2023 Special Lecture: Science, Literature, and Humanism

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Academic unit or major
Humanities and social science courses
Bektas Yakup 
Class Format
Lecture    (Face-to-face)
Media-enhanced courses
Day/Period(Room No.)
Mon1-2(W9-326(W935))  Thr1-2(W9-326(W935))  
Course number
Academic year
Offered quarter
Syllabus updated
Lecture notes updated
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Course description and aims

Science, Literature, and Humanism
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 several 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 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 us 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 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 cold and famine.

We will study several aspects of Kenji’s ideas and work from “peasant art” to vegetarianism, while also looking at writers who influenced Kenji’s thinking and literary growth. But this course is not limited to the work of Kenji. We will also study the relevant work of an array of prominent writers and thinkers. These include Plutarch, Jeremy Bentham, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Ruskin, William Morris, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Matthew Arnold, 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 stories and ideas, to motivate young scientists and engineers and help them find a sense of purpose and meaning in their work.
To learn to appreciate fine prose style and sensitive expression of emotion.

Student learning outcomes

To appreciate the value of literature in nurturing humanistic ideas and social and moral mission in science and engineering.
To become motivated and able to attach a stronger sense of meaning to their work.
To aspire to fine prose and style in writing.
To improve skills in critical reading, conversation, and writing.


humanism and science, literature and science, the scientist as humanist; Miyazawa Kenji, John Ruskin, William Morris, Percy B. Shelley

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 “Ameni mo makezu”: Miyazawa Kenji, short life and enduring work Kenji, "Strong in the Rain" Bektas, "In search of Miyazawa Kenji's Ihatobu"
Class 3 The measure of being human "Gakusha Aramu Harado no mitakimono," n.d.; (others will be posted ahead of time)
Class 4 Gauche, the cellist: hard-work, success, and nature (and music) Read Kenji, Gauche the Cellist; watch "sero hiki no goshu" anime
Class 5 John Ruskin, Kenji's "peasant art" and own drawings Kenji "An Introductory Outline to Peasant Art"; William Morris, "Art under plutocracy" (1883); others.
Class 6 Science and religion Bektas, “Miyazawa Kenji’s Rasu Earth People’s Association” (2015)
Class 7 Kenji’s revolutionary farmers’ school Bektas, “Miyazawa Kenji’s Rasu Earth People’s Association” (2015)
Class 8 “The English Coast” or humanism in the name of a river bank Bektas, “Miyazawa Kenji’s English Coast” (2016)
Class 9 Moral and humanistic foundations of vegetarianism: from Plutarch to Percy B. Shelley, Jeremy Bentham and Thoreau. Plutarch, Morelia; Writings from Shelley, Bentham, Thoreau and others
Class 10 "The Great Vegetarian Congress" Kenji, "The Great Vegetarian Congress"; Thoreau, "Walden" (1854), and others.
Class 11 Ihatobu facing major catastrophes and existential threat Kenji, The life of Gusuko Budori; Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji (more will be posted)
Class 12 Budori, the self-taught heroic engineer "Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji"; (more will be posted)
Class 13 Scientist as the wizard Master Works of Miyazawa Kenji"; watch "Guskō Budori-no-denki" anime;(more will be posted)
Class 14 What is “the real happiness”? Overview and Discussion

Out-of-Class Study Time (Preparation and Review)

To enhance effective learning, students are encouraged to spend approximately 100 minutes preparing for class and another 100 minutes reviewing class content afterwards (including assignments) for each class.
They should do so by referring to textbooks and other course material.



Reference books, course materials, etc.

(A list of readings and audio-visual materials for each class will be circulated at least a week in advance). 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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