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Kenji Miyazawa's Discombobulated Lotus Literature:
Japanese Literature as Benevolent Guerilla War on Common Sense

by Gerry Iguchi

 
 

The benevolent guerilla warfare of Miyazawa's literature potentially functioned . . . by discombobulating common sense and disrupting unexamined and unnecessarily fixed assumptions.



In an attempt to deepen understanding of the work of the Japanese poet and children's writer Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), this paper analyzes Miyazawa's relationship with Nichirenism (Nichirenshugi), a modern Japanese, lay-based Buddhist and nationalist movement that was in particular led by Chigaku Tanaka (1861-1939). It generally supported Japan's imperialism before 1945. Both Miyazawa and Kanji Ishiwara (1889-1949) - one of two Japanese Kwantung Army colonels who instigated the 1931 Mukden Incident - joined Tanaka's Kokuchukai (National Pillar Society) in 1920. For many, Miyazawa's association with both Ishiwara and Nichirenism may seem contradictory because of Miyazawa's saintly reputation. I argue that there were elements of consistency in these relationships that should cause us to rethink both Miyazawa and Nichirenism.

Modern Japan and Nichirenism arose in a world dominated by the West's imperialism. Western hegemony led to a global common sense entailing acceptance of the supposed developmental superiority of the West. Nichirenism represented various attempts to challenge this common sense, using tools grounded in novel interpretations of the thirteenth-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren's understanding of the Lotus Sutra. However, whereas the Nichirenism of Ishiwara literally made war, Miyazawa used poetry and a children's literature that eventually became exceedingly popular with adults to attack the scientific and bureaucratic rationality of a planetary modernity that defined the West as the best.

Japanese war making on modernity or the West did not necessarily mean willing the return to a purely Japanese past. To some extent, with Nichirenist ideas, and certainly with Miyazawa's writings, the aim was not only to shatter actually existing modernity. There was also an attempt to imagine and actualize multiple worlds characterized by continuous variation and creativity (my use of the words "continuous variation" is influenced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's usage at various points in their A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia [University of Minnesota Press, 1987]). I consider Miyazawa's work to constitute an attack on both the common sense stipulating Western superiority and the binary and hierarchical presuppositions at the foundation of any practice insisting that any entity is inherently or timelessly superior to any other from an ultimate perspective. To me, Miyazawa's literature is a guerilla or irregular form of benevolent force distinct from nation-states, armies, police, and any powers of constraint attempting to impose lasting orderings or to regulate the usefulness of populations.

Background: Modernity's White Noise

After the humiliation of Japan's forced opening to trade and diplomacy by Americans in the 1850s, disgruntled lower-ranking samurai overthrew the ancien régime in 1868. They pretended to stage a restoration or renovation by propping a figurehead boy monarch on the imperial throne. More revolution than restoration, this moment opened the Meiji period (1868-1912), during which Japanese accepted what Tessa Morris-Suzuki has called the "formats" of the modern world, meaning that Japanese leaders adopted, invented, and imposed local versions of globally shared institutions, forms, and practices (Morris-Suzuki, Re-Inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation [M. E. Sharpe, 1988], 162-71).

A powerful indication of how Japan's leaders embraced the logic of modernity was when, in 1868, the new state passed a law legally separating Shinto and Buddhism. These "religions" were generally combined for centuries. Divinities were commonly understood as indigenous Shinto kami from one perspective and as Buddhist devas, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other figures from India from another. Ultimately divinities in Japan were both kami and Buddhist deities and neither. (On premodern Japanese religious combinations, see Fabio Rambelli and Mark Teeuwen's introduction to Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm [Routledge, 2002], 1-53.) The Meiji state outlawed this nonmodern way of thinking, signaling embrace of something like Western philosophy's three laws of thought: the law of identity (that each thing is itself and not something else), the law of the excluded middle (that something is true or its negation is true), and the law of noncontradiction (that a proposition and its antithesis cannot be simultaneously true), leading eventually to the supremacy of the binary and rule-governed thinking characteristic of scientific-bureaucratic rationality.

Despite Japan's "advancing" as its leaders, and then its people more generally, embraced modernity, Japanese faced a larger world in which according to standard common sense, being Asian meant being backward and lesser in terms of developmental scales that hierarchically arranged people. Such hierarchies preserved the West's privileges. In general, this logic also dictated that there was really only one world civilization or culture, so that a Westerner who encountered a cultural difference did not merely regard it as difference but considered other cultures less advanced versions of the Western self (see George Stocking Jr., "Franz Boas and the Culture Concept in Historical Perspective," American Anthropologist 68, no. 4 [1966]: 867-82).

This was the conceptual world that post-Meiji Restoration Japanese confronted, and this was the era in which Nichirenism emerged. Chigaku Tanaka, a former novice in the traditional Buddhist sect Nichirenshu, coined the term and concept Nichirenism in his 1901 Shumon no ishin (The renovation of our sect). Nichirenism appropriated elements of Nichiren's corpus to argue for a special relationship between the Lotus Sutra, as a text particularly appropriate for degraded times known as mappo, and Japan. Tanaka and Nichirenism linked Japan as a manifestation of the Lotus Sutra to a sacred mission to lead a pan-Asian unity against Western imperialism and to transform the entire world into a paradisiacal Buddhist Pure Land.

With Shumon Tanaka continually defined the essence of Nichirenism as aggression, the antithesis of Western representations of the Orient and Japan as inferior because they were both feminine and childlike. This aggressive stance led cultural critic Chogyu Takayama (1871-1902) to think of Tanaka as both an incarnation of Nichiren and a Nietzschean superman. It inspired Ishiwara to likewise idolize Tanaka and to literally make war so as to facilitate Japan's putative mission. It inspired Miyazawa to stage what I would call conceptual warfare through art against the common sense of a modernity that defined the West as the world's developmentally superior center.

Kenji Miyazawa, the Lotus Sutra, and Kokuchukai

Miyazawa took from his reading of the works of Tanaka an understanding of the Lotus Sutra premised on the possibility of revolutionary transformation of the world, with the conviction that this defiled world is immanently and imminently a buddhas' Pure Land, and that we "worldlings" (shujo) are fully awakened buddhas even if we do not realize it. This Nichiren-inspired version of what has become more broadly known as hongaku shiso in Japanese Mahayana centers on the Lotus Sutra's sixteenth chapter, "Fathoming the Life Span" (Juryo bon).

The Lotus Sutra was preached by Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni, who was born, achieved awakening, preached, and died on the Indian subcontinent. However, in "Fathoming the Life Span," Sakyamuni reveals that he exists and has always existed eternally. Similar to how Indian devas such as Vi??u incarnate temporarily as humans in Hindu thinking, Sakyamuni the man teaches in this chapter that he as a human is only a manifestation of the Eternal Original Buddha (kuon honbutsu) who appeared as an expedient means out of compassion to guide those suffering to salvation. The implication is that if Sakyamuni the man is also an eternal buddha even though it was not immediately apparent, the same is by extension true for all worldlings, and ipso facto our apparently defiled material world is a paradisiacal Pure Land. All that remains is to actualize these already true truths.

Miyazawa was from Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, in northern Japan. He graduated from Iwate's Morioka Agriculture and Forestry College in 1918. On a brief visit to Tokyo that same year, he heard Tanaka speak. In 1920, Miyazawa referred to this speech in a letter to a friend, declaring his deep devotion to Tanaka and exhorting his friend to join Tanaka's Kokuchukai, which Miyazawa had already joined by mail (Oh Sunhwa, Miyazawa Kenji no hokke bungaku: Hoko suru tamashii [The Lotus literature of Kenji Miyazawa: The wandering spirit] [Tokai Daigaku Shuppankai, 2000], 17-18). Miyazawa then led meetings of what became a Hanamaki chapter of the group. Miyazawa read the Kokuchukai's organ, the Tengyo minpo (People of the heavenly task report), as well as longer works by Tanaka, including Nichirenshugi no kyogi (The doctrine of Nichirenism), Sekai toitsu no tengyo (The heavenly task of world unification), and Myoshu shikimoku kogiroku (Lectures on the systematic formulation of the wondrous sect's teachings). After having a disagreement with his father, who adhered to another Buddhist sect, Miyazawa left Iwate in 1921, heading for the Kokuchukai headquarters in Tokyo (Oh, Miyazawa Kenji, 17-18; Komei Ishikawa, Nichiren to kindai bungakusha­tachi [Nichiren and modern writers] [Pitaka Shuppansha, 1978], 217-18).

Miyazawa spent nine months in Tokyo, where he proselytized for the Kokuchukai and distributed copies of the Tengyo minpo. He himself also made speeches on behalf of the organization in Ueno Park (Ishikawa, Nichiren, 217-18). During Miyazawa's time in Tokyo, he attended talks given by various lecturers at Kokuchukai's headquarters, typically centering on Tanaka's Myoshu shikimoku kogiroku (later published in five volumes as the Nichirenshugi kyogaku taikan, a survey of the teachings of Nichirenism, abbreviated hereafter as Taikan). The text profoundly influenced Miyazawa. He completely read the dense 3,308 pages five times according to a cousin (entry on "Myoshu shikimoku kogiroku" in Shin Miyazawa Kenji goi jiten [New glossarial dictionary of Kenji Miyazawa], ed. Shiro Hara [Tokyo Shoseki, 2000], 691).

Miyazawa's primary contact with Kokuchukai leadership was a man named Chiyo Takachio, and in the posthumously discovered notebook that he used to write his most famous poem, "Ame ni mo makezu" (Undaunted by the rain), Miyazawa wrote that Takachio suggested that he write a "Lotus literature" (Hokke no bungaku). Takachio later did not remember this at all (Sarah Strong, "The Poetry of Miyazawa Kenji" [PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1984], 70). Nevertheless, Miyazawa's interaction with Takachio and other Kokuchukai members while in Tokyo significantly affected his writing, despite the fact that it is unlikely that Miyazawa ever actually met Chigaku Tanaka, an amateur playwright. Miyazawa's time in Tokyo coincided with intense writing, embryonic manifestations of characteristic elements of his art (Ibid., 71-73; Ishikawa, Nichiren, 221-22).

Kenji Miyazawa's Lotus Literature: Night of the Milky Way Railway

In his children's stories and poetry Miyazawa created semi-imaginary spaces that he sometimes called Ihatovu (or Ihatovo). The fact that Ihatovu sounds like "Iwate" is no accident. In an advertisement for a collection of stories, Miyazawa defined Ihatovu as "dreamland Iwate." At the same time, he wrote that it was the site of the adventures of Lewis Carroll's Alice, that it encompassed the fictional Tepantar Desert of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry, and that it was the site of the kingdom of Ivan in Tolstoy's "Tale of Ivan the Fool" (Miyazawa Kenji zenshu [Kenji Miyazawa collected works], ed. Seiroku Miyazawa et al. [Chikuma Shobo, 1994], vol. 8, 602-3).

One of the more interesting etymological hypotheses regarding Ihatovu/Ihatovo is that the author derived it from the German phrase "Ich weiss nicht wo" (I know not where) (Hara, Shin Miyazawa Kenji, entry on "Ihatovo," 59-60). One can say that Ihatovu exists nowhere, and precisely because of this it exists everywhere as a realm of possibility, despite Miyazawa's playful identification of it with Iwate. Ihatovu is one name for realms Miyazawa represented; he also sometimes termed them ikukan (other spaces). He depicts the most famous of such spaces in the sophisticated children's story Night of the Milky Way Railway (translated by Sarah Strong [M. E. Sharpe, 1991]; originally published as Ginga tetsudo no yoru [Bunpodo, 1934]).

Milky Way Railway is the tale of two Japanese boys from a town for the most part like Miyazawa's native Hanamaki, but the boys are named Giovanni and Campanella. Miyazawa's brilliance stemmed from a kind of Lotus Sutra and broader Mahayana logic in which, for example, two Japanese boys with Italian names are Japanese, Italian, both Japanese and Italian, and neither Japanese nor Italian. This transgression so offended the conventional thinking of two particular 1990s English-language translators that they changed the boys' names to Japanese ones (Kenji Miyazawa, Milky Way Railway, trans. Joseph Sigrist and D. M. Stroud [Stone Bridge Press, 1996]), missing much of the author's point and missing the fact that perhaps the names Giovanni and Campanella were references to the Italian renaissance philosopher and astrologer Tommaso Campanella, who was baptized Giovanni Domenico Campanella (Sarah Strong, "The Reader's Guide," in Milky Way Railway, 83-84).

Milky Way Railway begins with the boys' science teacher discussing how the Milky Way is a constellation of stars. Later, as evening falls during a festival dedicated to the Centaurus constellation, Giovanni sits on a hill where a "weather wheel pillar" appears behind a dairy and he suddenly sees a train coming. He hears a conductor calling out, "Milky Way Station," next finding himself riding on the train with his friend Campanella, whose jacket is wet. The boys soon realize that they are traveling along the Milky Way. Miyazawa represents the galaxy as a river, connecting with the Milky Way's common names in Japanese, Ginga (Silver River) and Ama-no-gawa (River of Heaven).

The boys make several stops, meeting various characters as they pass places corresponding to constellations and heavenly bodies. Near the Sagittarius (archer) constellation, they pass a place resembling the Colorado plateau where they hear Dvorák's New World Symphony and see a Native American with a bow on horseback. They also meet a passenger whose job is catching wild chocolate geese, blurring distinctions between feathered animals and confections shaped like them. The last set of Giovanni and Campanella's fellow travelers is three victims of the Titanic, who speak about entering cold water after their ship hit an iceberg. Mirroring the European names of Campanella and Giovanni, the Titanic victims are Westerners with Japanese names. As Christians, they appropriately disembark at the Southern Cross.

The train then nears a black nebula called the Coalsack, a site of interstellar dust that absorbs light because of its gravity. The Coalsack appears like a window of darkness in the Milky Way (Strong, "Reader's Guide," 117). At first the Coalsack seems frighteningly cold and empty, but Giovanni declares that in the interests of "the happiness of everyone" he would not be afraid to be right in the middle of its void. Campanella then sees beautiful fields and his deceased mother in the nebula. Campanella says he wants to go there and disappears, and Giovanni cries out in tears. At this point, Giovanni awakens and realizes he has been dreaming. After collecting milk from the dairy for his mother, Giovanni sees a commotion near the town's river and learns that Campanella has drowned.

Tanaka's thought informs elements of Night of the Milky Way Railway. In a section of Taikan on fushaku shinmyo (not begrudging one's bodily life), Tanaka discusses an esoteric interpretation of the Lotus Sutra's eleventh chapter, "Beholding the Appearance of the Jeweled Stupa" (Kenhoto bon). In this chapter, while Sakyamuni Buddha preaches the Lotus Sutra to myriad beings, a towering stupa (a reliquary or pagoda) covered with jewels emerges from the earth. Sakyamuni says that this is the stupa of a buddha named Taho Nyorai (Abundant Treasures), who made a vow in aeons past to reappear whenever a buddha preaches the Lotus Sutra. According to interpretations of the sutra from which Tanaka drew, Taho and Sakyamuni are ultimately one and the same. Taho is a past existence of the Buddha, Sakyamuni is the present incarnation of the Buddha, and both Taho and Sakyamuni are emanations of the Eternal Original Buddha, whose complete identity with Sakyamuni is later revealed in the sixteenth chapter, "Fathoming the Life Span" (Bun'ichi Saito, Miyazawa Kenji: Yojigenron no tenkai [Kenji Miyazawa: the development of a four-dimensional theory] [Kokubunsha, 1991], 123).

When Taho appears in his stupa, Sakyamuni assembles innumerable buddhas that reside in various directions, bringing them to where he is preaching. As he does so, he transforms the relatively normal world of that site into a pure and wondrous place. Sakyamuni then opens the stupa doors, revealing Taho, who invites Sakyamuni to sit beside him. Sakyamuni agrees, and so that the Lotus sermon's vast audience can better join the two buddhas, Sakyamuni and Taho cause the assembly to rise with them into the sky, where the assembly stays for ten chapters. The assembly of the various buddhas and others in the sky is called the koku-e (assembly in the empty sky).

In Taikan, Tanaka cites an apocryphal esoteric oral transmission that had been circulated within medieval circles and attributed to Nichiren:

The "Beholding the Appearance of the Jeweled Stupa" [chapter] states that we are one body. Existing in the middle of emptiness/middle of the sky [kuchu] means that we living things pass away and return in the end. Today Nichiren's fellows worship by chanting Namu myoho renge-kyo and in their true heart and mind they exist in emptiness; they exist in the assembly in the empty sky [koku-e]. (Chigaku Tanaka, Nichirenshugi kyogaku taikan [Kokusho Kankokai, 1975], 2974; Saito, Miyazawa Kenji, 204)

Tanaka explains that there are two kinds of self, one of which lives and then dies as a material being. This first self corresponds with this-worldly emanations of the Eternal Original Buddha. Tanaka writes that if one is willing to offer one's bodily life (fushaku shinmyo) in protecting or adhering to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, then another self perpetually resides in the middle of emptiness, corresponding with the Eternal Original Buddha and abiding in the blessed state of Taho in his jeweled stupa.

The literary scholar Bun'ichi Saito suggests that Miyazawa modeled his representation of relationships between the fantastic realm of the Milky Way and the relatively normal reality of Giovanni's village in Night of the Milky Way Railway on Tanaka's interpretation of the "assembly in the empty sky" (Saito, Miyazawa Kenji, 205). In the Lotus Sutra, the original site of Sakyamuni's sermon, sacred Vulture Peak (Ryojusen) in India, is itself already a transformed time and place. The level of unconventionality or enchantment at Vulture Peak in the sutra corresponds, I would argue, with a Japanese village where children have non-Japanese names. The Milky Way's even further transformed reality in the story corresponds with the Lotus Sutra's "assembly in the empty sky."

Saito argues that Tanaka's valorization in Taikan of a "dying act" (rinju jorei) done in the spirit of fushaku shinmyo that could expiate one of all past wrongdoing also influenced Miyazawa's story (Saito, Miyazawa Kenji, 205; Tanaka, Taikan, 2981). As the train passes Scorpio, one of the Titanic passengers in Milky Way Railway relates the story of a scorpion that, in words later echoed by Giovanni, attempts to atone for his sins of predation by asking God to allow him to use his "body for the true happiness of everyone." This wish transforms the scorpion's body into the "beautiful crimson fire" of the Scorpio constellation that brings happiness by lighting "the darkness of the night" (Strong, Milky Way Railway, 69; Miyazawa, Miyazawa Kenji zenshu, vol. 7, 286-88).

In Milky Way Railway Miyazawa's understanding of the Eternal Original Buddha seems to be the foundation of Giovanni's fearless spirit of sacrifice. Miyazawa's faith in humanity's ultimate oneness with an eternal buddha also seems connected to the author's attempts to come to terms with the earlier death of his beloved younger sister, and as many have argued, Campanella's drowning may symbolize her passing. Miyazawa's story articulates problematic differences between knowing that the world and oneself are virtually or potentially buddha and the Pure Land, on the one hand, and actualizing this knowledge or faith, on the other. For both Miyazawa and Tanaka, losing oneself, as that self is normally constituted in the spirit of fushaku shinmyo, was ethically necessary in actualizing a more permanent transformation of the world, despite suffering.

Milky Way Railway's Stupa as Entry Point: Rupturing Common Sense

Before he hears the Milky Way Railway's conductor yelling, "Milky Way Station," and just before he finds himself aboard the galactic train, Giovanni notices what the text refers to as a weather wheel pillar (tenkirin no hashira) flickering "on and off like a firefly" (Strong, Milky Way Railway, 69; Miyazawa, Miyazawa Kenji zenshu, vol. 7, 286-88). Saito suggests that the weather wheel pillar is an allusion to Taho's jeweled stupa (Saito, Miyazawa Kenji, 205), a suggestion not in its implications contrary to more common theories that the weather wheel pillar is an "Eliadean-style axis mundi, a point of convergence between the other world and this" (Strong, "Reader's Guide," 93). As something like an axis mundi, the jeweled stupa in the Lotus Sutra initiates the "complete rupture in the middle of the everyday world" that "reveals a newly magnificent space-time" (Saito, Miyazawa Kenji, 110).

Miyazawa's work constructed pathways between an everyday world outside of our immediate control and transformed worlds of imagination, overthrowing conventional oppositions, but this was not simply inversion of hierarchies. In Miyazawa's conceptual universe, our galaxy is stars and a flow of milk and the River of Heaven and the Silver River; Sagittarius is a constellation and a Native American archer on horseback. Elsewhere in Miyazawa's writings, Ihatovu is Iwate and Carroll's wonderland and Tagore's Tepantar Desert and Tolstoy's kingdom of Ivan and "I know not where." With this logic, relationships become free-flowingly creative combinations in continuous variation, and any given term is neither superior nor inferior in any binary.

Harry Harootunian and Tetsuo Najita once wrote of the "Japanese revolt against the West," referring to intellectuals, political operatives, militarists, and terrorists who opposed Western hegemony (Harootunian and Najita, "Japanese Revolt against the West: Political and Cultural Criticism in the Twentieth Century," in The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 6 [Cambridge University Press, 1998]). The logic of this revolt is also present in how Miyazawa challenges the common sense that stipulates that there is a "West and the rest," and that in such binary oppositions the term privileged as superior, adult, male, and rational is the West. One might indeed argue that Miyazawa actualized a "Japanese revolt against the West" in literary form, with significant caveats.

First, there were Western revolts against the West as Romanticism that often conflated with Orientalist fascination with the mystical and at times sexually enticing East, along with an indigenous Western culture of avant-garde modernist revolt, which I define as social, political, philosophical, and artistic forces aimed at transgressing the scientific-bureaucratic rationality that arose with Enlightenment thought and strengthened through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. Among such forces I would include the thought of Nietzsche, the poetry of Rimbaud, and the paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso. In literature, for example, one might think of the masochistic scenes of novels by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (Venus in Furs, 1870) and James Joyce (Ulysses, 1933), where men figuratively become women. Second, Miyazawa was also attacking the logic of the modern Japanese state itself, with its own incarnation of a planetary scientific-bureaucratic rationality in the Enlightenment's lineage.

Miyazawa was not attacking the West in any simplistic, nationalist, chauvinistic, or xenophobic sense. Miyazawa gave to his poem "Haru to Shura" (Spring and asura, 1924) the subtitle "Mental Sketch Modified" in English, represented phonetically in katakana script. In that poem, he calls cypress trees "Zypressen," writing the German word in roman letters. Furthermore, Miyazawa was an advocate of Esperanto. Esperanto is a made-up and unnatural language that its Lithuanian inventor, Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof, intended as a new international language. Compared with English - as the de facto international language of Miyazawa's time and our own - as nobody's native language Esperanto privileges nobody. (Regarding Miyazawa and Esperanto, see Hoyt Long, On Uneven Ground: Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan [Stanford University Press, 2011], 188.)

I believe Miyazawa's writing went so far as to contest how anyone might define and understand themselves, in national terms, as Japanese or as anything else. If I am correct, his version of fushaku shinmyo had little to do with the chauvinistic nationalism of other Nichirenists. Toward the end of his life, Miyazawa's revolt against common sense entailed not self-destruction, which was how the lives of notable other Nichirenists directly or indirectly ended (for example, see Masayasu Hosaka, Shinodan jiken: Gunkokushugika no kyoshin to dan'atsu [The Let's Die Incident: Fanaticism and oppression under militarism] [Renga Shobo, 1972]), but altruistic activities motivated by concern with "the happiness of everyone" in the context of Great Depression-stricken, early-1930s northern Japan.

Lotus Literature and Practice

Miyazawa returned to Hanamaki in 1921, working as a teacher at an agricultural college and writing the bulk of his poems and stories. He quit teaching in 1926, two years before severe health problems ensued, and at about the same time he penned a short three-part work, the "Nomin geijutsu gainen ron" (On the general concept of peasant art), "Nomin geijutsu gairon koyo" (An outline of the elements of peasant art), and "Nomin geijutsu no koryu" (The flourishing of peasant art). "Nomin geijutsu gairon koyo" is the main part of the three (Hara, Shin Miyazawa Kenji, entry on "Nomin geijutsu," 555).

Miyazawa's dissemination of his ideas among Iwate's peasants began soon after he resigned his teaching post, when he gave the lecture "Nomin no geijutsu ron" (On peasant art) as part of an adult education program. Soon he was hosting meetings of about twenty former students at his residence. Miyazawa's ideal at this time was to foster harmony between agricultural life and cultural fulfillment.

The group that met at Miyazawa's home formed the kernel of the Rasu Chijin Kyokai (Rasu Peasant Cooperative Association), and his previous writings regarding peasant art formed the group's conceptual basis. The opening section of "Nomin geijutsu gairon koyo" states, "Living properly and strongly means having an awareness of the Milky Way galaxy within oneself. . . . Let us seek the true world's happiness" (Miyazawa, Miyazawa Kenji zenshu, vol. 10, 15-32). This was a clear reference to the "newly magnificent space-time" represented in Night of the Milky Way Railway and to Miyazawa's altruistic understanding of fushaku shinmyo.

The fact that Miyazawa once said that rasu in the group's name has no meaning has not deterred scholars from conjecturing about the word. One scholar believes, for example, that rasu is a Japanese pronunciation of the English word "lath." A lath is a strip of wood or metal that, when nailed in rows, serves as a substructural support for plaster, shingles, or tiles, just as Miyazawa's organization would ideally support farmers. Another theory is that rasu is a reference to John Ruskin. This follows because the Japanese phonetic transliteration of "Ruskin" in katakana is rasukin. Miyazawa also approvingly cites William Morris in "Nomin geijutsu gairon koyo," and Ruskin and Morris were both proponents of the Arts and Crafts movement in Victorian England. One scholar argues that rasu is from the English word rustic. Another hypothesis is that rasu is an allusion to the ra in mandara (in Sanskrit and English: "mandala," meaning Indic pictorial, graphic, or cartographic representations of the cosmos) and the shu in shumidan, a word referring to a miniature representation of Mount Sumeru (a mountain at the center of Buddhist cosmology) (for the rasu debate, see Hara, Shin Miyazawa Kenji, entry on "Rasu Chijin Kyokai," 743-44).

This last theory makes particular sense because in "Nomin geijutsu gairon koyo" Miyazawa specifically mentions Sumeru. Despite the richness of these speculations, reducing rasu to a single definition would be unfortunate. The charm of Miyazawa's thought was its indeterminate quality, inviting readers to creatively engage his texts without fixating upon a single reading of what particular things might mean.

In any case, Miyazawa attempted through the Rasu Chijin Kyokai to better the lot of poor farming people. This was not in inspiration thoroughly unlike Japanese terrorists and militarists during the same decade who attempted through self-sacrifice (and the sacrifice of others) to right the wrongs of the world through violent and radical transformations of social, political, and economic actualities. For his part, Miyazawa focused on creatively attacking contemporary common sense. Sadly, Miyazawa died in 1933 of pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven, leaving us, however, with the legacy of his literary output.

Conclusion: Kenji Miyazawa's Discombobulating, Modernist Literature as Guerilla Warfare against Modern Common Sense

The discourse of the Enlightenment originating in Europe generally presupposed that non-Western people - along with women, children, criminals, and eventually the industrial working class - were relatively undeveloped and uncivilized. The West's leaders justified imperialism, stimulated by industrialization and the desire to accumulate capital, with reference to the notion that appropriating and expanding colonies brought light to those in the dark. Nichirenism was an ideology of pre-1945 Japan as a fully modern, and yet non-Western, nation-state that sought alternative ways of thinking and an ultimately different situation.

Kanji Ishiwara, for example, joined the Kokuchukai just as Miyazawa did. Eventually Ishiwara thought that the degraded age of mappo directly corresponded with the time of Western domination. Ishiwara instigated the Mukden Incident, which began fifteen years of war in Asia and the Pacific as a step toward preparation for war with the United States. He did what he did because he thought that Japanese victory in that war would bring an age of peace, prosperity, and unprecedented scientific progress and human development.

If Japan's challenge to the West had resulted only in replacing people of European ancestry at the top of a global hierarchy with Japanese, fundamental injustices of modernity as a system would have remained unchanged. The benevolent guerilla warfare of Miyazawa's literature potentially functioned otherwise by discombobulating common sense and disrupting unexamined and unnecessarily fixed assumptions. His imaginative mode of thought was ostensibly intended for children. However, Miyazawa's enduring popularity among "children of all ages" suggests the ongoing possibility of actualizing a logic in which humanity more generally no longer regards hierarchies and hierarchical binary oppositions as inevitable, natural, or necessary.

This article is based on a paper presented at the International Lotus Sutra Seminar held May 29-31, 2014, near Tokyo by Rissho Kosei-kai on the theme "Perspectives on the Lotus Sutra."



Gerald Iguchi earned a PhD in History at the University of California, San Diego. His doctoral dissertation was on the nationalistic Buddhist movement Nichirenism, spanning the years between the late nineteenth century and 1945. While teaching at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Iguchi has been working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Modernity's Transgressions: Nichirenism, Imperialism, Japan. Iguchi's research straddles the interstices connecting the disciplines of historical interpretation, religious studies, and literary analysis.


This article was originally published in the January-March 2015 issue of Dharma World.
 
 
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