When I asked with a straight face what on earth does the South Manchurian Railway do, the President of Mantetsu looked bemused and said, "What an idiot you are."
--Natsume Soseki, Here and There in Manchuria and Korea (Mankan tokorodokoro, 1909) (1)
In 1909, Natsume Soseki accepted an invitation from his old school friend and president of Mantetsu, (2) Nakamura Yoshikoto (a.k.a. Zeko, 1867-1927), to visit Manchuria and Korea. Between September 1 and October 17, Soseki visited cities along the railway (Dalian, Lushun, Shenyang, Fushun, Changchun, Harbin); from Changchun he took the Anho Line and crossed the Yalu River to visit Pyongyang and Keij o (now Seoul). The resulting work was a travel journal titled Here and There in Manchuria and Korea (hereafter abbreviated as Here and There), serialized in the Tokyo and Osaka Asahi shimbun upon his return at the end of the year. (3) While Soseki took brief notes of the entire trip in his diary, Here and There only includes his travels up to the coalmine in Fushun, because he claimed that he did not wish the serialization to cross over into the New Year. As a result, Here and There only contains Manchuria and no Korea.
The abrupt termination of the serialization is not the only standing mystery of Here and There. In form, language, and content, the work remains highly ambiguous. Is it a travelogue, a reportage, a memoir, or a novel? Is the mode of writing lyrical, satirical, comical, critical, philosophical, aesthetic, or a mixture of the above? Is it about what Soseki saw in the present or what he remembered in the past? Is he writing as a professional writer at the Asahi or a private individual? Does the work contribute to or undermine the myth of Mantetsu that subsequent writers, such as Matsuoka Yosuke and Kikuchi Kan, perpetuated as part of Japan's expansionist propaganda? (4) How does the alternating loquaciousness and reticence in the work betray Soseki's reading of Japan in relationship to the West and Asia in the age of imperialism? These are some of the questions that I would like to ask in this essay.
To address these questions, it is crucial to contextualize Here and There in Soseki's time and his works. To that end, I will begin with a brief summary of its historical background and publication. I will examine essays, letters, and diaries that reveal a lifelong, intimate friendship with Zeko and comradeship with the "old boys" who became the elite of Mantetsu in order to understand the role of affect in Soseki's assessment of Japan's involvement in Manchuria and Korea. Another clue to thinking about these questions is embedded in a recently discovered lecture, titled "The Relations Between Things and Three Types of People" (Mono no kankei to san'yo no ningen, 1909) (translated in full in this issue of RJCS), which Soseki delivered in Dalian. I focus on the phantasmagoric and ambiguous space in-between texts, things, and people that allows Soseki to deliver a work that...