Generosity is Contagious

July 23, 2012 • Japan

By Michelle de Carion, staff writer

Most people have a hobby. It could be making jewelry, knitting, or collecting baseball cards. But I didn’t know what kinds of hobbies people have in other countries.

Japanese homeowner Kawanami-san’s favorite pastime is growing and shaping bonsai trees.

When I visited his house, newly built by Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in Ishinomaki, he picked up a magazine dedicated to these “little pots of earth” and fingered through the pages to show me what they look like.

I watched as his black eyes sparkled with amusement when he viewed the pictures of these beautiful trees, shaped by a bonsai artist.

This Japanese man had amassed 3,000 bonsai trees over the course of 37 years! This is why the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers gave him the nickname “the bonsai master.”

I looked out the back sliding glass door and saw hundreds of empty, muddy pots stacked high. Kawanami-san lost everything in the tsunami that hit over a year ago, including his beloved bonsai trees. Unfortunately, this is an expensive hobby, and he could not afford to replace them.

He was only able to salvage the pots because the plants were ruined. Many were swept away by the flood waters, never to be seen again.

As I walked around inside his new home, my eye caught eight living bonsai trees in the corner of the living room. The Samaritan’s Purse carpenters who rebuilt his home gave them to him as a parting gift of friendship.

Samaritan’s Purse teams are still in Japan, rebuilding homes for people who lost everything in the tsunami last March.

During the months the carpenters worked on the home, Kawanami-san and his wife Kuniko had brought them green tea and Japanese sweets and snacks as a thank you. Scott Zukeran, a carpenter from Hawaii, said he gained eight pounds while he worked in the neighborhood because the people were so generous.

Kawanami-san also took the carpenters out to dinner a few times and showed them where they could view the autumn leaves. Even though there was a language barrier, a close friendship developed.

Scott said they had planned to purchase three bonsai trees for Kawanami-san, but when they told the store owner who they were giving them to, the man was so touched by the act of kindness that he gave Scott five more for free.

“Generosity is contagious,” Scott said. “We were so touched by Kawanami-san’s show of love to us that we had to do something for him in return. I think giving is the best thing for the Japanese people because it helps them know that they are not alone.”

Kuniko was especially grateful for the company she received during the days the volunteers worked on the home.

“If I had been here by myself, I would have been crying all the time,” she said. “I will never forget the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. They made me feel joyful again.”

Kawanami-san was incredibly touched on the day the carpenters gave him the special gift.

“I was very surprised to receive the bonsai trees because Samaritan’s Purse was already helping me with the house,” he said. “I felt overwhelmed when they gave me the gift.”

This small token of friendship has given Kawanami-san hope for the future.

“There were times I wanted to give up after the tsunami, but when the people from Samaritan’s Purse came, I felt like I could stand back up again and move forward,” he said.

Bonsai trees may seem superfluous to the average person, but to this 67-year-old man who survived a terrible tragedy, they meant the world. Who knew that something so little could be so big in someone’s heart?

In meeting Kawanami-san that day, I was reminded of the parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus taught to illustrate how the Kingdom of God will be established.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13: 31-32, ESV).

I am confident that these small acts of generosity are like the smallest seed that was planted and will grow into a large tree. Each time we give something to others, and each time we sow seeds of the Gospel in hearts, we are building the Kingdom of God. Although Kawanami-san is Buddhist, he has witnessed the sincere love of Christians in action.

What kinds of seeds are you sowing today? No matter how small, they could be very big to someone who sees that somebody cares.