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

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

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...

(The entire section contains 1620 words.)

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

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, lectures Botchan during their first meeting and informs him that he should set a high moral example for his students away from school as well as in the classroom. Knowing his own foibles, Botchan resents this imposition and candidly offers to return his letter of appointment. Badger, who had expected Botchan to play his hypocritical game of keeping up appearances, is taken aback, then smiles away his pomposity by explaining that he has merely said what is usual for the occasion and that nobody expects anyone to live up to such ideals.

One of Botchan’s new acquaintances is the senior teacher, Mr. Hotta, whom Botchan nicknames Porcupine for his closely cropped hair. Hotta is gruff and abrupt in manner but seems helpful. He finds lodgings for Botchan and treats him to a dish of fruit-flavored shaved ice; this act creates a bond of obligation (an important traditional Japanese concept termed on) between Botchan and Hotta.

Botchan is not a particularly dedicated teacher, nor do his students inspire him to become one. He finds them uncouth in manners and speech, and they disrespectfully make fun of his appetite for dumplings and noodles with tempura shrimp. When Botchan is assigned night duty at the dormitory, the students fill his bedding with grasshoppers. His ensuing fracas with the students, their cowardly lies, and an infestation of mosquitoes prevent Botchan from obtaining any sleep. He wants the students to be punished, but Badger decides to delay the decision until a staff meeting.

Meanwhile, Botchan goes fishing with Redshirt and Clown, two other teachers. The trip reveals to Botchan that Clown is a mindless toady of Redshirt and that they affect an entirely artificial Westernized sophistication. For example, they catch a kind of fish that Sseki calls goruki, and Redshirt and Clown parade their Westernized sophistication by pretending that they are hauling in the works of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. Disgusted at this pretentious wit, Botchan refuses to fish any longer—especially when their boatman tells him that goruki are only fit for use as fertilizer. Botchan, however, overhears two whispered conversations between his companions, one mentioning a woman named Madonna and another insinuating that Hotta has incited the students to play their pranks on Botchan.

On the day of the staff meeting, Botchan so resents Hotta’s alleged incitement of the students that he refunds one and a half sen to him for his shaved ice treat, thus removing his on. Hotta in turn tells Botchan that he must quit his lodgings, since the landlady is complaining to him of Botchan’s rudeness—an example of the landlady’s duplicity, for she wants Botchan to leave because he has not bought any of her husband’s fake antiques. When the staff meeting begins, it is apparent that most of the teachers, swayed by Badger and Redshirt, are inclined to exculpate the students. In fact, Botchan is in disfavor with his colleagues because he has been observed openly going to the hotspring baths when he was on night duty (no one had told him that he should not). To Botchan’s surprise, Hotta speaks against Redshirt and says that the students should be punished. He also says that Botchan was wrong in going to the hot springs, whereupon Botchan apologizes. Badger then launches into a homily that teachers are expected to cultivate spiritual pursuits such as fishing and haiku writing while shunning fleshly indulgences such as hot springs and noodles with tempura shrimp. Stung into retort, Botchan angrily asks whether seeing Madonna is a spiritual pursuit, a remark that oddly enough bows Redshirt’s head and makes Koga (another teacher) blanch.

Unknowingly, Botchan has hit a sensitive nerve. Later, Hotta informs him that Koga was once engaged to Madonna, but Redshirt, noticing her charms, had broken up the engagement and set up a match between Madonna and himself instead. Now Redshirt has even obtained for Koga a transfer to a school in distant Kyushu, effectively banishing him from the town. Apprised of this, Botchan can hardly contain his indignation as he listens to Redshirt’s outpourings of camaraderie during Koga’s farewell party. Botchan is now certain that Redshirt had wanted him to overhear his mischievous remarks about Hotta’s having egged the students on against him. Accordingly, Botchan takes back the one and a half sen he had earlier paid Hotta for the shaved ice, and the two men thus reestablish their friendship.

Redshirt’s next move comes when a holiday is declared to celebrate Japan’s victory over China. During the parade, a brawl develops between the students of a normal school and those of Botchan’s school. Redshirt’s younger brother, a student, appeals to Botchan and Hotta to quell the disturbance. When the two men try to do so, they are thoroughly beaten. To make matters worse, the next morning’s newspaper reports the two men as having started the disturbance, and the two suspect that Redshirt drew them into the student fracas so that he could leak misinformation about it to the media.

Although both men are eventually exonerated, Hotta is asked to resign, and Botchan offers his resignation in sympathy. Since they cannot outintrigue Redshirt, Botchan and Hotta plan a more forthright vengeance. Botchan has suspected that Redshirt is the regular customer of a certain geisha. If this could be proved, then Redshirt’s high intellectual and spiritual tone would be exposed as a facade. Botchan and Hotta rent a room across from a hotel of assignation and watch for their man. After more than a week, they finally see Redshirt and Clown enter the hotel at 9:00 p.m. and leave after 5:00 a.m. As Redshirt and Clown head back to school, Botchan and Hotta accost them, expose their unspiritual indulgences, and thoroughly pummel them, knowing that the hypocrites will not dare to press charges. Well satisfied, Botchan and Hotta then leave for Tokyo. In Tokyo, Botchan works happily as a mechanic. Kiyo comes to live with him, and when she dies, he honors her request to be buried in his ancestral temple grounds.

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