Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Rui Zhu's Senior Art Thesis  

Natsume  Soseki

Rui  Zhu 

The Occupation of Japan: An Unfinished Odyssey in Search of Democracy

Natsume Soseki’s Pessimistic View of the Meiji Society

At the end of the Japanese movie, A Boy Called H, the protagonist draws a phoenix, symbolizing the destruction of Japan as an imperial power and the rebirth of a new Japan through a series of democratic reforms during the post-war Occupation. The U.S. occupying forces enacted widespread reforms in Japan between 1945 and 1952. The Americans reorganized Japan's social structure in military, political, economic, and social realms. The Occupation ended with a formal peace treaty to ensure peace, justice, and democracy in post-Occupation Japan. However, some observers in 2013 saw what they called a renewal of wartime patriotism in the censorship of history textbooks and in an aggressive economic policy issued by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Critics charged that such developments threatened the viability of the so-called successful democratic reforms of the Occupation period. Some warned that militarism and anti-democratic forces still threatened Japanese society, and Japan's long search for democracy remained unfinished.

Forty years before the Occupation, Soseki – a Japanese novelist of the Meiji period – warned society of its approaching downfall, which he attributes to distorted social values such as bushido (the Japanese concept of chivalry) and giri (the burden of obligation). In one of Soseki’s most famous novels, The Heredity of Taste, Ko-san, a golden boy who is far above the common crowd, loses his individuality and, ultimately, his life when he joins the army. In order to adhere to the stringent societal expectation of devoting oneself heart and soul to one’s nation, Ko-san enlists, thereby giving up his uniqueness as an independent individual and the right to stay with his family and lover. The suffering of Ko-san and his loved ones ruthlessly exposes the enormous loss of the individual’s right to pursue his or her happiness in the so-called “triumph” of war. By depicting protagonists’ personal tragedies in his novels, Soseki leaves readers to multiply the pathos by hundreds of thousands of actual victims. In this sense, his stories of individual characters warn people of the downfall of the Meiji society and the way in which unhealthy values distort the individual’s sense of self.

Major Work Consulted:

Kawai, Kazuo. Japan’s American Interlude. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Modern Japan in Archives, “Chapter 5: Reconstruction of Japan.” National Diet Library. Japan. Accessed 24 Jan. 2014.
Natsume, Soseki. The Heredity of Taste. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2004.
--. Kokoro. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1957.
Photo Credit: “Portrait of Natsume Soseki.” Photograph. Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1974. Soseki no Omoide.


 Link to Rui Zhu's Senior Art Thesis