I Am a Cat

I Am a Cat (吾輩は貓である, Wagahai wa Neko de Aru) is a satirical novel written in 1905–1906 by Natsume Sōseki about Japanese society during the Meiji period (1868–1912); particularly, the uneasy mix of Western culture and Japanese traditions.

I Am a Cat
Tuttle 1992 So-sekiNatsume IAmaCat cover.JPG
AuthorNatsume Sōseki
Original titleWagahai wa Neko de Aru (吾輩は貓である)
TranslatorAiko Ito and Graeme Wilson
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
GenreSatirical novel
Publication date
1905–1906
Published in English
1972 by Tuttle Publishing
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
ISBN978-0-8048-3265-6
OCLC49703480
LC ClassPL812.A8 W313 2002

Sōseki's title, Wagahai wa Neko de Aru, uses a very high-register phrasing more appropriate to a nobleman, conveying grandiloquence and self-importance. This is somewhat ironic, since the speaker, an anthropomorphized domestic cat, is a regular house cat of a teacher, and not of a high-ranking noble as the manner of speech suggests.

The book was first published in ten installments in the literary journal Hototogisu. At first, Sōseki intended only to write the short story that constitutes the first chapter of I Am a Cat. However, Takahama Kyoshi, one of the editors of Hototogisu, persuaded Sōseki to serialize the work, which evolved stylistically as the installments progressed. Nearly all the chapters can stand alone as discrete works.

In the mid-1970s, the prolific screenwriter Toshio Yasumi adapted Sōseki's novel into a screenplay. Kon Ichikawa directed the film, which premiered in Japanese cinemas in 1975. The novel was also adapted into a film released in 1936, and an anime television special aired in 1982.

Plot summaryEdit

In I Am a Cat, a supercilious, feline narrator describes the lives of an assortment of middle-class Japanese people: Mr. Sneaze[1] ("sneeze" is misspelled on purpose, but literally translated from Chinno Kushami (珍野苦沙彌), in the original Japanese) and family (the cat's owners), Sneaze's garrulous and irritating friend Waverhouse (迷亭, Meitei), and the young scholar Avalon Coldmoon (水島寒月, Mizushima Kangetsu) with his will-he-won't-he courtship of the businessman's spoiled daughter, Opula Goldfield (金田富子, Kaneda Tomiko).

Cultural impactEdit

I Am a Cat is a frequent assignment to Japanese schoolchildren, such that the plot and style remain well-known long after publication. One effect was that the narrator's manner of speech, which was archaic even at the time of writing, became largely associated with the cat and the book. The narrator's preferred personal pronoun, wagahai, is rarely-to-never used in "real life" in Japan, but survives in fiction thanks to the book, generally for arrogant and pompous anthropomorphized animals. For example, Bowser, the turtle-king enemy of many Mario series video games, uses wagahai, as does Morgana, a cat character in Persona 5.[2]

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ This is the spelling used in the abridged translation by Aiko Itō and Graeme Wilson.
  2. ^ Mandelin, Clyde (June 1, 2019). "Tricky Translations #4: "I" & "Me" in Japanese". Legends of Localization. Retrieved March 22, 2020.

External linksEdit

Adaptations