30 April 2014

Rain Won’t (雨ニモマケズ, 2013)

 “Ame ni mo makezu” (Be not Defeated by the Rain) is one of the most famous poems in the Japanese language.  Written by beloved author Kenji Miyazawa, the poem was discovered among his possessions after his passing in 1933.  Like Max Ehrmann’s “Deriderata” (1927), “Ame ni mo makezu” is a kind of a mantra or a musing on how to live one’s best life.

This bilingual picture book edition Rain Won’t (ニモマ/ Ame ni mo makezu, 2013), has been translated by American poet and translator, Arthur Binard and illustrated by renowned animator Kōji Yamamura.  In the afterward, Binard suggests that he wanted to recapture the lost traditional landscapes of Miyazawa’s Iwate Prefecture. “Kenji lived in a land where people grew, raised, and caught all their food.  Now more than 60 perfect of what’s eaten in Japan is imported,” Binard writes, and goes on to lament the loss of arable lands and free-flowing rivers to commercial urban streetscapes and concrete riverbanks.  Binard seems to be using Miyazawa’s words as a rallying cry against nuclear power and multinational corporations and in favour of a return to living in harmony with the environment.

our Miyazawa noren

This message resonates very strongly for my family because this poem has special meaning to us.  My husband specialises in sustainable agriculture and shortly after the disaster of 3/11 we were visited by friends/colleagues from Japan.  One of them, brought us a noren from Iwate and told us what a close call he had the day of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (see intro to: Anime Adaptations of Kenji Miyazawa’s Stories and Poems to read full story).  Iwate is just north of Fukushima and was badly affected by the 2011 tsunami.  As part of the redevelopment of this area, some researchers are looking at how to restore Satoyama landscapes.

Order from amazon.co.jp.
With his lovingly drawn illustrations, Koji Yamamura has managed to capture the beauty and diversity off the Satoyama landscape of Miyazawa’s time (early Shōwa period).  Satoyama (里山) is the name of the landscape that is cushioned between the mountain foothills and arable land.  It “is characterized by a mosaic feature of different land uses such as woodland, grassland, paddy field, farmland, irrigation ponds and canals, and human settlements, which have been maintained in an integrated manner.” (source: satoyama-initiative.org).  Simply put, it is a landscape in which humans and the natural world are living in harmony with one another.  The most famous example in Japanese popular culture is the rural landscape that the Kusakabe family (Mei, Satsuki and their Dad) move to in Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro (1988).

Using a limited palette (green, brown, yellow, a little bit of red), Yamamura not only depicts the landscape suggested by the original poem, but also adds depictions of the creatures that thrive in a Satoyama landscape.  This includes a variety of insects (dragonflies, grasshoppers, ladybugs, wasps, etc.), birds (tits, swallows, egrets, owls, etc.), and mammals (tanuki, domestic animals), and, of course, people.   

The result is a beautiful picture book edition of Rain Won’t (ニモマゲズ/ Ame ni mo makezu, 2013) that is fully bilingual and can be enjoyed by the whole family.  Although it looks like a typical children’s storybook, the language and philosophy is geared more to an adult reader.  The illustrations are very detailed – the kind of book you can read again and again and always spot something new.

Order from amazon.co.jp.
Catherine Munroe Hotes

My thanks to Koji Yamamura for his generosity.