Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Botchan, a very impulsive, unsophisticated young man from Tokyo. Sometime after the death of his parents, he accepts a job as a mathematics teacher in a junior high school in a small town on the island of Shikoku. His innocence is threatened repeatedly by the school’s rambunctious students, devious and fractious teachers, and cravenly weak administrators. His personality and values conflict with those of the small town, and he lasts less than a year at the school. Botchan gets into one scrape after another but leaves with his honor and innocence intact after giving Red Shirt and Clown a well-deserved physical drubbing with the help of his friend, Porcupine.


Kiyo, a longtime servant of Botchan’s family who dotes on her young master and wants to keep house for him. She advises Botchan, sends him money, and serves as his mother figure and standard of values.


Badger, the principal of the school. He studiously assumes an air of superiority and encourages Botchan to become a model teacher and mentor. He cannot live up to the ideal he requires of others, however, and is easily manipulated by Red Shirt.

Red Shirt

Red Shirt, the school’s head teacher, a two-faced man who lies and connives to ruin other teachers and force them out of the school. He engineers Koga’s transfer to another school to steal Miss Toyama’s love, makes Botchan...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As their cartoonlike names and nicknames imply, the characters in Botchan, like those in many satires, tend to be types rather than fully rounded characters. Thus “Botchan” itself suggests certain character traits. Translating it as “young master” partly suggests the scion of a noble or feudal family, and Botchan does refer to the samurai past of his family, tracing his ancestry to the bodyguards of the shogun and to the Minamotos descended from the Emperor Seiwa. His relationship with the family retainer, Kiyo, also bears out this feudalistic trait of character, as does the nice pride with which he regards Hotta’s treat of shaved ice. Samurai-like, too, is Botchan’s forthright candor and dislike for intrigue, his physical courage and readiness to resort to fisticuffs. Yet if “Botchan” has these class connotations, it can also connote “greenhorn”—hence his inexperience at schoolteaching and ineptitude at intrigue.

Another important aspect of Botchan’s character is his Tokyo background (or, as the Japanese commonly term it, “Edokko”—derived from Edo, the original name for Tokyo). Much of the Edokko flavor is conveyed in Botchan’s language, and though some of its qualities are lost in translation, the tendency toward exaggeration and vituperation remains. The typical Edokko is also supposed to be a gourmand (for example, Botchan has an appetite for noodles), an anti-intellectual (he dislikes Redshirt’s Western sophistication), and an honest, straightforward, helpful person.

The names or nicknames of the other figures are often indices to their characters. Hotta, the Porcupine, is irascible and bristles at the least slight; beneath his rough exterior, however, he is a caring and feeling person. Badger, the headmaster, has the Japanese folkloric attributes of the animal for which he is named: deceptiveness and empty authority. Clown (whose name could also be rendered as “Pimp”) is clearly a toadying court jester who dances attendance on Redshirt. Redshirt, in turn, is probably an allusion to the then trendy pro-Western intellectual journal Teikoku Bungaku, which sported a red cover.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Doi, Takeo. The Psychological World of Natsume Sseki, 1976.

Jones, Sumie. “Natsume Sseki’s Botchan: The Outer World Through Edo Eyes,” in Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel, 1976. Edited by Kinya Tsuruta and Thomas Swann.

McClellan, Edwin. Two Japanese Novelists: Sseki and Toson, 1969.

Morita, Sohei. “On Botchan,” in Essays on Natsume Sseki’s Works, 1972.

Yu, Beongcheon. Natsume Sseki, 1969.