THE HEART OF KANJI: A country can be changed by a bouquet of flowers


Hitotaba no hana de kuni ugoku. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

Hitotaba no hana de kuni ugoku. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

? (Hito, ichi) means ?one.? This number indicates one finger.

(Taba) means ?bunch.? This word symbolizes wood or flowers tied with string.

? (Hana) means ?flower.? The top portion of the character represents a plant, the left side represents a person and the right represents a person who is upside down.

? (Kuni) means ?country.? The outside box indicates a border of a country and the inside indicates arms.

? (Ugoku) means ?move, change.? The left side represents a person who carries heavy things and the right represents a powerful arm.

During World War II, the Japanese and American Navy battled fiercely in the Solomon Sea. The Japanese viewed American Cpt. Arleigh Burke as an evil head captain. Burke lost many of his close subordinates during these battles and held a lot of anger and hate toward the Japanese.

Five years after World War II ended, he was ordered to go to Japan. During his stay, he was posted at the Imperial Hotel, which was minimalist and plain. To make it more to his taste, he bought a single flower and put it in a glass cup on the desk to brighten up the space. When he returned from work, he found the flower in a beautiful vase. A few days later, there was a whole bouquet of flowers in the vase. Burke was confused by this and went to the front desk. ?I don’t want any extra or special treatment. I just put the single flower for me. Please let me know who gave me the vase and bouquet of flowers.?

The front desk found out that it was the maid who cleaned his room every day. The captain asked her, ?Why did you give me the vase and flowers?? She replied, ?I did it because you seemed to like flowers. I saw the single flower in the cup.? The captain asked if he could tip her or pay for the flowers. The maid replied that she did it simply out of kindness and not to charge him extra for the flowers or to get a tip. Burke was shocked.

He shared this story with some others and soon learned that her husband had been the captain of a Japanese destroyer ship in the Solomon Sea and had been killed during the same battles that Burke had fought. He quickly went to her and apologized. ?I may have been the one responsible for your husband’s death,? he said. She replied, ?If my husband had not been killed, perhaps it would have been your life instead. It was war. I can’t hate anybody.? Burke was completely stunned by her response. His attitude and her attitude under the circumstances had been completely different. He realized that his assumptions about the Japanese were based upon his limited interactions and sought to learn more about the Japanese and Japanese culture so that he could fully understand and respect them as a people. He began to talk with more Japanese people, ask them questions, and be open about his life and experiences. Soon he began to make many Japanese friends.

Burke’s whole outlook changed. Though he had been sent to Japan to ensure that the Japanese government did exactly as the American government instructed, he soon trusted his Japanese friends and colleagues and knew that Japan needed an independent self defense force. He returned to America and proposed that Japan receive a self defense force (Jieitai) so that they could protect themselves. America still had a lot of negative feelings toward Japan at this time and there was fierce opposition to his idea. However,

Burke continued to pursue this measure and was able to get it passed.

He was named as the father of the Jieitai in Japan and received the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese emperor. Before he passed in 1991, it is said that he asked to be buried with that medal of honor.

Before I joined the Konko seminary school, I trained with the Jieitai. It was not until recently that I learned about Burke and his story. I feel that I owe so much to him and appreciate his hard work. I also am grateful to the maid who cleaned his room, who had unconditional compassion and kindness. It is amazing how a small gesture, a bouquet of flowers, can change the course of history.

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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