• Kyodo

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Prior to the centennial anniversary in October of the passage to Britain by the famous Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), literary devotees are hoping to install a plaque to honor their hero in a London suburb where he lived.

Scholars and laymen gathered for an event held last week at the Soseki Museum located near his former home in Clapham, south London. It was organized by the Japan Society, a private organization dedicated to promote understanding between Britain and Japan.

They gathered to mark Soseki’s arrival in Britain on Oct. 28, 1900, when he was sent as Japan’s first government-funded scholar to study the English language and literature.

The Japan Society’s joint chairman, Sir John Whitehead, a former British ambassador to Japan and a self-professed Soseki fan, told the gathering that he was in the process of negotiating with the local government to install a blue plaque outside of the novelist’s former dwelling.

Such plaques are seen all over Britain to indicate that somebody famous lived there. But a sticking point might be that Soseki spent only two years in Britain — a period the novelist called “the most irritating two years” of his life.

Speaking of the plan for a plaque, the founder of the Soseki Museum, Sammy Tsunematsu, said: “I think that this would be a good idea. As far as I know, there are no blue plaques in Britain which honor Japanese people.”

While Soseki once wrote that his time in Britain made him feel like “a shaggy dog among gentlemen,” critics say the sojourn had a formative influence on his literary career. Several works, including “London To” (“The Tower of London”), were written in England, and his famous novel “Meian” (“Light and Darkness”) drew heavily from his British experience.

“There’s no doubt that his stay in London benefited Soseki as a prospective novelist. He might not have enjoyed his stay here, but we couldn’t read his novels if he had not have stayed here,” Tsunematsu said.

Whitehead, who served as ambassador to Japan from 1986 to 1992, said he was proud that Soseki’s stay in Britain had a major influence on the development of Japanese literature.

“Soseki’s influence in Japanese literature has been very considerable indeed. . . . I know that a lot of Japanese people come to the Soseki Museum in London, and it would be extremely good if more people from other nationalities came here to have a look,” Whitehead said.

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