A Blessing And A Verse

Posted by on Sep 26, 2011 in Iwate, Travel Volunteer Journey | 3 Comments
A Blessing And A Verse

Because of a defective part of my brain, and because studying English literature largely removes the fun from reading, I don’t like poetry. That’s a pretty sweeping statement, and of course not true in every case, but for the most part it just doesn’t grab me. I don’t see poetry as more layered than, say, a novel; I can’t believe it’s more insightful than an extended essay.

Of course, millions of people disagree with me, not least man of letters Inazo Nitobe who wrote: “If there is anything to do, there is certainly a best way to do it, and the best way is both the most economical and the most graceful.” That was in his definitive 1900 work Bushido: The Soul of Japan which detailed the life and ethics of not just the Samurai, but of his country as a whole. It speaks to the brevity of poetry as well – today more than usual because we were in one of Nitobe’s former home towns, Hanamaki in Iwate prefecture.

Nitobe wasn’t a poet himself (though he was hardly lacking in ability) but he did share his time in Hanamaki with another great Japanese artist: the poet, writer, geologist, cosmologist, teacher and all-round talent Kenji Miyazawa.

Like many of the giants of literature, Miyazawa only achieved fame and the recognition he deserved after he had passed away. Today, his poems, fairytales and idiosyncratic philosophies are studied and admired across Japan.

But since the cataclysmic events this spring, one of his works has become much bigger than the sum of its parts. In the wake of the March 11th tsunami which devastated much of Iwate’s coast, Miyazawa’s Strong In The Rain somehow came to symbolise humankind’s refusal to be defeated, even by the most malevolent fury of mother nature.

Today we read the poem at the site of former school teacher’s old house and, with the sun setting and Ichiro our local guide playing us a video of Ken Watanabe reading the script, both of us found it impossible not to get caught up in the whole thing.

Miyazawa couldn’t have known that his verse would come to mean so much to so many people, but in the last six months his translated words have been read at memorial services in Washington DC and Westminster Abbey in London.

The coast is several miles away from this cultural hub, but there’s a sense of loss that lingers still – even as Katy visited an onsen tonight, she met a woman whose entire world had been torn asunder just six months ago.

At times like these, the work blows past preconceptions and idiotic notions like personal preferences, and becomes something much bigger.


By Kenji Miyazawa


Strong in the rain

Strong in the wind

Strong against the summer heat and snow

He is healthy and robust

Free of all desire

He never loses his generous spirit

Nor the quiet smile on his lips

He eats four go of unpolished rice

Miso and a few vegetables a day

He does not consider himself

In whatever occurs…his understanding

Comes from observation and experience

And he never loses sight of things

He lives in a little thatched-roof hut

In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove

If there is a sick child in the east

He goes there to nurse the child

If there’s a tired mother in the west

He goes to her and carries her sheaves

If someone is near death in the south

He goes and says, ‘Don’t be afraid’

If there’s strife and lawsuits in the north

He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness

He weeps at the time of drought

He plods about at a loss during the cold summer

Everybody calls him ‘Blockhead’

No one sings his praises

Or takes him to heart…

That is the sort of person

I want to be.



もちろん多くの方が反論してくる事は覚悟しているし、その一人は『何事であれ もし何かをしようとすれば それを為すための最善の方法とは もっとも無駄がなく もっとも優美なやり方になるであろう』という名言を残した新渡戸稲造だろう。








  1. Mary Neilson
    September 26, 2011

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem with your followers. Hanamaki is Sister City to Hot Springs, Arkansas, US and I have been very blessed to have been able to visit our Sister City with delegations on three occassions. Each time I witness as members of the delegation are forever changed – as I was, as you were, by the beauty, hospitality, gentility, and strength of the people of Hanamak and the Japanese culture that you read about in this poem.

  2. Ryoko Okamoto
    September 27, 2011

    This poem is very famous in Japan from of old.Since the March 11th disaster,I often associate this poem with the people in Tohoku region.They are strong and patient in severe winter cold(it’s very cold and heavy snowing in Tohoku region,north-eastern Japan).I hope you will feel the various aspects of Japan… sorry for my poor English;;

  3. Ami
    September 29, 2011

    I know that japanese words are much more contextual than any other language, and that is very difficult to make a translation that is close to the original meaning of the words. But this poem which is so dear to me, I have read hundreds of times, and found that even some versions in english can bring forth it’s feelings of greatness in being humble.