Bungo Stray Dogs and A Night on The Galactic Express

I’ve been meaning to write about the real-life authors that serve as namesakes for the Bungo Stray Dog characters for some time now and I will. I’m not quite sure how to tackle it yet. There’s a lot of material and fun little tidbits and Easter eggs I want to share. It’s a lot of fun once you start seeing all the connections…

In the meantime though, I figured I would start with Kenji Miyazawa. In real life, Kenji Miyazawa was fairly isolated and has less connection to the other authors so that was one reason I thought I could discuss him individually. Another was because I love a Night on The Galactic Railroad….a lot…

Kenji Miyazawa is a relatively minor character in Bungo Stray Dogs. His ability is Undefeated by the Rain. A fitting choice as it evokes the super strength that it is in practice. The name is based on this poem sometimes known as Be Not Defeated by the Rain:

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. via Kenji-world.net

Like a lot of his works, this poem was only published posthumously, having been found in a notebook in the pocket of a bag, scribbled amoung transcriptions of Buddhist sutras. I like this poem a lot. Kenji was described by friends as an “innocent”. A steadfast and true spirit devoid of the more unpleasant desires and breeds that plague most of us. Poems are almost impossible to translate so I’m sure most of it got lost in translation but you can still easily tell what type of man Miyazawa-san was.

 

However, it’s another one of his works that has always been dear to me. Once again, this writing was collected and published posthumously. A bittersweet tale Kenji (I feel a little odd addressing the man by his first name) lovingly created over many years as a reaction to the death of his beloved sister: A Night on the Galactic Railroad.

You may have heard the name before. It was adapted into an ok anime years ago. Sadly not that many people have read the actual novel. When I realized that fewer and fewer people have heard of it or Kenji Miyazawa, I was grabbed by a vague sadness. It really is a pretty book that reminds me a lot of The little prince (nothing short of a masterpiece).

If you have any curiosity or inclination to read it for yourself, please do. It’s an experience that works best first hand. I suspect that had my Japanese been better, I would have enjoyed it even more in the original language. For those of you who prefer the cliff notes version though, I’ll give you an extremely brief summary below for context. Feel free to skip it if you do not want the book spoiled.

 

I WILL ATTEMPT TO QUICKLY RECAP THE STORY OF A NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC EXPRESS STARTING HERE:

Giovanni is a boy with a tough life. His father is away and hasn’t contacted the family in some time so they do not know if he’ll return. Because of that, the family is very poor and Giovanni is forced to work and take on adult responsibilities. On top of that, he is bullied at school, especially by aggressive Zanelli. Giovanni’s only friend and confidant is the kind Campanella.

One evening, getting home from work exhausted, Giovanni decides to rest n a field and suddenly a train stops by him and lets him on. He realizes that Campanella is also there and soaking wet but can’t remember what happened or how he got there.

Unphased, the boys go on to have a great time interacting with all the eccentric people on the train and seeing all the wonders of the milky way. As the journey continues, it becomes apparent that the train is ferrying souls to what lies beyond but the boys don’t notice. They tell each other they’ll be best friends forever but just as the train is making its way back, Campanella disappears. Giovanni gets off back in the field alone.

He quickly finds out there was an incident by the river. Bully Zanelli had fallen in but Campanella had jumped in to save him. Campanella had been successful and Zanelli was safe but in the process, he had gotten swept off by the current. At the end of the evening, Campanella’s father finally calls off the search for the body.

Devastated, Giovanni heads home vowing to become a stronger and happier person so that he would have great stories to tell Campanella when they met again. Soon after Giovanni’s father returns and things start looking up for the family.

END OF SUMMARY – THE BOOK IS SO MUCH BETTER

As mentioned the novel was published only after Miyazawa’s death from collected chapters, and a lot of the middle (i.e. the train part) remains unfinished. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful celebration of happiness and gratefulness. It’s a novel that’s helped me out in more difficult times.

When I saw that Kenji Miyazawa was going to be a bad character I was excited. By all accounts, he was an infinitely gentle man who sought harmony and purity in life. Inserting such a personality in a story of criminal organizations and action-packed superpowers was going to be interesting. Not to mention that he would make an excellent foil for the other more “volatile” personalities in the cast.

I haven’t read the manga but in the anime, Kenji’s role is very limited. He was an agriculturist, hence the overalls and you really see the innocent side of his personality shine through, but that’s about it. When I think about it, I guess he is a little out of place in BSD. Maybe Asagiri hasn’t found a way to properly use him yet. But he did include him and that makes me happy.

I have long held a strange melancholy about the fact that Kenji Miyazawa never got to finish a Night on the Galactic Railroad. A secret very dorky dream of mine is to commission different authors to write short stories that could be brought together as an anthology to fill out the missing bits. I don’t know why. It’s not for Kenji Miyazawa himself, I’m sure he’s already created all those stories and told his sister all about Giovanni and Campanella’s adventures.

I guess for us. The world could use more of Miyazawa’s clear-eyed hopefulness and joyful embrace of the mundane miracles that make life such a wonderful adventure. I don’t know if I’ll ever see a world in which we also get to share in all of Giovanni and Campanella’s adventures. But I would like to live in one where they and Kenji Miyazawa are remembered fondly. That’s why I really wanted to share this post with you. So tell me, have you read A Night on the Galactic Railroad? Will you? Even if the answer to both is no, you know a bit about it now. That’s good too.

 

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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6 Responses

  1. 7mononoke says:

    What a beautiful poem, and a sweet article. I’ve never seen/read Galactic Express but I love Kenji from BSD.

  2. Dawnstorm says:

    I haven’t read Night on the Galactic Railroad, but its presence is anime is so strong that your summary didn’t teach me much that was new. I didn’t see any of the anime adaptions either (I think there are two? I can only find one. Maybe I’m mistaken, or I’m thinking of a varaition on the theme rather than a straightforward adaption.)

    Isao Takahata has adapted Gauche the Chellist, and I’m not sure whether I’ve seen it or not, but I either want to see it or see it again. Takahata feels like a good match for Miyazawa.

    Will I read Galactic Railroad? I want to, but I’m relying on bookshops and I rarely order anything, so it’s possible I’ll read something else by him first (simply because it’s the book on the shelf).

  3. moyatori says:

    I saw this book on the shelf in its original language last month, and now I’m mad I didn’t pick it up!! Grrr…

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