THE HEART OF KANJI: Appreciate nature


Shizen niwa kansha suru. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

Shizen niwa kansha suru. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

自(Shi, ji) means “me or myself.” This character indicates a nose.

然 (Zen) means nature. The left side of the top of this word indicates meat, and the right side symbolizes a wild dog. The bottom represents fire or flames.

感 (Kan) means “feeling.” The top of this character represents a fruit tree and the middle indicates a mouth. The bottom of this character indicates a human heart. The character represents the human desire of wanting to eat the fruits on the tree.

謝 (Sha) means “appreciation.” The left side of this character represents talking, and the right side of the character represents a person standing who is ready to shoot an arrow.

Together, these characters can be interpreted as “once you shoot an arrow, it will be never come back again.” Likewise, when one expresses appreciation to a person; he or she should recognize that this could be their last chance to say thank you to the person.

As human beings, we have the great opportunity to live on this Earth in large part because we are supported by the gift nature provides each of us. Without the sun, moon and Earth, we would not be able to survive. The Konko faith calls this “Tenchi Kane no Kami” in Japanese and “The Divine Parent of the Universe in English.”

If we look back at the creation of humans, we originally lacked protection, both from ourselves and other wild animals. Therefore, the first humans lived above the ground in the trees. Eventually, they started to live on the ground. They began to stand upright, and grew taller. They used fire to cook their food. They created ways to communicate with one another. Many families banded together so they could protect and defend themselves against animals. They also created pictorials or characters to represent items, so that they could pass down their experiences, ideas and stories to future generations. Their descendants could then learn their history from these stories. Hopefully, they would heed the warnings and not make the same mistakes. This is how humankind survived for millions of years.

If someone died, they would create an area and mark it with a gravestone. Their surviving family members and descendants could have a place to go to remember them and express their appreciation to their ancestors. They would offer food offering, water and flowers to their ancestors. Spiritual traditions and ceremonies were part of this expression of appreciation, and therefore, they began to understand how important it was to gain and maintain a peaceful soul and spirit. Churches and temples were formed so people could gather together to give and receive spiritual strength and support from others. People also needed to feel community and a sense of belonging and a connection to the spirit.

Humans began farming to harvest and have food available year-round. Science and machines have also been interwoven into humankind’s cultures, and have changed the way we look at how we live, eat and communicate with each other.

However, because science and machines have been introduced into our culture at a relatively rapid pace, humans have begun to forget about the origin of where we came from and how everything was once nature centered. When nature is ignored and not taken seriously, we make decisions that harm and destroy ecosystems. If we continue down this path, all living things, including humans, will be unable to survive in the near future.

We should go back to the origin of ourselves and appreciate it. We should also search for better ways to co-exist with nature. During this pandemic, many people I have spoken with have said that nature has become more abundant, and there was less pollution.

People have said they could see more birds and bees, and that more beautiful flowers and plants were growing naturally. People have also been doing more activities, like making art, hiking, planting gardens and cooking fresh and healthy food at home. These are all concepts that I hope will continue even after the pandemic is over. I hope people will work together, communicate better and support happy and healthy spirits and souls. Let’s all listen more deeply to what nature and our ancestors are saying to us and remember our origins.

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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