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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 150

Botchan, written by Kinnosuke Natsume, is a 1906 Japanese novel about mortality.

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This novel is about a young man named Botchan who grows up in Tokyo, Japan. Botchan is an active boy, unlike his older brother, who is very quiet.

Because Botchan's mother dies, he begins to look up to his family's maid, a lady named Kiyo. Six years after his mother dies, Botchan's father also passes away.

Botchan goes on to study physics and eventually teaches sixth grade math for a short time. His teaching stops early due to his temper and arrogance which cause him to fight with his students. These fights escalate and Botchan realizes that the head master of the school, named Red Shirt, and the English teacher are also involved.

Botchan realizes that he ought to take the higher ground and resigns from the school.

This novel is based on Natsume's own experiences as a teacher.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1470

Among the classics of modern Japanese literature, Botchan is probably the most frequently read novel and the most often anthologized work in Japan. Its action is set in the 1890’s, during the Meiji Restoration, when Japan was making its cataclysmic metamorphosis from a cloistered feudal state to a major modern world power. The novel focuses on a few months in the experience of a neophyte teacher nicknamed Botchan (young master). Born and educated in Tokyo, he has accepted a job teaching mathematics at a middle school in provincial Shikoku. Botchan’s personality, values, and Tokyo manners clash with those of his new environment, and out of this conflict Sseki spins a comic tale that satirizes contemporary Japanese mores. The novel is narrated in the first person, and a substantial portion of its humor stems from Botchan’s verbose and vigorous Tokyo dialect, which, by all accounts, Sseki has brilliantly captured.

From his earliest childhood days, Botchan has been an impulsive and reckless scapegrace. He leaps from the upstairs window of his elementary school on a dare, fights with a neighbor boy in the middle of a vegetable garden, thus devastating it, and blocks up another neighbor’s irrigation source out of sheer curiosity. Botchan’s father dislikes him. Botchan’s elder brother blames him for hastening their mother’s death by his rowdiness. Through it all, Botchan grows into an unabashed and defiant individualist. Indeed, stubbornness, recklessness, and candor become marks of Botchan’s character.

The only person with whom Botchan gets along is the family’s elderly maidservant, Kiyo. Kiyo sees Botchan as a rough diamond. In contrast to everyone else, therefore, she plies him with delicacies, gifts, even money—including three yen notes which he accidentally drops into the latrine, and which Kiyo then fishes out, rinses, exchanges for coins, and returns to Botchan. In his rough-and-ready way, Botchan appreciates Kiyo’s fondness for him, and their relationship borders on that between feudal serf and liege lord—in fact, it is she who has nicknamed him Botchan, and his acceptance of this sobriquet in turn acknowledges her authority to define his identity.

After their father’s death, Botchan’s brother sells their Tokyo home and departs for Kyushu, leaving Botchan only six hundred yen to defray his education for three years. Botchan manages to graduate (with neither distinction nor enthusiasm) from the Tokyo School of Physics and obtains his rather mediocre teaching post.

Botchan’s Tokyo upbringing, individuality, and character clash with his new surroundings and acquaintances. He finds the provincial dress, manners, and (especially) dialect uncouth and disconcerting, and he is critical of his colleagues, whom he quickly dubs with satirical nicknames such as Badger or Redshirt. Badger, the headmaster,...

(The entire section contains 1620 words.)

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