Tokyo has been host to many of the great writers in Japanese literature. Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916 夏目 漱石) is (one of) the founder(s) of modern Japanese literature and was born and raised in Shinjuku ward. Many areas in Tokyo still have a connection to this great writer. What better way to pay tribute than through a visit to several important places in his life?
Sōseki spent most of his life in Tokyo, but also spent considerable time outside of the city, which had a profound impact on his works. Most notable example is his novel Botchan (1906) in which he describes life in Matsuyama (Ehime prefecture on Shikoku island). His (unhappy) time in England is described the “Tower of London” (1905).
Sōseki was pretty late in starting his writing career, only after his return from England he took up writing while living in Sendagi in 1903. At that time he was teaching English literature at Tokyo University, taking over the position of Lafcadio Hearn. The last 9 years of his life (1907-1916) he lived in Waseda-Minamicho. At the site of his former residence, a museum has been built that opened in September 2017.
1. Memorial Museum (Waseda)
Waseda is the the number one spot to visit in any Sōseki pilgrimage. It’s where he was born and produced the largest number of works. There is a small memorial stone right next to Waseda station, but I would head straight the museum. The small exhibition in the entrance hall is free and already gives an good introduction (also in English) of Sōseki’s life and works. In the paid area, the museum features a reconstruction of Sōseki’s living room, full of books and other memorabilia. Check my article on Natsume Sōseki Memorial Museum.
Inside the museum building, overlooking the entrance hall free exhibition
Name in Japanese: 漱石山房記念館
2. Sanshirō Pond at Tokyo University (Hongo)
Sōseki studied at Tokyo University (then called Tokyo Imperial University) and later came back to teach from 1903 until 1907, right after he returned from London. His novel titled Sanshirō (1908) had such a strong response during the time that the pond became to be called Sanshirō Pond, after the protagonist in Sōseki’s novel. Sōseki often visited the pond as does the main character in Sanshirō. Check my article on Sanshirō pond.
Name in Japanese: 三四郎池
3. Location of former residence where his writing career started (close to Sendagi/Nezu)
Sōseki lived 3 years in Sendagi (right after he came back from London) while teaching at Tokyo University. It’s unfortunate that the house is no longer there and to be honest there is not much to see except a memorial stone and a statue of a cat. The original house has been moved to Meiji-mura, an outdoor museum near Nagoya. However, if you take a stroll around the Sendagi neighborhood I feel you get a sense of the environment that gave rise to his first novel. After all, he modeled the story of “I am cat” (1905) on the stray black cat he found at his Sendagi house. Cats are still a common sight in this area and the famed Nezu Shrine is very close.
Memorial stone and cat at location of former residence
Name in Japanese: 夏目漱石の旧居跡（猫の家）
4. Habutae dango (Nippori)
Natsume Sōseki liked dango. They were celebrated in his novel “I Am a Cat” (1905) and also in works of his dearest friend Shiki Masaoka. Habutae Dango was founded in 1819 and is one of the few remaining dango shops in Tokyo frequented by Sōseki. They have 2 types of dango, yakidango (with shoyu flavour, baked over charcoal fire) and an-dango (dango mixed with azuki beans), served with delicious tea. The shop has a beautiful inner garden and there is usually plenty of place to sit. Check my article on Habutae dango.
Matcha set with yakidango at Habutae dango
Name in Japanese: 羽二重団子
5. Zōshigaya cemetery (Zōshigaya)
Sōseki found his final resting place at Zōshigaya cemetery near Ikebukuro. Zōshigaya is one of the major cemeteries within the 23 special wards in Tokyo and is home to a large number of famous persons, particularly writers. Next to Natsume Sōseki, you can also find here Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) and Nagai Kafū (1879-1959). Check my article on Zōshigaya cemetery.
Grave of Natsume Sōseki
Name in Japanese: 雑司ヶ谷霊園