Kenji Miyazawa’s “The Many-Order Restaurant”

One of Japan’s most famous poets and authors is Kenji Miyazawa (1876-1933). I know of him because his poem “Unbeaten by Rain” is one of my favorite Buddhist poetry. Miyazawa was a devout Nichiren Buddhist, and in his journals, you can see him frequently scribbling the words Nam-myōhō renge kyō (南無妙法蓮華経), which are words of praise for the Buddhist text, the Lotus Sutra, and the central practice of Nichiren Buddhism.

Recently, I ordered a large set of books from White Rabbit Press, geared toward people studying Japanese. The books come in various levels of difficulty, and contain children’s stories, historical events, contemporary stories and Western stories as well. I ordered all four sets (more on some other great folktales stories later), and have progressed to the third level books.* The story I finished today was another Miyazawa classic called the “Many Order Restaraunt”, or Chūmon no ōi ryōriten (注文の多い料理店). A nice English translation can be found here. The Japanese text, for those curious, can be found here. The version I read is much simpler Japanese, so don’t get the idea that I can read fluently. ;)

Anyways, go read the story real quick before reading the rest of this post. I’ll wait.

Ok, so kind of scary, right? I thought it was a great story, and a fun read myself. Miyazawa was a devoted vegetarian, so as I read this story, I think he was trying to remind people what it feels like to be on the dinner plate for once. Miyazawa spent a lot of time in agricultural and forestry studies, so I bet that he probably thought about this kind of thing a lot, especially in a Buddhist context, since Buddhism encourages vegetarianism.

Finishing the story made me think about another article I had read recently about how animals in farms tend to produce more milk, eggs, whatever, when they’re given more individual care and attention instead of just being processed in a factory. Or, in the words of the article:

The new results echo similar studies of other animals, said Ian Duncan, the Chair in Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Anxious chickens lay fewer eggs, for example. Fearful pigs and sheep grow more slowly. Even trout quickly learn to swim away from scary situations, and fear causes them to eat less.

So, I think Miyazawa was trying to give us an idea of the fear that animals live with before going to the slaughter. I haven’t been successful in my repeated efforts to be vegetarian myself,** but it still gives me food for thought.

Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu

* – The fourth level books, based on sample readings, looks quite difficult for me. Level 3 is about my reading level I guess, but just barely. :p

** – Even recently while my wife/daughter were in Japan. I found I could reduce consumption quite a bit (and enjoy lots of vegetarian cooking), but still couldn’t cut it out completely for more than a week at best.

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One Comment on “Kenji Miyazawa’s “The Many-Order Restaurant””

  1. Kyoshin says:

    Thanks Doug.

    Kenji Miyazawa is a fascinating figure. I was introduced to him via the book ‘Coffinman’. His poems in that book, especially the one about his illness are some of the most moving things I have ever read.

    On the subject of the Lotus Sutra I was talking with the Bomori of our temple about a picture of a bird I had seen on the temple website and it turned out to be a Japanese nightingale (aka bush warbler) whose call is said to sound like ‘Ho hokke Kyo’ … it seemed an interesting fact for your blog!

    gassho, K

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