THE HEART OF KANJI: A trip to Japan, and reflections on the heart of matters


Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series.

Nineteen of us, including 13 Boy Scouts, four leaders, the Rev. Rodney Yano and myself, visited Japan for 16 days this summer. We arrived at Itami airport in Osaka via LAX and Narita airport on July 25. Mr. Taki and Mr. and Mrs. Furuya welcomed us at the airport. We drove via the Furuya’s van and the Konko Church of Izuo’s bus, to the Konko Church of Izuo. Rev. Yoshinobu Miyake and his church members welcomed us there. We stayed at the church dormitory. The next morning, I attended a prayer service in front of the peace monument at 5 a.m. and another prayer service in the church at 6 p.m.. Rev. Mitsuo Miyake, who is the head minister of this church, delivered a powerful speech after the prayer.

The Boy Scouts and I had an English prayer service at 7 a.m. After the prayer service, I asked all leaders and scouts to speak to the head minister, who is a representative of Kami/God. I explained: “I’m sure you pray at different churches, whether Christian, Buddhist or others, but you may or may not be able to talk with Kami/God/Buddha himself. Yet in the Konko faith, you can speak with Kami through the mediator or sensei. We call it Toritsugi mediation.” All the leaders and scouts then spoke with Rev. Miyake with a sincere heart and prayer.

That day, we visited the Duskin Company’s donuts college and observed the cleaning process of materials. Whenever our scouts come to Japan, I’ve taken them to the Duskin Co. where Mister Donuts has been in business for more than 30 years. The founder of this company was the late Seiichi Suzuki, who was a Konko member, and a unique person. He said, “We share our seeds of joy to other people through our business.” I thought how people who work there still follow his ideals and methods. We also visited Osaka Castle and came back to church. That night, the youth group of the church held a barbeque dinner party for us. We truly enjoyed the delicious dinner and chance to mingle with young Japanese people.

Mrs. Nagata and her son, who had previously lived near San Francisco, came from Kobe to join us. The first head minister of this church, Rev. Toshio Miyake, who helped many people locally in the Osaka area, had experienced suffered during World War II, both himself firsthand and among many other people. Rev. Miyake understood the importance of world peace. Without it, each individual cannot find real peace and happiness. Therefore, he began to be an active minister in the entire world. He invited the former United States President Jimmy Carter to his church as a main speaker.

After that, we headed to Konko Osaka High School. We were welcomed by the principal, teachers and students. First, we visited the school’s new Konko worship hall for a prayer. Then we experienced Japanese cultural activities including sado (tea ceremony), kendo (Japanese swordsmanship) and shodo (Japanese calligraphy). We were impressed by traditional Japanese culture.

We later went to Konko Church of Karasuma in Kyoto. We were welcomed with warm hearts of the head minister of the church: Rev and Mrs. Yoshiteru Takahashi, their family, Boy and Girl scouts of Kyoto and the mayor of Kyoto, who is a Konko member. We joined the welcome party and had a prayer service. After the party, our scouts went to the homestay families’ homes. The next day, the scouts and homestay families went to Toei Eiga Mura (Toei Movie Village) where professionals produce all kinds of movies, especially historical dramas. Two leaders and I stayed at the Konko Church of Karasuma. While the other two leaders went sightseeing in beautiful Kyoto, I joined a shodo (Japanese calligraphy) class at the church. The shodo instructor has been teaching calligraphy in many places for more than 30 years. I, too, have been teaching shodo at the Konko Church of San Francisco for many years. He taught me some techniques of shodo and when he saw my calligraphy, he said, “Your calligraphy is not bad.”

I have taught not only beautiful writing of characters, but also the deeper meaning of each kanji character. My “Heart of Kanji” columns have been published in the Nichi Bei Weekly for many years. So I asked the teacher and students about the meaning of each line of kanji characters such as “mu,” which means “nothing.” No one knew the answer. I explained the bottom four dots represent fire flames and the lines above it represent a house, and the top line represents a new life that is growing from the ground. All together they signify the house that was burned down by fire that could have become ash or nothing — but how the new life or new opportunity comes from it. They were impressed by my explanation. I learned how people in Japan do not teach the most important parts in life — that of the human heart.

Before World War II, the Konko Church of Karasuma had many branch churches in locations as far as China, Korea and Hawai‘i. Before Rev. Matsuyama became a Konko minister in Karasuma and starting a Konko church in China, he was a school teacher. Rev. Matsuyama’s friend was also a teacher and he asked him “I heard that you go to the Konko church. Tell me, what kind of blessings have you received?” Rev. Matsuyama answered, “Since I began going to Konko church, I would like to have more suffering.” His friend was shocked yet impressed by Rev. Matsuyama’s words. His friend then said, “If you can really think that way, you’ll be able to accept any suffering and also eliminate suffering in your life.” After this conversation, his friend also soon became a Konko minister and started a Konko church in Korea.

After our visit to Kyoto, we headed to the Hiroshima Peace Park, to witness the tragedy of the atomic bomb. We then traveled to the Konko Church of Amagi in Fukuoka, Kyushu. Rev. Rodney Yano had stayed in this church for more than two years for his spiritual training more than a decade ago. While there, Rev. Yano participated in a lot of church cleaning activities every day as part of his training there. All the Boy Scouts also helped with the church cleaning experience.

After our great experiences and hospitality at the Konko Church of Amagi, we headed to the Jamboree site; Kirarahama in Yamaguchi prefecture. There were more than 15,000 Boy and Girl scouts from all over the world; 52 countries. We joined the impressive opening ceremony.

Afterwards, we went back to our hotel near Yamaguchi station about fifteen minutes away by bus from the Jamboree site. This year we didn’t stay at the Jamboree site because some of our scouts were too young to stay there. That’s why we decided to stay outside the Jamboree and to commute there every day. While the scouts were attending the Jamboree, I had time to visit my parent’s church in Matsuyama City in Nakajima, a small island off of Shikoku.

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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