Night on the Milky Way Train Seen as an Expression of Communitas

The story interwoven with variegated motifs As we saw in Giovanni's Kaleidoscope of Feelings as He Travels Through Other-Dimensional Space, several motifs overlap one another in "Night on the Milky Way Train," and these are tightly interwoven with the kaleidoscope of feelings and the twists and turns of mood that Giovanni experiences as he travels the star-studded sky--his joys, his inexplicable sadness, and his anxieties.

As examples of these motifs, we learned that the Milky Way Train would take travelers to anywhere they wanted to go in another dimension, and--at the same time--it also took the dead to the Other World. But this is not all that's hidden between the lines of the story: the perceptive reader can discern yet another motif.

Lonely Giovanni's sorrow

Parting from Campanella

Death of Campanella
Giovanni wanted to travel on and on forever through the other dimension with his friend Campanella, but he was beset by loneliness at the sight of Campanella conversing intimately with a girl who was the victim of a ship that collided with an iceberg in the northern seas and was on her way to heaven: "Why am I so forlorn?" he asks himself, only to reflect, "Is there really nobody who will stick with me to the edges of the universe and beyond? Campanella just sits there jabbering away to that little girl, and it hurts me more than anyone knows." Perhaps one of the reasons for Giovanni's pain and sorrow is that he has begun to realize that he won't be able to continue on forever as such close friends with Campanella, despite his wish to do so.

When the girl, her little brother, and their private tutor-all three victims of the northern-sea accident-alight the train to be on their way to heaven, and Giovanni and Campanella are alone again, Giovanni says, "I'm going to get to the bottom of everything and find out what will make people happy. We'll go together, Campanella, as far as we can go." Campanella replies, "Yes we will, Giovanni." But shortly thereafter, Giovanni turns to see that his friend is no longer there, sitting in the seat before him; at this point, in raging sorrow, he wakes up. Afterwards, Giovanni learns that Campanella drowned while trying to save another child who had fallen into the river.

Thus the reader learns at the very end of the story that Giovanni and Campanella must part during their trip on the Milky Way Train because Campanella was on his way to the Other World, the hereafter.

And herein we find the other motif: in Kenji's second and third drafts of Night on the Milky Way Train (the fourth was his final), a Professor Burkaniro appears toward the end of Giovanni's train ride to tell him, "You must get off this train of dream and stride boldly ahead, surmounting the rough seas of the real world." This is a hint that, if he is to grow up to make his own way in the world, Giovanni must follow his own path, separate from Campanella.

The communitas-like experience in transition from childhood to adulthood Looking at "Night on the Milky Way Train" in this way, we come to realize that Kenji has also informed it with communitas-like experience, in which the main character breaks out of the everyday and passes through another dimension as he undergoes the transition from childhood to adulthood. This facet of the trip may be the depiction of an extreme example of such an experience: the seemingly doubts and confusion, the thorough self-questioning about morality and ethics, and the hopes that young boys of any generation share as they make their way to manhood.
Another way of interpreting this story is that Giovanni's anxieties and sadness come from an inkling that these shared experiences and the intimacy that accompanies them cannot go on forever.

"Giovanni's Kaleidoscope of Feelings as He Travels
Through Other-Dimensional Space"

Material in quotation marks is from Night On The Milky Way Train
translated by Roger Pulvers, published by Chikuma Shobo.

A Literature for Adolescents
Multiplicity of Meaning in Kenji's Stories
The World of Kenji's Works
The World of Kenji Miyazawa