National

Museum chronicling novelist Natsume Soseki's life in U.K. begins new chapter

Kyodo

A museum dedicated to novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) that closed in 2016 has reopened in a new location in southeast England.

Previously in south London, at the site of Soseki’s lodgings during his stay in Britain, the museum closed after 32 years amid dwindling attendance and high maintenance costs, among other problems.

Ikuo Tsunematsu, a retired professor who runs the museum, decided to move the collection to his home in Sussex, south of the capital, at the request of fans of the author.

The 67-year-old Soseki enthusiast said it was important to provide somewhere for the public to learn about the writer’s life in London as there is no other such museum in Britain. Tsunematsu financed the move himself, renovating his living room for the purpose and reopening the museum in May.

One of Japan’s most renowned modern authors, Soseki was sent to Britain in 1900 as one of the first government-supported scholars to study abroad. The author, whose best-known works include “I Am A Cat” (1905-6), “Botchan” (1906) and “Kokoro” (1914), remained in London until December 1902.

Soseki studied English language and literature, attending classes at University College London, and upon his return to Japan produced acclaimed research on the topics before turning to fiction writing. His experience abroad was marred, however, by severe homesickness and loneliness, and he later described this period as one of the darkest in his life.

The museum’s collection includes some 10,000 items, and features examples of the novelist’s work in translation, along with books and magazines collected during his stay in Britain and a copy of census records bearing Soseki’s name.

Visitors can also see a guest book signed by then-Crown Prince Naruhito, who visited the museum in its previous location while studying in Britain in the early 1980s.

At the reopening, Tsunematsu said he hoped visitors would gain insight into the author’s life in Britain and how the experience influenced the writer and his work.

“This is a place where, instead of getting the same old view of Soseki, people can see this from a different angle,” he explained.

Tsunematsu said he hoped the collection would prove useful to Soseki researchers but emphasized the museum would be open to experts and fans alike.

“Anybody with an interest in Soseki is welcome. I look forward to talking with visitors over tea.”

Attendance has exceeded expectations, reaching around 100 in the first month. The museum will be open three days a week from March to August. Admission is free, but advance booking is required.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5