THE HEART OF KANJI: First month of the year — January


正 (sho, tadashii) means “righteous or correct,” which consists of two character parts. The top part represents one finger, which indicates one or once. The bottom part of this character represents one’s foot, which indicates a footstep. As a whole, this character represents stopping to think deeply about where you have been in the past year and where you are heading in the future. This is to remind us that we must be mindful about working toward the right goals in this new year.

Sho Gatsu. calligraphy by the Rev. Masato Kawahatsu
Sho or tadashii. calligraphy by the Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

月 (gatsu or tsuki) means “month or moon;” its character symbolizes the moon shrouded by a thin cloud.

It is customary in Japan to purify oneself at the end of the year, in order to have a new start for the next year. The Japanese do not want to carry on any negative feelings, debts, or problems into the new year. They often do a major house cleaning right before the new year, and also visit shrines and temples to receive blessings and honor their ancestors.

On the last day of every year, Buddhist ministers strike a large bell 108 times in a row at Buddhist temples, to purify our soul or heart. They believe that we have 108 bonno, negative feelings and emotions, such as selfishness, ego, anger, hate, worry, and fear in our hearts or minds, which hold us back from happiness and peace.

My new year’s resolution is to try to eliminate all negative feelings. How can we eliminate or overcome them? I think there are many different ways to do it. Some religions teach you meditation or prayer, while other religions tell you to chant sacred words or perform sacred dances. You have many different ways to overcome the burden of your bonno.

As you know, I have been encouraging people to say thank you very much, “Arigato gozaimasu,” a thousand times or more a day. I believe this is one way to eliminate our bonno, because if you say thank you more often, you may not have an opportunity to express your negative feelings or emotions. Even if you have a fight with someone during the day, before you sleep, say “arigatou gozaimasu” to him or her at least 100 times.

A young member of the Konko Center of South San Francisco said his friend had fought with his older sister one day and left feeling angry. Later that day, she died in the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. His friend said he would never live that down. I hope that you will remember this and practice having appreciation for everyone no matter the situation. It is important to be grateful of all the support we get from those around us, as we never know when that might be taken away.

I hope you will be able to find a way to practice eliminating your bonno this year and spend the time surrounded by positive feelings and loving friends, family and ancestors.

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. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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