I live in a neighborhood that, from what people have told me, is over 100 years old. To Americans, that’s pretty interesting; to Japanese, that’s like, “So what? There’s a million little towns and villages in Japan that are hundreds and hundreds of years old.”

That’s true.

I’ve even been to towns in Kyushu that had temples that were almost 2,000 years old. So, a couple of hundred years old is not that big of a deal here.

The folks who live in my neighborhood all know each other and we greet each other by name whenever we pass by. That’s one of the very nice things about Japan: neighbors know each other and they show manners and respect other people’s ‘space.’

On my particular street, all of the folks who have lived here for 30, 40, 50 years (or more!) are related somehow. I hear this land was farmland 100 years ago and it was owned by the grandfather of all these good people who live here; the Uchida family are blood-related with the Watanabe family (of which there are two Watanabe families; and, of course, they are related to each other). And all of them are related to the Yanai family who live in the back corner of our road which ends in a dead-end besides the Yanai family house.

I also hear there used to be a small temple up the road by where the Yanai house now stands.

Regular readers of mine will know that I always try to be kind to older people. They have lived such exciting lives and they have the best stories to tell. I wrote about one dear friend who passed away a few years ago. (Please refer to: Very Sprite, Alert and Healthy 97 Year Old Guy Gives Tips for a Long Life – modernmarketingjapan.blogspot.jp/2011/03/very-sprite-alert-and-healthy-95-year.html)

Like I said, I love to sit and chat with folks who lived through the good and bad times of the past. In Japan, people who saw World War II and lived through the fire-bombing of Tokyo or the atomic bombings; or experienced the “Japanese Economic Miracle.” Even if they weren’t there in that exact place, they all have their own dramatic and thrilling stories to tell.

I feel sorry for young people who are not interested in these amazing lives these fascinating people have lived. I respect these folks so much. Of course, I always give up my seat on the train for them and try to help them out if I ever can in some small way.

You should too. Why not? We all are going to be old someday and we’ll need all the help and kindness we can get.

But I digress… I was talking about my neighborhood and neighbors. I like to be a good and kind neighbor if I can.

One day, several months ago, I was walking around the neighborhood and saw Mrs. Yanai on her hands and knees doing something on her porch. As I walked closer to investigate, I saw that she was scrubbing off some sort of mildew that had built up on her porch.

“Oh, my gosh! What backbreaking work!” I thought.

Mrs. Yanai is a very nice lady and she is always sunny and smiling. I like her a lot – she sort of reminds me of my own mother. So I ran over to her and asked what she was doing. She confirmed what I had thought so I volunteered to come over with my Karcher high-pressure water cleaner and just blast away at the mildew for her.

It just won’t do to have Mrs. Yanai on her hands and knees scrubbing the porch, would it? So I volunteered to do it.

A week or two later, when I had an off Saturday, the job was done. My device couldn’t clean as well as I had hoped, but it was a little bit of an improvement, I think. Mrs. Yanai seemed a bit happy. I was happy with myself.

Fast forward a year or so and I went to the Yanai family house again this morning to volunteer services. Mr. Yanai invited me into their home and we sat and chat. He’s an extremely friendly guy too and has a tons of great stories. As we were talking, I asked if I could look at some of the many photographs and collectibles they had in their house.

It was then and there I saw a photograph that just dropped my jaw. I knew immediately who the man sitting on the left was in the photo. It was Natsume Soseki! I also immediately knew that this photograph had to be on their living room mantle place for a very good reason; there must be a blood relation to him in the photo.

I said to Mr. Yanai, “Who’s this?”

He stood up and smiled, Oh, that’s Natsume Soseki and my uncle and Natsume Soseki’s grand-daughter. ”

What!!!!!???????

Some of you folks from the west reading this might think, “So what? Who is Natsume Soseki?”

Folks, Natsume Soseki was the guy on the Japanese ¥1000 bills.

Let that sink in for a second. In the USA we have George Washington on the $1 dollar bills. Imagine going to somebody’s house and seeing and old photo of George Washington or George Orwell or Albert Einstein, with some other people and when you ask your host about the photo, he nonchalantly says, “Oh? That’s my uncle!”

The top of your head might blow off! What are the chances of something like that being in your neighbor’s house? In my neighbor’s house! You have a bigger chance of winning the lottery than something like that happening!

Wow!

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Natsume Soseki:

Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石) February 9, 1867 – December 9, 1916), born Natsume Kinnosuke (夏目 金之助) was a Japanese novelist of the Meiji period (1868–1912). He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat and his unfinished work Light and Darkness. He was also a scholar of British literature and composer of haiku, kanshi, and fairy tales. From 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1000 yen note. In Japan, he is often considered the greatest writer in modern Japanese history.

Natsume Soseki (left), Gyoutoku Toshinori (standing), Hisayo (Natsume Soseki's grand daughter)

Natsume Soseki (left), Gyoutoku Toshinori (standing), Hisayo (Natsume Soseki’s grand daughter)

So that’s the explanation of the photo at the top of this article. In that photo, Natsume Soseki (夏目漱石)is sitting down to the left. He is 44-years-old at the time. Standing is Gyoutoku Toshinori (行徳 俊則). He was a doctor and is the uncle of my neighbor Mr. Yanai. The little girl to the right is Natsume Soseki’s granddaughter, Hisayo.

This is a very rare photo as there aren’t very many photographs of Natsume Soseki in existence and this is in superb condition too. It seems that Gyoutoku Toshinori was in Kumamoto and there he met his friend, Natsume Soseki, purely by coincidence. Natsume Soseki was so pleased that he asked him to sit for a photo session together.

What a treasure! It just goes to show how we must take lots of photographs and videos to show the children of the future!

Mike Yanai Kazuo

And, for my own treasure, here is a photo of me and my neighbor and friend, Mr. Yanai (柳井一生). The nephew of Gyoutoku Toshinori – who was a great friend of Natsume Soseki! And, as they say, any friend of Mr. Yanai is a friend of mine.

Thanks Mr. Yanai for your friendship and the really great and interesting story!

Now you know how close I have come to Natsume Soseki! Gee, I wonder if any of my neighbors had relatives who were best friends with Akira Kurosawa the movie director, or even Shakespeare?

I guess I’ll have to ask around.

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1 Comment

  1. Great story! In the presence of history!
    I grew up in the house (in Toronto) i am living in now, first moving in 43 years ago (with steps out of course to Japan and other houses on my own)… the folks who were my neighbors were all 65+ and retired back then… and we used to talk all the time… I learned that next door’s Mrs. Wilson had met Babe Ruth back in Toronto in 1904 or 5 or something… her father was on the board of directors for the old Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team of the old International League… he was with the visiting Providence Greys… and she recalls meeting Babe and shaking the hand…
    I’ve found from talking to as many people as I can, that everyone has a story somewhere… but more often than not, the younger generation is unaware of it…
    Thanks for sharing, Mike!

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