The 'onsen' retreat that transformed Natsume Soseki

posted on October 11, 2016

Shuzenji, an onsen (hot-spring) town in the heart of the Izu Peninsula, is a little piece of heaven. Nestled in the densely wooded hills of Shizuoka Prefecture, its collection of baths, guesthouses and shops line up on either side of the rushing Katsura River, with historic temples, shrines and bamboo groves in the surrounding forests.

At the very center of town, almost in the river itself, is a tiny open-air foot bath called Dokko no yu. It is said to have been created by Buddhist priest Kukai (774-835) and is supposedly the oldest hot-spring bath on the peninsula. A few minutes walk away is the grave of the second shogun of the Kamakura shogunate, Minamoto no Yoriie, who was murdered while bathing in 1204 at the age of 19 on his uncle's orders. Also nearby are the graves of Yoriie's 13 loyal retainers who rose in rebellion shortly thereafter but were, unfortunately, executed for their troubles.

Shuzenji's splendid natural surroundings and distinguished history make it easy for visitors to miss the town's significance to Japanese literature. It was here, in 1910, that an event occurred that was a turning point in the life of Japan's greatest modern novelist, Natsume Soseki.

In June 1910, as Soseki was finishing his masterpiece, "The Gate," he began to suffer from serious stomach problems - a complaint that had afflicted him for many years. He was admitted for treatment at a specialist Tokyo hospital, but he left when a young haiku poet friend, Toyojo Matsune, suggested he travel with him to convalesce in the spa town of Shuzenji.

Soseki checked into what was -and still is - the swankiest address in town: the Kikuya ryokan (traditional inn). But rather than recuperating, his health steadily deteriorated, causing a series of doctors and family members to travel from Tokyo to look after him. Finally, after 18 days in Shuzenji, Soseki suffered a massive, near fatal stomach hemorrhage in the Kikuya, which caused him to vomit over half a kilo of blood. In the days that followed, he teetered on the brink of death - the event is referred to by scholars as "Shuzenji no taikan" (the "collapse at Shuzenji"). He survived, but passed away prematurely six years later at the age of 49. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his death.

source by japantimes
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