Poet Biographies

Natsume Sōseki: The Genius of Japanese Literature

Natsume Soseki was one of the most important Japanese writers of the Meiji period, known for his insightful and psychologically complex works. He wrote both prose and poetry, although he is better known for the former. 

Born in 1867, Soseki lived during a time of great change in Japan, as the country rapidly modernized and emerged as a world power. Despite facing many challenges in his life, including poverty, illness, and political turmoil, Soseki became a prolific author whose works, including essays, poetry, and novels, continue to be studied and celebrated today.

Today, he is best known for his novels I Am a Cat and Kokoro.

Life Facts 

  • Soseki was born on February 9, 1867, in the Edo district of Japan.
  • He earned a degree in English literature from the University of Tokyo and later traveled to England to study.
  • He worked as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer.
  • He studied in England in 1900. 
  • He passed away on December 9, 1916, at 49, from a stomach ulcer.

Interesting Facts 

  • Natsume Soseki’s portrait is featured on the Japanese 1,000 yen note.
  • He was the first Japanese writer to publish a novel in a modern style.
  • Soseki’s most famous novel, Kokoro, was originally published as a serialized story in a newspaper.
  • He was a cat lover and owned several cats during his lifetime.
  • Soseki’s work has been translated into many languages and is widely read around the world.
Japanese Yen Note
The 1,000 Japanese Yen note with Natsume Soseki’s portrait.

Famous Books and Poems 

  • I Am a Cat – This satirical novel was originally published as a series of short stories in a literary magazine. The main character is a cat who observes the lives of humans in a humorous and insightful way. The novel is a commentary on Japanese society during the Meiji era and is considered a classic of Japanese literature.
  • Over the Wintry’ – This is a beautiful Japanese poem that begins with the title phrase and speaks about the wind howling through the forest but no leaves blowing. 
  • ‘On New Year’s Day’– This is one of the poet’s better-known pieces. It speaks of the new year, the passage of time, and family. 
  • The Gate – This novel is set in the early 20th century and follows a middle-aged couple as they struggle to find meaning in their lives. The novel is written in a realistic and introspective style and explores themes of love, loss, and the search for identity.
  • ‘The Lamp Once Out’ – This is a thoughtful poem that explores lightness and dark. 
Matsuo Basho
Natsume Soseki is one of many Japanese authors influenced by the famed haiku poet Matsuo Bashō

Early Life 

Born on February 9, 1867, in the Edo district of Tokyo, Soseki was the youngest of six children in a family that had long been involved in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate. His early life was marked by tragedy and upheaval, with the deaths of his mother (when the writer was fourteen)and two older brothers a number of years later.

He went to First Tokyo Middle School, where he developed a deep love for Chinese literature. It was here that, biographers believe, he first decided that he wanted to be a writer. In 1890, he was awarded a scholarship to study in England. During this time, his family disapproved of his interest in becoming a writer.

Soseki spent two years in England (starting in 1900) studying at University College London and immersing himself in English literature and culture. His time abroad was both interesting and challenging. His friends noted that he appeared to be struggling with homesickness and loneliness. 

Literary Career 

Despite his struggles, he made the most of his experience in England and developed a deep appreciation for the works of writers like George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Upon his return to Japan in 1903, Soseki embarked on a teaching career, taking a position at the Fifth High School in Kumamoto. However, he found the work uninspiring and soon resigned to devote himself full-time to writing. 

His breakthrough came in 1905 when he published I Am a Cat, his well-known satirical novel. Later, with the publication of Botchan, he solidified his reputation. This was a satirical novel about a young man who becomes a teacher in a provincial town. The novel was an instant sensation, and the book enabled him to start writing full-time. It was inspired by his time teaching in Matsuyama.

Over the next several years, Soseki continued to produce a string of acclaimed works, including Kokoro, a novel about the struggles of a young man in the Meiji era and Kusamakura. His works were characterized by deep psychological insight and a sharp sense of irony, and he became known as a master of the modern Japanese novel.

In addition to his novels, Soseki was also a prolific writer of essays, poetry, and literary criticism. He wrote innumerable essays during his lifetime, many of which were published in various newspapers and magazines. These essays covered a wide range of topics, from literature and culture to politics and social issues. Soseki’s essays were highly regarded for their insightful commentary and clear writing style.

His final novel, Meian (Light and Darkness), was unfinished at the time of his death and was published in 1916.


In 1916 Natsume Soseki died of a stomach ulcer. He was buried in Zōshigaya Cemetery in Toshima, Tokyo, the resting place of many other notable Japanese figures, like Kyoka Izumi and Matsutaro Kawagushi.


Despite his relatively short life, Soseki left an indelible mark on Japanese literature. His works continue to be read and studied today, and his influence can be seen in the works of generations of Japanese writers who have followed in his footsteps.

Influence from other Poets

Natsume Soseki was inspired by several poets, both from Japan and the West. He was particularly influenced by the works of Matsuo Bashō, who is considered to be one of the greatest haiku poets in Japanese history. Bashō’s simple and elegant poetry style is evident in Soseki’s own haiku.

Soseki is also thought to have been inspired by the works of William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and other Western writers. He was particularly interested in their exploration of the human psyche and their ability to capture complex emotions in their writing.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

Leave a Comment

Share to...