Soseki Natsume: grave of a literary giant

Soseki Natsume grave
Soseki Natsume's grave.

Soseki Natsume was a giant of the literary world. I have only read one of his books. It was Bochan. I don’t remember much of it as I read it when I studied Japanese at Kumon in the 1990s. That was a long time ago! I still meet him every so often, though. I should say that I photograph his grave occasionally.

He died in 1916, but he rests in Tokyo. You can find his grave at Zoshigaya Cemetery, near Ikebukuro. There are many famous people interred there. But Soseki’s tombstone is an interesting one. He would have approved of it, I’m sure.

What does Soseki Natsume’s grave look like?

His headstone is unique. It resembles a comfortable armchair. Soseki died of a stomach ulcer, and it was painful for him to sit in the last months of his life. Maybe he could use it to sit comfortably in the afterlife.

Natsume in kanji on grave inscription
Natsume written in kanji.

Many other famous people lie near him. Hideki Tojo is only a short walk away. Lafcadio Hearn is near, too. He is not alone. Quite a few cats are there to keep Soseki company. Maybe they love being near the writer of “I am a Cat”?

Where is his grave at Zoshigaya?

He is #39 on the map you can get at the administration office.

My “Only in Japan” experience at the grave

I must admit I don’t visit Soseki that often, maybe twice a year. But I drop by and say hello if I’m in the area. Of course, I take a few photos. One time, a family group arrived at the same time I did. There was mum, dad, some kids, and the grandmother.

She started talking to me about Soseki. She had no idea that people overseas knew about him. Suddenly, she reached out and grabbed my hand. She wrapped her Buddhist prayer beads around it and implored me to pray. I think she wanted me to offer a prayer to him.

If you didn’t know, I’m somewhere between atheist and agnostic. I go to a shrine on New Year’s Day because I enjoy the experience, but it’s not to pray. It’s not my thing. But this lady caught me off-guard, and I ended up doing it. I put it down as one of those “Only in Japan” experiences. It certainly was strange.

A few random facts about Soseki’s life

  • Born on February 9, 1867
  • Spouse: Kyoko Natsume (married from 1896 to his death)
  • Natsume’s birth name was Kinnosuke. He started using Soseki after his friend Masaoka Shiki tutored him in haiku. In Chinese, it meant stubborn.
  • Studied in England from 1900 to 1902
  • I am a Cat, published in 1905
  • Even though he died in 1916, he still influences the modern world. His works have been printed in many languages. Haruki Murakami is on record as saying that Natsume was his favorite writer.
  • From 1984 to 2004, he appeared on the 1000 yen note.

Wrapping up

My visits to Soseki’s grave have given me some insight into his enduring influence. His unique armchair-like headstone seems fitting for a man whose occupation was writing. It serves as a reminder of his timeless impact on literature and culture. He bridged generations and continents.

But most of I remember my strange encounter there. I often wonder at the motivation of the grandmother. She showed some unexpected reverence towards Soseki. Her behavior was quite unexpected. I have some theories about what motivated her, but I’d like ot hear your thoughts. Please leave them below. 

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