A difficult September 1899 outing on Mt. Aso

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The 210th day of the Japanese lunar calendar is an inauspicious day to try to scale a volcano, or, indeed, to be out of doors at all. The pair of travelers in Sôseki Natsume’s short 1906 novel, The 210th Day (Nihyaku Toka), did not realize that their expedition to the top of the caldera of Mount Aso (an active volcano on Kyushu, the southernmost of the main islands of the Japanese archipelago; Sôseki taught on Kyushu for four years) was on the 210th day.

What with the ash, the fog, the drizzle, and high grass, the rumbling under foot, along with blisters the flourish on Roko (the out-of-shape friend of Kei, the character based on Sôseki), the trek is miserable, and the trekers do not reach an edge from which they can look down into the caldera.

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(Miya.m photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Kei reminded me of a leftist Oliver Hardy (whose movies were still in the future), clucking disapproval at the whinings of his companion (though Kei was the slender one, not physically Oliver Hardy’s type). The son of a tofu-maker (not an autobiographical touch), Kei is very critical of the elite and of those who have prospered in Meiji Japan’s early modernization. He refuses to satisfy his companion’s curiosity about his past, but periodically rails against the affluent and the injustices visited on the poor.

Though the book was written after Botchan (and just before Sôseki gave up his Tokyo University position and began as a newspaper (Asahi) fiction serializer), it harkens back to the free-floating sly aggressive observations of his breakout success, I Am a Cat. I think it could have done with more story-telling, relying almost entirely on vaguely comic banter.

The 210th Day is a minor work of a very popular (if more than a little cranky) Japanese writer of a century ago.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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