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A Sign of Hope

by Kenichi Kurosawa
Japan

Kenichi KurosawaKenichi Kurosawa and his wife

I started working with a water supply company when I was 24 years old. During the recession in the 1990s, it went bankrupt. I was employed by another company until that also went bankrupt. The same thing happened in my third job. However, my Buddhist practice pushed me to continue doing my best, regardless of my situation.

Impressed by this attitude, one of my clients encouraged me to set up independently, and in May 2005, I established my own plumbing company, which made a name for itself for honesty and rapidly prospered.

In December 2009, I redesigned my house into a home-cum-showroom--a dream come true. Then on March 11, 2011, the great earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, sweeping away everything and leaving my hometown of Ishinomaki completely devastated.

When the tsunami struck right after the earthquake, I clung on to a pine tree and survived. The snow fell continuously on that dark moonless night, and I endured the freezing cold throughout the night.

At the break of day, the waters started to recede. I began searching for my wife, Kayoko. I kept slipping and falling in the black sludge. The ground was covered with debris. Smoke from the fires that had broken out after the tsunami blinded me. My eyes filled with tears of frustration as I searched. At last I found her. She was alive!

Ten days later, I went to search for my belongings where my house once stood. A familiar black handle was visible under the debris. I found my handheld drill which I had been using for a long time in my work as a plumber, its case cracked and the drill inside covered with mud. I held it in my hand with deep emotion and wiped off the mud. Since the earthquake, I had been battling a sense of helplessness in my heart, but with the drill in my hand, I felt as if hope had begun to rise from beneath the mountain of debris.

signThe 10-meter-long sign that Kurosawa erected amidst the rubble of his destroyed town reads, "Let's keep going, Ishinomaki!"

Not wanting to be crushed by the feeling of helplessness, I decided to make a large signboard as proof of my determination to get back on my feet. Two friends joined me in assembling scrap wood with some screws we found in the rubble. With a sincere prayer for reconstruction, we began painting the words, "Ganbaro! Ishinomaki" (Let's keep going, Ishinomaki!). On April 11, exactly a month after that fateful day, the signboard, 1.8 m x 10 m, could be seen in the devastated city, standing in the ruins of my home.

Everyone was grappling with despair, sorrow and helplessness. If I could help even a single person feel a glimmer of hope from the message on the signboard, I would be happy.

At first, I didn't understand the true significance of making this signboard, but I wanted to respond to the encouragement of my mentor, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, who I felt truly understood our pain and suffering and had urged us to hold our heads up high.

Throughout this past year, many people have expressed their appreciation for the signboard, telling me that they were truly encouraged by it and that it has given them the courage to move on. A number of newspapers around the country printed photos of the sign, which became a symbol of the undefeated spirit of Ishinomaki. I have realized that during trying times, it is especially crucial that we take just that one step forward.

I was eventually offered a new job and also got a loan from the bank. Now, a year later, I am busy with plumbing jobs, servicing boilers and so on, around the city. My next goal is to rebuild my home and showroom.

After going through everything that's happened over the past year, I have made an unshakable determination that I will not continue to suffer. I will definitely transform suffering into strength. That is my mission.

[Courtesy, July 2012 SGI Quarterly]

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