As learners of English, many of you may be keen on discovering new ways to develop your understanding of English in your free time. As a foreigner living in Japan (with very limited Japanese skills), I am always trying to find new ways to deepen my understanding of Japan’s exceptionally unique culture; and have found that a fantastic way of gaining a more detailed and in-depth perspective is to read Japanese authors! One book that has recently provided me with an unfiltered insight into Japanese culture is Natsume Soseki’s I am a cat.
This book provides the reader with a cat’s eye view of daily Japanese life in the Meiji era, through the eyes of a nameless orphan cat. I was originally attracted to this book because of the cute title, but found that it is actually quite a serious read; focusing more upon the social mores of Meiji-era Japan and the influence of Western customs than what it’s like to be a cat (though it contains plenty of amusing passages about chasing mice and hunting grasshoppers, too). The novel contains some beautifully vivid descriptions of daily rituals such as going to a sento and formally receiving guests, and though some of the dialogues seemed at times needlessly long and overly academic, I am a cat was a great read!
Next I’m thinking of reading The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon to continue my exploration of traditional Japanese culture through reading. I recommend you to read English novels, as a way of increasing your exposure to Western culture! Even by reading translations of English literature, you can absorb all kinds of information regarding how people in the West use English.
unfiltered (adj.) : not having been censored, toned-down or edited
unique (adj.) : special, not typical
mores (n.) : the characteristic customs and conventions of a community
to hunt (v.) : to pursue and kill a wild animal for sport or food
vivid (adj.) : producing feelings / strong, clear images in the mind
academic (adj.) : relating to scholarly pursuits
read (n.) : something that is read