Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


Miyazawa Kenji

Author: David Poulson
Published on:November 26, 1999

Introductory note for new visitors to the Esperanto Topic.

If you have only just begun to take an interest in Esperanto and wish to know some basic information about this fascinating subject, please start your reading at the first article of this series. Having already completed 47 articles, I am now at the stage of writing articles for those readers who have learned quite a lot about the Esperanto language and movement already, and who are now wanting to find out more than just the basic introductory information.

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The information contained in this topic article was mainly provided by Mike Urban in an email message which reads as follows:

"Your survey of Esperanto and cinema omitted the Japanese anime (ca 1985), "Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo", based on Miyazawa Kenji's classic 1927 children's book.

The makers of the film decided to have all the writing in the film (including the chapter titles and credits) appear in Esperanto -- this apparently was in keeping with the author's approval of Esperanto and the eclectically spiritual nature of the story. The film is very beautiful in places, although quite surreal and enigmatic. But then, so is the book (you can buy English translations at Amazon.com, but to the best of my knowledge there is no Esperanto edition).

The use of Esperanto does not quite succeed in placing the film into a sort of no-particular-place (Neniujo?) as the producers may have hoped. This is because they left the names of the main characters as Miyazawa wrote them (and every Japanese schoolchild knew them) -- Giovanni and Campanello. Of course, to a Japanese child, these names are quite exotic and foreign, but to an American, they are obviously and thoroughly Italian, and many people in the audience I saw it with simply assumed that the Esperanto was some odd dialect of Italian.

I may note that the English translation I read recently uses Japanese names for these characters. I think making the names Esperanto would probably work for the film by itself, but would be perceived as a terrible violation of a classic book by the millions of Japanese who (I am told) know and love it. On the other hand, the producers also made the curious decision to make the main characters into anthropomorphic cats. This adds nothing to the story that I can see (it is otherwise quite faithful to the book), and is positively distracting when they encounter human characters later on.

On the whole, I give this film about 7 out of 10. I do not know of a source for this film on video, though I have not looked very thoroughly. I did note that the sound-track album is available on CD in Japan.

Mike"

Mike did us all a service some years ago when he wrote the original Esperanto FAQ for the Internet. This valuable document is now maintained by Yves Bellefeuille and you can find it here: http://www.esperanto.net/veb/faq.html

Getting back to Mike's email, Kenji has become such an important and popular writer in contemporary Japan that it's worth while providing more information about him, the more so because he was a supporter of Esperanto and learned the language himself. Here are a few biographical facts.

Miyazawa Kenji was born in 1896 in the Iwate Prefecture, and was only 37 when he died. He spent most of his life in that northern part of Japan, regarded by the residents of Tokyo as an impoverished, out-of-the-way place. Kenji's father, however, was a fairly affluent pawnbroker, but Kenji felt guilty that his family's wealth came from exploiting the poverty of others. This feeling of guilt and his strong Buddhist faith compelled him to try to help the poor farmers of Iwate.

Although Kenji wrote a great deal, only two of his books were published in his short lifetime: a collection of children's tales entitled "The Restaurant of Many Orders" and the first section of his most famous work of poetry, "Spring and Ashura." The rest of the great number of children's stories and poems that he left behind was edited and published only after his death. His popularity has continued to increase but although Miyazawa Kenji has become one of the most widely read literary figures in Japan, unfortunately he is still little known overseas.

I wrote to the staff who maintain this site, requesting more information about Kenji's association with Esperanto, and received a very courteous reply from Mahito Yamamoto, the Chief Editor of "The World of Kenji Miyazawa. He wrote: "It is certain that Kenji was interested in Esperanto. I can find in the complete works of Kenji several drafts of poems in Esperanto."

The email also contained one of these poems (only six lines) and I have written back to Mahito Yamamoto thanking him for this information and asking him if it is possible to see the other Esperanto poems of Kenji as well. I'll let you know what happens.

However, I've reached my word limit for this episode of the Esperanto Topic. More (much more) information about Esperanto and Science Fiction in my next article, plus some very important links to Web resources. I hope you will join me again on December 10th.

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