Compared with the disastrous rains and torrential flooding in Kyushu Province, which we originally were going to travel through for two weeks on this trip, before we decided that we didn’t have enough time to cover so much of Japan in the six weeks we’d allotted, another day of rain here in Morioka is nothing much to complain about. There, in Kyushu, twenty people have lost their lives, more than a quarter million have been evacuated, and there have been helicopter food drops to whole communities isolated by the floods, with rain that has been falling at the rate of more than three and a half inches per hour (that’s rain so intense that it compares to being under a waterfall; it’s literally impossible to see in front of you!).
Yes, compared to that, today was just a very humid day, alternating with rain – over the time that we’ve been here, the rain has caused the three rivers running through Morioka to race under their bridges very swiftly, and to rise very high up their banks…but they haven’t overflowed those banks, and the town has continued, business as usual, these past three days. Not quite business as usual, actually, because today is a national holiday in Japan, called “Marine Day,” which is traditionally celebrated by people taking the weekend off and going to the beach – not likely this year, since the only part of Japan where it is not raining is all the way south, in Okinawa – but many businesses are closed today, regardless of the weather.
Communications Minister Shozo Murata designated the third Monday in July as a holiday in 1942 to commemorate the Meiji Emperor and his 1876 voyage in the Meiji-Maru, an iron steamship constructed in England in 1874. The voyage included a trip around the Ou district, embarking on a lighthouse boat in Aomori, and a brief stop in Hakodate before returning to Yokohama on July 20 of that year. “Marine Day” was declared a national holiday in 1995 as a day of gratitude for the blessings of the oceans and to hope for the economic prosperity of maritime Japan.
A national holiday that began to commemorate a steamship voyage by the emperor…even more so, on a boat not even built in Japan! And there’s no commercialism (that I could see, anyway) connected to this holiday…at most, it’s a reason for people to take off and go the beach, while reminding them to be grateful for the many gifts the oceans have given Japan. No greeting cards, no presents exchanged, no extended store hours to allow for special one-day-only sales…just a day off…
Since Tali and I have started to recover quickly from the flu-like symptoms we’ve had while here in Morioka, we were feeling well enough by late this morning to head out to cover a few of the walks suggested on the TIC map of Morioka that we picked up when we arrived. As we walked around town, I was struck by the sheer number of monuments, museums, plaques and special displays devoted to one native son of Morioka, author Kenji Miyazawa.
Miyazawa san was born in 1896, and suffering from pleurisy for many years, lived only until he was 37, until 1933. He was a poet and author of children’s books, but he had a full, expansive life, a life far greater than his lack of commercial success during his lifetime would indicate – he was a social activist, a vegetarian, a Buddhist who sat Zazen at Hoonji Temple (which we visited yesterday), a high school teacher of agricultural science who believed so strongly in his art, and in helping the poor farmers of Iwate Province to improve their lot, that he turned down his father’s offer to join the family pawnshop business, thus forfeiting a substantial inheritance to his younger brother.
Miyazawa saved some of his meager teacher’s salary to self-publish the only book of his work that was released during his lifetime, which did not meet with any commercial success. In the 79 years since his death, however, the world has caught on to his genius…he has been widely published internationally, his children’s works have been made into two anime films, and there are memorials to him all over Morioka.
I was so moved by the little I’ve managed to learn today about Kenji Miyazawa. The life of an artist can be so much more than the sum of his commercial successes…it can lie in making life itself into art, not commerce, to express devotion in daily activities, to take the long view of what we are doing here, in this world of illusions. Miyazawa san has managed in his way to serve as a reminder of what is possible to accomplish regardless of circumstances.