During the late 19th century, the Meiji era in Japan paved the way for the Japanese to drift from their traditional values into modernizing western values. The influence of western powers, had a significant impact of the traditional ideals of Japan. Western influence had transformed Japan into a modernizing nation, thus allowing for the loss of traditional practices. Soseki Natsume expresses his views of this transition into modernization as a loss of Japanese identity through a variety of characters in the book. His intention in crafting Kokoro was to project the message of Japan beginning to lose its sense of identity due to the influence of western powers. In the novel Kokoro, Natsume expresses Japan’s loss of identity and the efforts to preserve its existence within the character of K.
K symbolizes Japan’s traditional identity through his efforts to follow his Buddhist righteous path. K is displayed as a spiritual buddhist who had fully succumbed into giving up materialized ideals. Buddhist beliefs consist of being, “concerned with experiencing Enlightenment and generally are not too interested in the physical world”, (Structured Practices). This representation of Buddhism that is followed by K is the reason that he represents traditional identity. This can be seen through the the narrator’s description of K’s personality, “Without any show of bad conscience, he began to follow his beloved ‘true way’ with the money that his foster parents had sent him,” (Natsume 129). Through K’s handling of his foster parent’s money, he had neglected their wishes of going to university to become a doctor and had instead used the money for the purposes of his spiritual well being. K had decided to ignore his parents desires in order to pursue his own divine being. He had believed that, “scholarly knowledge was not his only objective. What was important, he said, was that he should become a strong person through the exercise of will-power,” (Natsume 134). The abandonment of his parents’ wishes represents the strong identity that K had believed in regardless of their beliefs. Furthermore, K’s contradictions of his parents’ wishe, symbolizes Japan holding onto its principles of identity regardless of the temptations from western influence. K’s actions of attaching himself to his spiritual belief, had conquered his parents influence on him progressing through his education.
Although the traditional sense of identity is expressed within K, he like many others in Japan became victimized by western values. K was introduced in the novel as a man struggling to fulfil his spiritual path; however, once he became acquainted with the daughter who was housing him, Ojosan, he became more comfortable around her interfering with his spiritual beliefs. Additionally, this female-like distraction presented through Ojosan is expressed when, “K and Ojosan, then, were alone in the house. I could not but wonder at this,” (Natsume 141). Through K and Ojosan were alone in the same room, he was beginning to break his personal barrier that represents traditional identity. The idea of Buddhism, which was followed by K, is when one must give up living entities in order to pursue enlightenment. Not only had K become distracted by the presence of a female, but he had fully emerged himself in temptations by falling in love with her. A character describes an encounter with K by, “K in a heavy way, confessed to me his agonized love for Ojosan,” (Natsume 158). Though K’s and the narrator’s conversation, Ks’ final acceptance of his love represents Japans’ recognition of its new obtainment of identity. Although K had originally believed in “a spiritual path” as a way of life which involved no distractions, he had eventually succumbed into his love for a women therefore abandoning his original principals.
After K realized that the temptation of love had gotten the best of him, he decided to end his life. Through the action of killing himself, he decided to preserve his identity before it could be destroyed further. This act of preservation can be seen though his suicide. Sensei describes his suicide note as, “He had decided to die, he said, because there seemed no hope of his ever becoming the firm, resolute person that he had always wanted to be,” (Natsume 178). Once K realized there could be no reversal of his feelings, he believed the best option in order to deal with his conflict of love versus identity, was death. K in the end, decided that he had no reason to continue living due to the fact that he had abandoned his ‘true path of spirituality’. Sensei further reads the note, “But what affected me most was the last sentence, which had perhaps been written as an afterthought: ‘Why did I wait so long to die?’” (Natsume 178). Through the last sentence of his suicide note, K had described the long term effect that his abandonment of his principals had on him. He believed that he should have died right after he begun to develop feelings for Ojosan, not after he realized that it was too late. His suicide was an act of preserving identity by ending his life before he could further abandon his principles.
Soseki’s intent on writing Kokoro was to express his views on Japan during the Meiji era. Japan, having lost an important ruler, was gaining western progression which had led them farther from its traditional identity. This loss of Japanese identity can be seen through the narrator stating, “My father was the first to see the news of general Nogi’s death in the paper,” (Natsume 84). The general’s death, had been triggered by the death of the emperor. Once the emperor had died, the general, losing hope in life, committed suicide in order to maintain this form of traditional identity that Japan held during the emperor’s reign. The narrator’s father had later stated, “ ‘Will General Nogi ever forgive me?’ He would say ‘How can I ever face him without shame? Yes general, I will be with you very soon’” (Natsume 91). In this quote, the father made a promise to the emperor that he too, will join him in his death. His promise to die symbolizes the Japanese burden of having lost its identity, along with the preservation efforts many had obtained in order to prevent themselves from engaging in the new Japanese identity. Before the last bit of identity vanishes, he had wished to stay in the traditional status of a Japan with current identity rather than the progressing new identity that Japan is obtaining.
Japan’s traditional identity was indeed vanishing after the rule of emperor Meiji. Japan’s progressive identity began to increase through the expansion of western influences. Soseki uses the character K to represent a traditional sense of identity within Japan and uses other characters to express the views of the traditionalists in this new era of Japan. Many Japanese, who had wanted to preserve Japan’s remaining identity committed suicide in order to preserve the era of emperor Meiji. This traditional form of fanaticism is apparent throughout the character of K and in his suicide note after he had developed feelings for a girl. A developing feeling to preserve the effects of the Meiji era is apparent throughout the narrator’s father and the emperor’s general. These characters in the novel such as the Japanese commonfolk and the high general, are used to express the impacts that the end of the Meiji era had on their efforts to take all measures possible in order to preserve the traditional identity that Japan had begun to lose.
“Structured Practices.” Structured Practices. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.Natsume, Soseki. Kokoro. Trans. Edwin McClellan. Mineola. New York: Dover Publications, 2006. Print.