Tuesday, March 15, 2011

humanizing the quake (iwate)

The Iwate-born writer Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) is the author of some of the most beloved children's stories and free-verse poetry of Japan. One of my favorites is the poem known as Ame ni mo makezu (literally: "undefeated by the rain"). I tried to express some of the poem's sentiments in this etegami of a broken umbrella.

I trust that the survivors of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, as inheritors of Miyazawa's legacy, will be drawing deeply from the well of human character described in this poem, as they rebuild their lives in the aftermath of disaster.

Be Not Defeated by the Rain
Written by Kenji Miyazawa and Translated by David Sulz

Be not defeated by the rain, Nor let the wind prove your better. Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you. Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove's shade. A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy. In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses: Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a "Great Man".

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

(here is an alternate translation)


  1. Fantastic Post!!! love the illustration & the poem, ALL!!!

  2. Ditto to the above!
    I should look at this etegami as a first thing every morning :)

  3. great illo! The last line of the poem is really compelling.

  4. Hi I received your beautiful mail art. Thank you very much! Best wishes from ARGENTINA. Viviana.

  5. I have no words for this. Thank you for the poem and for your image, they both speak to my heart.

  6. Beautiful...both the illustration and the poem!

  7. All your artwork is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing the poem with us, it truly touched my heart and made me cry. It is so hard to be a person like that, but very inspiring.

  8. Nothing else needs to be said. This lovely poem says it all.

    The broken umbrella is a perfect companion image.

  9. A lovely poem that expresses so much. Well done on the illo. It fits it well!

  10. Debbie, Thank you very much for translations of "Ame ni mo makezu".
    I'm from Iwate and this disaster really saddens me.
    Please visit my blog tomorrow. (Well, maybe 19th in Japan) I'll post Japan relief paintings.

  11. Such beauty and wisdom! Tears to my eyes...

  12. Wonderful post. You are sharing healing words and images which speak deeply to me.

  13. I had never read this poem...so very lovely and thought-provoking. And as always, your umbrella is yet one more single-image painting that warms my heart, in some mysterious way. Love your cat too! :-)

  14. What a beautiful poem and a fitting illustration.

  15. The poem is so entirely christian! It could have just as well been written by any third century egyptian monk!