The Poetry Of Kenji Miyazawa and a little about putting others first
I had not heard much about the town of Morioka, Japan.
Right before we came to Japan, I read a book about a young Irish American woman who went to study Zen in Japan.
At the age of 24, Maura O’Halloran left her waitress job in Boston, and was accepted into an all male Zen Temple in Japan to study Zen.
During her arduous and rigorous training in this ascetic Zen temple, she wrote a lot of insightful letters to her friends and family back home, sharing her thoughts and experiences, which were assembled in this book.
After her unexpected and early death at the age of 27 by a bus accident while traveling in Thailand, her mother published this book of letters, and her notes and journal entries.
The book is called, “Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind.”
When I put the book away on my bookshelf in my house in New Zealand, I suddenly felt an urge to remember where and in which Zen temple in Japan she trained…
She had trained in the Kannonji Temple in Morioka.
I knew that we planned to stay for a few days in Morioka, but beside the book written by Maura, I had never heard of Morioka before.
All night the rain had poured over Morioka, and a few times during the night, I had woken up to the sound of the strong rain on the metal roof.
In the morning, the city looked drenched, and one of the three rivers crossing the city was flowing with a very high level of muddy waters.
Apparently Morioka does have occasional torrential rains, and flooding happens once in awhile… Even the Kannonji Zen Temple was flooded a few years ago.
Not to be defeated by the rain, we decided to borrow some umbrellas from the Ryokan that we were staying in, and to brave the streets despite the rain.
I even remember telling Jules, that we must NOT allow the rain to stop us from exploring and enjoying our day!
The city of Morioka is very proud of a famous Japanese poet named Kenji Miyazawa.
He was born in the Iwate Morioka area in 1896, and he lived here until his early death from a disease.
Signs around the city display the school that he went to, the high school he attended, and the hospital he spent much time in; there is a shrine to his memory filled with his poetry and calligraphy, and even an old bank building that was converted into a small museum to his memory, along with one other poet who was also from Morioka.
It was raining so hard, that instead of walking, we took the tourist route bus to the museum.
It is a beautiful small stone building that was originally designed to be a bank.
Now in the bank’s vault, they painted childlike scenes from around Morioka and we listened to a sweet poem about the stars and the constellations.
The museum has a small cafe in which I enjoyed a delicious hot Yuzu (lemon) tea and some beautiful Morioka sweets.
While drinking my wholesome Yuzu tea, I read a poem written by Kenji Miyazawa.
And in a poetic way and a very appropriate manner to our situation…. It was called:
“Ame Ni Mo Makezu – “Be Not Defeated By The Rain!”
It is now a famous poem, but during his life, Kenji did not see much success…
Despite being first in his class and attending a very respectable literary university, Kenji was unable to earn a living from his writing, and he earned only a very small salary as a teacher.
His father had harsh disagreements with him, after Kenji refused to take over the family business of a pawn shop in combination with a clothing shop.
The only book Kenji ever published was a small collection of children’s stories which he had to publish with his own money (an early example of self-publishing)
Kenji was more than a poet…. He was also a daily meditator (like me) and a Zen student at the Hoonji Temple which we visited yesterday.
He was a vegetarian, a teacher and a person with a highly developed social conscience.
He loved gardening and Nature and he was a devoted zen student.
I just KNOW that I would have liked him….
He sounds like a kindred spirit to me.
Anyway….this poem, about not being defeated by the rain, was found only after his death in a small black notebook tucked away in one of his forgotten wooden trunks.
Here is a translation of it:
Be not Defeated by the Rain
Not losing to the rain
Not losing to the wind
Not losing to the snow
Nor to the summer’s heat
With a strong body,
Unfettered by desire,
Never losing my temper,
Always quietly smiling…
Four bowls of brown rice
With miso and some vegetables
Count yourself LAST,
And put others
Watching and listening,
And never forgetting…
By the shade of the woods
Of the pines
By the fields
Staying in a little thatched hut…
If there is a sick child to the east,
Go and nurse over them.
If there is a tired mother to the west,
Go and shoulder her sheaf of rice.
If there is someone near death to the south
Go and say that there is no need for fear…
If there is a quarrel or a lawsuit to the north,
Tell them to let go of such a senseless waste…
When there is a drought,
Shed tears of sympathy
When the summer is cold,
To be called a ‘nobody’ by everyone,
Without being praised,
Without being blamed,
Such a person,
I want to become…
After our time in this small museum, the rain eased off.
We walked through the Morioka City Castle Park and I admired the old and beautiful trees and the remains of the castle walls.
I had poetry in my heart as I walked in the park…. And the twisting branches of the trees seemed to lower their branches to draw my attention…. They whispered to me:
“What will it take,
To believe you are FREE….
What will it take,
To let go of the last string….
What will it take,
To trust in ME, girl….”
As we walked through the park, I thought about Kenji’s poem…
The lines in his poem:
“In all things- count yourself LAST
And always put others before yourself…”
Had touched a soft spot inside of me…. It has been one of the things that I have noticed most about living in a “modern” society that values money and success above all.
Without being aware of it, people’s egos just grow bigger and bigger, and they do not even notice that they push and step on others or on other people’s feelings, to get their way…
Here in Japan I encounter DAILY exactly the opposite of egotistical behavior.
Women bow to me in the restrooms and apologize for taking a little longer, because they did not know I was waiting…
People are so polite and kind… They offer us free upgrades, start friendly conversations with us… Seem genuinely interested in us and constantly try to help or assist us…. Even offer us gifts.
When I say that it is a spiritual virtue to put others first, your mind may conjure up ideas that I am speaking of making big sacrifices that would require you to compromise and do things you do not want to do…..or to suffer or to work harder to earn back all the money you gave away….
I am not referring AT ALL to making ANY sacrifices or any big heroic gestures.
Life is lived moment by moment, and it is in the small things that kindness and consideration is extended to others.
You can uplift somebody’s consciousness by being KIND to them…. By being Considerate…. Friendly…. Caring…. And you do not have to “give” anything, in the way the world considers giving…..
We can create a safe, kind, loving and sweet environment around us in which we ourselves will enjoy living, and which we extend to others, as they come into our presence.
This energy of caring and kindness, will multiply when coming into contact with people who are also sweet and kind, and it will uplift those who do not cultivate this frame of mind, and it will teach them to extend the same to others.
Anyway…enough about that.
Back to my travel log:
We ate well in the few days we enjoyed in Morioka.
We had a lunch of some delicious soba noodles with a vegetable fried cake.
We had dinner in the only Indian-Nepalese restaurant in Morioka, called Nirvana.
The food was very spicy but delicious, and it was a welcome break from having eaten only Japanese food for weeks.
Tonight we ate in what amounts to a health food place in Morioka, which had a veggie burger with potatoes and a salad.
It was surprisingly good.
Tomorrow we head into the mountains to enjoy a very old hot spring area, called Nyuto Onsen.
It is located in the foothills of a ski resort, which has traditional Onsens dating back to the 1600’s…
I am so happy and excited….