For this newsletter, I am including my sermon from the memorial service held on March 25, 2017 for Mr. Kanji Hitomi, who suddenly passed away on March 6, 2017. Mr. Hitomi cared for the temple, as evidenced by his many efforts and contributions, which I reflect on in this article.
Since Mr. Kanji Hitomi’s retirement 23 years ago, he has spent the majority of his time, helping the temple in countless ways. He helped with temple maintenance through his skills in carpentry, plumbing, and painting, among others. He also prepared for the annual bazaar throughout the year, including growing plants and making dustpans to sell at the bazaar. Some of you may not know that he also built the hexagonal reverse tapered stand for the lanterns in front of the altar in the temple. Those of you who have had the opportunity to see it up close can probably tell from the intricate details of the stand that it is very difficult to make. I was, as probably many of you, always amazed by the quality of his work. Everyday when I pray in front of the altar, I always see this stand and am reminded of Mr. Hitomi.
I also remember how Mr. Hitomi would stop by the temple whenever it was time to prune the matsu, or Japanese pine trees, around the temple. He would tell me that he was not afraid of heights and would swiftly climb up approximately 15 feet on the ladder to start the task. Nevertheless, I was always concerned for his safety and remember nervously holding the ladder while he started cutting the tree branches. Throughout the years, I have learned how to cut the branches of the matsu from Mr. Hitomi and have since taken the task upon myself. However, whenever I prune the trees, I feel as if they are asking me to be gentler with the task, like Mr. Hitomi. In fact, I was in the middle of pruning the matsu when I learned of his passing.
Whenever I think about how much Mr. Hitomi cared about the temple, I am reminded of another individual. This person is in fact Uemura Naomi, a famous Japanese adventurer. When I was still living in Japan, I had heard from many people that he lived near the Ikebukuro district in Tokyo, which is where I grew up. He was a frequent customer of a small eatery known in the area for their yakitori, or Japanese skewers. I myself went there sometimes with my friend and saw him during one of our visits. He was known for his many achievements, including being the first person to climb Alaska’s Mt. McKinley (now known as Mt. Denali) during wintertime, solo. Unfortunately, he never returned after his second trip to Mt. Denali. I have heard that adventurers feel the need to outcompete other explorers and those that have preceded them. Therefore, they take on dangerous tasks, leading them to face various life or death experiences. By refusing to attempt such risky journeys. they lose the opportunity to gain sponsorship for subsequent explorations. After hearing about his disappearance on the news, he, for-some reason, appeared one night in my-dream. I remember being so stunned, saying to him, “Everyone is worried about you. Please come back and put everyone’s mind at ease.” To my surprise, he told me, “I have become the mountain so I cannot return.” After this, I quickly woke up from the dream. I think Uemura Naomi treasured the mountains so much so that he wanted to become one with them.
In the same way, Mr. Hitomi never ceased to talk about the temple and ways to help preserve it for future generations. I would like to think that he has become a guardian of the temple, who will continue to look over it for generations to come.
Ven. Kenjo Igarashi