When Resilience Meets Hope on the High Seas

Hironori Funatsu, Japan
Profile photo of Hironori Funatsu at a port
[© Seikyo Shimbun]

Hironori Funatsu, from Japan, leads an unconventional life. As chief engineer of an oceanographic research vessel and member of the Soka Gakkai High Seas Group (Jpn. Hato-kai), comprised of maritime workers, Mr. Funatsu is often hundreds of miles away from his loved ones. Amid the challenges at sea, he navigates not only the vast ocean but the fragility of the human spirit.

The oceans are shrouded in mystery. The oceanographic research vessel on which I serve as chief engineer conducts research on a wide range of subjects, including the composition of seawater, seafloor geology and marine life.

Large compass binnacle in foreground with a view of a freighter boat traversing the ocean in the background
[© Soka Gakkai Hato-kai]

As chief engineer, I am responsible for the operation and management of the engine room, which includes propulsion systems and various other machinery and equipment. The maintenance of engineering systems directly affects the lives of the crew. Each and every crew member plays a vital role in the department for which they are responsible and works together to support the operation of the ship with safety as the first priority.

We try to meet the demands of the researchers to help them achieve their research objectives under the pressure of limited time and fluctuating weather conditions.

Crisis in the Shipping Industry

Once we set sail, it can be up to four months before we return home. Spending time in the same space and interacting with the same people can make living on board monotonous.

Whether seafarers can find happiness in their life at sea is extremely important because it affects the quality of their work. How they spend their time off between voyages also helps them maintain their motivation at work.

Thanks to the activities of the Soka Gakkai’s High Seas Group, comprised of those working as international seafarers, I have been able to keep myself motivated at work.

When I was just starting out as an engineer on the ship, a senior member of the High Seas Group encouraged me to submit my photographs to the “Beyond the Horizon” exhibition showcasing photographs by the group’s members. It had just been launched the previous year, in 1987, and had become an annual exhibition.

The images included rare views that one could only encounter as a sailor—the massive hulls of ships, the exotic streets of ports of call and the smiling faces of the people there.

  • Large red vessel in the ocean with a view of a snow-capped mountain in the background.
    [© Soka Gakkai Hato-kai]
  • Large wave pounding the front of a ship.
    [© Soka Gakkai Hato-kai]

At the time, the Japanese maritime shipping industry had been hit hard by the recession. Many sailors were losing their jobs because of the decrease in demand for export goods from Japan.

This photo exhibition was filled with the enthusiasm of each and every member of the High Seas Group to reinvigorate the maritime shipping industry. It also conveyed the importance of hope in the face of any adversity in life.

I had been taking photographs as a hobby for some time and was inspired to explore their potential to encourage people and impart positive messages.

Exploring New Vistas

At one showing of the exhibition, I saw numerous smiling faces of the visitors. The feedback in the guestbook included comments such as “I was encouraged to keep going,” and “I was inspired to do my best.” I felt great that I could play a part in giving inspiration to viewers.

As Nichiren writes, “If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way.” I have learned that when I help others with the resolve “I will do my best for that person,” or “I want to encourage this person,” and see them become happy as a result, my sense of fulfillment deepens even more.

Finding my sense of purpose in the photo exhibition, I have since used my time off to help organize it, selecting the venues, packing and unloading the photographs and much more.

Statue of a seafarer on the bow of a ship with Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster in the background.
The main entrance to the IMO headquarters in London, UK, with a statue of a seafarer on the bow of a ship [Photo by Hironori Funatsu]

In June 2008, our exhibition was held at the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London. The IMO is a United Nations agency that sets global rules and regulations for maritime shipping and promotes international cooperation.

While we were preparing for the event, I looked out of the window and saw Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster across the River Thames. I was moved as I realized that the steady efforts we had been making in Japan over the course of two decades had expanded to a global level.

The exhibition was viewed by members of the British Royal Family and ambassadors of various countries and received a great response. Above all, this exhibition was depicted in The New Human Revolution—President Daisaku Ikeda’s serialized novel recounting the history and development of the Soka Gakkai around the world. It is a great honor that I will never forget.

The Power of Connection

While at sea, it can be very difficult to be away from family and friends over a long period of time. For example, my daughter had health complications as a baby, due to being born with a hole in her heart. However, I was able to remain positive because of my Buddhist practice. Fortunately, my daughter is healed and now thriving as a teenager.

I also gain great encouragement from my fellow Soka Gakkai members back home with whom I am able to keep in touch, thanks to technology. I feel energized and less lonely when my fellow members update me about their activities.

I will continue to dedicate myself to helping others, putting safety first so that everyone on board can go about their work with a smile on their face.

View a video of photos from the “Beyond the Horizon” exhibition here.

Adapted from an article in the May 8, 2022, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai Japan