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Life of Gusukoh Budori

Excerpted from Masterworks of Miyazawa Kenji ---Poems and Fairy tales (2000)
By Karen Colligan-Taylor

"How do we make our own, the science necessary to us?" This was the topic of a lecture Miyazawa planned for a local farmer's association, Rasu Chijin Kyokai, that he established in 1926. It was also a pervading theme in his life and writing. Miyazawa taught local farmers about soils, seeds, and fertilizers--applications of science that would help them in their ongoing struggle against summer cold, and drought. A poor harvest meant starvation, loss of land and farm animals, and children sold into hard labor and prostitution. Behind "The Life of Gusukoh Budori" we see the profile of a humanitarian scientist, dreaming of ways in which science and technology might one day be employed to ease the suffering of those around him. When world markets crashed in 1929, in Japan it was the rural sector that felt the impact most deeply. Textile workers were laid off and rice prices plunged. As Kenji turned his eyes toward those close at hand, however, the nation looked toward the continent. In 1931 Japan's Kwantung army seized Manchuria, propelling the country into war.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 demonstrated to the world the lethal potential of modern science. Technology that contaminates the world with "ashes of death" (the Japanese term for radioactive elements produced by nuclear reaction) was the antithesis of the science Miyazawa envisioned. To some readers, Budori's life represents the life of mankind, moving from a hunting and gathering culture into agricultural and industrial societies, and from there to a futuristic age of advanced science and technology. What Miyazawa presents, however, is more than the evolution of technology; it is an evolution of our ethics and of our consciousness of the universe around us. The product of this evolution is science and technology dedicated to the perpetuation of life. Miyazawa's work strongly influenced Dr. Takagi Jinzaburo (1938-2000), who came to share Miyazawa's goals and to whom this translation is dedicated.

After four years studying the behavior of fission products and plutonium in nuclear fuel elements for Japanese industry, Takagi began to share Kenji's view that "Religion is tired; science is cold and dark." He felt that there were still many unanswered questions in nuclear power production that required further testing, but corporations and the government were unwilling to take the time to collect the basic data or to consider the broader implications of their applied science. Takagi accepted a research position in space chemistry at the University of Tokyo. His job was to measure minute traces of radioactivity in old rocks. "I was seeking the origins of the universe," he said, "but I kept encountering man's recent activities." He found an earth contaminated by above-ground nuclear testing by the Soviet Union and the United States in the fifties and sixties, radioactive contamination from the Japanese nuclear power industry, research on isotopes, and other sources. It became increasingly important to him to look at science and technology not just from the perspective of production and efficiency, but from the standpoint of waste and long-term impacts on the environment and on life itself.

It was at this juncture that Takagi read Miyazawa's "The Life of Gusukoh Budori." Isolated from co-workers by his changing attitudes, Takagi was inspired by Miyazawa's endeavors to put a human face on science. Takagi felt that enlightened scientists must turn to developing technological systems and encouraging lifestyles based on recyclable components. They must step out of the closed doors of research labs and communicate with citizens outside. It was time to move on from "science to live better," Takagi felt, to "science to live better together," taking into consideration all living things. Takagi spent the next four years as a university professor, but felt stifled by the low level of dialogue and lack of opportunities for creativity and originality in Japanese academia. He decided that he could achieve his goals only by working outside of the establishment. Reading Miyazawa's lecture topics for Rasu Chijin Kyokai, Takagi was struck by the line, "How do we make our own, the science necessary to us?" Now in his mid-thirties, this was the question that changed the course of his life. He found some clues in "The Life of Gusukoh Budori."

In 1975 Takagi and others established the nonprofit Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), dedicated to providing information in layman's language about the dangers of nuclear technology and the possibilities of alternative energy sources, as well as providing a forum for listening to and discussing citizen concerns. Citizens approached CNIC to learn about Chernobyl and its dangers to their own lives, to obtain a better understanding of a succession of nuclear reactor accidents in Japan, and to obtain information on Japan's plutonium program, in which spent fuel is sent to France and England for reprocessing and then shipped back to Japan. Information from Europe is translated into Japanese by CNIC staff and released to the public in press conferences. Foreign countries approach CNIC to obtain information unavailable from the Japanese government. CNIC also assists Asian NGOs in obtaining accurate scientific information on the risks of nuclear energy.

In 1997 Takagi was awarded The Right Livelihood Award "for serving to alert the world to the unparalled dangers of plutonium to human life." Widely know as "The Alternative Nobel Prize," The Right Livelihood Award is intended to support recipients in spreading their knowledge and to show that problems that seem insurmountable can be solved by concerned individuals or small groups. In so doing the award also serves to stimulate debate about social values and goals. Takagi used his prize money to establish the Takagi School for Alternative Scientists. Though short courses open to the public, the school would encourage scientists to act as socially responsible citizens and for citizens to learn more about current issues in science and technology. Both Miyazawa and Takagi suggest that we must not let technology define society; we must allow for alternative ways of living and thinking.

Shortly before his death, Takagi talked about his career and the inspiration of Kenji's work in a lecture series for national public television. Budori, he says, reflects the "heart" necessary to science. Without heart, or social concern, science cannot belong to us, the citizens. "Budori understood," said Takagi, that there would be many more people just like him, and that the sacrifices of one person could make many happy." Takagi's life, like Budori's, was linked to those of others, representing the hope that links us to the future. This is the hope, Takagi believed, that gives both citizens and scientists the will to influence change,

Miyazawa Kenji envisioned many kinds of change. When he graduated from college he was offered a job in a research lab, but he declined, preferring to apply his background in science to helping the famers of his hometown. Long before the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, this unknown scientist, a regional agronomist far from Japan's major research centers, was already thinking about the effect of greenhouse gases on global climate change. Miyazawa understood that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would cause the atmosphere to trap more energy, resulting in a rise in temperature.

Miyazawa also understood that carbon dioxide is released by volcanic eruptions, and he considered how increasing carbon dioxide might warm his agricultural region. But he did not seem to realize that the tremendous quantities of ash, dust, and sulfur dioxide thrown into the upper atmosphere by a massive volcanic eruption would reflect incoming solar radiation, forcing down temperatures on the Earth's surface. The sun shield might linger for a long time, causing crop failures rather than the abundant harvests for which Miyazawa hoped. This cooling effect was first noted by Benjamin Franklin while in Europe during 1783. He attributed cooler temperatures to the eruption of Laki on Iceland.

The three hundred volcanoes mentioned in the story suggest that Miyazawa's world has expanded from Iwate Prefecture --or Iihatohbu, the dreamland within Kenji's heart to encompass all of Japan. While there is no research center with equipment linked to each of Japan's volcanoes, Japan has many university research center that closely monitor the behavior of regional volcanoes. Still, as in the case of Mt. Unzen in Japan or Mt. Saint Helens in the United States, our technology is not yet adequate to predict the exact time or place of an eruption, let alone to direct its course.

Miyazawa appeared to be interested in renewable energy sources. In our story he draws a coastline dotted with tidal energy production plants. Tidal mills have been operating from the early 1900s; today electricity is generated with two-way turbines. In order to be effective the area must have a large tidal head---the difference between low and high tide. Tidal power stations have their own environmental problems. Turbines may kill fish and the barrages (dam placed across estuaries) may destroy fish and bird habitats. Two of the largest generating stations today are located at La Rance, Brittany, France, and Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada.

It is the great Professor Kuhboh who conceives of the remarkable applications of science in our story. Totally unconventional, he does not belong to an established university, but appears to run his own school where he and the students have the opportunity to think freely and creatively. Budori walks into a lecture on "the history of history," in which Professor Kuhboh makes one of the most important observations in any academic curriculum: there is no definite history, there are only histories. A "history" reflects a particular viewpoint at a particular time. It may be written to glorify or to condemn. In attempts to shape the view of a historical period through the selection, omission, and interpretation of facts. If you look at the same period from the eyes of another culture or another class or another time, the model will change. Those who review history texts today would do well to think about the relevance of Professor Kuhboh's ever-changing model of history. Miyazawa suggests that just as we must not be controlled by one vision of science and technology, neither should we be controlled by one interpretation of history.

Professor Kuhboh recognizes Budori's quick wit, honed by years of practical experience, and directs him to a field in which he may work for the benefit of society. Pen'nen, senior engineer at the Bureau of Volcanoes, also values Budori's concern and talents. In an earlier version of our story Pen'nen says to Budori, "You will be guided by your intuition, I by academic learning and experience... and together we will work to improve the life of the people of Iihatobu." Here we have a type of science in which all can participate, the professional and the concerned citizen, one with academic learning and the other with an understanding of the science necessary for daily life.

Readers may think that Budori has gone too far in sacrificing his own life in an attempt to raise regional temperatures. But to Budori, there is no difference between himself and others. "There are many young people who can be trained to do my work. There will be many who will work better and laugh more joyously than I." In the earlier version of the story he adds, "Please let me do it. I must do it. I will become the wind circulating around the globe. I will become the dust in the distant blue sky." We are all made up of the same elements that are recycled through our biosphere. It is precisely because of this unity of all things that we must practice science and technology that perpetuate the cycle of life. To harm one part of our biosphere is to harm us all.

As emphasized by Miyazawa and Takagi, when professionals and concerned citizens work together we can direct science to serve the interests of life, we can make science our own. Literature, like Kenji's stories, will always be of value in adding a humanitarian dimension to science and technology.

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