Maplopo Presents:

Natsume Soseki

Botchan

Japanese Books and Short Stories in English, Maplopo

A Maplopo Chapter Excerpt:

by Natsume Soseki,
Botchan

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Updated: January 9, 2021 (JST)

Botchan (坊っちゃん)

Botchan is a freshly minted, 23-year-old math teacher from Tokyo’s Institute of Physical Sciences, adventuring through his first teaching job at a school in far off rural Shikoku in the first few years of the 20th century. Botchan has a deep streak of innocence running through him, and is a bit righteous and impatient—especially when it comes to the politicking of his superiors. He finds himself frequently longing for the purity and companionship of the family’s caretaker, Kiyo, who throughout his childhood has offered him a sense of comfort and affection; even more so since the death of his parents.

He also misses what he considers to be the more advanced character of Tokyo, yet, is determined to stick it out, despite the sometimes comical and often absurd life he’s now forced to lead on this distant Japanese island. As a pet name, “Botchan” comes packed with many meanings that range from endearment to disparagement. Yet, it’s mainly used by those who see its recipient as green to the ways of the world. Kiyo is the one who assigns our main character this name out of affection for him. In some ways, you might be able to hear it as “my darling boy.”

Porcupine (山嵐)

Porcupine first comes on the scene as a friend to Botchan, but later appears to act as a foe. So, Botchan’s immediate need with this strong hot-headed character is to determine exactly where his allegiance lies. Porcupine is a heavily built man with short, cropped hair not unlike that on the burr of a chestnut, and physically dwarfs Botchan. But he and Botchan are equally strong-willed, and the two aren’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with one another. In contrast to Botchan’s recent foray into teaching, Porcupine is a long-experienced and widely-respected teacher, candid in his dealings with teachers and students alike, and steadfast in his approach toward the truth. He’s as prickly as the nickname Botchan has assigned him, but as honest as they come.

Redshirt (赤シャツ)

Redshirt is the school’s contemptible vice principal. Consumed by his desire to appear of a certain character in the eyes of others, he’s matured into a conniving and easily corruptible man. He’s not afraid to use a back-handed gesture to get what he wants, and is a supreme sycophant. Because of its perceived status, he has been quick to adopt western dress, and frequently dons a red flannel shirt. This choice of attire has prompted Botchan to gift him with that very name. 

Tanuki (狸)

Tanuki is principal of the school, and not much more than a figurehead to Botchan. We never come to know his actual name—he’s known throughout simply as Tanuki. The nickname is symbolic because the animal that bears the name is seen as a rather foolish and amusing creature portrayed as a laughable trickster in Japanese folklore. Laughable, because when surprised it tends to collapse into sleep, only to wake up later when danger has passed. Botchan views Tanuki as permitting occurrences he considers worth preventing or correcting, and so as the story progresses it becomes even more clear how this nickname is befitting.

Noda (野だ)

Noda, the school’s art teacher, is so named because he reminds Botchan of a type of male geisha known as nodaiko. Such performers would accompany upper echelon citizens on leisure events, offering their service as bit comedians and musicians and were rewarded either monetarily, or through favor. They were quite practiced in the art of flattery, as is Noda—particularly when it comes to Redshirt. 

Mr. Pasty Squash (うらなり)

Mr. Pasty Squash, the pale, puffy-faced, English teacher is the most quiet among the staff, and Botchan holds him in high esteem. He’s humble and polite, and a true gentleman in the eyes of Botchan.

Madonna (マドンナ)

Madonna is the town’s local beauty. No longer engaged to Mr. Pasty Squash after his father died and their family lost its income and status, she is now romantically involved with Redshirt. Botchan tends to question her character, and she operates at the center of intrigue and gossip in the lives of the teachers.

Kiyo (清)

Botchan’s elderly family caretaker, Kiyo, is exceedingly fond of Botchan, and has been with the family for ten years. She was once independent, but lost some of her wealth after the shogunate was overthrown. Botchan is puzzled by her affection toward him, because he’s not sure if he deserves it. However, the unrequested consistency of her affection reminds Botchan that in the whole of Japan she alone possesses the purest form of character there is.

Where Does Botchan Take Place

Maplopo Background Notes

Disclaimer: Check it. The statement that follows is pretty important.

We thought it was important to point out that these background notes should not be viewed in any way as a translation of Botchan, nor as a summary of each chapter. Also, in those instances where we enclose a sentence in quotes, please note these are not likely to be actual quotes from the text (although, they may sometimes get pretty close). Essentially, these segments are just there for flavor. The quote marks serve to denote them as words spoken or thought pondered. They’re there only to bring alive the note. So, imagine yourself, for example, sitting down with us, asking about what’s happened previously in the book so you’re able to understand the chapter we’ve translated. This is the approach we’d take if you if you were sitting down in front of us. It’s the basics, in a nutshell. Hardly everything.

With that in mind, as you read the notes, you’ll hear us acting as a little bit like an additional narrator. This sort of delivery is common in what’s known as script coverage, so the writer can deliver the idea of the script to producers, etc. So, in a nutshell, these notes should be considered to be an “actively” written synopsis of sorts. To put these notes together, we talk extensively about what elements in prior chapters might help the reader get a clear picture as to what’s happening in the translated chapter, and put it all down “on paper” in this screenplay coverage style. Hope it helps! Enjoy.

Porcupine and Botchan

(from Chapter Two)

One morning after Botchan’s arrival into town, he visits the school to formalize his teaching appointment. He’s got to hand in some paperwork and be introduced to members of the staff. One of the teachers he meets is Mr. Hotta, head of the math department. Later, Botchan will assign this boisterous, spiky-haired teacher, the nickname, Porcupine. Before the day is out, Porcupine asks where Botchan is staying… “Yamashiro-ya,” he responds. Porcupine knows the place, and suggests they tag up later so he can fill Botchan in on the classes he’ll be teaching, what he’ll cover in class, etc. Sounds good to Botchan. Once school wraps for the day, Botchan departs, wanders by some of the more well-known sights in the area, and then heads home to the inn. He’s not at all impressed with what there is to see and do in this backwater spot of a town. He settles into lunch, drafts a letter to Kiyo his maid in Tokyo, starts to get a bit drowsy, and dozes off.

Sometime later in the stillness of his room, Botchan hears the commotion of Porcupine’s eminent arrival. The raucous Porcupine bounds into the room much to the chagrin of the rudely awakened Botchan, and begins to quickly cover Botchan’s class detail. Then, acting as that all-too-interested aunty, or maybe more accurately, a nosy neighbor, suggests Botchan should move on from the inn. Why? Well it’s surely more costly than he’d like to pay long term, right? No worries. He’ll make arrangements with the Ikagin family, who run a boarding house in town. They are choosy about who they allow to stay with them, though, so Porcupine will have to put in a good word for him.

Not long after, they go to see the Ikagin’s. Seems like an okay place, Botchan thinks. And while the wife may look a bit like a witch, Botchan figures since he’s not married to her, it doesn’t matter much.

On the way back to the inn, Porcupine treats Botchan to shaved ice. It’s interesting, Botchan thinks… when he first met Porcupine, he thought the burly teacher might not be the nicest guy around, but considering all of what he’s done for him today, he has to reconsider. Maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all.

The Ikagin Inquisition

(from Chapter Three)

Right away, Botchan notices his initial assessment of the Ikagin house is a little off. While he sees himself as someone simply lodging at the Ikagin’s, the proprietor appears to view Botchan as though he were a cornered, deep-pocketed buyer of antiques. Antique collecting is Mr. Ikagin’s side venture, and of them, he considers himself to be a bit of an amateur scholar. Botchan, of course, holds zero interest in the dusty things and would rather be left alone. In fact, he scoffs at the idea that he’d like doing something only retired people enjoy doing. Regardless, in constant parade, the man presents Botchan with a variety of antiques to purchase, especially paintings and works of calligraphy.

“Maybe you’d like one of these inzai?” says the proprietor, offering up ten bars of the raw material used for making hanko and other carvings. Or, “How about this hanging scroll…? It was painted by the famous Kazan!”

“No thanks. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t buy it.”

On another occasion, he carts out a massive, roof tile-sized suzuri (an ink stone) for Botchan’s perusal—if the paintings and works of art aren’t of interest to Botchan, the proprietor must’ve figured, perhaps he’d be interested in creating some of his own work.

“Take a look at this!” says the proprietor. He’s definitely not catching on that Botchan could care less.

And to think—all this started early. With the tea. Botchan had sensed right away this man was shifty when the very first time Ikagin offered tea, he chose to serve Botchan his own tea instead of providing tea from the house kitchen. It’s then he realizes, if things like this keep up, the real burden isn’t going to be school. It’s going to be this new living situation. The proprietor, too, is disheartened, but by Botchan’s lack of interest. It looks like he’s not going to get the chance to score a new customer with this new boarder after all.

Tempura and Dango

(from Chapter Three)

Botchan Soba Noodle Scene Photo, KRAKED

(c)ポプラ社 『坊っちゃん』 Illustration, p.31

One night while strolling about town near dinnertime, a restaurant sign advertising Tokyo Buckwheat Noodles grabs Botchan’s attention. With a penchant for the light chewy noodles—especially those with his hometown Tokyo attached to the name—Botchan wanders in to grab a bite. Sadly, his hopes for a nice comfortable homespun meal are quickly dashed. The place is dark and dingy, and he feels the only item in the whole place that’s new and clean is the menu that hangs on the wall. Speaking of the menu, the first item on the list is tempura noodles. And it gets an immediate reaction out of him. “Hey! Bring me tempura noodles!” he shouts out rather loudly, instantly drawing the head turns of three other customers in the rear corner of the shop—students, actually. They acknowledge his presence. He offers a greeting in return, then commences with his eating—four bowls in all by the end of his stay. Satisfied.

The next day, he heads into his classroom and notices someone has scrawled something in huge letters on what should be a clean blackboard. TEMPURA SENSEI, it reads. Tempura sensei? Finding it rather silly, he addresses the students, “What’s so funny about eating tempura?”

They respond… “But, four bowls?” He erases the board. In the next class, a similar message: #1. FOUR BOWLS OF TEMPURA. DON’T LAUGH. This message annoys him more than the first. “What wise-asses,” he thinks. “It’s not funny anymore. These kids are cowards hiding behind the group!” A final message in the next class really gets to him, and he ends class early, lamenting, “Why in the world did I come all this way to teach these insolent kids?”

In the evening, it’s become Botchan’s after-dinner habit to travel by train to the neighboring town of Sumita for onsen—the only thing this area does that’s on par with Tokyo. Sumita also has a red light district, and numerous inns and restaurants. One evening, after completing his visit to the onsen, he decides to stop by a dango[1]Mitarashi dango place he’s heard has a reputation for making a well regarded version of this yummy treat. Upon entering his classroom the next morning, he’s once again assaulted with a message on the board. And this time he didn’t even see a single student in the area that evening. TWO PLATES OF DANGO… SEVEN SEN. Then, a second message on the board in the next classroom… RED LIGHT DISTRICT DANGO… YUMMY, YUMMY! What a pain in the ass these idiot kids are.

Tempura sensei and dango Japanese calligraphy from Botchan

The Grasshopper & Battle Cry Incident

(from Chapter Four)

Botchan Grasshopper Incident

(c)ポプラ社 『坊っちゃん』 Illustration, p.38

At Botchan’s school, each teacher except Tanuki and Redshirt has to rotate through night duty. This puts them on-call to address any issues that come up overnight, and to be sure they’re close to the students, the teacher sleeps in the student dorm adjacent the building housing the classrooms.

Botchan’s first evening on call comes at the end of a particularly hot day, and because his room is located on the west side of the dorm, the afternoon sun has him feeling more like he’s baking, than resting. It’s about 4:30. His early dinner is in the rear view, and it’s far too early, and far too hot to go to sleep. So, it occurs to him he might be better off heading to the onsen—that way he can beat the sun and relax. He’s been going every night since his arrival so, why stop tonight? It might not be the best idea, but because the night-duty teacher was out when he arrived the first afternoon he came to town, he figures it’ll be safe to give it a whirl.

Things almost go according to plan. On the way back from the onsen, Botchan first runs into Tanuki, who’s apparently heading to the onsen himself. “Aren’t you on night duty?” he asks.

“Indeed,” Botchan assures him. “That’s why I’m heading back.”

Tanuki seems a bit surprised, but heads on. Next, Botchan runs into Porcupine, who poses the same question… “Isn’t a little irrational to have left school when you’re on night duty?”

“No, not at all,” Botchan responds. “It’d be irrational if I didn’t go out!” To Botchan, enduring the boredom and incessant heat of the room is tantamount to being in solitary confinement, and staying there would be far more irrational.

“What if you were to run into the principal or vice principal?” Porcupine asks.

“I just spoke with the principal, actually… he seemed to think I was smart to have gotten out given what a royal pain it would’ve been to remain in the hot room at this hour.” With that, they part ways.

When Botchan arrives back at the dorm, he and the custodian chat for about two hours, then sleep beckons. He wanders to his futon, lifts up the mosquito netting that drapes the bed from above, flips back his blanket, and plops himself down. A deep stretch from top to bottom to relax the muscles, and then… something heavy and scratchy on his leg. “Funny… that doesn’t feel like a louse. Too big.” Now, both legs! “Eh?” He shakes each of them to dislodge whatever the heck has decided to perch itself upon him. “What IS that…?!” On his calf, his thigh, his rear-end, his belly. He tosses off his blanket. Then… he knows. A cloud of grasshoppers leap from across every inch of his bedding… there must be 50 or 60 in all… hopping and dashing all over the damn place… on him, on the netting… everywhere. For half an hour, he swats wildly, shooing some away and squashing the rest. The carnage, he cleans with a nearby broom.

Botchan is livid. He summons three of the student leaders to his room. Unannounced, six show up. “Why did you put those grasshoppers in my bed?” Pretending to be unaware, they remain composed and defiant.

“We didn’t do anything…”

Botchan cannot believe how conniving these kids are. He’s got no more time for them and sends them away. Despite their age, he feels these kids still lack the ability to exhibit good character, and are far from worthy of his attention.

Around 10:30 that same night, after finally settling in from what has been a very long day, Botchan once again lies down for some sleep. Then, a noise from above — a helluva’ noise, actually, as the students dorming above him on the second floor begin an incredible ruckus, bouncing up and down so hard it feels as though the ceiling might give. He runs upstairs and into the middle of the second floor corridor only to be greeted with silence. They’re messing with him. Then, he hears a chant… 1, 2, 3! And, in an all out chorus of mayhem, a group of what must be thirty or forty students wail in a thunderous war cry… RaaaaahhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHH! The screams come from the end of the hallway, and channel throughout. Trying to cut through the din, he shouts “Shut uuuup!” and dashes toward the end of the corridor, running smack into something laid in his path. He trips, falls flat on his face, then rises and somehow manages to limp his way forward. He tries a few doors. First on the left, then the right. No go. Then, a barrage of noise from the opposite end of the hall. “Dammit! What schemers these kids are,” he thinks, “I’d beat them any day in courage, but they sure are outwitting me here.” So, a change of plans. He decides to lay in wait. If he can’t outwit them, he’ll outlast them and deal with them face-to-face—despite his now bloody, sticky shin. But the waiting is so long it knocks him into slumber.

Hours later, the clatter of morning rouses him, and he awakens slightly more puffy than previously, having been dined on throughout the night by more than a few mosquitoes. Spotting two students, he aggressively grabs them and hustles them downstairs to hash things out. In the hour that follows, more students filter down, increasing in number within his room. Both sides go back and forth, with Botchan gaining no ground. As the clock ticks near the beginning of the school day, Tankuki pops in, having been informed by the custodian that something was amiss. He listens thoroughly to what Botchan has to say, then spends a little time hearing out the students. He decides to defer administering punishment, though, leaving Botchan quite disappointed with the leniency. His judgement would be to expel them immediately. To Tanuki, what’s most important now is getting the boys to class, so he asks them to hustle off and get ready.

He then turns his focus to Botchan. “You’re looking somewhat frazzled and tired yourself… maybe you’d like to take the day off from classes?”

Botchan finds this ridiculous. “Ah, I’m fine… even if this sort of thing were to occur each and every night, I could handle it.”

“But your face is… uh… quite swollen.”

Sensing his face does feel a bit heavy, he rakes away at the insane itchiness caused by all those mosquito bites. “No matter how swollen my face might look, my mouth is still in good working order.”

Quite an intriguing display of perseverance, Tanuki thinks, even if it is a little foolish and funny. “Ah, you’re quite the energetic one aren’t you?” he says with a chuckle.

Hardly a compliment. To Botchan, that feels more like a dig than anything else.

Redshirt Conspiring on the Boat

(from Chapter Five)

Botchan, Noda, and Redshirt out fishing

(c)ポプラ社 『坊っちゃん』 Illustration, p.50

A bit of a fishing enthusiast, Redshirt asks Botchan to join him and Noda for an after school fishing trip. While he’s not much of a fisherman, Botchan doesn’t want the pair thinking he can’t fish, so he reluctantly agrees. On the scheduled day, he heads home from school, gets ready, and makes his way to meet the pair at the train station. They travel to the harbor, where a small craft and a boatman awaits to take them offshore. Together the foursome head into deeper waters, anchoring a slight distance from a beautiful island named, Aoshima.

“It reminds me of a Turner painting,” says Redshirt. 

Noda, ever the sycophant, chimes in. “Indeed it does! Why don’t we call it Turner Island from now on? Perhaps we could even place Madonna atop a rock on the hill… Raphael’s Madonna…”

Redshirt laughs, adding that it might be more polite not to mention Madonna given those in attendance.

“We’re fine. No one to understand.”

Noda’s jab, accompanied by his not-so-subtle glance and mischievous grin isn’t lost on Botchan. Still, he’s right, Botchan has no idea who this Madonna person is. Perhaps a geisha they have romantic feelings for? Either way, what’s on Botchan’s mind right now is food—and at this hour his appetite is really starting to kick in.

Redshirt drops his line, “Seems like it’ll be difficult to catch Red Snapper today given the depth we’re at.”

Noda, not missing a chance to kiss up, and tossing his line as well, sends some encouragement, “Surely, with your skill and greatness, you’ll catch one indeed!”

Meanwhile, at this point, Botchan is just watching and waiting. Since they’re fishing without floats or poles today, he’s at a bit of a loss as to next steps. Redshirt notices, and encourages him to get started. “But I don’t have a float,” he replies.

“If you still need a float, you’re still just an amateur…” Redshirt casually demonstrates how fishing is done without additional aid, and not long after, feels a tug at the line. Quickly, hand-over-hand, he draws the line in toward the boat. Alas, things end as rapidly as they start, and the fish is gone—along with the lure.

“Oh what a shame,” raps Noda… “I’m so sorry for you… how unfortunate. That must’ve been a really big one! And if you missed that fish, the rest of us are in for a really hard time fishing today. But, at least you’re actually fishing… losing a catch is far better than being the person stuck just staring at the water.”

Botchan is just dying to punch this guy Noda in the face.

A while later, a little commotion on the water… Botchan’s got one. As Noda teases, “Beginner’s luck!” Botchan welcomes his catch to the boat. He wrestles with the fish—trying to get it off the hook, but it’s slimy and thrashing all over the place. Frustrated and disgusted, Botchan takes the thing and slams it against the boat, killing it, much to the shock of the others. Done with it, he quickly thrusts his hands into the sea in an attempt to scour them clean—they reek awfully. “Enough of this. Fish probably don’t wish to be touched anyways.” 

Noda tosses another jab, “Okay. So, you might have been the first to catch a fish, but, eh… it’s just a goruki[2]Goruki (ゴルキ) is referred to as Gizo (ギゾ), or Kyuusen (キュウセン), in the Matsuyama area, Shikoku. and that hardly adds up to much.”

“Goruki sounds like the name of a Russian writer,” adds Redshirt.

Of no surprise to Botchan, Noda seconds Redshirt’s comment, “Ah, it does sound like the name of a Russian writer!”

The two of them continue to fish, amusingly snagging 15 or 16 of this same apparently worthless goruki, “If this is all we can catch with your great skill, I don’t stand a chance to catch anything different today.” Noda’s ass-kissing has no limits.

“Well, at least today our score is better than good when it comes to Russian literature,” says Redshirt.

Curious, Botchan asks the boatman for the story on this fish since he’s not familiar with it. Apparently, they’re heavy on bones, and hardly tasty. Most often, they’re used as fertilizer. How silly, Botchan thinks. These two have been fishing for an hour with such vigor, and in the end they’re simply fishing for plant food.

Having put aside his line, Botchan has since been lying flat on his back, gazing up at the sky, and thinking of Kiyo. For the most part, he’s managed to tune Redshirt and Noda, but the the conversation then begins to be peppered with giggles and the occasional gasp of confirmation. Then, breaking through the chatter, he hears a single word pronounced a bit more firmly. Grasshopper. He snaps to with anger and listens more intently. He hears, “Ah, the grasshoppers, really?” … “that Hotta”… “tempura” … “oh, he incited” … “ha. ha. ha.” … “dango” … 

Botchan observes, “From what I’m making out, sounds like they’re talking about me. But, why have such a talk while I’m sitting right here? If they needed to get it out, why not just leave me behind? At this point, dealing with the students should be easy enough, especially since Tanuki says he’ll deal with them. And, I can always deal with them personally if I have to. But, this Porcupine fella’, Hotta… that’s a different story. What’s he up to? And, who’s he trying to stir up? Was he riling me up to turn this thing into a big brouhaha, or egging the students on in some sort of sideways attempt to bully me?”

…Redshirt interjects, “Maybe we should go ashore now.”

“Are you going to see the Madonna tonight?” Noda asks.

That certainly gets Redshirt’s attention. “Hush. That might give the wrong impression.”

“Ah, he’s fine, he wouldn’t under…”

Botchan’s look of death immediately stops Noda cold, causing him to shrink into submission. “Okay, okay, I’ll quit,” he surrenders.

Redshirt switches the subject, and turns to Botchan. “Seems you’re not fond of fishing?”

“I prefer looking at the sky.”

“The students are glad you’re here,” Redshirt says. “Keep up the good fight.”

Botchan, of course, is more than skeptical given the events of the recent past, but Redshirt reassures him. Noda says they’re “clamoring” to see him. “But you do have to be careful out there… it can be rough at times,” Redshirt advises.

“Sure, life is always full of ups and downs. I’m ready for whatever danger comes my way.”

Noda spies an opportunity. “The vice principal is fond of you. And, while I can’t do half as much as him to help, we Tokyo transplants need to stick together. I want you to be at this school, and part of the team, for a long time to come.”

“The students are happy, but there are some issues,” Redshirt suggests, “and while you may find yourself getting upset, be patient. I’m not going to allow anything to happen to you that isn’t good for you in the end.”

“What kind of issues?”

“It’s a little complicated, but you will see soon. Even if I don’t spell it out, or explain, you will see it soon. Redshirt addresses Noda, “Don’t you think so, Mr. Yoshikawa?”

“Yes, it’s quite complicated. You can’t understand the whole thing overnight. Even if I choose not to tell you now, eventually you’ll come to understand,” Noda mimes Redshirt.

“If things are that complicated and a pain in the ass, then I wouldn’t care to involve myself and listen in the first place, but since you intentionally brought it up, you’ve now gained my intention.”

“You’re right. I did bring it up, got your attention, then kept you hanging… that’s a very irresponsible of me. So, this is what I’ll say. Excuse me, but you are still just a new graduate. This is your first teaching job, and you’re inexperienced. There are many intricacies to working in a school, and things will feel much different than they did when you were a student. Things aren’t as straightforward.”

“If things don’t go straightforward, how do they go?”

“You’re so simple and plain. That’s why I venture to say you’re inexperienced,” Redshirt posits.

“Yes, I am, of course. As I stated in my resume, I’m twenty three years and four months old.”

“Well, that’s in fact where the danger lies.”

“As long as I’m honest, I’m not afraid of whoever tries to make me the fool.”

“You’re right, you wouldn’t be afraid, but you’re going to end up with someone putting the fix on you at some point. Actually, that’s exactly what happened to your predecessor. So, you’ll need to be careful.”

“Who put the fix on my predecessor?”

“If I tell you who, or pinpoint who, then I will disgrace that person’s character, so I can’t tell. Also, there is no evidence as to what I’m suspecting, so that’s dangerous. But, anyway, you’re here and if you are going to be in a fix, then the effort to invite you to this school will have been in vain, so please be careful.”

“But, I can’t be more careful than I am now. I suppose I will be safe if I don’t do anything wrong, or bad.”

Redshirt emits a knowing, giddy, laugh.

Botchan is irritated. He didn’t say anything funny. He questions himself, “Why is Redshirt laughing at me? Come to think of it, society encourages people to be bad. The suggestion is that you’ll never make it unless you bend or ignore the rules. Why is it that we believe the only way to survive in the world is to sacrifice our goodness? At what cost? When people see someone who’s pure or innocent, they discount that person and call them a botchan… they suggest you’re naive… If this is the way things are, then why have ethics classes at all? Redshirt is laughing at me because I’m simple, and maybe a little bit innocent. Kiyo would never laugh at me over what I just said. She’s a far better person than either one of these so-called “respected” people.

Redshirt recaptures Botchan from his moment of contemplation. “But, even if you don’t do anything wrong or bad, you have to recognize someone else’s misdeed, otherwise you’re going to be in a bad fix. For example, people who seem generous, simple, and straightforward, people who want to help you with your boarding situation. You can’t let your guard down around those people.”

Redshirt changes the subject… “Oh! It’s getting cold…”

And, together, they make their way to shore.

Let’s Talk Money…

Yen Value in the Early 20th Century, Maplopo

What’s the value of a dollar? Or the yen? How about a sen? Or, a rin?

To help readers get a feel for the importance of the economics of Chapter Six, and why Botchan’s philosophical side gets into such a twist when it comes to a little gift he receives from another teacher, it’s a good idea to get a quick sense of what things cost back then.

It’s tricky business, though, because some products and services held different values than they do today. Rent and food, for example could be considered more expensive if paired alongside current pricing structures, but when placed in perspective, salaries were typically proportionally adequate.

All this can be tough to get a handle on, but we hope the above image helps a bit.

So, essentially, around 1900:

1 yen = 100 sen
1 sen = 10 rin
1 rin = 1 rin (ha!)

Or, another way to look at it if you’re a metrics fan:

1 sen = 1/100 yen
1 rin =  1/1000 yen

You’ll see how these numbers play out a bit once you get into Chapter Six, but going into the story, think of 1 sen being worth about 100 – 200 yenif you refer to 2020 currency values in Japan. Which, for comparative purposes, if you live in the U.S., 100 yen, is about a buck. Clear as mud?! Below, you can see Reiko’s hasty scribbles as we thought this puppy out.

Have fun, math geeks!

Botchan Value of Sen and Rin, Maplopo

Chapter Six—Translation

Botchan, Chapter Six Cover, Maplopo

I despise Noda. Japan would be better off if that kind of creature were tied to a big stone used for pickling daikon and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. As for Redshirt, his voice annoys me. I get the sense he’s modifying his natural voice to sound incredibly generousprojecting an air of benevolence. No matter how much he’s projecting, though, it won’t do with that face. If there’s anyone falling in love with him, it’s only this so-called “Madonna.” Regardless, as vice principal, what he says is without a doubt more complex than what Noda says. So, as I went home and gave more thought to what Redshirt had previously hinted at, it did seem more or less plausible. But since he wasn’t entirely forthcoming, I couldn’t be sure. It seems as though he’s saying I should watch out for Porcupine because he’s not a decent person. If that’s the case, be assertive, come right out and say it. Very unmanly. And, if Porcupine is that bad a teacher, they should dismiss him already. Vice principal, my ass. You’d think as a scholar of literature he’d possess more character, but he has no spine. Given that he cannot outright name the recipient of his backbiting, he must be meek. However, fundamentally, the meek tend to be kind. So perhaps Redshirt is a kind person, like a woman. Kindness is one thing and voice is something altogether different. So, just because I’m not fond of a voice, doesn’t mean I should discount one’s kindness. That’s not logical. In any case, the world is a strange place. The fella I’m not so fond of is kind, and the friend I get along well with is a scoundrel. What a mockery. For the most part, this is the countryside so everything goes the opposite of what happens in Tokyo. What a troublesome place. In no time, fire might start to freeze, and rock might turn to tofu. But, I can’t imagine Porcupine, of all people, pulling such a prank as low as inciting the students. Though, from what I hear, he is the school’s most popular teacher, so he could do almost anything he wants, though. Regardless, he doesn’t need to beat around the bush like that at all. Instead, if he were to come right up to me, grab me, and pick a fight, he could save himself the trouble. If he thinks I’m in his way, he could just say, “Hey, to tell you the truth, with all this such’n’such, you’re in my way. Please resign.” That would settle it. Most things work out when you just talk them over. If he were to make a reasonable case against me, I could resign at any time, even as early as tomorrow. It’s not like this is the only place where rice grows. I’m not planning to die on the side of the road no matter how remote my final destination. Porcupine lacks all sense, and without a doubt, we’re not cut from the same cloth.

When I arrived here, Porcupine made an initial gesture and treated me to a shaved ice. Now my dignity is in jeopardy having had that two-faced fella treat me to something as insignificant as a shaved ice. I only had one bowl, so he only paid one sen five rin. However, no matter how small the amountone sen or five rinif I remain indebted to this con man as a result of this favor, I won’t be able to rest until my dying day. I shall return the one sen five rin when I go to school tomorrow.

I owe three yen to Kiyo. Five years has since passed, and to this day I haven’t yet returned it. It’s not that I cannot return it, I just don’t. Kiyo is never in a million years looking forward to any cash I hold in my possession anticipating I will return it soon. The same is true for me. I wouldn’t oblige myself, as would be the case if she were a stranger, with the intention to return the debt in the near future. If I were to regard that which is worrisome, I would be doubting Kiyo’s heart, with each increment of worry equally increasing my doubt. To doubt Kiyo’s heart would be the same as applying scuff marks to her beautiful heart. By not returning the money I don’t mean to assault her dignity; I consider her to be part of myself. Not to mention there is no comparison between Kiyo and Porcupine, and no matter what it isshaved ice or sweet teamy reason for remaining silent over the receipt of a blessing from someone and humbly accepting it, is because when I consider that person to be someone of good character, my doing so exhibits compassion toward them. I could, of course, always resolve to just pay my share, and end the matter fair and square, but I choose to feel grateful and indebted deep in my heart. That is a form of gratitude that cannot be purchased. I’m an independent, considerable person, though without any golden status or titles. An independent person bowing to someone apologetically should be considered worth more than one million yen.

In my acceptance of Porcupine’s ostentatious one sen five rin, I am operating under the belief that the return of my gratitude is worth more than one million yen. He ought to be forever grateful. Instead, he went behind my back and performed a despicable act. What a disgraceful son-of-a-gun. Tomorrow, I’ll go up to him and even up on the one sen five rinThen, that’s it with owing and lending. After that, the gloves are off.

Botchan, Chapter Six Intro, pp.59

Having thought it through, I started to get sleepy, and before long was deep in slumber. The next day, I had a few ideas, so I went to school earlier than my regular time and awaited Porcupine’s arrival. But, his arrival was prolonged. Mr. Pasty Squash arrived. The sinology teacher arrived. Noda arrived. And finally, Redshirt arrived. But, at Porcupine’s desk, it remained quiet—only a single piece of chalk lay