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.
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 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).
How to make the most of your visit
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, 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.