Review of “What Is Important for Children” (1996)


Miyazaki Hayao (interviewee), Ōta Masao (interviewer).

Read in 2021.

Read in Turning Point, where the 1996 article is mentioned as having been compiled into a book in 1998.

A mix of autobiography and thoughts on child psychology, for the purposes of education.

Miyazaki elaborates on his dereliction of parental duty, mentioned in “I Left Raising Our Children to My Wife” (1992): “I pleaded with her to stop working” and “I keep quiet until her mood passes”. Ouch. On the basis of his experience not raising his own children, he proposes digging a pit for other children:

I’d like to make a big pit in a place like that where you slide down and fall in. There would be mud and water at the bottom. Of course if it rains, the water will get deeper, and if there is no rain for a while, it will dry up. It would be a place where children could slip and fall in, and it would be hard to climb out. That’s the kind of pit I’d like to make.

This seems to have kicked off years of Miyazaki speaking drastically about lower education being too intellectual and not having enough primal discovery and duress that might make children more self-sufficient and emotionally resilient. In all these talks and writings he never suggests abandoning or even simplifying the Japanese writing system with its four or five character sets, which is a big part of why children study so hard, so early, and so statically. In this particular interview he instead expresses support for the idea of giving special treatment to academically gifted children, instead of trying to raise everybody to the same high level, an idea that is muted in his other writings on the topic and is atypical in Japan.

There are some short remarks on Heidi: A Girl of the Alps (1974), which I wish I’d known about for my master’s thesis: Miyazaki says “Children who watched Heidi apparently were convinced that pastures were like lawns of solid green, painted in poster colors.” He also makes interesting remarks on the history of the cultural landscape around Hachikokuyama, rejecting a deep-green retreat from agriculture but acknowledging that “the course of our fate was set when we started tilling the land.”

“If we become deep ecologists”, says Miyazaki, “and go into nature to find happiness, we won’t be able to be happy. The people of the Jōmon period were not all happy.” When the interviewer asks whether to call that nihilism, Miyazaki offers Hotta Yoshie’s phrase “transparent nihilism”. He then talks about that mainstay of European nihilist philosophy, the Holocaust. From the translation in Starting Point, it appears that Miyazaki attributes a book by the name of Night and Fog to Viktor Frankl, but the author’s name is anglicized by the translator (“Victor”) and the use of the title (or Nacht und Nebel) for any of Frankl’s own work seems to be limited to a Japanese release, likely apropos of “Night and Fog” (1956) or else Night and Fog in Japan (1960). Though it comes close, the interview does not actually touch on Japanese wartime atrocities. Instead, Miyazaki relates an anecdote about a Japanese woman he saw in a documentary, who had lived for seven years with a Bosnia-Herzegovinian, killed in the war in former Yugoslavia: “The irony is that misfortunes can improve people.”

The interviewer brings up a book, Niji no ue o tobu fune (The Boat That Flies Over the Rainbow, 1982) as a possible inspiration for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982). Miyazaki knows the book and says he “used it in a film”, but which one is not clear and the book, by Sakamoto Shōkurō, appears to have fallen into obscurity.

Returning to the topic of how to educate the young to conclude the interview, Miyazaki says that at one time he let a bunch of fifth graders use a chain saw unsupervised to split wood at his cabin, so they’d realize that it’s more fun to use an axe. Those kids were lucky one way or another.

References here: “A Child’s Five Minutes Can Be Equivalent to a Grown-Up’s Year” (1997), “Recalling the Days of My Youth” (1998), “To Energize People, Towns and the Land” (1998), “Nothing Makes Me Happier Than Watching Children Enjoy Themselves” (2002), “Remark to the Staff of the Ghibli Museum at the Screening of ‘Mon Mon the Water Spider,’ ‘The Day I Bought a Star,’ and ‘House Hunting’” (2005), Turning Point: 1997–2008 (2008/2014).

text non-fiction Japanese production