The Natsume Soseki Memorial Museum: Celebrating the Life of Japan’s Most Influential Modern Novelist

Natsume Soseki is a name that is immediately familiar to anyone who has endeavored to study Japanese. Born in 1867 in what we now know as Shinjuku, Tokyo, Soseki is an author of groundbreaking stories that are among the first literary works that eager language learners attempt to tackle upon achieving a comfortable level of literacy.

Fortunately, in recent years, Soseki’s work has been gaining popularity around the globe thanks to references by breakout Japanese author Haruki Murakami, which led new readers to discover the timeless and universal themes on the human condition that are woven throughout Soseki’s work.

Perhaps it was this Soseki renaissance that inspired Shinjuku Ward to establish the Natsume Soseki Memorial Museum on the very site of the house where the prolific author spent the final nine years of his life.

2019-07-02   Visit: Museums, Shinjuku, Tokyo,


The museum and what awaits inside

The highlight of the Natsume Soseki Memorial Museum is a completely enclosed reconstruction of Soseki-Sanbo, the aforementioned home where Soseki spent the final decade of his life. With its elevated, veranda-style open-air hallways, the elegant structure is a fascinating mashup of Japanese and western design aesthetics.

A museum photograph depicting Soseki-Sanbo in December 1930.

Soseki-Sanbo is significant because it represents the phase in Soseki’s life when he could exclusively focus on his writing. Until moving to Soseki-Sanbo in 1907, he was an accomplished academic, teaching English and English literature in addition to writing novels and short stories. His career included teaching posts throughout Japan and a government-sponsored research assignment in Great Britain from 1900 to 1902.

The original Soseki-Sanbo was destroyed during an air raid on May 25, 1945. Fortunately, before this tragic event occurred, furniture and book collections were relocated to Kanagawa and Tohoku, respectively. Soseki had a personal library that included 3,068 books.

The museum also houses a second-floor gallery which chronicles Soseki’s most famous works. The exhibition space includes replicas of his original drafts as well as original bound copies of his books.

Additionally, the Natsume Soseki Memorial Museum is a treat for Shinjuku fans in general. The facility shares resources with the Shinjuku Historical Museum and the gift shop has several affordable coffee-table books on Shinjuku history and photography. Of course, there are plenty of Soseki novels on sale as well. Unfortunately, for the time being, only Japanese-language versions of the books are stocked here.

If you happen to live by the museum or are staying in a nearby hotel, the cafe and library within are serene places to experience Soseki’s work first hand while enjoying freshly ground coffee and a delectable slice of pound cake (among other beverages and desserts).

A small sampling of what the cafe has to offer.

How to make the most of your visit

The cat-shaped cutouts are an amusing nod to one of Soseki’s most famous works: I Am a Cat.

Upon entering the museum, make a beeline to the reception desk and pay the 300-yen entrance fee. If you don’t read Japanese, request an audio guide. The device is completely free, and the content is divided into individual segments. So, you can go through the museum at your own pace, cuing up explanations for what interests you on the fly.

The museum has a clever wayfinding system—cat-shaped cutouts—that will guide you from the first floor “Introduction” area, through the Soseki-Sanbo replica, up to the second floor, and finally back down to the lobby. Give yourself an hour or two to cover everything, depending on your level of interest. After that, spend time in the library, cafe, or gift shop at your leisure.

An impressive experience

Amelie admires the tiled roofing of the Soseki-Sanbo replica.

Amelie, a fellow Tadaima Japan author, joined me on my visit and had the following to say about the experience: “If you are a fan of Soseki’s books, especially I Am a Cat, this is a nice place to come and have a look around. Most importantly, it makes you want to read his words again, which is probably the idea behind the museum.”

As for me, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about such an important historical figure—the person behind those classic books that I struggled to read in Japanese years ago. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the lives of famous authors and I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that shaped Soseki and subsequently his work.

Most importantly, I also was inspired to take another look at Soseki’s work. Now it’s just a matter of deciding whether to read them in English or once again attempt to tackle them in Japanese.

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AUTHOR

Anthony

Anthony

Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.

Information

Address 7 Wasedaminamicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 162-0043
Hours 10 a.m. –6 p.m.
Price 300 yen
Close Mondays
Access 10-minute walk from Waseda Station (Exit 1) on the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line
Phone 03-3205-0209
Language English
Chinese
Website https://soseki-museum.jp/