THE HEART OF KANJI: Our life is for planting seeds of smiling or laughter


Jinsei wa waraigao no tanemaki. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

Jinsei wa waraigao no tanemaki. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

人 represents a person standing and the character 生 represents a sprout growing in soil.

笑顔 (Waraigao) means “a smiling or laughing face.”

笑 represents bamboo and a person who is laughing, like bamboo playfully moving back and forth.

顔 represents a person’s hair and head.

種 (Tane) means “seed.” This character indicates a rice plant that is dried and harvested for seeds.

One of the greatest questions in the universe is, “What is the purpose of life?” Some people answer that it is just to survive, some say it is to gain success and recognition, and some say it is to gain enlightenment and pass on to the higher spiritual worlds.

These are all great and sometimes difficult achievements. What if there was an easier way to give purpose to our lives? When you are kind to a stranger or tell a joke to your friend, you are planting a seed of smiles and laughter.

These small moments of compassion often elicit a word of gratitude and a smile or a big, loud laugh. Both you and the other person are happier because of this interaction.

It has been said that when we are born, we laugh and smile up to 500 times a day. Parents, family members and friends go out of their way to make a baby laugh and smile, and in turn, often laugh and smile themselves. As we grow older, studies say that we laugh and smile less. Therefore, those around us must also be laughing and smiling less.

There is a famous Japanese myth called Amano Iwato, or the Sacred Cave. This cave is located in Takachiho in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Japan. Tomomi Kinoshita, the co-author of my book “Thank you 100 times a day,” lives in Takachiho.

There is a famous story about a Sun God who was upset with Susanoo no Mikoto (our early human ancestors) and hid in the cave, bringing darkness upon the world. The people began to panic and discussed many ways to get the Sun God to return to the sky. They finally decided to gather in front of the cave and laugh as loud as they could. The Sun God was so curious, he moved the big rock that was blocking the entrance of the cave to see what the humans were laughing at. The humans helped him move the rock out of the way and he returned to the sky. Although this is just a myth, it speaks to the power of laughter.

There is a storyteller in Japan named Tama-chan who shares interesting facets of life with the Japanese. Previously, he was a science teacher. One day, a woman told him that he seemed like an unhappy person. This worried Tama-chan. The woman told him that there was a simple way to remedy the problem. She told him to practice smiling and laughing more often. Tama-chan told her that it seemed impossible to be happy just by smiling and laughing. The woman laughed and said, “You are a science teacher, right? Why don’t you experiment with this theory and see what happens.”

Tama-chan stubbornly agreed and knew that he would be angry with her and feel foolish if it didn’t work. Every morning, he stood in front of his bathroom mirror and forced himself to laugh and smile for a few minutes. During the day, when he was alone, he also practiced. He tried to make sure that no one saw him laughing. After two weeks, he found that smiling came more naturally to him and he also found more things pleasant and funny. The woman’s theory worked! Now he shares this practice with people all over

Japan and I wanted to share this with you.

Let’s plant seeds of laughter and smiles within ourselves and our family, community, country and the world. It is a small practice with a big purpose.

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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