Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

The characters in the novel are often referred to by the nicknames that Botchan, the protagonist, bestows on them.

Botchan is a teacher on Shikoku, a Japanese island. Originally from Tokyo, he moves there to teach mathematics in junior high school. Because his impetuous nature and naiveté make him ill-suited...

(The entire section contains 1178 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The characters in the novel are often referred to by the nicknames that Botchan, the protagonist, bestows on them.

Botchan is a teacher on Shikoku, a Japanese island. Originally from Tokyo, he moves there to teach mathematics in junior high school. Because his impetuous nature and naiveté make him ill-suited to the local politics and gossip, he leaves the post in less than a year. With his youth and inexperience, he cannot maintain discipline in the classroom. Porcupine befriends and helps him, but his conflict with Red Shirt, the headteacher, and Clown, a sycophant to Red Shirt, includes a violent altercation.

Badger is the school principal of the school. He is pompous and condescending but considers himself an idealist. An indecisive administrator, he is often manipulated by Red Shirt. His nickname echoes the animal’s traditional Japanese characterization, include ineffectual authority.

Red Shirt, the head teacher, is a duplicitous, manipulative narcissist who delights in stirring up trouble and derailing others’ plans. Competing with Koga for Miss Toyama, he schemes to get Koga transferred. His actions against Botchan include deceiving him about Porcupine’s loyalty and inciting unrest among the students.

Yoshikawa, or Clown, is the art teacher. Surviving primarily through flattering the powerful, he tries to get Botchan in league with Red Shirt. An alternate translation of the nickname is “pimp.”

Porcupine, whose real name is Hotta, is the senior mathematics teacher. A warm-hearted man with a rough exterior—like his animal namesake—he befriends Botchan but becomes suspicious of his loyalties. Realizing he has been misled, he becomes the younger man’s ally and supports him before the administration.

The English teacher Koga, or Squash, is engaged to Miss Toyama, but is transferred to a distant school because Red Shirt wants to break them up and seduce the young woman.

Kiyo is a servant who works for Botchan’s family back home. A surrogate mother, she supports him with advice and gifts of money.

Characters Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

Botchan

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

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

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 believe that Porcupine has stirred up the students against him, and involves both Porcupine and Botchan in a student riot to bring about their resignations from the school.

Yoshikawa

Yoshikawa, nicknamed Clown by Botchan, a drawing teacher who slavishly flatters the educational establishment, Badger, and Red Shirt. He connives with Red Shirt to manipulate Botchan into joining their faction.

Hotta

Hotta, called Porcupine, the senior mathematics teacher and Botchan’s immediate superior. A physically strong, gruff man with a sense of honor, he befriends Botchan on his arrival but becomes his temporary enemy as a result of the lies of Red Shirt and Clown. His behavior at a faculty meeting earns Botchan’s respect, as does testimony about him from Mrs. Hagino.

Koga

Koga, a mild-mannered English teacher nicknamed Hubbard Squash by Botchan because he is pale and fat. Once betrothed to Miss Toyama (the Madonna), he is tricked into allowing himself to be transferred to another, distant, even more isolated school by Red Shirt, who is courting Miss Toyama.

Ikagin

Ikagin, Botchan’s first landlord, a dealer in antique art who constantly, but unsuccessfully, tries to sell bogus artworks to Botchan and Porcupine.

Mrs. Hagino

Mrs. Hagino, Botchan’s refined, aristocratic landlady, recommended by Mr. Koga. A local gossip, she informs Botchan of Koga’s broken engagement to Miss Toyama and that he is unhappy about being transferred.

The Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332

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.

Bibliography

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57

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.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Botchan Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Themes

Next

Critical Essays