What is Ihatov?

Ihatov is a place. If you insist upon knowing exactly where, all I can say is that it’s in the fields of Little Claus and Great Claus. That it is the same Looking Glass world through which Alice traveled. It is far northeast of the desert of Tepatar, and far to the east beyond Ivan’s Kingdom. It is a dreamland in the author’s imagination, that was inspired by this scenery and is based upon Iwate, Japan.*

Above and below are snippets from the preface to Kenji Miyazawa’s Chuumon no Ooi Ryoriten (Restaurant of Many Orders, 1924) , the subtitle of which is Ihatov Monogatari (Ihatov Tales). Kenji idealized Iwate as an imaginary dreamland which he named Ihatov. He was born, raised, and dearly loved his home town of Hanamaki in Iwate. Ihatov was the fertile ground from which Miyazawa’s stories grew, a place where animals and telephone poles, forests and mountains all speak a single tongue.

Kenji was a Renaissance man, who loved and practiced the arts, sciences and music, and was also deeply religious. As an agriculturalist, he hoped to improve the conditions of the poor farmers of Tohoku by instructing them in better and more efficient ways to grow crops. He also taught agriculture at a high school/college, and his former students still reminisce about the young idealist. It is said that he may have possessed special senses which allowed him to hear the sounds of nature, undetectable to our ordinary ears. These senses may have played an important role in inspiring him to write his memorable stories. Although he had been born to a relatively wealthy family, he was a pious Buddhist and lived frugally.  Some have suggested that this lifestyle was responsible for his early death from acute pneumonia brought on by tuberculosis.

To learn more about this writer, visit The World of Kenji Miyazawa for more information and resources, including some downloadable stories in English.

Anything is possible in Ihatov. Hop on an ice cloud and travel to the north trailing the great circulating winds. Talk to the ants traveling under the red bowl of a flower. Sins and sorrows, yes, even they are transformed into something holy and beautifully bright. Deep forests of beeches, winds and shadows, fleshy grasses, mysterious cities, rows of electrical poles lining the road to Bering city. A land truly mysterious, and yet quite delightful. The tales in this storybook are sketches of my imagination. They take the form of literature for those nearing the end of childhood and into mid-adolescence…

Even if we can’t eat as much rock sugar as we’d like, we can always feast on the clean transparent air and drink our fill of the beautiful peach-colored morning light. A ragged old kimono is transformed into the most wonderful clothing of velvet and silk, decorated with jewels. I have seen this happen in the fields and the forests, not just once, but many times.

Now, these are the beautiful kinds of food and clothes I love best. These stories of mine, they were given to me from forests and fields, from the railroad tracks, from rainbows and moonlight. When I walk alone through the green sunsets of oak forests, or stand shivering in a November mountain wind, I cannot help but feel these things are true. These are the stories, written as truly as I have felt them.

That is why, there will be stories here that nourish you and others that will pass you by. I cannot tell which will be which. I am sure many things will baffle you, but I too find those things baffling. I cannot tell you how much I wish, more than anything, that a few pieces of these small stories will be a true food for you.

*To follow the literary references in the opening excerpt, see “Little Claus and Big Claus” by Hans Christian Andersen, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” by Lewis Carroll, “The Land of the Exile” by Rabindranath Tagore, and “Ivan the Fool” by Leo Tolstoy.

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