Who is Miyazawa Kenji?
What this site hopes to accomplish
From a remote town comes universality
Miyazawa Kenji has transcended the generations to become one of Japan's most read and best loved authors. Born over a hundred years ago in 1896 in Iwate Prefecture, he was only 37 at the time of his death. Kenji's literary works received scant attention during his lifetime and only two books were published before his passing: a collection of children's tales entitled "The Restaurant of Many Orders" and the first section of his most famous work of poetry, "Spring and Ashura." The remainder of the great number of children's stories and poems that he left behind was edited and published only posthumously, after which the richness and depth of his art finally gained wide recognition.|
In 1996, the one-hundredth anniversary of Kenji's birth was commemorated by exhibitions not only in Iwate, his birthplace, but throughout Japan. Numerous books, TV programs, and several movies also added to the nation's fascination with Kenji. Although major advertising agencies and railroad companies played a part in engineering this phenomenon, their efforts were certainly not the only reason for any increase in Kenji's popularity.
In recent years, the number of devoted readers of Miyazawa Kenji is on the rise, no doubt reflecting a disenchantment with Japanese society that has prompted many people to search for new direction in his writings.
Although Miyazawa Kenji has become one of the most widely read literary figures in Japan, unfortunately he is still little known overseas. This Web site has been conceived to introduce foreign readers to his fertile and profound literary works. We believe this powerful literature transcends national and cultural boundaries to offer encouragement to people the world over who are facing the difficult challenges of our age.
Kenji spent most of his life in Iwate, regarded by the residents of Tokyo as an impoverished, out-of-the-way place. Born into the family of a well-to-do pawnbroker, he was greatly disturbed by the thought that his family's affluent lifestyle was supported by squeezing what little extra the poor in the area managed to put aside. This and his strong Buddhist faith drove Kenji to spend most of his brief life in a passionate struggle to improve the lot of the poor farmers there.|
In the midst of his endeavors Kenji also found time to avidly absorb the latest scientific, philosophic, and artistic developments that were emanating from Europe at the time (1910-1920). Just as Japan was embarking on her rapid journey toward modernization, Miyazawa Kenji was busy putting down deeper roots in the remote rural setting from which he created a wealth of literature whose universality would someday touch the hearts of people all over the world.
Alternatives for an exclusionary society
Kenji's stories are set against the whole of the universe----a world replete with people, animals, plants, the wind, clouds, light, the stars and the sun. All hold discourse together. All are in empathy with one another. This free association between the elements and living things that make up our world is one of the distinguishing features that predominates Kenji's works. The interaction he portrays is never nonsensical, but always animated with an authenticity that rings true to the reader.|
Trained as a geologist, Kenji did much work in the field, and the things he encountered in nature served not only as material for study, but also as the inspiration from which his tales of fantasy sprung. Undoubtedly, this accounts for the vivid naturalness of his writings. As he roamed about the countryside studying the rocks and plants in minute detail, all the while sensitive to even the smallest climatic variations, Kenji would also observe and record the spontaneous feelings and ideas that occurred to him and the ways in which they interacted. He called these his "mental sketches."
Kenji felt that all living creatures are brothers and that happiness in the true sense is impossible for the individual to attain unless he seeks the happiness of all other living things as well. For Kenji, this was not just an idea: walking over the hills and fields, he would often lose himself entirely in the contemplation of animals, plants, rocks, the wind, clouds, rainbows, or the stars. He found joy in this empathy with the natural world he encountered, which is the source of the energy that imparts such a rich vitality to his work.
Readers are able to perceive in Miyazawa Kenji's prolific works his views on the arrogance of modern man toward nature; the interconnection of man, animated nature, the earth, and the universe; and the pathway to a new cosmology.
The appeal of Kenji and his works
Kenji lived during a period in Japan's history when the country began to manifest an attitude that was increasingly self-centered and condescending toward the peoples of the neighboring Asian countries, and ultimately resulted in wars of invasion. An important theme in Kenji's stories is the communication that unfolds between certain villagers and inhabitants of the natural environment surrounding them. His main characters engage in open, unprejudiced dialogue with characters "different" from themselves-----mountain man, wind spirits, wildcats, deer, bears, foxes and many other. This theme has been interpreted by many as a search by the author for possible alternatives to the closed and exclusionary nature of Japanese society in his day. In our day it poses a fresh question for modern societies on the threshold of a new century.|