The Tales of Miyazawa Kenji|
This edition of Miyazawafs works has been translated by John Bester of Tokyo University, who is perhaps better known for his superb translation of Oe Kenzaburofs and Ibuse Yasushifs works.
Miyazawa Kenji is described by J. Thomas Rimer in his A Readerfs Guide to Japanese Literature, as gthe modern gatekeeper to the elusive beauty of the north and to the traditions harbored there.h Miyazawa began his literary career with poetry, however he is much more well-known for his gchildrenfs storiesh which also appeal to adult readers. Of these, Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru (Night Train to the Stars) and Kaze no Matasaburo are his most popular works.
The Tales of Miyazawa Kenji contains eight stories, two of which have been presented in recent school text books. I first read a shortened version of gThe Restaurant of Many Ordersh in one of my childrenfs English textbooks. Almost European in style, it sketches out a mystical plot - Naturefs revenge on heartless, greedy hunters from the city. Miyazawafs tales are far from gruesome, yet still hold a fascinating power and mystique. Just as gThe Restaurant of Many Ordersh has a moral, so does gThe Earthgod and the Foxh. Human-like in their attributes the three main characters: a birch tree, a fox and an Earth God, teach us a little about the difficulty of relationships. Sometimes, even a god can not make his feelings, or his intentions, understood.
The last two stories are perhaps the most poignant. gNight of the Festivalh talks about caring for others, strangers. gGorsch the Cellisth suggests that we should accept the tender offerings of help that others wish to give. This story, like so many others, includes animals in its list of main characters, and yet the reader will not discern any major communicative barriers between humans and animals. In this respect, Miyazawafs style can be said to be very similar to that of Native American or Australian Aboriginal Folklore.
Every summer, works written by Miyazawa Kenji are included into the gRecommended Readingh lists given to Primary and Junior High Students, here in Japan. One book nearly always on the list is Night Train to the Stars.
Night Train to the Stars
Also translated by John Bester, this is another must to read. In the introduction, Bester explains that the book was not extensively reviewed before the author died, and so there may be a few areas that do not appeal to some. However, I would say that the naivety of the work is also one of its attributes.
A story of two boys who journey through the galaxy on a train bound for heaven and beyond, this short novel contains a mixture of traditional Japanese concepts of filial piety, along with the then gnewh Christian beliefs and images. As often seen in his works, Miyazawa again intermingles opposites. This time it is a poor boy who is befriended by a rich boy. Ordinarily, they move in separate circles. Yet, on the train to the stars, their friendship seems stronger than ever, and the less privileged Giovanni seems to take the lead. The ending may be considered somewhat of an anti-climax to the western reader, but it is typical of traditional Japanese literary works for both young and old.
Miyazawa Kenji's Poetry (in Japanese)
Miyazawa Kenji's Works (in English)
Native American Mythology