親 (oya) means “parent.” This character consists of three parts. The top of the left side is 立 (tatsu), which means “stand.” Below that is 木 (ki), which means “a tree.” The right side is 見 (miru), which means “to see or look.” So parents are standing in a tree and looking upon their children — to ensure their safety.
神 (gami or kami) means “God.” This character consists of two parts: the left side signifies a divine altar and the right side takes the shape of lightning. In olden times, people called God Kami, the one who created the most powerful things like lightning.
Many people tend to be scared of Kami’s anger and power. Many Japanese religions, however, believe Kami is the Oyagami or Divine Parent; they believe Kami has the same love as parents who love their children. Thus Oyagami is the Divine Parent of everyone in the world.
Young teenagers come to Konko Center in South San Francisco. One said, “I can’t believe in the existence of Kami because I cannot see Kami with my eyes.” I said, “Though we often can’t see many invisible things like the air or our heart with our eyes, we know they exist. We can breathe the air and we can feel our heart beating each moment… We can’t see Kami but Kami is watching us, always.” Another teenager responded, “We don’t like Kami watching us.”
Then I shared a fox story with them as follows:
Parent foxes were taking care of their cubs for a few months. Every day the fox cubs played together outside of their den and every night they came into their den to sleep. However, one evening their parents refused to let the cubs back into their den. Then the parents and cubs began to battle. Finally, the cubs gave up and left their parents and the only place they knew as home. They realized they had to survive outside by themselves.
However, the parent foxes were secretly following their cubs, hiding behind trees, to ensure their safety.
I said Kami is really like the parent foxes. Kami watches over our lives to protect and guide us always.
When I was young, I also doubted the existence of Kami. Yet, I really wanted to know whether Kami existed. So I asked the spirit of our Konko founder at his cemetery whether Kami existed or not. Konko Daijin had died in 1883. I sat for three or four hours in front of his gravestone. Suddenly after much time had passed, I had a vision of someone who was praying so hard for me with unconditional love. Though I could not see the love of my parents, my ancestors and Kami with my physical eyes, I could feel Kami’s love with my spiritual eyes and heart.
For the first time, I was able to realize Kami’s love. And Kami is and will always forever be our eternal parent, Oyagami.
Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and martial arts. He also gives spiritual counseling. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 517-5563.