.

I often like to rant about many things when I find a certain issue unfair. So does my class. Whenever something (eg: Teacher kicking us all out from class for coming late), we’ll all unite in a avalanche of arguments. My English teacher often finds these arguments amusing and would often tell us, that history would repeat. In twenty years, we would rethink our opinions and look back to understand the past.

But what were the teachers like at their school days? They were most probably like us. Reckless, rash, and care-free. I imagine a ten year old kid making himself a promise to never, ever end up like his Maths teacher, but making the same mistake thirty years later.

The thing was pretty much the same with Botchan. As he settled down into his teaching job, he started getting irritated at the students, often exclaiming at their annoying actions. Botchan was often tormented by his students, and since it was a small town, almost every action he dis was watched by the students around him. I’m pretty sure he never exactly stopped to try and think what his teacher was feeling when he jumped out of the second window in his younger days.

Botchan is a very nice quiet book, a good book to read at peaceful and quite days. Natsume Sōseki was called Natsume Kinnosuke when he was first born. He was a Japanese novelist. He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat and his unfinished work Light and Darkness.


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