“Botchan” by Natsume Soseki


A Japanese classic written in 1906, Botchan is often compared to Huckleberry Finn in terms of its relative influence.  The title character, from Tokyo, accepts a job as a middle school instructor far off in the countryside on Shikoku.  He quickly becomes a pawn and then a player in the school faculty’s inner politics.  He helps honorable, stoic Porcupine give the shifty, amoral Redshirt a well-deserved thrashing, even though it costs both Botchan and Porcupine their jobs.  There are frequent humorous observations by Botchan, mostly to do with a young hotheaded city man’s view of the backwards country town and its inhabitants.

As frequently happens with “classics,” I now come to realize that there is an allegory behind the story in Botchan.  Porcupine represents the old samurai ideal, while Redshirt is the modern, Westernized leader.  Kind of throws the tale into a whole new light.

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