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Among the classics of modern Japanese literature, "Botchan" is probably the most frequently read novel and the most often anthologized work in Japan.
Its action is set in the 1890’s, during the Meiji Restoration, when Japan was making its cataclysmic metamorphosis from a cloistered feudal state to a major modern world power. The novel focuses on a few months in the experience of a neophyte teacher nicknamed Botchan (young master). Born and educated in Tokyo, he has accepted a job teaching mathematics at a middle school in provincial Shikoku. Botchan’s personality, values, and Tokyo manners clash with those of his new environment, and out of this conflict Sseki spins a comic tale that satirizes contemporary Japanese mores. The novel is narrated in the first person, and a substantial portion of its humor stems from Botchan’s verbose and vigorous Tokyo dialect, which, by all accounts, Sōseki has brilliantly captured...