Kenji Miyazawa

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In this Japanese name, the family name is "Miyazawa".
Kenji Miyazawa
Miyazawa Kenji.jpg
Kenji Miyazawa
Born (1896-08-27)August 27, 1896
Hanamaki, Iwate, Japan
Died September 21, 1933(1933-09-21) (aged 37)
Hanamaki, Iwate, Japan
Occupation Writer, Poet, Teacher, Geologist
Nationality Japanese
Period Taishō and early Shōwa periods
Genre Children's literature, poetry

Kenji Miyazawa (宮沢 賢治 Miyazawa Kenji?, 27 August 1896 – 21 September 1933) was a Japanese poet and author of children's literature from Hanamaki, Iwate in the early Shōwa period. He was also known as an agricultural science teacher, a vegetarian,[1] and social activist. Some of his major works include Ame ni mo makezu, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Kaze no Matasaburo, Gauche the Cellist, and The Night of Taneyamagahara. Kenji converted to Nichiren Buddhism after reading the Lotus sutra, and joined the Kokuchūkai, a Nichiren Buddhist organization. His religious and social beliefs created a rift between him and his wealthy family, especially his father. Kenji founded the Rasu Farmers Association to improve the lives of peasants in Iwate Prefecture. He was also a speaker of Esperanto and translated some of his poems into that language.

He died of pneumonia in 1933. A museum dedicated to his works was opened in 1982 in his hometown. Many of his children's stories have been adapted as anime, most notably Night on the Galactic Railroad. Much of his Tanka and free verse poetry, translated into multiple languages, is still popular today.

Early life[edit]

Kenji was born in what is now the city of Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture as the eldest son of a wealthy pawnbroker. From an early age, he was disturbed by what he perceived to be the social inequity between his well-to-do family and the impoverished farmers in the area from whom his family profited by lending them money. Compared to his contemporaries, he demonstrated little interest in romantic love or sex, both in his private life and in his literary work.[2]

In 1918, he graduated from Morioka Agriculture and Forestry College (modern Iwate University). He was a bright student, so his academic advisor wanted him as an assistant professor. However, differences with his father over religion (see below), his becoming a member of the radical Nichiren sect Kokuchūkai, and his repugnance for the family pawnshop business (he yielded his inheritance to his younger brother), created much unhappiness in his early life, and in 1921, he departed Hanamaki for Tokyo.[3]

Literary career[edit]

In Tokyo, while staying with a friend, he was introduced to the works of poet Sakutarō Hagiwara, and was encouraged to start writing. After eight months in Tokyo, when he began to write children's stories, he returned to Hanamaki due to the illness and subsequent death of his beloved younger sister.

He found employment as a teacher in agricultural science at Hanamaki Agricultural High School (花巻農学校). Saving his meagre salary, he was able to finance the publication of his first collection of children's stories and fairy tales, Chūmon no Ōi Ryōriten (注文の多い料理店, The Restaurant of Many Orders) and a portion of a collection of free-verse poems, Haru to Shura (春と修羅, "Spring and Ashura") in 1924. Although neither were commercial successes, his work came to the attention of poets Kōtarō Takamura and Shimpei Kusano, who admired his writing greatly and introduced it to the literary world.

As a teacher, his students viewed him as passionate but rather eccentric, as he insisted that learning came through actual, firsthand experience of things. He often took his students out of the classroom, not only for training, but just for enjoyable walks in the hills and fields. He also had them put on plays they wrote themselves.

From 1926 until his death in 1933, Kenji struggled to improve the material and spiritual life of the impoverished peasants of his native Iwate. He introduced new agricultural techniques and new varieties of seeds. He left his position as instructor at Hanamaki Agriculture School in 1926 to establish the Rasu Farmers Association. At the detached house of his family, where he was staying at the time, he gathered a group of youths from nearby farming families and lectured on agronomy. The association also engaged in plays, music, and other cultural activities.

In 1926 he learned Esperanto and tried to translate some of his Japanese poems into the Esperanto language; the translated pieces were published in 1953, long after his death.

His writings from this period show sensitivity for the land and for the people who work in it. A prolific writer of children's stories, many that appear superficially to be light or humorous, all contain stories intended for moral education of the reader. He wrote some works in prose and some stage plays for his students and left behind a large amount of tanka and free verse, most of which was discovered and published posthumously. His poetry, which has been translated into numerous languages, has a considerable following to this day. A number of his children’s works have been made into animated movies (anime) in Japan.

Kenji's works were influenced by contemporary trends of romanticism and the proletarian literature movement but, above all, were influenced by his devotion to the Lotus Sutra in particular.

Religious beliefs[edit]

Kenji was born into a family of Pure Land Buddhists, but in 1915 converted to Nichiren Buddhism upon reading the Lotus Sutra and being captivated by it.[4] His conversion created a rift with his relatives, but he nevertheless became active in trying to spread the faith of the Lotus Sutra, walking the streets crying Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.[4]

From January to September 1921, he lived in Tokyo working as a street proselytizer for the Kokuchūkai, a Buddhist-nationalist organization[5] that had initially turned down his service.[4] The general consensus among modern Kenji scholars is that he became estranged from the group and rejected their nationalist agenda, but a few scholars such as Akira Ueda, Gerald Iguchi and Jon Holt argue otherwise.[6] The Kokuchūkai's official website continues to claim him, also claiming that the influence of Nichirenism (the group's religio-political philosophy) can be seen in Kenji's later works such as Ame ni mo Makezu, while acknowledging that others have expressed the view that Kenji became estranged from the group after returning to Hanamaki.[7]

Kenji remained a devotee of the Lotus Sutra until his death, and continued attempting to convert those around him.[4] He made a deathbed request to his father to print one thousand copies of the sutra in Japanese translation and distribute them to friends and associates.[4][8] His grave is located in the Nichiren temple Shinshōji (身照寺?) in Hanamaki.[9][10][11]

While explicitly Buddhist themes are rare in his writings, he incorporated a relatively large amount of Buddhist vocabulary in his poems and children's stories, and has been noted as taking a far greater interest in Buddhism than other Japanese poets of the twentieth century.[4]


Kenji struggled with pleurisy for many years and was often incapacitated for months at a time. He died in 1933 of pneumonia.

In February 1934, some time after his memorial service, his literary friends held an event where they organized his unpublished manuscripts. These were slowly published over the following decade, and his fame increased rapidly in the postwar period.


The Miyazawa Kenji Museum was opened in 1982 in his native Hanamaki city, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. It displays the few manuscripts and artifacts from Kenji's life that escaped the destruction of Hanamaki by American bombers in World War II.

In 1996, to mark the 100th anniversary of Kenji's birth, the anime Ihatov Gensou: Kenji no Haru (Ihatov Fantasy: Kenji's Spring; North American title: Spring and Chaos) was released as a depiction of Kenji's life. As in the Night on the Galactic Railroad anime, the main characters are depicted as cats.

He loved his native province, and Ihatov (or Ihatovo), the name of the fictional location that appeared in his works, was constructed from the name Iwate (Ihate in the older spelling). Among the variation of names, there is Ihatovo, and the addition of final o is supposed to be the noun ending of Esperanto, whose idea of common international language interested him. This interest is paid tribute to in the 1985 anime adaptation of Ginga tetsudō no yoru (Night on the Galactic Railroad), in which all signs in Giovanni and Campanella's world are written in Esperanto, as well as the written language of the "cats".

Major works[edit]

In addition to the works mentioned above, Kenji's major works also include:

and the poem defining his personal ideal:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ World Vegetarian Congress - Edinburgh, Scotland, Summer 2002 - Souvenirs
  2. ^ Pulvers, Roger (2007). "Introduction". In Miyazawa, Kenji. Strong in the Rain: Selected Poems. Trans. Roger Pulvers. Bloodaxe Books. pp. 9–28. ISBN 978-1-85224-781-2. Kenji, it must be remembered, was a man who displayed no particular interest in romantic love or sex. 
  3. ^ On Uneven Ground, Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan, Stanford University Press, Note 69, ISBN 978-0-8047-7686-8
  4. ^ a b c d e f Keene 1999, pp. 284-285.
  5. ^ Stone 2003 : 197-198.
  6. ^ Holt, 2014 : 312-314.
  7. ^ "Tanaka Chigaku-sensei no Eikyō o Uketa Hitobito: Miyazawa Kenji". Kokuchūkai official website. Kokuchūkai. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Keene 1999, p. 291.
  9. ^ "Marugoto Jiten: Shinshōji". Ihatovo Hanamaki. Hanamaki Tourism & Convention Bureau. 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  10. ^ "Minobu-betsuin Shinshōji". Tōhoku Jiin no Sōgō Jōhō Saito: E-Tera. Coyo Photo Office Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Miyazawa Kenji: Yukari no Chi o Tazunete". Iwate Hanamaki Travel Agency. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 


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