Isolation and Loneliness Expressed in Kokoro in the Meji Ishin Era Kokoro takes place in the Meiji Ishin era which had installed a period of modernization and Westernization in Japan so hastily that the foundations of traditional Japanese thinking existed with the new Western thought. (CP 391, 701) Ishin in Japanese, references the meaning of both “restoration” and “renovation” (CP 386,665). The influence of the Western ideals of individualism alienated the characters Sensei and K, from their own societies.
These characters would otherwise have been comfortably integrated into the society that they previously had known, so this change of society and culture made each one of them agonizingly lonely in the process. After the Emperor Meiji died, those who grew up in the era of his rule and the modernization that characterized it found themselves left behind by the next generation, who were far more native to the modern world than they were. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are connected to the societal and cultural changes of the Meji Ishin era through the narrator, Sensei, and K. hroughout the story Kokoro. The narrator calls upon feelings of loneliness throughout the story of Kokoro and this relates to the societal changes taking place in the Meji Ishin era. As stated by the narrator in the beginning Kokoro, “And so he decided to leave after all. I, who had taken so much trouble to join my friend, was left alone. “(Natsume, pg. 2). The narrator waited and scrambled to make ends meet to gain the finances he needed to join his friend in Kamakura during the summer holidays.
The narrator’s friend was insisted upon his parents to come home, they told a lie that his mother was ill. Instead their motive was to bring the friend home to marry a girl that he wasn’t fond of in the least. The narrator and the friend thought that due to their modern outlook he was too young to marry (Natsume, pg 2). Because of this modern outlook of the friend and the traditional cultural style of the friend’s parents this caused the narrator to be alone in the end.
The introduction of the Western style of thinking that the kids were too young to marry created a gap between the parents who thought in a more traditional style where the son must marry at the first moment when they think he is suitable to marry and choose whom he should marry also. The Meiji Ishin era underwent radical reforms of marriage and family which led to this gap in the different modes of thinking thus leading to isolation (CP 388,695). Sensei described that the narrator is a lonely person even though the narrator denies it.
But surely, when you are with me, you cannot rid yourself of your loneliness. I have not it in me to help you forget it. You will have to look elsewhere for the consolation you seek. ” Sensei is trying to say that the narrator is seeing consolation in this new companion but this narrator won’t be able to rid of his sensation of loneliness because of the dreadful underlying change that Sensei went through which prevents him from opening up to the narrator fully. This gap or transition to modernity also created this gap between Sensei and the narrator.
Sensei expressed loneliness and isolation in context of the Meiji Ishin era. Sensei was a very isolated man. The narrator described him as aloof and unsociable. “I bear with my loneliness now, in order to avoid greater loneliness in the years ahead” (Natsume, pg. 24) He believes that by isolating himself he avoids more reasons for him losing trust in other people and becoming lonelier. It was Sensei’s lack of trust in other people such as his uncle and family, which caused him to become so deeply isolated and paranoid in the first place.
One possible reason for Sensei’s loneliness is that he was part of an old and dying generation, one which was swiftly losing its place in the changing Japanese culture of the times. “You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves. ” (Natsume, pg. 24) Sensei blames the modern age for his own isolation. There was loneliness before the transition to modern times as well as freedom and independence. Sensei then describes his feelings on loneliness he consumes himself with, “Killing myself seemed a just punishment for my sins.
Finally, I decided to go on living as if I were dead” (Natsume, pg. 63). Sensei experiences isolation from two different sources, rooted in mistrust of both himself and others created by the betrayals he enacted and experienced in addition with an inability to share his burden with others. Despite his wife Shizu’s attention and constant requests for answers, he lacks the courage to confide in her since he does not want to burden her with the knowledge or have her lose her innocence, and instead her affection for him only serves to remind him of his turmoil.
He then experiences profound loneliness, “I was very lonely. Indeed, there were times when I felt that I stood completely alone in this world, cut off from every other living person” (Natsume, pg. 240). Sensei’s eliness was self-imposed and he does blame himself for the predicament he is in but he refuses to move on by removing the burden on himself and to share his feelings with others. He does then cut himself off from every other person only by his own doing.
Fukuzawa states that in order for man to be affiliated into the modern civilization they must foster their own virtue, they don’t yearn for the old or are content with the new structure (CP 391,700). Sensei has not been affiliated with the modern civilization because he does not promote his own virtues he hold himself back which creates a lonely figure. This also relates to how his friend Khas a great difficulty assimilating into the modern culture in Japan. Kalso expresses isolation and loneliness as in account for the Meji Ishin Era.
Sensei said about his friend, “I could not help thinking that his heart, like a piece of iron, had gone rusty from disuse” (Natsume pg, 178). Later, Sensei describes, “It was as though his heart was encrusted with a layer of black lacquer, so thick that no warm blood could ever penetrate through it” Natsume, pg. 188). K’s self-imposed isolation and subsequent loneliness is portrayed as a problem by the author through Sensei. Sensei thought that K was pursuing his own destruction by not openly letting himself have a life outside his studies.
Kwould isolate himself in his studies and he went through a change of environment in his life and he was brought into the company of a woman. This circumstance came with the inhumanity of his ideas and brought him into a state of direct contradiction with reality that he put upon himself which causes his personal crisis. Sensei writes that “Finally, I became aware of the possibility that Khad experienced loneliness as terrible as mine, and wishing to escape quickly from it, had killed himself” (Natsume, pg. 40).
K would kill himself in order to avoid being tempted to violate further the beliefs of his discipline he was so devoted to. K’s suicide is an admission that it is unmanageable for a Meiji era man to reconcile his traditional beliefs with his modern thoughts. The Meji Ishin era in Japan brought about cultural and societal changes and throughout Soseki’s work Kokoro the three characters the narrator, Sensei and K demonstrated isolation and loneliness brought about by the times.
The narrator was lonely in terms of his friend’s situation and his consolation in Sensei. Sensei isolated himself through his own doing by his lack of trust and personal isolation which led to him not moving forward and embracing the times and not bettering himself. K. was intensely involved in his studies which consumed his life and brought about a major issue and struggle that he couldn’t overcome with the contrasting thoughts. The drastic change of the Meji Ishin era brought about these societal changes that had their effects on the characters in Kokoro.