THE HEART OF KANJI: Live life with no regrets


後悔 (Koukai) means “regret.” The first character’s left side represents “moving forward,” and the right side shows a string tied to a foot. Together, it symbolizes not being able to move forward because we are pulled back by the string. The second character represents a heart on the left side and “life” and “mother” on the right.

Kookai no nai jinsei towa. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

人生 (Jinsei) means “life.” The first character is two people supporting each other and the second character symbolizes “life.”

When we are older and we look back on our lives, our hope is to not have feelings of regret. However, I have spoken to many people who were close to dying who felt that they did have feelings of regret. How can we try to adjust our lives now so that we have less regret in our final days?

If we live each day fully, perhaps we can minimize our regret.

A while back, I read about a Japanese hospice doctor who has been present at the end of more than 2,000 peoples’ lives. He has heard many stories of regret during the last stage of their lives. The doctor published a book called “25 Regrets.” I would like to share a few here:

1. Some people were only motivated by their work. They lacked balance with the rest of their life. They felt they should have spent more time enjoying music, painting, calligraphy, flower arrangements, sports, other hobbies or volunteering.

2. Some people regret that they did not do what they truly wished to do. They worked only for survival, not because they were passionate about it. They wanted to do something they loved.

3. Some people felt they had been controlled their whole life by negative emotions, such as worry, anger, hate and sadness. Upon reflection, they realized that the situations that brought up these emotions were minor in the grand scheme of life. They felt this was time and energy wasted.

4. Many people suffered mentally and physically at the end of their life. They wished they had a greater appreciation for when their body and mind were strong and that they had prepared better for the suffering at the end of their lives.

5. The biggest regret that most people had was not expressing their sincere appreciation for people that supported them during their life. They wished they had reached out to family, friends, teachers and others in their community to let them know about the positive impact they had on their life.

What are your thoughts on these five regrets? The hospice doctor said that he wanted to share this with the world in the hope that we can all realize these important lessons earlier in life and work to live a life without regret. One of his patients left a letter that was read after she passed. She mentioned all the people in her life that had supported her and thanked them for their love and kindness during her lifetime.

Though it may be tough to think about the end of our life now, especially if we have never been critically ill, had someone close to us pass away, or are still very young, it is important to check-in with ourselves periodically and make sure that we are living the path of least regret.
What would you change now if you reflected on the regrets of your life so far?

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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