THE HEART OF KANJI: Look carefully inside oneself


Naikan. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

Happy New Year, everyone! Thank you for reading my “Heart of Kanji” column this past year. Please continue to read any future columns in 2012.

Naikan. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

内 (nai or uchi) means “inside,” which represents an entrance door to a house with a short curtain hanging on the inside. 観 (kan or miru) means “look or observe carefully,” which consists of two parts. The left side represents a small bird and the right side represents your eyes. When flying, the small bird carefully observes the surrounding area below.

As we approach 2012, let’s first carefully look back upon this past year; and then let’s pray for good wishes for the New Year. Last year, when visiting Japan with my wife and daughter, I discovered a book in my hotel room called “Naikan,” which means look carefully within oneself.

Many years ago, a Japanese man began a session of naikan; and now it has spread throughout Japan and all over the world. During a naikan session, everyone shares a small space in various rooms and each person looks carefully within oneself without conversation — all day and throughout the week.

First, a person contemplates how much support his or her mother offered in the past. Second, a person thinks how much support he has given his mom. And third, a person thinks of all the problems he has given his mom since childhood.

Upon completion, the person repeats the process contemplating about his or her father, wife, husband, child, teacher and other important people in his life. Each session helps many people by changing and transforming their lives and their futures.

I thought this was important as we begin the New Year, 2012. There was an interesting article I saw in The New Fillmore, a newspaper in San Francisco. The title read, “Teaching children to protect the planet.” The writer said: “Knowing that I wanted to have children someday, I began figuring out how to teach them and others to care for the earth. I was searching for something that could help people really understand how important it is to protect the planet.

While doing research, I kept coming across dramatic things astronauts were saying about protecting the earth. They typically were conservative military pilots, but when they went up and saw the earth from space, almost all of them were transformed. They went up as technicians, one said, and came back humanitarians.

We should have a naikan session for our planet. What has our planet done for us all? What have we done to help the planet? What kind of problems have we created for our planet?

We may not have the free time — yet alone a whole week — to ponder. Nor can we all become astronauts. Yet all of us should deeply think about having naikan, looking carefully within ourselves; and looking toward the sky and over our planet for all of its future generations.

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 is the author of “An Eternal Journey.” He can be reached at or (415) 517-5563.

One response to “THE HEART OF KANJI: Look carefully inside oneself”

  1. Gregg Krech Avatar

    Greetings, Rev. Kawahatsu,

    I am the author of the English language Naikan book, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection. I enjoyed your article and I support your idea of having a Naikan session for the whole planet! We published a little book called Naikan Reflection for the New Year. Since it is too late to send you a copy, I will give you a website where you can download the online copy of the book.
    I hope you have a wonderful year ahead and good luck with your spiritual work and your calligraphy.

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