Monday, January 31, 2022




By Miyazawa Kenji

Translated by M A K O T O  U E D A


neither yielding to rain

nor yielding to wind

yielding neither to

snow nor to summer heat

               with a stout body

                                 like that

without greed

never getting angry

always smiling quietly

eating one and a half pints of brown rice

   and bean paste and a bit of

                             vegetables a day

in everything

not taking oneself

                     into account

                 looking listening understanding well

and not forgetting

living in the shadow of pine trees in a Weld

in a small

           hut thatched with miscanthus

if in the east there’s a

                    sick child

going and nursing


if in the west there’s a tired mother

going and carrying

                   for her

                   bundles of rice

if in the south

               there’s someone



        and saying

            you don’t have to be


if in the north

          there’s a quarrel

                           or a lawsuit

saying it’s not worth it

                                  stop it

in a drought

              shedding tears

in a cold summer

             pacing back and forth lost


            a good-for-nothing

                           by everyone

neither praised

nor thought a pain


                                   like that

is what I want

                           to be



The Japanese poet Miyazawa Kenji, who died in 1933 at the age of thirty-seven, became a culture hero on the strength of a single brief poem written toward the end of his obscure and voluntarily impoverished life. “November 3rd”—an unpublished notebook entry probably intended more as a prayer than a poem—sketches a portrait of an idealized ascetic.

“November 3rd” remains universally familiar in a way that no poem has in the West since Rudyard Kipling’s “If ” or Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.” The world it evokes, a world of thatched huts and drought-stricken Welds, sickly children and rice farmers with bent backs, might appear anachronistic when set against the Japan of computer graphics and advanced robot technology—unless you were to take a bus into the mountains and see landscapes and faces lifted intact from a Miyazawa poem.

In his own way Miyazawa came quite close to realizing the saintly ideal set forth in “November 3rd.” The son of a pawnbroker in northern Japan’s Iwate Prefecture (a backward region affected with chronic crop failures), he converted in adolescence to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Taking as his guide the Lotus Sutra, which teaches the availability of Buddhahood to all sentient beings, he dedicated himself to the welfare of the local farmers, becoming a sort of one man cultural and agricultural missionary, teaching crop rotation and soil improvement and exploring methods of food and drought prevention. In the meantime, he strictly observed vegetarianism, often subsisting on a poorer diet even than the local people were used to, and as a result he ruined his health and ultimately died of Pneumonia.