In 1911 the quintessential Meiji novelist Natsume Sōseki observed that Japanese no longer resorted to ‘such foolishness as saying to foreigners, “My country has Mt Fuji”. But since the [Russo-Japanese] war one hears boasting everywhere that we have become a fi rst-class country’. 1 At almost the same time, Sōseki was writing his novel Kokoro, in which the protagonist Sensei commits suicide, along with the Russo-Japanese War hero General Nogi, following the death of the Meiji emperor. The pessimistic mood at the end of Kokoro contrasts starkly with the attitude of national self-confi dence in Sōseki’s observation. But such contradictions emerge as characteristic of the fi nal two decades of the Meiji period.