Want to learn more about the real Botchan from Natusume Soseki’s classic novel? We’ve got you covered!
Was Botchan Based on Soseki’s Life?
Discovering the Real Botchan
The Real Botchan
Who was Soseki’s “Botchan” modeled after?
Many people are inclined to think the character Botchan is loosely based on Soseki himself, with the idea he wrote it based on his experience in 1895 as a Matsuyama middle school English teacher in Ehime prefecture. In actuality, he modeled the character after a fellow teacher named, HIRONAKA Mataichi (弘中又一).
The true Botchan, if you will, Mataichi, came to Matsuyama as a math teacher at the age of twenty one, and Soseki and Mataichi worked together for about a year, before parting ways to teach at different schools.
At school, Mataichi’s nickname was “Ponchi” (meaning “Botchan” in Matsuyama dialect), so, it’s not too hard to envision why it has been said Soseki got the idea for the story, in part, based on Mataichi. Doling out nicknames seemed to be common for the students at Matsuyama middle school, just as it is for the students in Soseki’s classic.
Mataichi had at least one other nickname prescribed to him, this one after apparently finishing four bowls of shippoku udon (しっぽくうどん) all by himself. This gastronomical feat earned him the nickname, Matanaka Shippoku-san (又中しっぽくさん). Readers of our background notes will, no doubt, be familiar with this tale from our tempura and dango coverage!
Of course, Soseki himself did not go unscathed. Because he was known to possess a frequent, and frightening scowl, the students somewhat appropriately named him “Natsume the Roof-Tile Ogre” (夏目の鬼瓦)—another standout reference from the story.
People remember Mataichi as being a good-humored, amiable person and more than a few stories have been passed along about him through the years.
Here are a few that highlight Mataichi’s unique “Botchan-like” character:
- On one occasion while heading home from school, Mataichi stopped to purchase freshwater fish from a street vendor. Noticing Mataichi didn’t have a bag with him to contain the fish, the vendor apparently asked, “Where should the fish be put?” In response, Mataichi simply took off the derby he was wearing and had the vendor place the fish within.
- After receiving his monthly salary, Mataichi was known to keep the money in his socks so as not to forget about its whereabouts.
- In his first class of algebra, the first thing he said to students on that day was, “Let’s do this using Charles Smith’s original textbook in English!” leaving the students absolutely dumbfounded.
The original references for this write-up in Japanese are below if you’d like to read them for yourself. Please do! And, of course, we welcome you to read more of this classic story by exploring our full Natsume Soseki, “Botchan” page. To pick up the entire book in Japanese, Amazon is always your friend, or if you’d like to buy a special edition, or other impossible to findcool stuff shipped directly from Japan, you can browse White Rabbit, or DOCODEMO. Enjoy!
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