Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) is one of the well-known novelists and poets in Japan, especially for children’s literature. While he was unknown as the author during his lifetime, his works are now part of the best classic lineups. Almost all Japanese now are familiar with his name and have read some of his novels, poets, and biographies.
He was a devout Buddhist, romantic idealist, and Esperantist. As a graduate in agricultural science, he devoted his simple, short life as a high school science teacher and an adviser for farmers in his hometown, Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, the northern part of Japan. He died of pneumonia in 1933 at the age of 37.
If you read one of his children’s novels, The Life of Budori Gusuko, you could see his life value. Budori was a volcanologist, and eventually surrender his life amid the eruption to save the farmers in his village from the cold weather. It is a kind of allegory that symbolized the life value of the author himself.
Another major novel is Night on the Milky Way Railway. It is also a fantasy novel for children. But then, you can never miss the underlined theme for adults such as the meaning of true happiness, life, death, the universe, and God. Reflecting on the Christian saints with his Buddhist faith, the author himself embedded profound messages to the novel.
For example, the key characters, Giovanni and Campanella, had the following conversations over the meaning of true happiness, encountering the life of the scorpion as the passengers of the Milky Way Railway, in the midst of the galaxies.
Giovanni’s head hung low and he became all gloomy.
“It’s impossible to know what happiness is,” said the lighthouse keeper, offering the young man words of comfort. “No matter how terrible something is, if it happens while you are walking on the right path; every step you take, whether it be up or down the mountain, takes you closer to true happiness.”
“Yes, that’s true. And all of that sorrow that we experience in order to attain the ultimate happiness is God’s work,” replied the young man as if he were reciting a prayer.Night on the Milky Way Railway
And they heard the prayer of the scorpion:
Ah, how many lives have I taken up until now? And yet, when the weasel tries to catch me, look how I run for my life. And in the end this is how I end up. Oh, what have I done? Why didn’t I just offer my body to the weasel without running away? I could have given the weasel another day of life.
Dear God, please look into my heart. Instead of allowing me to throw my life away in vain, use my body to bring true happiness to the world…Night on the Milky Way Railway
And as the scorpion prayed, then the signal towers made the shape of a scorpion.
And when the scorpion opened its eyes again, it saw that its body was burning with a bright red flame, lighting up the entire night sky. And papa said that the fire is still burning even now. That’s what that fire is.
Yeah. Look at that. The signal towers make the shape of a scorpion.Night on the Milky Way Railway
And witnessing the scorpion’s “ascension” in the Milky Way, under the vast galaxy filament, Giovanni and Campanella continued their conversations:
“Campanella, it’s just us two again. Let’s keep traveling together, forever and ever. I want to be like that scorpion. If I could bring true happiness to everybody, I wouldn’t even care if I was burnt up a hundred times over.”Night on the Milky Way Railway
They admired the scorpion, recognizing true happiness in it. And, both Giovanni and Campanella asked themselves again, what is the meaning of true happiness after all? Moreover, what should or can we do for true happiness?
“But what really is true happiness?” wondered Giovanni.
“I don’t know,” replied Campanella absent-mindedly.
“Together we can do this,” said Giovanni, breathing excitedly as if he were bursting with a new found energy.Night on the Milky Way Railway
In the middle of the Milky Way, contemplating on the scorpion’s prayer and act, Giovanni somehow understood what true happiness could be and what one could do for it. He shared his reflection with Campanella.
“Even if I was in the middle of that huge black space, I wouldn’t be scared,” said Giovanni. “I’m going to find out how to bring true happiness to the world. We’ll go on together, forever and ever.”Night on the Milky Way Railway
The phrase could remind us of the last line of the Lord’s Prayer’s doxology in Christianity.
Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.The Lord’s Prayer
We know how to bring true happiness to the world. Once we understand what our lives could be for, that is the moment when we see the true happiness, which is the path to eternity. And we are no longer scared of the vast darkness of the universe. For, there is the light shines in the darkness like the life and act of the scorpion and Budori Gusuko. And we could comprehend it, just like Giovanni did.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.John 1:5
That is the reason why Jesus praised those simple, sorrow, and yet pure and warm people with such counterintuitive blessings: (Matthew 5:3-12)
- Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
- Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
And Kenji Miyazawa himself also composed the poem, considering the same kind of blessings, entitled, Be not Defeated by the Rain. He wanted to be like the person in this poem to see true happiness and work for it. He did not intend to publish it. Rather, he wrote it for himself. And it was only found posthumously in a small black notebook. But now, everyone in Japan knows these lines in Japanese, starting as Ame ni mo makezu (雨ニモマケズ), meaning, Be not Defeated by the Rain.
Be not defeated by the rain. Nor let the wind prove your better. Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.
Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger.Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you. Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.
A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade. A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.
If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health. If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden. If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear. If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues: Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.
In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.
Stand aloof of the unknowing masses: Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man”.
This is my goal, the person I strive to become.Be not Defeated by the Rain, translated by David Sulz
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