Lesson Transcript

Natsuko: 日本文化レッスンでございます。Natsukoです。
Yoshi: Yoshiです。
Peter: Peter here. Japanese culture class #32. As always, brought to you by Erklaren, the translation and interpretation specialists. Okay joined in the studio by Natsuko san and Yoshi san and we are here to talk to you today about well, this is a bit out of my league – way out of my league. So we have a specialist here. Can we say that Natsuko san, call you a specialist?
Natsuko: No definitely not.
Peter: Okay so Yoshi will be the specialist for today. Thank you Yoshi san.
Yoshi: You are welcome.

Lesson focus

Peter: Okay so Natsuko san, what are we talking about today?
Natsuko: 夏目漱石(なつめそうせき)
Peter: He is a writer and he is considered to be the Charles Dickens of Japan.
Natsuko: Oh I didn’t know that.
Peter: Apparently so, the Charles Dickens of Japan but I think that’s not quite fair. We are not comparing them by any means. This is just something for you to gauge how big he is in Japan.
Natsuko: Yes he is one of the most famous writers in Japan of all times.
Peter: Yeah. We are not comparing them at all. Again, here we are just referring to how well known he is. Okay so Natsuko san, why don’t we start with this? Why are we talking about this today?
Natsuko: Because this is the day he passed away long time ago.
Peter: Yeah I really think we should be doing this on his birthday. I don’t know how we came up with this today. Umm I don’t know but yes in 1916 on December 9th, this is the day he passed away. So to commemorate his memory, today we are going to talk about him. Now he is a well known novelist, a writer from which era Yoshi san.
Yoshi: Meiji era.
Peter: Okay and the Meiji era spans up until what year, anyone going once, going twice?
Natsuko: 1912.
Peter: Thank you Natsuko san. And two of his best known novels are, Natsuko san?
Natsuko: こころ
Peter: Which literally means heart and this was written two years following the death of Emperor Meiji and actually this is a little bit before he passed away.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: As he passed away in 1916. So – And this is one of his most well known works. Another very well known work is
Natsuko: 吾輩は猫である
Peter: I am a cat and does anybody have an idea why?
Natsuko: Because the story is written from a viewpoint of a cat.
Peter: Really?
Natsuko: Yes. And this cat is living in a house of a writer and this cat talks about this writer which is of course kind of 漱石(そうせき) kind of ironically talking about himself.
Peter: Wow! That’s really interesting. Have you read this?
Natsuko: Yes I read this one. It’s really good.
Peter: Yoshi san, have you read this?
Yoshi: I think I’ve read part of it.
Natsuko: It’s pretty long.
Peter: Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about it. What does – like it sounds like an very interesting concept.
Natsuko: Yes I think the first line is really famous among Japanese students.
Peter: What’s the first line?
Natsuko: 吾輩は猫である。名前はまだない。
Peter: I am a cat, I still have no name. So I will leave that to you to literally express out there to interpret what that means because yeah this is well beyond me but Yoshi san, you are very familiar with his work too, right?
Yoshi: Not really.
Peter: Well there is an honest answer but umm what I meant to say was you are at least very familiar with this person right?
Yoshi: Yes.
Peter: He is quite famous in Japan. Would there be a Japanese person that doesn’t know about him?
Natsuko: I don’t think so.
Peter: Now can you maybe tell us something about like to what degree was he famous and this is a hint that something about currency, Yoshi?
Yoshi: He was on one of the old Japanese bill.
Peter: Which bill was that?
Yoshi: 1000円。¥1000 bill.
Peter: So to get on a bill, you have to be very well known.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Unfortunately he was replaced some years later but yeah, very well known writer and in addition to writing, what else did he do or what kind of writing? He wrote novels.
Natsuko: Yeah he also wrote Haiku.
Peter: The Japanese style poem which is five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables.
Natsuko: And Chinese style poetry.
Peter: Yes I read that. Initially he was interested in Chinese literature.
Natsuko: Uhoo.
Peter: So at a very young age, he studied a lot of Chinese literature.
Natsuko: Yes and that means he was very intellectual because to learn Chinese in Japan, it’s like learning Latin in western countries.
Peter: Yeah to call him an intellectual is right on the money because after that, he went on to study English. He studied in Britain correct?
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: So Japanese, Chinese, English very well versed and Natsuko, it says here that he also wrote about fairy tales.
Natsuko: I am not sure you call that fairy tales but his novel is as you can you know expect from the cat story, a very imaginative and actually he wrote some short works about his dream.
Peter: Wow and this is one of the reasons that he is this well known, very cutting edge stuff especially for his time.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Now I am wondering. Natsuko san, maybe you could help me out and Yoshi san, maybe you can help me out. When he was writing this stuff at that time, was he considered very well known or like many western writers, they become well known after they pass away.
Natsuko: He was well known and he was kind of very top class scholar in Japan.
Peter: Yoshi san, when did you first come into contact with this writer 漱石?
Yoshi: They teach you about him in school.
Peter: What level school?
Yoshi: I knew him when I was in elementary school.
Peter: Yoshi san, you went to some really top class schools, didn’t you?
Yoshi: No he is so famous that they teach you about him like everyone should know about him in Japan.
Peter: So did you come into contact with him, the person or his work.
Yoshi: With his name.
Peter: Yeah. Okay so let me rephrase this. When did you first come in contact with his work?
Yoshi: I think in junior high school.
Natsuko: Yeah me too. I think I first tried to read "I am a cat" when I was in junior high school.
Peter: By yourself or in the school?
Natsuko: By myself and actually Japanese high school classes teach こころ in their classroom.
Peter: So it’s mandatory reading.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: So that’s why everybody knows about this story.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Well everybody who studied at a Japanese high school. Now maybe you can tell us a bit about the story. A synapses of what’s going on in こころ well just like an outline, the character, anything.
Natsuko: Well it’s a pretty long and complicated story but it’s about this sensei…
Peter: A teacher?
Natsuko: Yes, more like a mentor, yeah and this person sensei is very humble and well known person, very intellectual person but a young man who was the follower of this sensei finds out about his past which is
Peter: Which is – tell us those…
Natsuko: Maybe you better read and find out by yourself but just… Well yeah this…
Peter: No, no I think that’s perfect. So just like my mother, she used to always tell me just enough to get me interested and then just stop there. I never really went and read the books but….interesting. So about a mentor with a past.
Natsuko: Yes involving of course a woman.
Peter: All right. Now there is an English translation. We found a website with this. So if you are interested, stop by japanesepod101.com. We will have that link up there so you can actually come by and read it online. So there is no excuse in English of course. I should really point that out because yeah I don’t – unless Natsuko, you want to have a private – you want to privately tutor people working their way through the Japanese version of こころ. Is that a yes?
Natsuko: I want someone to teach me.
Yoshi: You know, he was also very famous because he was one of the first writers who changed this whole writing style.
Peter: What kind of writing style from what to what?
Yoshi: Like they used to use like old Chinese style writing.
Peter: Aha!
Yoshi: But his "I am a Cat" was like the first book. It was written in the modern Japanese writing.
Natsuko: Yeah it actually uses lots of spoken language which was pretty uncommon in those days.
Peter: I see and in this book, who is speaking? The cat was speaking?
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Who was he speaking to?
Natsuko: Himself maybe.
Peter: Hah now we are going to check out at this books around in English because I think I would actually like to take a look at this book.
Natsuko: Yes it’s really interesting.
Peter: Okay so is there anything else we need to know about Natsume Soseki?
Yoshi: I think we should know about the meaning of his name. I think it’s very interesting.
Natsuko: Yes Soseki is not his real name right?
Yoshi: Yes that’s his pen name.
Peter: What’s his real name?
Natsuko: Natsume Kinnosuke is his real name.
Peter: And you wait this long to tell me into the podcast.
Natsuko: そうだよね。 I know.
Peter: Maybe we can cut and edit that into the beginning but he has a couple of really well known quotes and why don’t we give you one? First Yoshi san will give you the Japanese and I will give you the English.
Yoshi: 智に働けば、角が立つ。
Peter: Use your intellect to guide you and you will end up putting people off.
Yoshi: 情に棹させば、流される。
Peter: Rely on your emotions and you will forever be pushed around.
Yoshi: 意地を通せば窮屈だ。
Peter: Force your will on others and you will live in constant tension.
Yoshi: とにかく人の世は住みにくい。
Peter: There is no getting around it, people are hard to live with. That is so true. Umm that is perfect.
Natsuko: So you can tell how he was great as a writer…
Peter: Yeah.
Natsuko: Just to read those lines.
Peter: Yeah and Natsuko san, we should give some credit to the translator too because you know the English came out perfect. I think yeah really, really great stuff. Use your intellect to guide you and you will end up putting people off. Rely on your emotions and you will forever be pushed around, force your will on others and you will live in constant tension. There is no getting around it. People are hard to live with.
Yoshi: And you know, his name Soseki meant a sore loser stubbornly refusing to admit being wrong.
Peter: Really?
Yoshi: And adhering to the far-fetched argument.
Peter: Now that’s really – that makes it even more interesting. It seems like he tried lots of different approaches to people but he just – yeah I guess there is no pleasing everybody.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: All right. Natsuko san, I would like to thank you for helping us take on such a difficult topic and before you get a chance to say thank you, I want to thank our expert Yoshi san. Yoshi san, thank you too. This was umm we must say quite a difficult topic to cover because we have to be very careful because we know there are some academics out there waiting, waiting in the wings with something like this. So thank you very much ありがとうございました。
Natsuko: ありがとうございました。
Yoshi: お粗末さまでした。


Peter: Now if you want to know what that means, I do too. Yoshi is going to post about that on the site. Okay that’s going to do for today.
Natsuko: じゃ、また来週。
Yoshi: またね。


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