THE HEART OF KANJI: Adversity is a good master


Gyakkyou koso waga yoki shi. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

逆境 (Gyakkyou) means “adversity.” The left side of the character 逆 represents a path and the right side represents a person upside down. The left side of the character 境 indicates soil and the right side indicates the sound of footsteps. For the character 良 (yoki), the top lines indicate a box and the lines below indicate measuring something correctly. For the character 師 the left side represents a hill and the right side symbolizes a banner. Together, this whole kanji represents a leader standing on the top of a hill with his banner, teaching many followers.

Gyakkyou koso waga yoki shi. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

As humans, we often avoid adversity because struggling is an uncomfortable experience. Currently, our lives have become filled with changes and challenges due to COVID. Though overcoming these difficulties and facing new experiences may be tough, we can learn important lessons from them.

Hisako Nakamura was born in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. She was called the Japanese Helen Keller. When she was two years old, she fell ill and both her arms and legs were amputated and her father tragically died soon after. Hisako’s mother was depressed and stressed with raising Hisako alone. Feeling hopeless about both of their futures, she decided to commit a double suicide. As she stood on the railing of a bridge about to jump off, she realized she could not as Hisako kept crying and begging to return home. 

After this experience, Hisako’s mother vowed to figure out a way to train Hisako so that she could survive without much help from others. She ordered Hisako to sew a Japanese kimono by using her mouth and tongue to hold the needle and material. It was nearly impossible and Hisako struggled, but finally she made a miniature one for her doll. She gave it to her friend, but her friend’s mother threw it in the river because it was made with her mouth, not her hand. The friend’s mother felt that the kimono was dirty because saliva was on it. 

When Hisako was 19, she joined a traveling show group; her talent was sewing and writing calligraphy with her mouth. People insulted her, saying that she had no talent and calling her “Daruma Musume,” a girl with no arms or legs. Rather than crying at these insults, she endured and worked hard at making herself more resilient. A few years later, she married and had a baby, but her husband died soon after. When she married again, that husband also died after a few years. 

Finally, after all these awful experiences, she began to believe that she had bad luck. During this time, she was introduced to a woman who was so ill that she had stayed in bed for 30 years. This woman, despite her inability to go anywhere, was joyful and appreciative of the life that she had. Hisako was moved by her perspective and attitude toward life. 

During this time, Helen Keller made many visits to Japan and had a great societal impact on the Japanese people. During one of her visits, Hisako and Helen met. Helen touched Hisako and realized that she had no arms or legs and Helen said, “Hisako is in an even tougher situation than I am. She is a greater person for fighting to live and survive in this world with all these challenges.” They became good friends and the fans and followers of Helen were very touched. Because of this experience, Hisako began to travel and present about her life and accumulated followers of her own. Her lectures eased the suffering of many people and inspired them to change their perspective on life. Hisako said, “My adversities have been good masters. I was made stronger by the disgrace, the abuse, and the hardships. Thank you Kami/God for taking away my arms and legs.”

Nakayama Kametaro, a Konko member who lost his two arms and one leg said, “Let us love for our fate and let us master our fate.”

In the future, we can’t predict what will happen. We do not know what kind of challenges will await us, but we can learn to accept our adversities.

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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