VOX POPULI: Kenji Miyazawa and Nichiren-shu




The Nebuta float and the Tanabata Star Vega tree decor of prominence in the Nisei Week Japanese Festival recalled a northern Japan tour. The former of Aomori and the latter of Sendai are the highlights of August (lunar July 7) festivities held in the respective cities.

A curious interest was stirred arriving about halfway down from Aomori to Sendai at Hanamaki Station. It opened at the time Tohoku Shinkansen (North Eastern New Trunk Line), dubbed “bullet train,” from Tokyo to Aomori was installed where only a bus stop was provided before. The Hanamaki Station was the result of a vanguard survey expedited by the national railroad redevelopment and tourist agencies on learning of the celebrated Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933). Miyazawa was renowned as a poet, author of children’s stories, former high school agronomy teacher and espouser of a methodical Buddhist religion based on Ho-ke-kyo (Lotus Dharma).

Curiosity also evoked interest in Miyazawa’s dominance as a cherished pillar of Nichiren heritage. He is recounted in a contributing article by Professor Akira Masaki, a religion scholar at Keio University in Tokyo, in the September 2010 issue of “Ikegami,” a monthly journal of Nichiren-shu, opening with a reference to Miyazawa’s favored notebook poem, “Ame-ni-mo-me-ge-zu (Will not yield even to rainfall).

His notes went on to describe the crux of Nichiren’s Man-da-ra, a diagrammatic depiction of the cosmic nature of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other relevant icons — symbolic of the universe and used to aid in meditation. Describing himself as “De-ku-no-bo (an inept person), using protagonist Jo-fu-gyo Bo-sa-tsu (Sadaparibhukta, a Lotus Dharma benefactor) selflessly serving others no matter how despised as his criterion is held laudable by the Nichiren faithful.

Translator of Miyazawa’s works, John Bester, a recipient of the first Noma Translation Award, asserted it was timely for a long-recognized genius of a writer in his own country to be given he same reputation abroad. Bester forwards fables in which acorns quarrel and flowers fret about losing their looks, written for both children and adults. Written for adventurous minds, they spark curiosity with a taste of fantasy and love of language, to alight older readers. Miyazawa is an original. No other Japanese writer, before or since, has told stories as fresh in detail but universal in scope as he, himself, lived and died, still young, in Japan’s far north.

Heretofore, this very fundamental (truth) hardly known, Professor Akira Masaki surmises it seems literary scholars are possessed with evasive feelings towards religion — preferring not to acknowledge religious intrusion in the liberal arts. Besides being evasive, literary scholars are known to view religion as having an onerous effect on everyday life.

Of course, the lack of an acknowledged understanding arose from being perplexed over the encrusted idiosyncrasies (applied) to religious practice. Still, while indulgence can be perceived in Christianity, it isn’t in Buddhism, particular in scrutinizing the Nichiren faith. The reluctance stems from doubts conceived by their peculiar prewar/wartime posture held by an exclusive hierarchy of Nichiren sectarians. A contemporary turnabout has come to the fore with a recent publication of the “2007 New Kenji Miyazawa Encyclopedia” by the Bensei Publishing Company.

A long-awaited notability for Kenji Miyazawa as a literary persona and a religious icon is redeemed. Not only with esteem by literary scholars, he is found to be a favored topic for dissertations by undergraduate college co-eds. Miyazawa’s religious aspirations were stirred by his father’s literal philosophy. A longtime Jodo Shinshu (True Pure-land Sect) member, he was a regular participant in ecumenical open forums held in their hometown of Hanamaki.

In early childhood, Miyazawa was nursed to sleep by rhythmical lyrics of Sho-shin-ge (Shinran’s choice tenet). He also memorized the words of Rennyo the eighth abbot of Jodo Shinshu, entitled “Hak-kotsu no o-fumi” (Letter of White Ashes). While demeaning himself as inept, Miyazawa was an unpretentious altruist and he literally and religiously attained deliverance returning to his folk roots, a manifestation of Sha-ba soku jak-ko-do (this world is identical to the tranquil).

Meanwhile, Japan was also exploring Euro-American rationality and methodology in Buddhism. With a certain degree of practical freedom gained in dialogue as it were, does indicate an imperative projection to heed.

Professor Masaki, in a separate preface of the July 2008 issue of Dai-ho-rin (Grand Dharma) Buddhist Journal, avers, “Deliverance from the woes of mankind is as assured with enlightenment in the wisdom of Buddha Dharma. After all, Buddha Dharma is the treasured house of wisdom. In Japan, Japanese Buddhism is the given path of choice. That is to say, Japanese Buddhism is not Indian or Tibetan Buddhism. From the time of its original adoption in the 7th century and over 1,500 years of transformation (with supplementing elements of indigenous Shinto), it has become Japanese Buddhism.”

To that end and more so, the Nichiren hierarchy is due an earnest overview on their fixed quest for a marathon Sho-dai-gyo (chanting of the Lotus Sutra). Whereas, a perusal of Nichiren’s hallmark heritage is portrayed with a banner inscribed with the said title. And whether in a private or public place, he took pains to make known the quintessential merit of Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings.

Moreover, considering the time devoted on volumes of treatises (400-plus) and for his empathetic personal letters, he hardly could have indulged in or led any assembly in a marathon Sho-dai-go. On returning home to herald his acquisition of the ultimate truth found in the Lotus Dharma, he first enunciated the title just a few times as an expression of fulfillment and gratification facing the rising morning sun. He then delivered a masterful dissertation at Mt. Kiyosumi to his former teacher and alma mater.

In the first place, “Sho-dai-go” was not regarded an openly ascribed agenda, nor was the formal Nichiren-shu designation entered in the Nichiren sect chronological records until the 19th century.

Nonetheless, whereon for Buddhism abeyance is inhibiting transformation to a pragmatic and sensible genre — sought with temperamental elements of American livelihood.



Jun Kawasaki writes from Monterey Park. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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