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 agronomist, vegetarian,[1] cellist, devout Buddhist, and utopian social activist.[2]

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 for a brief period proselytized for 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 student of Esperanto and planned to gain a wider, global audience by translating some of his works into that language.[3]

He died of pneumonia in 1933. Almost totally unknown as a poet in his lifetime, Kenji's work gained its reputation posthumously,[4] and enjoyed a boom by the mid-1990s on his centenary.[5] A museum dedicated to his works was opened in 1982 in his hometown. Many of his children's stories have been adapted to 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 the town of Hanamaki,[6] Iwate, the eldest son[7] of a wealthy pawnbroking couple, Masajirō and his wife Ichi.[6][8][9] The family were also pious followers of the Pure Land Sect, as were generally the farmers in that district.[10] His father, from 1898 onwards, organized regular meetings in the district where monks and Buddhist thinkers gave lectures and Kenji, together with his younger sister, took part in these meetings from an early age.[8] The area was an impoverished rice-growing region, and he grew to be troubled by his family's interest in money-making and social status.[5] Kenji was a keen student of natural history from an early age, and also developed an interest as a teenager in poetry, coming under the influence of a local poet Ishikawa Takuboku.[5] After graduating from middle school, he helped out in his father's pawnshop.[11] By 1918, he was writing in the tanka genre, and had already composed two tales for children.[5] At high school he was converted to the Hokke sect after reading the Lotus Sutra, a move which was to bring him into conflict with his father.[5] In 1918, he graduated from the Morioka Agriculture and Forestry College, now the Faculty of Agriculture at Iwate University.[5] He embraced vegetarianism in the same year.[5] A bright student, he was then given a position as a special research student in geology, developing an interest in soil science and in fertilizers.[5] Later in 1918, he and his mother went to Tokyo to look after his younger sister Toshi (宮澤トシ) who had fallen ill while studying in Japan Women's University[7][9] He returned home after his sister had recovered early the following year.[5][12]

Literary, academic and religious career[edit]

As a result of differences with his father over religion and his repugnance for commerce generally and the family pawnshop business in particular (he yielded his inheritance to his younger brother Seiroku),[5] he fled Hanamaki for Tokyo in January 1921,[5][6] having joined Tanaka Chigaku's nationalistic Kokuchūkai two months earlier.[13] Around the same period, he also became estranged from his intimate friend from their schooldays, Hosaka Kanai (保阪嘉内:1896–1937), who had apparently rebuffed Miyazawa's arguments that he embrace the doctrines of the Lotus Sutra.[14] His move to the capital may also have been influenced by an accident he interpreted as a sign: a two volume copy of the Lotus Sutra fell off his shelves and struck him in the back.[15] In Tokyo he spent several months in dire poverty preaching strenuously in the streets on behalf of that faith.[5] After eight months in Tokyo, he took once more to writing children's stories (dōwa:童話), this time prolifically, under the influence of another Nichiren priest and acolyte of Tanaka's, Takachiyo Chiyō (高知尾智耀), who dissuaded him from the priesthood by convincing him that Nichiren believers best served their faith by striving to embody it in their profession.[5] In his specific case, this translated into a recommendation that he set about 'creating Lotus literature' (hokke bungaku no sōsaku: 法華文学の創作).[16] He returned to Hanamaki due to the renewed illness of his beloved younger sister.[6][17] At this time he became a teacher at the Agricultural School in Hanamaki.[17] On November 27, 1922, Toshi finally succumbed to her illness and died at age 24.[7] This was a traumatic shock for Kenji, from which he never recovered.[17] He composed three poems on the day of her death, entitled "Voiceless Lament" (無声慟哭),[5]

He found employment as a teacher in agricultural science at Hanamaki Agricultural High School.[5] and managed to put out a collection of poetry, Haru to Shura (春と修羅) in April 1924, thanks to some borrowings and a major subvention from a producer of nattō.[18] His 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), also self-published, came out in December of the same year.[5][6] Although neither were commercial successes,-they were largely ignored - his work did come to the attention of the poets Kōtarō Takamura and Shinpei Kusano, who admired his writing greatly and introduced it to the literary world.[6]

Kenji resigned his post as a teacher in 1926 in order to become a farmer and help improve the lot of the other farmers in the impoverished north-eastern region of Japan by sharing his theoretical knowledge of agricultural science,[6][19] and imparting to them improved, modern techniques of cultivation. He also introduced his fellow farmers to broader areas of modern cultures, such as music, poetry, and whatever else he thought might improve their lives:[6][19] He would play classical music for them on his family's gramophone, with compositions ranging from Beethoven and Schubert to Wagner and Debussy.[10] In August 1926 he established the Rasuchijin Society (羅須地人協会 Rasuchijin Kyōkai?, also called the "Rasu Farmers Association").[5] When asked what "Rasuchijin" meant, he said it meant nothing in particular, but he was probably thinking of chi (?, "earth") and jin (?, "man").[19] He introduced new agricultural techniques and more resistant strains of rice.[20] The Rasuchijin Society also engaged in literary readings, plays, music and other cultural activities.[5] It was disbanded after two years as Japan was being swept up by a militarist turn, in 1928, when the authorities closed it down.[5][19]

Not all of the local farmers were grateful for his efforts: some apparently sneeried at him as a city-slicker playing the farmer, while others expressed their disappointment that the fertilizers Kenji introduced were not having the desired effects.[21] He was an advocate for natural fertilizers, whereas many preferred a Western chemical 'fix', which, when it failed, did not stop many from blaming Miyazawa.[10] It may also have mattered that reservations persisted about him because he hadn't broken wholly with his economic dependence on his father, to whom farmers were often indebted when their crops failed, while his defection to the Lotus Sect soured their view, since farmers in his area were, like his own father, adherents of the Pure Land Sect.[10] Kenji's concern for farmers' welfare was not starry-eyed; a poem records his being told frankly by a cultivator that all his efforts have failed to do good for anyone.[22]

Final Years[edit]

Kenji fell ill in summer 1928, and by the end of that year this had developed into acute pneumonia.[23] He refused to eat more nourishing food, since his strict vegetarianism disallowed any use of a more nutritious diet demanded by the deterioration of his health.[5][24] He once wept on learning that he had been tricked into eating carp liver.[25] He suffered from pleurisy and in his final years his work was restricted to only intermittent activity when the condition was aggravated.[6] His health improved nonetheless sufficiently for him to take on consultancy work with a rock-crushing company in 1931,[5] where he endeavoured to refine methods of lime and calcium carbonate extraction.[26] The respite was brief: by September of that year, on a visit to Tokyo, he caught pneumonia and had to return to his home town.[5] In the autumn of 1933, his health seemed to have improved enough for him to watch a local Shinto procession from his doorway; a group of local farmers approached him and engaged him in conversation about fertilizer for about an hour.[27] He died the following day, having been exhausted by the length of his discussion with the farmers.[27] On his deathbed he asked his father to print 1,000 copies of the Lotus Sutra for distribution.[12][27] His family initially had him buried in the family Pure Land temple of Anjōji (安浄寺), but when they converted to Nichiren Buddhism in 1951, he was moved to the Nichiren Shinshōji temple (身照寺),[28] which had been constructed after he had made a formal proposal to that end (法華堂建立勧進文:Hokke-dō konryū kanjin-bun).[28][29] After his death, he became known in his district as Kenji bosatsu (賢治菩薩).[5]

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.

Religious beliefs[edit]

Kenji was born into a family of Pure Land Buddhists, but around 1915 converted to Nichiren Buddhism upon reading the Lotus Sutra and being captivated by it,[12] after finding a copy of Shimaji Daitō (島地大等:1875-1927)’s translation, The Lotus Sutra in Chinese and Japanese, in the family library in 1914.[30] 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.[12] The experience marked him for life: on his deathbed he summarized the purpose of his life work as one of delivering 'this holy book into your hands, and make you able to enter the Most Noble Path by contracting the teaching of the Buddha,' to be inscribed on 1,000 copies of the Lotus Sutra he requested be printed for distribution.[8]

From January to September 1921, he lived in Tokyo, engaging in ardent proselytizing (Shakubuku)[31] in the streets on behalf of Tanaka Chigaku's Kokuchūkai, a Buddhist-nationalist organization he had joined,[32] after the group had initially turned down his service.[12] In a letter to a friend in 1920 he expressed a total commitment and obedience to the organization:-

'I joined the Practice of Faith Division of the Pillar of the Nation Association. In other words, my life now belongs to Saint Nichiren. Thus I am now under the direction of Professor Chigaku Tanaka.'[33]

Many ultranationalists, such as Kita Ikki, Nisshō Inoue and Ishihara Kanji were associated with Nichirenism, and Miyazawa's attachment to Tanaka's version has led to suggestions he too, is "guilty by association", and tarred with the same highly nationalist brush.[2] At the time he joined the Pillar of the Nation Society, its tabloid publications certainly associated Nichiren's thought with imperial expansionism.[34] Others decline an automatic association of Nichirenism with the brand of Buddhist nationalism Tanaka himself espoused, citing Miyazawa as an exception.[35] Many modern Kenji scholars hold that he became estranged from the group and rejected their nationalist agenda. Jacqueline Stone argues that like Takayama Chogyū and Seno’o Girō, Miyazawa's initial enthusiasm was brief and dwindled as he came to embrace a more universalist humanist version of Nichirenism.[36][37] Helen Kilpatrick thinks any such reading of as sophisticated writer as Miyazawa is simplistic: his thinking was, she argues, resistant to national stereotypes.[38] Melissa Curley, noting the anxiety Miyazawa's association with the Kokuchūkai arouses among scholars, argues that while both Tanaka and Miyazawa were driven by utopianism, which developed into a totalitarian turn in Tanaka, conversely, in Miyazawa the key Lotus Sutra tenet that holds sway is jōjakkōdo (常寂光土:Land of Eternally Tranquil Light), which is decentered and can irrupt into the world anywhere, and is not specific to one nation.[2]

While the consensus view of scholarship has been that Miyazawa's passionate advocacy cooled sometime after 1921 in the wake of his failure to convert his parents and his friend Hosaka, a number of scholars such as Akira Ueda (上田哲), Gerald Iguchi and Jon Holt argue otherwise.[39] Holt claims that not only Nichiren's teachings, but also Tanaka's organization, 'greatly shaped Kenji’s spiritual life and literary production from 1920 through the end of his life.'[40] While acknowledging that others consider Kenji became estranged from the group after returning to Hanamaki, the Kokuchūkai's official website continues to claim him as one of their own, affirming in addition 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.[41]

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.[12]


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. ^ Masaki Mori, 'Epic Grandeur: Toward a Comparative Poetics of the Epic,' SUNY Press, 1997 p.219 n.32.
  2. ^ a b c Curley, Melissa Anne-Marie, ‘Fruit, Fossils, Footprints: Cathecting Utopia in the Work of Miyazawa Kenji,' in Daniel Boscaljon (ed.), Hope and the Longing for Utopia: Futures and Illusions in Theology and Narrative, James Clarke & Co./ /Lutterworth Press 2015.pp,96-118, p.96.
  3. ^ Mitsutani p.71
  4. ^ Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature, Stanford University Press, 1983 pp.184-320, p.184
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Kilpatrick, Helen Miyazawa Kenji and His Illustrators: Images of Nature and Buddhism in Japanese Children's Literature, BRILL, 2014 pp.11-25, p.11.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan article "Miyazawa Kenji" (p. 222-223). 1983. Tokyo : Kodansha.
  7. ^ a b c "Ryakenpu, Omona Dekigoto". Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Society website. Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Society. Retrieved May 1, 2015. .
  8. ^ a b c Massimo Cimarelli (, Miyazawa Kenji:Il drago e il poeta, Volume Edizioni srl, 2014 p.3
  9. ^ a b Keene 1999, p. 284.
  10. ^ a b c d Margaret Mitsutani, 'The Regional as the Center: The Poetry of Miyazawa Kenji,' in Klaus Martens,Paul Duncan Morris,Arlette Warken (eds.) A World of Local Voices: Poetry in English Today, Königshausen & Neumann, 2003 pp.66-72 p.67.
  11. ^ Ueda p.217
  12. ^ a b c d e f Keene 1999, pp. 284-285.
  13. ^ Hoyt Long, 2011 p.366 n.69:'He had joined the organization just two months before fleeing home.'
  14. ^ Holt, 2014 p.309.
  15. ^ Massimo Cimarelli, Miyazawa Kenji - a short biography, Volume Edizioni srl,2014 p.3.
  16. ^ Holt 2014 pp.314-315.
  17. ^ a b c Keene 1999, p. 285.
  18. ^ Hoyt Long,On Uneven Ground: Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan, Stanford University Press, 2011 p.369 n.5
  19. ^ a b c d Keene 1999, p. 288.
  20. ^ Mitsutani p.67.
  21. ^ Keene 1999, p. 289.
  22. ^ Keene 1999, p. 289, citing (note 197, p. 379) Miyazawa Kenji 1968, p. 311-314.
  23. ^ Keene 1999, pp. 289-290.
  24. ^ Keene 1999, p. 290.
  25. ^ Keene 1999, p. 290, citing (note 198, p. 379) Kushida, "Shijin to Shōzō" in Miyazawa Kenji 1968, p. 393.
  26. ^ Hiroaki Sato (tr.), Spring & Asura: poems of Kenji Miyazawa, Chicago Review Press, 1973 p.xvi.
  27. ^ a b c Keene 1999, p. 291.
  28. ^ a b "Marugoto Jiten: Shinshōji". Ihatovo Hanamaki. Hanamaki Tourism & Convention Bureau. 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  29. ^ Rasu Chijin Kyōkai. "Hanamaki o aruku". Chuo University faculty website. Chuo University. Retrieved May 1, 2015. 賢治は熱心な法華経信者でこの寺の建立のため「法華堂建立勧進文」まで書いているが、宮澤家が真宗だったため、死後真宗の寺に葬られていた。昭和二十六年、賢治の遺志を請けて、宮澤家が改宗し、日蓮宗のこの寺に葬られることになった。宮澤家の骨堂の左側にあるのが賢治供養塔である。 
  30. ^ Holt 2014 p.341 n.23.
  31. ^ Holt 2014 p.325,332,336.
  32. ^ Stone 2003 : 197-198.
  33. ^ Yoshirō Tamura, Introduction to the Lotus Sutra, Simon and Schuster, 2014 pp.138-140.
  34. ^ Holt, 2014 p.313.
  35. ^ Minamoto Ryooen, 'The Symposium on "Overcoming Modernity",’ in James W. Heisig, John C. Maraldo (eds.) Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism, University of Hawai’i Press 1994 pp.197-231, p201 n.9.
  36. ^ Jacqueline I. Stone,' "By Imperial Edict and Shogunal Decree". Politics and the Issue of the ordination Platform in Modern Lay Nichren Buddhism,' in Steven Heine, Charles S. Prebish (eds.), Buddhism in the Modern World:Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition, Oxford University Press 2003 pp.193-219, p.198:'.‘Takayama Chogyū and Miyazawa Kenji were drawn to Tanaka for a time, but ultimately rejected his nationalistic views.'
  37. ^ Jacqueline Stone, 'Realizing This World as the Buddha Land,' in Stephen F. Teiser, Jacqueline Ilyse Stone (eds.), Readings of the Lotus Sutra, Columbia University press 2009 p.302:'Like Seno’o Girō, Miyazawa was first inspired by the teachings of the Lotus Sutra in his youth through his association with Tanaka Chigaku’s Pillar of the Nation Society, while he was a student in Tokyo. But also like Seno’o, he later separated himself from Tanaka’s group and abandoned the society’s nationalistic ideals in favor of a universalist message'; p.348 n.46: 'The literary figures Takayama Chogyū (1871-1902) and Miyazawa Kenji were also briefly drawn to Tanaka, though they eventually rejected his nationalistic views.'
  38. ^ Kilpatrick, p.17.
  39. ^ Jon Holt, 'Ticket to Salvation: Nichiren Buddhism in Miyazawa Kenji's Ginga tetsudō no yoru.', Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 41/2: 305–345, pp.312-314.
  40. ^ Holt 2014 p.309.
  41. ^ "Tanaka Chigaku-sensei no Eikyō o Uketa Hitobito: Miyazawa Kenji". Kokuchūkai official website. Kokuchūkai. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 


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