When Kenji Miyazawa was writing his stories and poems nearly a century ago, Japan was a country with a two-pronged mission: To become the first non-white, non-Christian nation to create a modern prosperous state — and to be the leader of an Asian revival.

The Japanese people were obsessed with their cultural identity and their place, as an imperial power, among the first rank of nations in the world. It was an obsession that would lead them to prosecute an aggressive and brutal war in Asia and the Pacific.

But in the case of Kenji (referred to here by his given name in accordance with Japanese literary custom), his obsessions were directed elsewhere. There is almost no mention of Japan or the Japanese in his works. Many of his stories are set in a land of his own imagining he called Ihatovo — a self-styled rendering of his native Iwate, a prefecture in the Tohoku region of northeastern Honshu. And some of his characters bear foreign names, the best known being Giovanni and Campanella in his novel "Night on the Milky Way Train," which wasn't published until a year after he died in 1933.