The art of being able to connect to children and their wild imaginations is truly a skill and a talent. Not every person is able to understand what makes children, who are often energetic and lively, sit down, listen, and get engrossed in stories. Thankfully, there are certain writers who have the knack for writing not just serious novels but also children’s stories that would catch the attention of children as well as let their imaginations become wild and vivid. One of these writers was a Japanese man named Kenji Miyazawa.
The Life and Death of Kenji Miyazawa
Born in the year 1896, Kenji Miyazawa hailed from Iwate Prefecture, located on the north-east coast of Japan. He was born just two months following the Meiji-Sariku earthquake. It is said the earthquake created a huge tsunami that caused the destruction of around 9,000 houses. The catastrophe also took more than 22,000 lives in the region. Despite what happened, Miyazawa’s family remained affluent thanks to their successful pawnshop.
In spite being surrounded by wealth, Miyazawa was still able to witness the struggles of the poor farmers who were coming to their shop. He saw the drastic contrast between his comfortable life and the hardships of the farmers. He could not help but feel a sense of guilt, being able to eat and live well while others struggled to survive. The situation did not grow to be better as their region was repeatedly experiencing cold weather despite being agricultural. As a result, crop harvests dropped.
Time and time again, young Miyazawa watched as people came to their home to sell the clothes on their back as well as their other belongings. Being a kind-hearted boy that he was, he could not bear to just watch. Because of what he saw, Miyazawa was inspired to study agriculture to help his fellow people. It was also because of this experience that he nurtured a desire for self-sacrifice.
He enrolled in Morioka Agricultural and Forestry College in the year 1915 to study geology. At the same time, he also tried his hand at writing short stories and poems. Eventually, Miyazawa graduated in the year 1921. He moved to Tokyo where he began to write children’s stories. Sadly, his younger sister became sick and passed away, which forced Miyaza to return to his hometown just after only six months.
Between the year 1921 and the year 1926, Miyazawa stayed in his hometown. He got a job at Hanamaki Agricultural High School where he taught agricultural science. At the same time, he proceeded to hone his passion for writing. He saved the money that he earned through teaching to release his first collection of children’s stories in the year 1924.
One of his works entitled “Chumon no Oi Ryoriten, which can be translated to “The Restaurant of Many Orders,” was a part of the said collection. The story revolved around two hunters walking in a forest when they find a restaurant inside. Upon entering the establishment, it appeared that the restaurant was not a usual one. They become pawns of that which the hunters seek to kill in the words.
Miyazawa resigned from his position as a teacher in the year 1926. He devoted his life trying to improve the quality of life of the poor people residing in his native Iwate. An effort he made was to invite peasants into his home in the evening where he would teach them skills that would be useful for agricultural purposes for free.
After his resignation, he also began to work as a farmer during the day. He put the agricultural lessons that he taught to action. At the same time, Miyazawa still continued to write. His works during this time showed just how well and deep he understood nature and how human beings relied on it.
Unfortunately, the Showa-Sanriku Earthquake struck his hometown in the year 1933. Instead of feeling bad for themselves, Miyazawa took tremendous time and effort to work with local farmers and to encourage them to work hard and to not give up. Six months after this incident, Kenji Miyazawa passed away at the age of 37. He succumbed to acute pneumonia.
To commemorate the goodness of Miyazawa, a stone pillar bearing a carving of a poem composed by him was made. Located at Shimanokoshi Station on the Iwate Coast, the pillar remained steadfast despite the destruction caused by a terrible tsunami in the year 2011. Many believe that the pillar served as a testament to the unwavering spirit of the kind Miyazawa.
His Works: Books like The Great Bear of the Crows, Quotes, Anime, and Poems
Miyazawa began writing at around the age of 15. As a school boy, he started with tanka poetry. He had composed more than a thousand tanka poems in his lifetime. He started writing poetry just a few weeks following the publication of “A Handful of Sand” by Takuboku. He liked this style of poetry until he reached 24 years old.
He was known to be a fan of modern Japanese poets. These included Hakushu Kitahara and Sakutaro Hagiwara. In fact, one can find their influences etched in Miyazawa’s poetry. However, what truly made an impact in the way Miyazawa composed his poems was his life living amongst farmers.
His first collection of poetry entitled “Haru to Shura” was initiated in the year 1922. It was on the 27th of November in the year 1922 when Miyazawa’s beloved sister passed away. On that same day, he created three long poems to commemorate her. The first poem was entitled “Eiketsu no Asa,” which can be translated to “The Morning of Eternal Parting.” It was the longest out of the three poems.
The poem was composed in a conversational format between Miyazawa and his sister Toshiko, whom he often called Toshi. While the poem itself did not consist any form of regular meter, it appealed to readers and listeners because of the raw emotion that it contains. Aside from the poems, Miyazawa also liked writing stories for children.
One of Miyazawa’s intentions in writing children’s stories was to teach them about moral education. These stories reflected his belief that human beings should be able to coexist with nature. A work entitled “Gusuko Budiri no Denki,” which can be translated to “The Biography of Budori Gusuko,” depicts Miyazawa’s life as well as his struggles with agriculture.
In the 1930s, Miyazawa wrote several stories that are still considered as masterpieces in Japanese literature today. These include “Ginga Tetudo no Yoru,” which can be translated to “Night on the Galactic Railroad”; “Kaze no Matasaburo,” which can be translated to “Matasaburo of the Wind”; and “Ame ni mo Makezu,” which can be translated to “Be no Defeated by the Rain.”
His other famous works include “Sero Hiki no Goshu,” which can be translated to “Gauche the Cellist”; “Taneyamagahara no Yoru,” which can be translated to “The Night of Taneyamagahara”; “Ryu to Shijin,” which can be translated to “The Dragon and the Poet”; and “Bijiterian Taisai,” which can be translated to “Vegetarian Great Festival.”
Village of Fairy Tales: A Place Based on Miyazawa’s Stories
Miyazawa’s works made a huge impact on the Japanese literary scene that an actual place was built to reflect his stories. This place is called Miyazawa Kenji Dowa Mura, also known as the Village of Fairy Tales. Built in the year 1996, this place was constructed as a commemoration of the centennial of Miyazawa Kenji’s birth.
Children of all ages are welcome to visit this magical place. It starts at the Milky Way Station, which was created to look like the station in the story “Night of the Galactic Railroad.” This station also serves as the gates to the Village of Fairy Tales. After passing through the gate, visitors can turn right and find the entrance to the Fairy Path.
The Fairy Path serves as the crossing between the surrounding forests. Guests can either walk along the path or sit on one of the benches while listening to Miyazawa’s stories. At the end of the path, one will find a boardwalk that leads visitors from the Wildgrass Park to Kenji’s School, which is the main building of the park.
Kenji’s School consists of five different sections. These sections are the Fantastic Hall, Sky Room, Earth Room, Space Room, and Water Room. Children can participate in several activities inside the school. These include sitting under the sky while looking at the stars, hanging out with gigantic insects, and walking through a kaleidoscope. While the overall experience through the building may be short-lived, the quality of the experience lets children forget about the real world outside for a brief moment.
After going through Kenji’s School, up next are Kenji’s Classrooms. The classrooms are made up of seven logwood cabins. Every cabin incorporates a certain theme taken from one of Miyazawa’s stories. It would be best to let the children enter each one so they can learn about various things and animals such as birds, plants, rocks, and stars, all of which can be found inside the fairy tales of Miyazawa.
Guests are to follow the Owl Path, which would lead them to the end of the adventure. The path will lead guests back into the forest. While walking, visitors will find other attractions in the area such as the Scenery Mirror, the Voice Pipe, and the Fairy Tale Bench. There are certain times when special events like live performances are held in the area.
The exact address of the Village of Fairy Tales is 26-19 Takamatsu, Hanamaki City, Iwate. Their contact number is 0198-31-2211. The place is open from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. However, It's open until 4 PM. Entrance fee costs 350 yen for adults, 250 yen for high school and college students, and 150 yen for elementary and junior high school students.
His Legacy: Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Museum
Aside from the Village of Fairy Tales, another attraction that can be found in the area is Kenji Miyazawa’s Memorial Museum. Opened in the year 1982, the museum was built to commemorate the 50th death anniversary of Miyazawa. A number of manuscripts and artifacts connected to Miyazawa can be found on display inside the museum. These pieces are important, as they were the only ones to survive the destruction of Hanamaki caused by bombings during the Second World War.
The museum also shows the many accomplishments of Miyazawa in the department of education, literature, and agricultural science. It contains several personal belongings of Miyazawa such as the originals of his works. Slides and videos about him can also be found in the museum. Over 200,000 people pay a visit every single year to learn about Miyazawa.
The exact address of the museum is 1-1-36 Yasawa, Hanamaki City, Iwate. Guests can access it via JR Shin-Hanamaki Station. From there, take an Iwate Prefecture Transportation Bus to Miyazawa Kenji Kinenkan. The museum is open from 8:30 AM to 5 PM. Open until 4:30 PM. It is closed from the 28th of December to the 1st of January every year. Entrance fee is similar to the format of the Village of Fairy Tales.
Another museum to check out in the area is the Miyazawa Kenji Ihatov museum. It contains a collection of books, magazines, research bulletins, and artworks about Miyazawa. The place is also considered as the headquarters of the Miyazawa Kenji Association and Ihatov Center. Several mediums of his works are available here. The museum also holds lectures and workshops about Miyazawa. Furthermore, it also celebrates the Kenji Festival and the Kenji Birthday Festival.
Miyazawa Kenji was a perfect example of a man who is down-to-earth despite the wealth surrounding him. Throughout his life, he was not only able to help children let their imaginations run wild but also touch the lives of the people surrounding him. He sought to improve the lives of others and encourage them to live harmoniously with nature. Truly, Miyazawa Kenji was a man unlike any other.