The period 1868-1912 is known as the Meiji era. In Japanese, Maiji means ‘the enlightened rule’ Japan developed from a medieval society to a leading economic and military power in Asia. Substantial changes were made in July 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry ordered Japan to open its ports in order to accommodate American shipping needs. A new form of government was instituted and their new theme reflected in the phrase “fukoku kyohei” (“rich country, strong military”). The three novels written by Soseki Natsume, Japanese author juxtapose with the major themes in most of his novels. In his works he depicts ordinary people fighting against economic hardships, struggling to be dutiful and loyal, wanting to be free and keeping their individuality. Keeping pace with the western culture that was adopted and dealing with a pessimistic view of human nature.
All three novels speak about the political events during the Maiji era and the period in which the story is set, 1908 to 1910. Sanshiro tells of a heroic twenty-three-year-old as he leaves the quiet countryside to attend school in the city. Life in the city is starkly different to his boyhood days in the country. As the story progresses he begins to see the real world for what it is. He is excited by the traffic, the blinding lights and most of all the women. Sanshiro must find his way among the socialites that fill his new life. Sanshiro gets used to city light but does not allow this to change him. He remains true to the end, maintaining a strong connection to his life in the country. Some of the dominant themes in the novel deal with tradition vs. modernization, subtle portrayal of love, and the simplicity of youth and their reaction to the aged.
The city of Tokyo underwent a massive transformation at the beginning of the Meiji era. In the early years the city’s population changed because the flood of immigrants and the elite from the west came in large numbers. Tokyo became a thriving mecca for business, a force to reckon with and a nation determined to win. Smith (1978, 55 says that Japan became a “a submissive tool, the ambitious could make use of the many opportunities and a symbol of world power for the whole world to see. The countryside is compared to the new city. Sanshiro lives in the “high city” of Tokyo, north of the Imperial Palace. It is also the location of the university. Interestingly, this was where the warrior’s houses were located in the Maiji period. The city is now organized much like it used to be during the Edo period. The residential houses were organized according to the social status of the citizens. Now, when compared, the university campus is located in the north where the Maeda family, lords of Kaga Province used to live during the Edo period.
At the university Sanshiro met many friends, but one particular friendship opened his eyes to many things. Professor Hirota preserves his own identity and individuality and warns Sanshiro not to sacrifice his individuality. He said, do not give in to anyone or anything – not to the great city Japan. Whatever you do, do not think you are doing it for anyone but yourself. If you allow anyone to take control of you they will break you eventually. The novel, is serious on the one hand, and serious on the other. It relates the coming of age of a people. The old meets the new and must wrestle with the idea of change, a change that is so painful but must be executed if they are to keep up with the rest of the modern world. But do they want to change? The book examines Japanese society transitioning into the modern world. Sanshiro is caught between the traditional Japan and the modern world of Tokyo. The coming of age of a people shows their indecisiveness and their inexperience but must survive. Sanshiro falls in love with a modern woman but is experiencing problems as he does not understand some of her ways because he was brought up the traditional way. Different ideas of both the country and the city are outlined in the story. Tokyo, at the turn of the century is vividly described.
Hoye, Timothy. Politics, Philosophy, and Myth in Natsume Soseki’s First Trilogy
WeiB, Johanne. Behold My Swarthy Face. The Portrayal of Country and City in Natsume