Kenji Miyazawa Analysis

Other literary forms

In addition to a substantial body of free verse and many tanka (the tanka is a fixed form of thirty-one syllables in five lines), Kenji Miyazawa (mee-yah-zah-wah) wrote children’s stories, often in a fantastic vein. He also wrote a limited number of essays, the most important one of which outlines his ideas for an agrarian art. The children’s stories have proved popular in Japan, and some of them are available along with the major poems in English translation. It should also be noted that Miyazawa drafted and reworked his poems in a series of workbooks over the course of his creative life; while the notebooks are not publications in a formal sense, they might be considered part of the Miyazawa canon. In any case, they are commonly utilized by scholars investigating the sources of the poet’s art.


A poet of unique gifts, Kenji Miyazawa spent his relatively brief life in almost total obscurity. Living in a primitive rural area, writing virtually as a form of religious practice, Miyazawa published only one volume of stories and one of poetry during his life. Neither work attracted attention at the time of its publication.

Shortly after Miyazawa’s death, however, his work began to be noticed. His utilization of scientific, religious, and foreign terms became familiar, and the striking images and energy of his verses seemed exciting alongside the generally restrained modes of Japanese poetic expression.

Most surprising of all, Miyazawa started to attain the prominence and affection he still enjoys among the general public. Almost any literate Japanese would know one poem that he jotted down in his notebook late in life. Sketching the portrait of Miyazawa’s ideal selfless person, the poem begins with the lines, “Neither to wind yielding/ Nor to rain.”

Miyazawa began composing tanka poems while still a middle school student. His principal works are in free verse, however, and these he composed mostly during the decade of the 1920’s. Throughout these years, various forms of modernism—Futurism and Surrealism, for example—were being introduced to Japan, and certain native poets experimented with these new styles of writing. Miyazawa, however, worked in total isolation from such developments. This is not to say that his work is sui generis in any absolute sense. Assuredly a religious poet, Miyazawa worked out a cosmology for certain of his poems that, according to one Western scholar, resembles in a general way the private cosmologies of such poets as William Blake and William Butler Yeats.


Bester, John. Foreword to Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993. The preeminent translator of Miyazawa provides insights into the poet and his poetics.

Miyazawa, Kenji. Miyazawa Kenji: Selections. Edited by Hiroaki Sato. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. This collection of Miyazawa’s poetry includes an introduction by the editor that examines the poet’s significance and legacy and his place in Japanese literature. Includes several other essays on the poet.

Mori, Masaki. Epic Grandeur: Toward a Comparative Poetics of the Epic. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. Argues that the epic genre can be discerned in the twentieth century in works promoting peace as opposed to war. Considers Miyazawa’s Night of the Milky Way Railway as a “transitional epic.”

Pulvers, Roger. “Miyazawa Kenji, Rebel with a Cause.” Japan Quarterly 43, no. 4 (October-December, 1996): 30-42. Pulvers, who published a translation of Miyazawa’s poetry in 2007, describes the life and works of Miyazawa, noting his respect for nature. He discusses the poet’s surge in popularity in the mid-1990’s.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1983. Summaries of modern Japanese poets, including Miyazawa.

Watson, Burton. Introduction to Spring and Asura. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1973. An overview of Miyazawa’s work.