THE HEART OF KANJI: Visiting Japan


Last October, Alice and I visited Japan. We left San Francisco on Oct. 21 via All Nippon Airways. An Australian stewardess who spoke fluent Japanese served us on the airplane.

She tried to pour water into a plastic cup. I stopped her and asked if she could change from plastic to paper. I explained to her that trash and plastics the same size of her country, Australia, is floating in middle of the Pacific. She said, “We do not use plastic cups for domestic flights in Japan. However, we still use plastic cups for the international flights.” I then told her, “Recently, I met your company president in the U.S., but did not know that they were still serving plastic. Please give my suggestion to your company to please stop using plastic cup on the international flight.” She said, “OK, sir, I will.”

Wherever we went, I noticed that there was no trash to be seen in beautiful Japan. However, I saw how many businesses still used many plastic bags and covers wherever we went. I wondered, where does all these plastics go? Obviously, it will eventually end up floating in our ocean.

In Okayama, Alice’s uncle and aunty took us to the Hara family’s cemetery. We expressed our appreciation for the Hara mitama (spirits) and Alice’s grandparents, too. After that, they took us to a nice restaurant for lunch.

We headed to the Konko headquarters in Konko town to meet Konko-sama (the Konko head minister) and visited past head ministers’ graves. Afterward, we went to Houfu, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where I was born and lived until I was 4.

Alice and I met Motoatsu Mouri who is a 31st generation member of the Mouri family. His ancestor was Motonari Mouri, who was the first lord of Choshu (presently Yamaguchi Prefecture).

I told him that we may be relatives, much to his surprise. We exchanged our name cards and promised to keep in contact.

The next day, we went to the Konko Church of Otsuru in Oita, Kyushu. The head minister is the Rev. Michitaka Koda. He wrote words on a black board that read, “Eternal living spirit of the golden light, thank you for everything.” Both Alice and I translated these words from Japanese many years ago. He said he likes it very much.

On Oct. 25, we went to the 100th anniversary of the Konko Church of Oguma in Fukuoka. The head minister is the Rev. Hiromichi Ishii, my longtime friend. Many ministers, members and my school classmate, Mr. Takahashi, attended. They came from all over Japan as representatives to Oguma. The ceremony was beautiful and impressive. I was honored when they asked me to give a sermon for this great occasion. The message of my speech was for all to have great aspirations in life that will never die. Although our physical bodies come to an end, our ambitious spirits will continue to work with future generations to accomplish the vision: “To save our home, the Earth.”

After Oguma, we left for Kyoto via Hiroshima Peace Park. In Kyoto, we had a chance to visit the Konko Church of Karasuma. The head minister is the Rev. Yoshiteru Takahashi.

He shared an interesting story: An old church member was pushing her cart, and saying something. The sensei asked her, “What are you saying?” She replied, “I am saying arigato gozaimasu, arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much) continuously.” The sensei asked her why. She said, “I am growing old and starting to forget things. However, I do not want to forget the word ‘arigato gozaimasu. Especially, when I die, I would like to express this word at the conclusion of my entire life — instead of expressing negative words or thought. In order to accomplish this, I must practice while I’m alive and can move around.” I was touched by her story.

As you know, since I’ve been encouraging all to say arigato gozaimasu 1,000 times or more a day, I too was thankful for this old lady’s story.

After Kyoto, we visited North East Japan for the first time. This was the scene of the devastating earthquake and tsunami four years ago. Hitomi and her boyfriend came to the Sendai Station to pick us up and drive us to the Konko Church of Sendai. Hitomi was one of the students the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California invited to San Francisco for a home stay a few years ago. She stayed in our home for a short time.

After our visit to the Konko church, we went to the YMCA and were greeted by all the board members. We gave a donation of about 50 percent of the income from our fundraising yard sale. We met my seminary school classmate, the Rev. Nanao, and also the head minister of the Konko Church of Ishinomaki, the Rev. Inouye. They drove us to Ishinomaki City. Inouye described the earthquake and tsunami to us. Just prior to this tragedy, his mother was on her deathbed. But as the tsunami came, he picked up his mother and ran to the hill nearby to safety.

They even survived without food, water and other necessities for three days. I was shocked when I heard from sensei how his mother was able to stand up and walk around by herself.

Though his church is close to the ocean it was not carried away by the tsunami. However, on the other side of town, houses and townspeople were swept away. Four thousand people perished. His church suffered major damage, but it was rebuilt.

Much of the evidence of this tragic disaster has gradually disappeared, as many damaged homes have been fixed and new homes have sprung up. Though the appearances look fine on the exterior, I imagine how people’s internal makeup, their mentality and spirituality, must still be recovering. I pray that the people of Japan and the world are able to learn true message from the tsunami.

After Ishinomaki, we went to Tokyo and visited the Konko Church of Tokyo and met the Rev. and Mrs. Hata. We also met up with my niece, who is active worldwide as a researcher. She told us that she will be going to Africa soon for a month.

Our trip to Japan was very short, but we were able to witness and learn many important things.

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 and 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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