Mu. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

無 (mu) means “nothingness.” The bottom four strokes indicate fire flames, the character in the middle indicates a house, and the top lines represent a new life emerging from the burning home. When the house burns down and becomes ashes, new life can grow from that. The kanji (mu) teaches us that although we may lose everything, new opportunities may arise.

In 2017, there were many disasters across the country and across the globe, including the horrific Santa Rosa and Napa fires, as well as the fires in the Los Angeles area. Many people lost their homes, family members and pets. These tragedies have affected all of us, and from it, we hope to come together to support and help one another to rebuild. Even though we may have lost material possessions and even loved ones, we are blessed to have a strong community around us.

This past November, my wife Alice and I visited Japan in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary. We arrived at the Narita International Airport, took a local train to Tokyo, and then rode the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. It was a long trip to take on our first day in Japan, but as always, we were welcomed at a nice hotel in Kyoto and had a hearty breakfast the next morning. We were able to visit Okayama city — where Alice’s grandparents are originally from — and meet her cousins. Together, we went to the cemetery to pay our respects and catch up on family news.

After that, we headed to the Konko Headquarters, where we woke up at 3:30 a.m. the next morning to greet the Konko head minister.

We were given the chance to talk to the seminary students. While Alice spoke for 30 minutes, I had two and-a-half hours to share my experience in seminary school, as well as my many years of being a minister. I tried to make it as fun and engaging as possible and got them to both laugh and cry. I taught the students the original meaning of “mu,” and asked them to hold their breath for 30 seconds.

We did this exercise because I wanted them to think about how hard it would be to hold their breath for one minute, let alone two. I told them that our lives are very fragile. We are nothing, “mu,” without the great power of the universe.

That afternoon, we headed to the Ise Grand Shrine, the main shrine of the Shinto religion. We arrived very late, and there was no one around. We waited for a taxi to pass by, but there were none. Finally, a lady walked by, and we asked if she knew where the “Poka Poka Son” hotel was located, but she had never heard of it. Though we were worried we had come to the wrong place, we knew the hotel was nearby, so we walked with our heavy luggage on the side of the road for awhile, and finally found it!

The next morning, we visited the Ise shrine. Since it was her first time there, Alice was awed by the beautiful architecture, as well as the many international visitors that were there. She said that the air felt especially clear and sacred around the shrine. We also enjoyed seeing the gift shops around the shrine and eating the delicious street food in the area. We also explored the area where the Mikimoto Pearl Museum and Pearl Island are located, and took a picture next to the husband and wife rocks (Meoto Iwa). It was a good way to commemorate our 30th anniversary.

Our last stop of the trip was to see my older brother who was very ill and in the hospital for lung cancer treatment. We were so thankful that he was awake and able to talk with us when we arrived. I knew that this was probably my last chance to see him, so I expressed my appreciation for all the times he took care of me when I was younger, and for his 83 long years of life. We talked about how everything has to end soon and become “mu” or nothingness, but that his soul would live forever in the universe. He told us that he was so happy that he was given the chance to see and talk to us. About 10 days after Alice and I returned to San Francisco, we learned that he had passed. I believe that it was divine arrangement that I was able to see my brother and say goodbye before he left his physical form on this earth.

As we head into the holiday season and new year, remember to express your appreciation for your family members, your friends, and the blessings you have received, because we do not know what will happen in the next moment.

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). 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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