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'Yukio Mishima' reviews
Review: Yukio Mishima (by Matthew Shores, Bulletin of SOAS, June 2015)
Life as a Sonic Boom (by Jim Nawrocki, Gay and Lesbian Review, 25/6/15)
Mishima; Sliced from the Shackles of Time (by Stephen Mansfield, The Japan Times, 27/12/14)
'The Tower of London'
Newspaper reviews
A poodle amongst wolves (by Francis King in The Spectator, January 22 2005)
London seen from the East (by Anthony Thwaite in The Telegraph, January 19 2005)
Manchester inspiration for the Oriental bard (by David Henry  in Manchester Metro News,April 4, 2006)
The attractive helplessness of a reluctant foreigner (by Donald Richie in The Japan Times, February 6, 2005)
Other reviews
(Not available on  the web)
Mole in the Fog (by Jonathon Keates in the Times Literary Supplement, October 21 2005)
Bedge Pardon and the Writer from Japan (by Jon Newman in the South London Press, April 29 2005)
Cabbies and Caves (by Paul Binding in the Literary Review, March 1 2005)
Others Japan Foundation
Spats Guardian Unlimited
Japan Times
Review of talk Damian Flanagan: Why Read Soseki (David Eunice in SWET Newsletter, December 2007, PDF document)


The Spectator - Review
Issue: 22 January 2005
Reviewed by
Francis King

A poodle amongst wolves

The Tower of London
Natsume Soseki, translated by Damian Flanagan
Peter Owen, 240pp, £14.95, ISBN 0720612349

On one floor of a not easily found house in Clapham, there is a small museum dedicated to the two years, 1900-02, spent by the great Japanese writer Natsume Soseki in England. It is rare to see a non-Japanese face in this modest shrine; but each day unfailingly brings a succession of Japanese pilgrims.

It is writings inspired by Soseki’s stay in London that make up The Tower of London. If the tone is often grim, that is because the stay itself was grim. Having left behind a pregnant wife, the then 31-year-old professor of English found his stipend from the Japanese government inadequate to cover the cost of both decent lodgings and the books that he obsessively collected. Since he gave the books precedence, he was obliged to settle in a series of dreary rooming-houses in unfashionable areas of London. He had few friends in the tiny Japanese community and virtually no English ones. It is therefore not surprising that, as he neared the end of his exile, he began to suffer from paranoid delusions. As he himself described it, ‘Amongst the English gentlemen I was a like a poodle amongst a pack of wolves and led a pitiful life.’
What makes this collection so fascinating is that Soseki viewed England as much from the viewpoint of an anthropologist as from that of a creative writer. At one point, amazed by the extravagant hats and veils of the period, he writes of ‘herds of women walking around like horned lionesses with nets on their heads’; at another, he describes his kilted host in Pitlochry as wearing ‘a skirt belonging to a time long ago when no shame was attached to the colour of flesh’.

The London that Soseki so impressively evokes is that of Gustave Doré, with misty sunsets, swirling fog, and streets like narrow valleys hemmed in by gaunt, sheer buildings. The half-educated families with whom he stays horrify him with their vulgarity and exasperate him with their assumption that he knows nothing of English culture. In a brilliant piece, half fiction and half reminiscence, the four members of one such family display hints of incest and illegitimacy in so sinister a manner that, repelled and terrified, he moves out.

Another piece, ‘Bicycle Diary’, is an adroitly self-mocking account of how the author gives way to the urgings of his English hosts and Japanese friends that for his health he should take up the then fashionable sport of bicycling. Soseki’s repeated failures to stay on his hired machine or, when he has managed to stay on, to keep moving in the desired direction, becomes a wry metaphor for his clumsiness in coping with social intercourse in the country of his exile.

For the sort of psychological subtlety that distinguishes the magnificent novels that Soseki was later to write, one need only turn to a coolly devastating account of tutorial visits to the eminent Irish scholar Professor William Craig. Totally absorbed in the compilation of his Shakespeare Dictionary, Craig pays only token attention to his distinguished pupil, whom he treats like an ignorant and tiresome child.

This collection contains only minor works, most of them written at times of extreme despondency, stress and loneliness. But each piece shows a spark of genius, however fugitive, so that one is never in doubt that one is in the presence of greatness. The translator, Damian Flanagan, has provided an excellent introduction and ample notes. I have always thought that of all English novelists it is E. M. Forster that Soseki most resembles. Flanagan, whether deliberately or not, catches Forster’s authorial tone with uncanny accuracy.

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The Telegraph

London seen from the East
(Filed: 19/01/2005)

Anthony Thwaite reviews The Tower of London by Natsume Soseki

Natsume Soseki, later to become his country's leading novelist of the modern period, studied on a Japanese government scholarship in London between 1900 and 1902. He was in his early thirties, formidably well read in English literature, but also desperately lonely, poor, and subject to bouts of ill health. He died in Tokyo when he was 49.

Since Soseki's death in 1916, a dozen or so of his books have appeared in English translation, including his comic classic Botchan and his serious masterpiece, Kokoro. They have been enthusiastically reviewed, discussed by specialists, but then have gone out of print. Though Soseki's novels belong in the mainstream of world literature, in translation they have tended to be diverted on to orientalist shelves.

Damian Flanagan, this book's translator, in 2003 published a book in Japanese on Soseki, which proclaimed that not only had Soseki been misunderstood by the Japanese (though he was famous enough to have been the face on the 1,000-yen note for many years) but that Soseki was "King of the Novel" and a finer writer than Tolstoy, Proust or Joyce. Articles on Flanagan's book appeared throughout the Japanese press. The chairman of a leading Japanese company contacted Flanagan and offered his patronage.

One result of this patronage is The Tower of London, a collection of the separate pieces Soseki wrote based on his experiences in England; some were actually written in London, others a few years later when he was back in Japan. They range from "Letter from London", published in a little magazine in Tokyo in May 1901, to a reminiscence of the eccentric Anglo-Irish Shakespeare scholar, William Craig, with whom Soseki had private weekly tutorials for a year.

The most substantial gatherings are the title-piece, a phantasmagoric oddity which blends real observation of the Tower of London with visions which seem to draw almost equally on Shakespeare's Richard III and Harrison Ainsworth's once-famous early Victorian novel The Tower of London; and "The Carlyle Museum", a droll tour of the fog-bound Cheyne Row house of the sage.

The whole book is scrupulously and enthusiastically introduced and annotated, but I'm not quite convinced even with these effective tactics that this is the way to bring Soseki properly into circulation. What one really needs is a newly introduced selection in English of Soseki's most outstanding novels - something which might decently have a chance of gaining him recognition as someone of the stature Flanagan claims. One gathers from the Afterword that the anonymous benefactor may have this in mind.

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Manchester inspiration for the Oriental bard
4th April, 2006
HIDDEN TALENT: Damian Flanagan has translated the works of Natsume Soseki.

NATSUME Soseki is Japan's answer to William Shakespeare. For the last twenty years his face has appeared on the front of the 1000-yen note, one of his novels was voted the country's favourite, and there are enough books about his life to fill several large libraries.

His work is read, studied, and performed throughout the Far East and is as popular in China and Korea as it is in his homeland.

But he remains virtually unknown in the west despite much of his early writing being about Britain – something that a Didsbury author plans to change.

Dr Damian Flanagan is passionate about Soseki's work and has already written, in Japanese, a book on Soseki's life which caused a sensation when it was published nearly two years ago due to its claims that the writing was strongly influenced European culture, an idea that caused great controversy in Japan.

Now he plans to bring Soseki's genius to western attention. He's translated all of the British-based books and plans to publish them in a new collection which includes which includes The Tower Of London, a fantasy exploration of English history inspired by a novel of the same name written by Manchester-born William Harrison Ainsworth, who is remembered by a blue plaque on King Street in the city centre.

Soseki was also inspired by two William Holman Hunt paintings, The Hireling Shepherd and The Lady of Shallot, paintings that now hang in Manchester Art Gallery. Motifs from these paintings appear in many of Soseki's novels.

Dr Flanagan said: “Soseki is known throughout Asia as the greatest of all Japanese writers but in this country he remains obscure so I really wanted to do something about that. And I wanted to make it clear that a great writer like Soseki belongs not just to the Japanese but also to the people of the world.

“He spent time in this country, was an expert on English literature and was heavily influenced by it. So his work should appeal to British people.”

Born in 1867, Soseki spent two years living in Britain as a young man. He was based in London from 1900 until 1902, as an emissary of his government sent to study in what was then the centre of the western world. On his return to Japan he began writing novels and did so until his death in 1916.

Dr Flanagan said: “Soseki is quite simply the finest of all novelists and probably the best writer since Shakespeare. While Shakespeare is appreciated and enjoyed around the world, Soseki is not widely known in the west. It's an anomaly.”

Having learned to speak Japanese as a Manchester Grammar School pupil, Dr Flanagan discovered Soseki while studying at Cambridge University.

On returning from a spell living in Japan, he made it his mission to promote Soseki in this country.

He said: “Soseki has never been successful in the west because we have a very rigid idea of what Japanese literature should be about. We expect Geishas and Samurai Warriors. Soseki's work is much more complex than that.

“He emerged at a time when Japan was beginning the process of modernisation and westernisation. Soseki was fascinated with European culture but he also wanted Japanese traditions to survive.

“He symbolises the transition Japan made into the modern world and defined the way the country sees the west.”

Damian believes Soseki’s Manchester connections should be promoted by Manchester Council in order to attract more Japanese tourists to the city.

Dr Flanagan said: “Soseki was an absolute genius. He wrote some of the greatest novels ever produced. Great literature is universal and I am sure that his work just needs a push in this country and it will catch on.”

The Tower Of London: Tales of Victorian London by Natsume Soseki, is published by Peter Owen, £14.95.

by David Henry


Japan Foundation

Review in 'Perspectives'

Book Review

The Tower of London
by Natsume Soseki

Peter Owen’s beautifully produced The Tower of London is a delightful volume. In October 1900 the then unknown Natsume Soseki came to London, on a meagre government stipend, to study his beloved English literature. It was a dismal, depressing time. By his own account, Soseki hardly mixed, not even with other Japanese expatriots, whom he considered wasteful and frivolous. He spent most of his time reading and a great deal of his very limited funds on buying hundreds of books. A Japanese visitor to Victorian London was a strange sight: rarer still was a visitor of Soseki’s unique vision sharing his insights into the London life of his day. But we do not read Soseki today simply for his history. He is a penetrating yet simultaneously hallucinatory writer: the Thames is the river Styx; the Tower a gateway to the Underworld. What remains crucial in Soseki’s art is his ability to unpick the quotidian. This new translation, with an excellent critical introduction, is an important and timely book. With a number of Japanese contemporary writers getting all the attention, Peter Owen should be thanked for working so hard to focus our attention on an author whom many regard as Japan’s greatest.
Mark Thwaite

Managing Editor, ReadySteadyBook.com

The work was given a Japan Foundation grant under our Publication Support Programme and the official launch took place here on 27 January, at which the translator, Dr Damian Flanagan, gave a talk on Soseki and was joined by Soseki specialist, Kichiro Tago.

Letter to the Editor,

Caryl Phillips ("Finding Oneself at Home", January 21) compares the experiences of Angela Carter in Japan with those of Natsume Soseki in London. It's great that Phillips shows a keen appreciation of Japan's greatest literary figure, even though he is little known in the UK. Phillips quoted extensively from my translation of Soseki's Letter from London (1901), but I was disappointed to see that no reference was given to the book in which everything about Soseki in London is contained: The Tower of London and Other Stories published by Peter Owen last year. Incidentally, Owen will be releasing several more of Soseki's classic novels with new introductions by myself in the near future. Already out is Soseki's masterpiece, The Gate.
Damian Flanagan

Here is the full full article online.


Finding oneself at home

Both Angela Carter and Natsume Soseki found new insights into their respective homelands when living abroad. Caryl Phillips reflects on the role of the writer as 'outsider'

Saturday January 21, 2006
The Guardian


In 1900, almost exactly 70 years before Carter travelled to Japan, the great Japanese writer Natsume Soseki arrived in late Victorian London to study for two years. His writing about this period is not so well-known to English readers, perhaps because they feel they have had their fill of narratives about fog, chimney sweeps, maids and the draughty misery of this period from countless numbers of English writers from Dickens to Conan Doyle. However, as with Carter, the real drama of Soseki's "English" writing is not what it tells us about England, but what it tells us about Soseki himself.

Soseki returned to Japan after his two years in London and began a tragically short, but singular, literary career that was marked by a furious sense of independence. With regard to literary form he was an avid experimenter; in his academic career he shocked his contemporaries by turning down a very prestigious professorship, and in terms of his public voice he was loud, vocal, and critical. He had many things to say about Japanese society that were uncomfortable for some Japanese people to hear. That said, the more I read of Soseki's work, and the more I discover about his literary life and career in Japan, the more convinced I am that his being an exotic Asian stranger in London at an early and critical stage of his intellectual and literary development helped him to become the fully mature and outstandingly gifted writer that he subsequently became in the Japanese world that he eventually returned to.

In one startling passage from "Letter From London" (1901) we see Soseki as he sees himself.

"In any case, I feel small. An unusually small person approaches. Eureka! I think. But when we brush past one another I see he is about two inches taller than me. A strangely complexioned Tom Thumb approaches, but now I realise this is my own image reflected in a mirror. There is nothing for it but to laugh bitterly, and, naturally, when I do so, the image laughs bitterly, too. When I go to the park, herds of women walk around like horned lionesses with nets on their heads. Amongst them are some men. And some tradesmen. I am struck by the fact that they are for the most part better dressed than many a high-ranking official in Japan. In this country one cannot work out someone's status by their dress. A butcher's boy, when Sunday rolls around, will proudly put on his silk hat and frock-coat."

[This, above and below,  are direct and uncredited quotes from 'The Tower of London']

These sometimes alarming English encounters continually throw Soseki back upon himself and down into deep wells of self-reflective contemplation. He finds both who and what he is being continually challenged in a very profound manner, and one can sense in Soseki's writing a man who is becoming unmoored in a most fundamental way. "When I was in Japan I knew I was not particularly white but regarded myself as being close to a regular human colour, but in this country I have finally realised that I am three leagues away from a human colour - a yellow person who saunters amongst the crowds going to watch plays and shows . . . In one park I heard a couple arguing whether I was a Chinaman or a Japanese. Two or three days ago I was invited out somewhere and set off in my silk hat and frock-coat only for two men who seemed like workmen to pass by saying, 'A handsome Jap'. I do not know whether I should be flattered or offended."



The Japan Times



The attractive helplessness of a reluctant foreigner
(Note: to view this article you must register with the Japan Time site)

THE TOWER OF LONDON: Tales of Victorian London, by Natsume Soseki, translated and introduced by Damian Flanagan, calligraphy by Kosaka Misuzu. London: Peter Owen, 2005, 240 pp., 12 illustrations, £14.95 (paper).

In 1900 the Japanese government sent three young scholars to London to study and equip themselves for university positions that awaited them on their return to Japan -- they were to replace foreign professors who would then be sent home.

In this group sent forth was one who did not very much want to go -- the 33-year-old Natsume Soseki. He suffered from seasickness, displayed gastric problems and, as his diary indicates, was most uneasy about this forced immersion in foreign climes.

Later he wrote: "The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years of my life. Among English gentlemen, I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves."

Part of the misery was occasioned by the exceedingly small funding allowed him by his government, but another part was due to his electing to remain unhappy.

He refused London's admirable public transportation system, did not trust himself to train or cab since "their cobweb system was so complicated," moved from one awful lodging to another and based his later opinion of the English character upon those of the landladies and tradespeople with whom he unsuccessfully attempted to deal.

In actuality, he was perhaps treated no more poorly than the British treated each other. And sometimes better. One of the guards at the Tower of London went out of his way to show the future author a suit of Japanese armor. One landlord hoisted the short scholar onto his shoulders so that he could view Queen Victoria's funeral cortege.

Nonetheless, Soseki had already decided upon a persona of attractive helplessness and it was this that he described when, back in Japan, he wrote up his London experiences in a series of sketches.

One hundred years later, with Soseki acknowledged as perhaps Japan's greatest author, they are here collected and translated. Included are "Letter from London" and "Bicycle Diary" (1903), "The Tower of London" and "The Carlyle Museum" (1906), and seven sketches from "Short Pieces for Long Days" (1909) -- in other words, most of the pieces worked up from Soseki's London notes.

Several are not included, "The Phantom Shield (Maboroshi no Tate)" and "Dew on the Shallots (Kairoko)" among them. Instead, the translator/editor has chosen to add a much later story by another author, Futaro Yamada's "The Yellow Lodger," which imagines a meeting between Soseki and Sherlock Holmes. It is written in a tiresomely jocular manner, though this faithfully mirrors the Soseki tone during this early period -- as found in "Botchan" and "I Am a Cat."

Some of the sketches in this book are here translated for the first time, though that of "The Tower of London" first appeared in a 1992 edition by Peter Milward and Kii Nakano. Also the Natsume Soseki Museum in London has announced a series of translations, one of which, "Travels in Manchuria and Korea," appeared in 2000.

Flanagan, however, gives the museum very short shrift, it being found an "uncomfortable irony" and a mere upstairs flat across the street from Soseki's fourth and final boardinghouse, and "kitted out with a variety of period memorabilia." Its founder-caretaker, Ikuo Tsumematsu, is deemed an enthusiast.

But Flanagan is also an enthusiast (as well as a scholar) and boosts his author at every opportunity. He admits that his goal is "promoting Soseki to the very forefront of world literature." He believes that Soseki's work is "the finest collection of novels, memoirs, criticism and short stories the Japanese language has ever seen," that Soseki is "King of the Novel" and that he is "a finer writer than Tolstoy, Proust or Joyce."

Here again, one feels, Soseki is being kindly hoisted on the shoulders of a friendly foreigner.

The value of the present collection is in the fact that even if it is negligible the author is not, and thus all information is welcome -- particularly through the kind of knowledge that Flanagan brings to his translation, his introduction and his notes.

This book may be obtained from Peter Owen Publishers, 73 Kenway Rd., London SW5 0RE.
The Japan Times: Feb. 6, 2005
(C) All rights reserved


Letters to the Editor

The Japan Times


Japan's greatest literary figure


Nishinomiya, Hyogo
I read with interest Donald Richie's Feb 6. review of my translation and introduction to Natsume Soseki's "The Tower of London" as well as Alastair Dingwall's Feb. 23 letter, "Museum curator deserves better."

Dingwall's letter berated me for portraying the Soseki Museum in London "in disparaging terms" and for "slightingly" describing, Ikuo Tsunematsu, the curator of the museum, as a "Soseki enthusiast." The last time I checked, there was nothing derisive about being referred to as an enthusiast.

As for the earlier translation of "The Tower of London," which was published by Dingwall, I can say only that it is one of the worst translations of a Japanese classic ever to find its way into print. It was riddled with translation errors and poor English construction and completely distorted the original work. Does Dingwall seriously think that Soseki's reputation was enhanced by this?

Richie's review of my new book is described by Dingwall as being "generous and knowledgeable." It was certainly generous toward me, but it was disparaging toward Soseki himself, which is ultimately what matters. Nor was the review knowledgeable -- virtually every sentence contained a factual error and Richie compounded the offense by quoting mistranslations of Soseki's works.

I care passionately that readers in the West are properly introduced to the works of Japan's greatest literary figure. This year, for the first time in 30 years, classic translations of Soseki's masterpieces will be republished by Peter Owen Publishers in London as part of a major relaunch of Soseki's works in the West. Each translation has been handpicked for quality and is accompanied by a comprehensive critical introduction. People who really want to find out why Soseki's works are so highly prized in Japan are encouraged to read these editions.

Contrary to Richie's remark that "Soseki is being kindly hoisted on the shoulders of a friendly foreigner," readers will discover that a writer of Soseki's stature does not need a lift from anyone.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
The Japan Times: March 6, 2005
(C) All rights reserved


Museum curator deserves better


Sapporo, Hokkaido
As the publisher of the first English translation of Natsume Soseki's "The Tower of London," I would like to comment on Donald Richie's Feb. 6 review of Damian Flanagan's new translation. Richie's review is, as always, generous and knowledgeable. However, it seems that Flanagan has been less charitable toward the Soseki Museum in London and its curator, Ikuo "Sammy" Tsunematsu.

According to the review, the museum is portrayed in disparaging terms while Tsunematsu is slightingly described as an "enthusiast." It seems to me that Tsunematsu's generous support for Soseki studies -- and for rescuing the great Japanese painter and autobiographer Yoshio Markino ("A Japanese Artist in London") from obscurity -- deserves fairer treatment.

Flanagan is, of course, free to try to improve on the translation of "The Tower of London" that was published over a decade ago, but it is unfortunate that in doing so he seems to have tried to belittle the efforts of the Soseki Museum in London and its founder, Tsunematsu.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
The Japan Times: Feb. 23, 2005
(C) All rights reserved


For Anglo-Japanese understanding


Nishinomiya, Hyogo
Perusers of Readers in Council over the last few weeks must surely have been amused to read the ongoing debate over my new book about novelist Natsume Soseki in Britain, "The Tower of London: Tales of Victorian London." Following the initial review by Donald Richie on Feb. 6, the publisher of an earlier translation, Alastair Dingwall, has written in twice, most recently March 23, accusing me of being "aggressive" for speaking out about the previous translation.

According to Richie's review, Soseki's writings on Britain are of "negligible" value, and Dingwall, who apparently has not even read the book, tells us that it is a "minor work." Meanwhile, Soseki's writings have been widely reviewed in the British press, which has commended "The Tower of London."

Thanks to the relaunch of Soseki's works in Britain, a new generation of Britons is being introduced to some of the most seminal works of Japanese literature. If that is not profoundly important to the future of Anglo-Japanese understanding and worth celebrating, I don't know what is. As for the quality of Soseki's writings on Britain, I strongly encourage readers to actually read the book and find out for themselves.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
The Japan Times: April 3, 2005
(C) All rights reserved

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