2018 Special Lecture: Science, Literature, and Humanism

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Academic unit or major
Humanities and social science courses
Bektas Yakup 
Class Format
Media-enhanced courses
Day/Period(Room No.)
Mon1-2(W934)  Thr1-2(W934)  
Course number
Academic year
Offered quarter
Syllabus updated
Lecture notes updated
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Course description and aims

--Science, Literature, and Humanism: Miyazawa Kenji’s Search for Humanity and Happiness--
DESCRIPTION: This class explores ties among engineering, literature, and humanism, focusing on Japan’s popular writer and poet Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933). During his short life, Kenji wrote about one hundred short stories and many more philosophically inclined poems. From his best known "Night on the Milky Way Train" (1933) to his little known stories, he emphasized selflessness and the human obligation to alleviate suffering and poverty. This way towards “the real happiness”—helping others to achieve happiness—is the most fundamental idea that permeates all of Kenji’s writing and his own way of life. For Kenji, helping others selflessly is the measure, the very essence, of being human. It is what makes us human, and separates from other animals. His “Strong in the Rain,” the most popular poem in Japan, captures this humanism beautifully.
Kenji’s idealistic science and technology are parts of this outlook. His engineers and scientists are self-taught humanitarians, feeling a deep moral duty to help others. In "The Life of Gusuko Budori" (1932), Kenji imagines a futuristic country, Ihatobu, where science and engineering are being applied to eradicate threats posed by natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, famines, droughts, and crop diseases. Through his main character Budori, a self-taught and hard-working engineer, Kenji advocates his moralistic and humanistic ideal of the engineer as a pure humanitarian, working selflessly for the happiness of others. Budori willingly sacrifices his life to save Ihatobu from volcanic destruction.
Each class will discuss one aspect of Kenji’s ideas from “peasant art” to vegetarianism. We will also examine the place of Buddhism and in particular Nichirenism in his moralistic views, while also looking at writers who influenced Kenji’s thinking, literary growth and writing. These include John Ruskin, William Morris, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lewis Carroll and Leo Tolstoy.
To show how literature can nurture humanistic ideas, and give science, technology, and engineering a social and moral mission.
Through Kenji’s deeply moralistic and humanistic stories and ideas, to motivate young scientists and engineers and help them find a sense of purpose and meaning in their work.

Student learning outcomes

Appreciating the value of literature in nurturing humanistic ideas and social and moral mission in science and engineering
Motivated and able to attach a stronger sense of meaning to their work
Aspiring to fine prose and styles
Improved critical reading, and improved conversational and writing skills


Miyazawa Kenji, humanism and science, literature and science, the scientist as humanist

Competencies that will be developed

Specialist skills Intercultural skills Communication skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills

Class flow

Class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to:
1) read the assigned readings prior to the class
2) participate in classroom discussions
3) write short papers.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Science, literature, and humanism None
Class 2 Miyazawa Kenji: his short life and enduring work Bektas, "In search of Miyazawa Kenji's Ihatobu"
Class 3 “Ameni mo makezu”: the most popular poem in Japan Several English translations of Kenji's "ameni mo makezu" (will be posted in advance)
Class 4 Railroad traveling, stargazing, poetry, and melancholy Kenji, 'Night of the Milky Way Train' Kenji's trip to Karafuto (Sakhalin) and poems
Class 5 The measure of being human "Gakusha Aramu Harado no mitakimono," n.d.; (others will be posted ahead of time)
Class 6 Peasant art and Kenji’s own drawings Kenji "An Introductory Outline to Peasant Art"; William Morris, "Art under plutocracy" (1883); others to be posted in advance.
Class 7 Science and religion Bektas, “Miyazawa Kenji’s Rasu Earth People’s Association” (2015)
Class 8 Rasu: Kenji’s revolutionary farmers’ school Bektas, “Miyazawa Kenji’s Rasu Earth People’s Association” (2015)
Class 9 Gauche, the cellist: hard-work, success, and nature Read Kenji, Gauche the Cellist; watch "sero hiki no goshu" anime
Class 10 “The English Coast” or humanism in the name of a river bank Bektas, “Miyazawa Kenji’s English Coast” (2016)
Class 11 "The Great Vegetarian Congress" Kenji, "The Great Vegetarian Congress"; and others (will be posted in advance)
Class 12 Moral foundations of vegetarianism: Kenji and Thoreau comparison Kenji, "The Great Vegetarian Congress"; Thoreau, "Walden" (1854), and others.
Class 13 Ihatobu facing major catastrophes and existential threat Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji (more will be posted)
Class 14 Scientist as the wizard "Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji"; watch "Guskō Budori-no-denki" anime;(more will be posted)
Class 15 Budori, the heroic engineer "Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji"; (more will be posted)
Class 16 What is “the real happiness”? Discussion- general overview
Class 17 A possible trip to a related art-literature exhibition (optional) None



Reference books, course materials, etc.

Selected: Gary Snyder, The Back Country (New York: New Directions, 1967); Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature (Stanford University Press, 1983), pp.184–320; Sarah M. Strong, “Miyazawa Kenji and the Lost Gandharan Painting,” Monumenta Nipponica, 41 (2) (Summer, 1986), pp. 175-197; Miyazawa Kenji, The Night of the Milky Way Railway, translated by Sarah Strong (New York: 1991).
Miyazawa Kenji, Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa (Translated by John Bester. Kodansha, 1994).
Miyazawa Kenji, Milky Way Railroad, (Translated by Joseph Sigrist and D. M. Stroud, 1996),
Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji (Translated by Sarah M. Strong and Karen Colligan-Taylor, (Tokyo, 2002)
Kikuchi Yūko, Japanese Modernisation and Mingei Theory: Cultural Nationalism and Oriental Orientalism (Routledge Curzon, 2004); Roger Pulvers, Miyazawa Kenji, Strong in the Rain and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2007).
Hiroaki Sato (ed.) Selections, Miyazawa Kenji (University of California, 2007);
Helen Kilpatrick, Miyazawa Kenji and His Illustrators: Images of Nature and Buddhism in Japanese Children's Literature, (Brill, 2014).
Bektas Y, “Miyazawa Kenji’s “English Coast” (2016)
“Miyazawa Kenji’s Rasu Earth People’s Association” (2015)
“In Search of Miyazawa Kenji’s Ihatobu” (2014)
“Kenji’s Vegetarianism” (in progress)

Assessment criteria and methods

Based on attendance, class performance, and writing assignments (short papers): roughly %80 for attendance and performance, and %20 for writing assignments

Related courses

  • None

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)


Office hours

One hour after every class. Other times by appointment by email or call.

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