• Kyodo


A museum in London dedicated to novelist Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), who spent two years in the British capital, plans to close in September next year due to financial difficulties amid declining visitors, its operator said Monday.

Next year marks 150 years since Soseki’s birth, and the Soseki Museum will finally close its doors after more than 30 years on the occasion of this anniversary, according to the museum’s director, Ikuo Tsunematsu.

“It’s gratifying that I was able to keep it open for so long,” said Tsunematsu, 64, an authority on Soseki and a professor at Sojo University in the city of Kumamoto, who opened the museum in 1984. “I’d be happy if young scholars follow in my footstep.”

The museum is located in the city’s Clapham district in South London, across the street from one of the lodging houses where Soseki stayed while in the British capital between 1900 and 1902.

It has more than 2,000 items related to Soseki, a literary giant in modern Japan, including a copy of a 1901 census by the Public Record Office of Britain that lists his name and photographs of the district at the time of his stay. Soseki, whose real name was Kinnosuke Natsume, was sponsored by the Japanese government to study the English language and British literature during his visit to the country.

Visitors of the museum have included Crown Prince Naruhito and former Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu as well as many Soseki scholars, including those from prestigious universities outside Japan.

The museum is open three days a week between February and September and has been run by Tsunematsu’s wife, Yoshiko, 56, since 2004, when her husband began teaching at the university.

The number of visitors has kept dropping and the revenue from its £4 (¥640) entrance fee cannot pay the museum’s maintenance costs, they say. They intend to sell the museum, a room in a private terraced house, after Tsunematsu returns to London next spring when he retires from the university.

Soseki described the two years he spent in London as “the most unpleasant years of my life,” as he suffered serious bouts of depression as a result of the solitude and poverty he experienced while he was in Britain.

However, the torment became the basis of later efforts such as novels “Kokoro” (“The Heart”), “Botchan” (“Little Master”) and “Wagahai wa neko de aru” (“I am a Cat”) after returning to Japan, blossoming into one of the most famous and important novelists of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Soseki’s novels remain popular and his life is still studied by academics. He was also an authority on British literature and a composer of haiku poetry.

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