Led to the Creator by the Beauty of the Truth
AS TOLD BY TSUYOSHI FUJII
SOME years ago I was given a rare opportunity. As assistant to Senei Ikenobo, headmaster of the Ikenobo school of flower arrangement, I was to arrange flowers in an elegant room of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan. We worked under tight security. In a tense atmosphere, I took care not to spill even a drop of water. That was one of the highlights of my career in the world of flower arrangement. Let me explain how I entered that world.
I was born in 1948 in Nishiwaki City, located in the northwest of Kobe, Japan. From childhood on I felt deeply moved by the changing beauty of the four seasons as reflected in flowers. However, I was brought up by my grandmother who was a devout Buddhist, so the thought of a Creator never came to my mind.
My mother taught and still teaches ikebana, or flower arrangement, in my hometown. In Japan, ikebana, also known as kado (the way of flowers), is a highly esteemed discipline. Although Mother never directly taught me the art, she had considerable influence on me. When the time came to decide what I would do in the future, I wanted to enter the world of ikebana. My teacher and my mother recommended a regular university course, but without hesitation I chose to attend the Ikenobo College. Ikenobo is the oldest discipline of ikebana in Japan. On being accepted, I studied the art of flower arrangement in earnest.
Into the World of Ikebana
Ikebana, a Japanese traditional art, has life as its theme. Let me explain. Flowers placed in a bucket at a florist shop may look pretty, but how do they compare with small plants blooming in a field or trees blossoming in the mountains? In a natural setting, you get a sense of life and the seasons. That is when your heart is more likely to be moved. Ikebana is a means of expressing that beauty in nature by using flowers and plants, making a motif out of what deeply touches you.
Suppose, for instance, that you want to convey the feel of autumn. You can do that by using the flowers of the season, such as gentian and patrinia, along with autumn leaves. Do you want to add a touch of refreshing breeze? A few stems of eulalia that sway slightly will do the trick, giving viewers the feel of an autumnal breeze. I was strongly drawn to ikebana, finding much joy in expressing myself by combining flowers and plants in the space above the flower vase.
A Large “Family”
The history of ikebana as a decorative art goes back 500 years. The schools of ikebana are dominated by what can be termed the headmaster-rule system. The position of the headmaster is hereditary. As the inheritor of artistic traditions, he holds patriarchal authority over a large “family” of followers. Along with the traditions, he is to hand down to the next generation new styles that he has established in harmony with the age in which he lives.
After graduating from the Ikenobo College and finishing a two-year technical course of kado, I started working at the Ikenobo Foundation in January 1971. I planned and organized “Ikebana Exhibitions by Ikenobo” throughout Japan. I also traveled around the country with the headmaster as one of his assistants in producing his works of art.
I still remember the very first time that I stood on the stage at the Fukuoka Sports Center to serve as the headmaster’s assistant while he demonstrated flower arrangement. Facing thousands of people, I was petrified. I bent stems and cut branches, all of which I should not have done. But the headmaster gently joked about this as he explained to the audience what he was doing. That helped me to relax.
When national events were held with celebrities from overseas, I accompanied the headmaster to arrange flowers for the occasion. As I mentioned at the outset, one such opportunity took me to an elegant room of the Imperial Palace.
Later, when the Ikenobo Central Training School was established with the purpose of reeducating instructors nationwide, I was entrusted with work related to teaching, making the curriculum, and supervising the production of textbooks and films to be used in lectures for some 200,000 trainees at 300 branches throughout Japan. I traveled all over the country to supervise the course. Ikenobo also has branches overseas, and I traveled to Taiwan several times a year. Thus I gained the trust of the headmaster and held a responsible position.
I enjoyed my work, but I was not fully satisfied with life. Behind the veil of beauty, there were things that disillusioned me. Jealousy and envy among trainees developed into slander, and local instructors often approached me for advice. But in an organization where old customs and power hold sway, much was beyond my control. Since many had a pure love for ikebana and took the course seriously, I sincerely tried to do my best so that they could learn with joy.
Initial Contact With the Beauty of the Truth
I disliked religion because I thought that it would lead to mental blindness. Besides, I had seen so much hypocrisy among those who talk about peace and happiness. On the other hand, my wife, Keiko, had sought truth from her childhood on. She had taken an interest in different religions and listened to their teachings, but none of them satisfied her spiritual hunger.
So when one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called at our home, Keiko agreed to a Bible study. She would tell me everything she learned and anything that impressed her. What Keiko told me had a pleasant ring, but I did not share her enthusiasm.
Still, Keiko kept telling me with real conviction what she learned from the Bible. She always slipped a couple of Bible-related magazines into my bag when I traveled. But I refused to read them. I was protective of what I had built up over the years. We had just purchased our own house, and somehow I had the idea that if I accepted Bible teachings, I would have to give the house up. Meanwhile, Keiko made rapid progress and put into practice what she believed. I felt left out and lonely. Although I knew that what she told me was right, I began to oppose her.
Opposed, yet Attracted
I used to come home from work late at night, but on the nights when Keiko attended the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I would purposely return later than usual. Even when I got home at two or three o’clock in the morning, Keiko would be waiting for me to tell me what happened that day, showing concern for me. But I could not tolerate the thought of my family leaving the house for a few hours to attend Christian meetings. I intensified my opposition and began to talk of divorce. Yet, Keiko remained firm.
I had a hard time understanding Keiko’s behavior. Despite our strained relationship and her asthma attacks, she was so happy in everything she did. It was Keiko’s pure heart and innocent gentleness that initially attracted me to her. And that was exactly why I was worried about her being deceived when she began to study the Bible.
Still, Keiko applied what she was learning and tried to be a good wife and mother. Although I was opposed, when she begged me to go to Christian meetings and assemblies, I attended from time to time, perhaps because I was proud of Keiko.
At the same time, I was jealous of Jehovah. When I saw Keiko trying to change, I wondered why Bible teachings have such profound effects on people. ‘Why is my wife willing to go through all sorts of difficulties for Jehovah?’ I thought.
Soon, some of the Christian brothers from Keiko’s congregation sought to visit me at home. I had no intention of meeting them. Yet, I wanted to know why Keiko had such peace of mind. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I agreed to a Bible study. As I got closer to those who visited me, I sensed something refreshing in them. Through the weekly study, Bible truth gradually seeped into my heart, and my views widened out.
The Beauty of Nature and of the Truth
When I tried to express the beauty and power of nature through ikebana, I fretted over how to convey its magnificence. Then, when I learned that it was Jehovah who created the wonders of nature, it all made sense to me. How can a puny man compete with the Creator’s artistic ability? Jehovah is the Supreme Artist! However, by trying to copy him, I began to arrange flowers in a much better way. In fact, after I started to study the Bible, people began to tell me that my work had changed, with gentleness being added to vigor.
Bible truths helped me to understand many things for the first time. When I learned that as the ruler of the world, Satan the Devil is behind today’s human suffering and that our heart is treacherous because of sin inherited from Adam, I at last understood the true meaning of what is taking place around us. (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 John 5:19) I learned that Jehovah is a peaceful God, abundant in love, justice, power, and wisdom (Deuteronomy 32:4; Romans 11:33; 1 John 4:8; Revelation 11:17); that God sent Jesus to die for us out of love (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:14); and that the time will come when there will be no suffering or death (Revelation 21:4). The beauty of these truths fascinated me. In addition to that, Jehovah’s Witnesses live by Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Seeing that firsthand assured me that this was the true religion.—Matthew 22:39.
A Hurdle to Clear
As the truth took root in my heart, I faced a challenge. When the headmaster was unable to attend funerals, I had often represented him in the Buddhist rituals. This became a trial for me when I was thinking of dedicating myself to Jehovah. I made a personal decision that I would not participate in Buddhist rites. (1 Corinthians 10:21) Respectfully, I explained to the headmaster that I intended to get baptized soon and had made up my mind not to share in any other worship, even if doing so involved my work. He told me that he had no objection to my becoming a Christian and that I could deal with religious matters in my own way. This reply came as a pleasant surprise because I thought I would be chastised and would lose my position.
With that hurdle cleared, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah at a Christian assembly in June 1983, a year after I started my Bible study. Coming out of the baptismal pool, I was welcomed by Keiko with a big smile and tears in her eyes. With tears in my own eyes, I thanked Jehovah with Keiko for the happiness we shared.
Decision to Give Up My Secular Career
The headmaster had shown great understanding toward my position as a dedicated Christian. I tried to fulfill my work responsibilities even more conscientiously than before. Nevertheless, I tried to keep a balance between my secular job and my Christian life. For seven years I intensified my share in the Christian ministry several months out of each year.
However, I had to think seriously about my only son’s spirituality and about Keiko’s deteriorating health. ‘I should spend more time with my family,’ I thought. I also wanted to keep Kingdom interests first in my life. These needs and desires moved me to pray to Jehovah about giving up my career in ikebana. The headmaster realized that my mind was set, and I was at last able to make a smooth retirement in July 1990 at the age of 42.
Helping Others to See the Beauty of the Truth
Soon after retiring, I started the full-time ministry to help others to find the truth. At present, I spend one day a week teaching flower arrangement, free from the constraints of the Ikenobo style. I have the privilege of serving as an elder in the congregation, and Keiko is enjoying pioneer service with fewer asthma attacks than before. Our son, now married, is a ministerial servant in a nearby congregation. What a precious privilege it is for all of us as a family to be able to serve Jehovah!
Under Jesus Christ’s Kingdom rule, I am looking forward to using the plants that I raise in my garden to create beautiful flower arrangements. My sincere desire is that together with my dear family, I may praise forever the majestic name of Jehovah, the Creator of everything beautiful.
[Picture on page 23]
With my wife, our son, and his family
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Through ikebana, you can express your impression of the beauty of nature