夢十夜 by 夏目漱石 - Informal Reading Group

Dream 1 symbolism

The introduction to one of the English translations I have says that Soseki spent many hours at the Tate Gallery looking at Waterhouse’s painting of the Lady of Shalott, another pale, dying woman with some associations with lilies:

and speculates that there might have been some influence there.

Fourth Dream

His father, and the God (?) pouring sake for him. There are 3-4 children.

Not sure about hand rubbing (drying?)

There will be snakes in the box, but the box is in the river? Anyway, the father disappeared into the river without coming back (or so the sleeper believes until waking up).

I find second dream and particularly the third, understandable. Not perfectly sure about the first one.

Wartime coming next.


Just read dream 4. It felt to me perhaps a bit more “merely dreamlike” than the first three, which although they had definite dreamlike qualities seemed also to be more clearly telling a story or trying to convey a meaning as well.

@polv the English I have of this dream translates かみさん as “proprietoress”, ie takes this as just being an odd kanji choice for 女将 / お上. Also, not the dreamer’s father, just an old man.


For dream 5 I tried listening to the audio first, which for me is definitely trickier than reading – I got the gist of it but there were definitely details that I didn’t pick up on until I read the text. I liked the imagery in this one and its folktale like structure.


Once again in this dream there seems to be a preoccupation with the themes of

time passing (deadlines, etc.) and death.

Minor niggle:
I read this story some time ago in the book Breaking Into Japanese Literature, alongside Giles Murray’s translation, which caused me to stumble on one detail of the plot.

In the Japanese, the woman leaps nimbly onto the horse, which is described as


(horse without a saddle and without stirrups)

But in the Giles Murray translation:

the horse was bare, without saddle or bridle.

So I had a bit of a double take take when the woman


“with both hands, pulled the reins back hard”

which, you know, is going to be very tricky if the horse is really completely bare and not wearing any 手綱(たづな)(bridle, reins).

My own fault, of course, for leaning on the translation (and, to be fair, the glossary on the page clearly shows the meaning of 鐙(あぶみ)as stirrups, not bridle.)


Dream 6. An important bit of context noted by the English translation I have of this is that 運慶 is a famous sculptor who died in 1223 whereas 護国寺 is a Tokyo temple established in 1681, so we are definitively in a dream…

As somebody who’s read 吾輩は猫である, I liked the bit at the end where the narrator has a sudden desire to take up sculpture but finds that mysteriously they are unable to find the sculpture inside the wood. It’s a very similar feel to the way the teacher in 吾輩は猫である takes up painting, is no good at it, but doesn’t seem to realise that he is no good at it…


Dream 7. I liked this one, with the image of the huge boat steaming endlessly forward to who knows where. It seems a safe bet that parts of this are based on Soseki’s own voyage from Japan to London, which must have taken weeks. My English translation also says that this dream “has long been viewed as a metaphor for Japan in the Meiji era”, when the country had embarked on a massive westernization programme in which most Japanese people were just along for the ride, with no idea where they were going to end up and no way to influence the course of events. And the themes of death and time passing that @nemurineko noted are here again.


This is my favourite of the dreams (that is, of the four that I have read).

The ending reminded me of a line from the novel A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby:

In an interview with a man who’d survived after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, “He said that two seconds after jumping, he realized that there was nothing in his life he couldn’t deal with, no problem he couldn’t solve – apart from the problem he’d just given himself by jumping off the bridge.” (p 186)

novel spoiler

The title refers to the fact that the four main characters decide to take ‘the long way down’ (that is, the stairs) to descend from the top of a tower block, rather than jumping from the roof to their deaths as they had originally planned. (p 176)


Dream 8 is an odd one, with less of a story than most of the others, and instead a kaleidoscope of images and scenes reflected in the barber’s mirror. Sitting in a barber’s chair, unable to do anything except look forward into the mirror, is still a common experience 120 years later. The “you don’t get to see reality, only its reflection” aspect also reminded me a bit of Plato’s Cave. The final bit with the goldfish seller is oddly disconnected from the bulk of the dream – I wonder why it’s there…


I read dream 9 this morning. Once again themes of death/war and a historical setting. The sting is definitely in the tail in this one, with the husband’s death being noted in a brief blunt line that he was とくの昔に[…]殺されていた and all this praying was entirely meaningless. The last line is interesting: こんなかなしい話を、夢の中で母から聞いた。 – my instinct I think was that this 母 was simply the character who’s been referred to that way throughout the story, but the English translation I have uses “the mother” in the rest of the story but “my mother” in this last line.


And finally, dream 10.

This was a bit different in feeling to the others somehow. I also failed to correctly comprehend the framing of the story (where 健 comes to tell the dreamer that 庄太郎 is sick with a fever, then relates 庄太郎’s story, and then the last 3 sentences are again from this conversation between 健 and the dreamer) until I checked the wikipedia synopsis. I also wasn’t sure whether 庄太郎 was the owner of the 水菓子屋 or just liked to hang around outside it – the story says he never bought anything (implying not the owner) but he also seems to sell some to the lady…

My English translation’s notes point out that there’s nothing in this one to suggest that the narrator themselves is dreaming at all in this story – all the part in the middle about the pigs is 庄太郎の云うところによると, and it could simply be a fever dream of 庄太郎 that he has told to 健 who now retells it to the narrator…


After a longish break, I resumed reading this yesterday, and finished it today. To me the book felt like poetry: very evocative, yet difficult to analyse.

Brief thoughts:

Dream 4. I have no idea what just happened here, it was possibly one of the most dreamlike of the dreams. I feel there must be some obvious symbolism that I’m missing, especially with all that yellow, but I have no idea what. Thanks to @pm215 for the 神かみさん=proprietoress note, it makes much more sense than the God that I initially had in mind.

Dream 5. I wasn’t keen to read that because war stories are never my favourite, but it had nice imagery and felt more like a fairy tale or a local legend than a dream. I kept wondering how the woman would know to go meet the prisoner, then reminded myself that in a dream anything goes.

Dream 6. This again felt nothing like a dream, but rather like a funny anecdote.

Dream 7. I really liked this one. Especially the fact that he was still in the process of falling by the end of the story felt very dreamlike.

Dream 8. This too felt very dreamlike, for some reason being unable to move or properly see what you want to is a common dream theme. Funny that the reason was the very realistic setting of sitting in a barber’s chair. No idea what the goldfish were all about at the end.

Dream 9. Hmm. I expected something to happen to the child, so it was better than I feared. I got the sense that the narrator’s mother and the mother in the story were the same person, although how she came to know that her husband had been long dead wasn’t clear. Again, a dream, so that’s fine. Still, this one felt just like a straightforward sad story, rather than a dream.

Dream 10. This one also felt like a story or folk tale or something, especially with all the names and the third person usage. The imagery was quite surreal though. And I again think I missed something that should have been obvious. What’s the significance of the hat belonging to 健? Why is it so horrible to be licked by pigs? And who is this 庄太郎 who keeps appearing in dreams by name?

Some rambling thoughts having read up through dream 4. I'll try to post as I read them more now. I'm enjoying them quite a lot but it's hard to get more than abstract feelings which makes it challenging to talk about.

Alright I’ve been meaning to post; I’m 4 dreams in. Really enjoying the stories, the way he constrains them so much that we’re just instantly placed in a scene, given few cues to the pov identity, shown some events and then it breaks off. 1 and 3 feel somewhat conclusive, with an ending I agree was quite beautiful for 1, while 3 reminds me of the way a dream will suddenly take a shocking / upsetting turn and then jolt you awake. The other two sort of drift away feeling unfinished, which works well for the concept. No doubt there’s some cultural/symbolic context I don’t have the background for in most of these cases, but I often enjoy art that primarily asks you to exist in and soak up some vibes, and the vibes here are thick.

I noticed exactly what @nemurineko was saying about time – 2 was about finishing something before it’s too late, but the others involve long periods passing, often with waiting. The 3rd story doubles up on this, with the large scale 100 year story and also the way the day is ending, need to get rid of this weird child quickly because it’s getting darker and darker…

2 is kind of dark in a way, but the fruitlessness of, like, violently thrashing one’s way into enlightenment and thinking extremely hard about nothing made me laugh, too. The other dreams feel like their protags are being led without resistance in the direction some sort of fate is taking them, but that one exception so far is particularly willful, haha.

I wondered in 3 if there was anything being implied by the chosen locations carved on the rock, but I certainly wouldn’t know.

I wonder why 4 lacked こんな夢を見た. It’s a nice intro. I see it’s back for 5 :sweat_smile:

Dream 5

I am genuinely curious why こんな夢を見た is back now but seems like it’s disappearing again for 6. What is Soseki up to :thinking:

I had the same initial impression as @omk3 , where war as a setting doesn’t tend to do a whole lot for me, but I ended up enjoying this a lot. The story does so much to set the scene with the little space it gives itself, mostly concerned with people’s beards, the fires in their eyes, the construction of their bows, etc. It’s nice. Once again we have a race against time, with a hell of a final twist. It just sort of smacks you in the face with “the sound was made by a demon” and then ends haha. Again though, I love how things are phrased, the focus on the horse hoof marks and the like.

As always I’m pretty hard pressed interpretation but definitely not lacking in feelings for it. Big fan.

Have you all read other Soseki stuff? I had wanted to read this for a while but finally got around to it somewhat on a whim because I was pushing myself back into mining with Anki and remembered this site which is super convenient for days I’m not reading a visual novel. I was thinking about more Soseki since it’s on hand (there’s always Kokoro or something) though with the old writing this stuff is very slow going and sometimes… interesting to mine from, heh. I guess since I want something I can read on the PC I can explore aozora, though that mostly doesn’t get me modern stuff still, heh.


I’ve read 吾輩は猫である and 三四郎. I’ve had a browser tab open for months pointed at 倫敦塔 because I’m curious about his non-fiction, but I haven’t started it yet…

Dream 6

This one didn’t really give me the vibes I’ve been enjoying – maybe the problem is just that its dreaminess is done through the anachronisms, but there are a few layers of separation when I am cross referencing names and time periods. Just didn’t quite have that same atmosphere. I also had a bit of a rough time reading some of the descriptive parts, lots of unknowns, but I also had to get up super early and am running on too little sleep…

The ending was kinda funny though, and I particularly like one line – “あの鑿と槌の使い方を見たまえ。大自在の妙境に達している.” Seems 大自在 is a Buddhist term (which I don’t have the energy to look into at length at the moment at least), but this reminded me so much of Taoism and Wu Wei. Like, doing something well and without unnatural force being this means of acting in accordance with the best, most natural way to exist. Plus the Zhuangzi for example contains a story about a butcher who basically freely, smoothly cuts like he is dancing, and his explanation for how he cuts along the places meant for cutting kinda reminds me of this idea of a tree holding the carving within itself. Here’s the first translation I found searching it online; the story is short: The Dexterous Butcher - Zhuangzi - The Dewdrop

Alternatively, a very obvious line of thinking is about there being something fundamentally different between generations, since the 仁王 cannot exist without materials and creators from the past.

I dunno, it wasn’t quite as fun to read for me in the way others have been poetic, but it also seems like it has the most obvious places to sink my teeth into for interpretation.

Dreams 7 and 8

I remember reading somewhere, can’t remember where, about interpretations of various stories here relating to the changes Japan was undergoing. And yeah, couldn’t shake that feeling while reading about him being on a ship full of “異人” bound for an unknown place. I see that was already covered in this thread, though. Pretty good story, full of uncertainty and anxiety. The brief thing the sailor said really tripped me up.

Dream 8… I just don’t know. I mean, it was an enjoyable read for just being an odd stream of people appearing where we and the protagonist are deprived of all context, unable to really know what we’re looking at. Making any sense out of it beyond pure experience is far beyond me, though.


Oh didn’t realize there was a group for this!

I bought the “read real Japanese book” long ago that contains a couple of the dreams, maybe I’ll re-read them and post here.

Dream 9 and 10

On 9, very similar thoughts to everyone else – feels like a sad story about the toll about war on the average person. We’ve all noticed striking thematic consistency, but in actual presentation these stories are a little all over the place, from my perspective. Not like that’s a huge problem, though I’d probably rank this story pretty far down. It took some work to read as well, with all the descriptive text. I made the same sort of assumption about the mother; it’s interesting what the ambiguity allows for.

Alright I loved 10; it’s so goofy. 庄太郎 is a villain for doing that to so many pigs! It was also a relatively easier, quicker read for me. I couldn’t begin to tell you what all that means, but it was fun.

Yeah I just took that as a sort of dreamy role swap? Like he seems to just hang around outside, looking at and talking about the fruit but never buying or eating any. Yet a little later I’m pretty sure there was indeed a part where he just takes on the shopkeeper’s position out of nowhere.

Unless I’m misunderstanding, the point was 健 wanted the hat, and now it’s likely to be his, because the owner isn’t going to make it from being licked by too many pigs. Unless it’s more about why 健 wants it. :person_shrugging:

Overall, I had a good time! Slow going with the old writing, and I agree about it being pretty poetic. I always looked forward to how different each part was going to be, new surprises around every corner. Even if there were parts I didn’t love, I’m reading these 100+ years later, hugely geographically/cultural separated, in a second language I’m still not that comfortable with, so I generally extend the faith that I am missing a lot, heh. Would be great to see this analyzed by people who have more context than myself. Definitely has me interested to come back to Soseki, but I’ve got a different novel planned for now.