Volume 30: Chapter 1, Great Mountain 21–30

Great Mountain 21

Shin’ichi personally guided the members of the All-China Youth Federation delegation to the site.

A short distance from the Zhou Cherry Tree, two cherry trees were readied for the tree-planting ceremony, a mound of fresh soil piled in front of them. The trees were about four meters (13 feet) tall, and were adorned with pale pink blossoms. The one on the left was the Zhou Enlai Cherry Tree, and the one on the right, the Deng Yingchao Cherry Tree.

With the members of the visiting delegation and a group of Soka University students looking on, the tree-planting ceremony began. Shin’ichi and delegation leader Gao Zhanxiang were handed shovels, with which they placed soil at the base of the trees. When they were finished, the young people applauded.

“Now, let’s all take a picture together!” Shin’ichi suggested. Everyone gathered in front of the trees for a group photo.

Looking deeply moved, Gao began to speak. A young interpreter then translated his words into Japanese: “President Yamamoto, the Zhou Cherry Tree and this pair of trees dedicated to Zhou Enlai and Deng Yingchao, husband and wife, eloquently convey the sincerity of your concern and actions for peace and friendship with China. I am overwhelmed with emotion. I would like to express my gratitude with an impromptu poem.”

He began to recite sonorously in Chinese:

Visiting our eastern neighbor
in the season of cherry blossoms,
we feel the deepest consideration and truest affection.
Admiring the blossoms, we appreciate all the more those who planted the trees,
as when drinking water,
we think often of those who dug the well.

Gao’s resonant voice was very moving. Shin’ichi was touched and humbled by this expression of gratitude.

The true origin of friendship is mutual appreciation.

After his return to China, Gao composed a poem recording the joy he had felt on visiting Japan:

The contacts between close neighbors,
separated only by a narrow strip of water,
flow inexhaustibly;
the flower of friendship
remains forever in springtime.

He also began to study Japanese with his son. He was confident that friendly exchange between the people of China and Japan would continue forever.

Premier Zhou Enlai was deeply determined to build friendship that would endure for generations.

When the baton of friendship is passed from generation to generation, it becomes genuine and indestructible.

Great Mountain 22

Shin’ichi had a great deal of respect and admiration for the All-China Youth Federation delegation leader Gao Zhanxiang, who was seven years his junior. The friendship they forged in Japan at that time never faded.

In the autumn of 1992, on the 20th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan, Shin’ichi made his eighth visit to China. On that occasion, the Chinese Ministry of Culture presented him with its first Contribution to Cultural Exchange Award, in recognition of his endeavors to promote cultural exchange between the two countries.

At the official ceremony, it was Gao Zhanxiang, then the vice minister of culture, who handed Shin’ichi the award certificate. In addition, Gao, who was well-versed in poetry, calligraphy, and photography, presented Shin’ichi with a calligraphy he had written, which read: “Separated only by a narrow strip of water; the farther the source, the longer the stream.”

Gao later went on to hold numerous other important posts, including member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, head of the Chinese Art Photography Association, secretary of the Chinese Federation of Literary and Art Circles, and chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Chinese Culture. In these multiple capacities, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to the promotion and development of cultural activities in China.

He also authored several books, including Wenhua li (The Power of Culture) and Shehui wenhua lun (Social and Cultural Theory).

Gao continued to exchange views on the power of culture with Shin’ichi, and for a year starting in 2010, a dialogue between them, titled Chikyu wo Musubu Bunkaryoku (The Unifying Power of Culture), was serialized in the Soka Gakkai–affiliated magazine Ushio. Published in book form in 2012, their dialogue focused on the power of culture to act as a force for peace unifying humanity and covered a wide variety of subjects, including the history of exchange between China and Japan, art, culture, and religion.

Having decided to step down as Soka Gakkai president, Shin’ichi had already turned his attention energetically to the world. The wars and conflicts troubling Asia and other regions deeply pained him. As a Buddhist and a human being, he resolved that now was the time to open the way to peace and human harmony. He also believed that this was the most important challenge in which world leaders and thinkers should join forces.

Like a great mountain, lofty and dignified, Shin’ichi gazed into the skies of the future. The uproar and commotion that swirled around him registered as little more than the sound of the trees rustling in the breeze.

Great Mountain 23

On April 9, a beautiful, clear day, the 9th Soka University Entrance Ceremony was held. It began at noon, and Shin’ichi Yamamoto, the university’s founder, addressed the entering students, wishing them all bright futures. Speaking on the importance of learning in life, he urged them to always maintain “a humble spirit of learning” and make the most of their four years at the university.

In his speech, he introduced a quotation from the German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918): “To the proud person, it is the absolute degree1 of his value that counts—to the vain person, it is the relative degree.”

Every individual has unique, absolute, inherent worth deserving of the highest respect and possesses a singular mission. When we take pride in this and dedicate ourselves to our own mission, we experience true joy and zest for living. Therefore, Shin’ichi stressed to the students, genuine success in life is not measured by such relative factors as social status or position. “Your life’s worth is not decided by others,” he said. “You decide your own worth. It is pointless to compare yourself to others and allow yourself to be swayed by relative or temporary assessments, or to be overly concerned with other people’s opinions and the latest trends. That is because, in the end, such things are as fleeting and insubstantial as foam on the waves.”

Shin’ichi concluded by expressing his hope that the students would not be passive or dependent, but actively pursue their own chosen path in life in accord with their convictions.

After the entrance ceremony, Shin’ichi attended a reception for guests. Then, at 7:00 p.m., he went to the front lobby of the Liberal Arts Building. There, four students from China who were to begin studying at the university’s Institute of Japanese Language had just arrived.

“Welcome to Soka University!” Shin’ichi greeted them. “I offer you my heartiest welcome as its founder. I would also like to thank you very much for choosing to study here.”

In April 1975, Soka University welcomed its first six students from China. They were the first students sponsored by the Chinese government to study in Japan since the normalization of relations between the two countries.

This was now the third group of students from China to study at Soka University. Those from the first group were already playing active roles in promoting friendship between China and Japan.

Great Mountain 24

Shin’ichi Yamamoto addressed the Chinese students: “Let’s take a photo to commemorate this occasion.”

Shin’ichi joined the students and accompanying Chinese embassy staff members in a photograph. He shook hands with everyone. As he started to walk with the group toward the entrance, he said to the Chinese students: “This is now your alma mater. If you have any questions, please feel free to confer with your teachers or fellow students.

“The first two groups of students from China all studied very hard, achieved remarkable growth, and have begun their careers. I hope you will do the same.

“The future of China and Japan rests on your shoulders. By studying hard, you will contribute to a deepening of China’s understanding of Japan. By making friends here, you will deepen Japan’s understanding of China. Let’s work together to build and protect a golden bridge for peace.”

The Chinese students, their eyes shining, nodded eagerly as they listened to Shin’ichi.

When they exited the building together and reached the two bronze statues that stood in the forecourt, a large group of Soka University students, seeing Shin’ichi and the Chinese students, came over.

Shin’ichi introduced the Chinese students: “These are the Chinese students of the third group to study here. Why don’t you welcome them by singing them the Soka University song?”

The Japanese students quickly formed into rows and put their arms on one another’s shoulders, with the Chinese students joining in. Their lively singing rang out in the spring night: “Over hills ablaze with scarlet azaleas . . . .”

Shin’ichi and the university president clapped along with vigor. The students swayed side to side as they sang, their impassioned voices united in song soaring skyward.

In his mind’s eye, Shin’ichi visualized the future friendship that would unfold between the people of China and Japan. He saw a beacon of hope lighting the way to peace. The friendly interactions of these young people symbolized the peace that lay ahead for tomorrow’s world.

For these Chinese students, their first day at Soka University must have been a most memorable one.

Great Mountain 25

On April 8, the day before Shin’ichi Yamamoto created new ties of friendship with the Chinese students at Soka University, Deng Yingchao arrived in Japan. She was the widow of the late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and a vice chairperson of China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. She was visiting Japan as the head of a delegation from the National People’s Congress at the invitation of leaders of both houses of the Japanese parliament.

On April 9, the 75-year-old Deng Yingchao had a busy schedule filled with official meetings. These included meetings with the parliamentary leaders who had invited the delegation, with Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira, and with the Japanese emperor.

Shin’ichi met Deng Yingchao at 3:30 p.m. on April 12, at the State Guesthouse in Moto-Akasaka, Tokyo. It had been seven months since their last encounter. In September the previous year (1978), during his fourth visit to China, Shin’ichi had the opportunity to meet with Deng Yingchao twice and talk with her at length. When he asked about her plans for visiting Japan, she said she would like to do so when the cherry blossoms her husband had loved were in full bloom.

Unfortunately, by the time she made her long-awaited trip to Japan, the cherry blossoms had already fallen in Tokyo. Wishing to allow her to enjoy the blossoms in some small way, Shin’ichi had double-flowered cherry blossoms from the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan delivered to her at the State Guesthouse. She expressed immense delight on seeing them.

The cherry blossoms were displayed in a beautiful arrangement in the Asahi no Ma (Morning Sun Room) of the State Guesthouse, where their meeting took place.

In addition to Deng Yingchao, the delegation National People’s Congress members present at the meeting that day, included many familiar faces from Shin’ichi’s visits to China. Among them were Standing Committee member Lin Liyun, who had interpreted at the meeting between Shin’ichi and Premier Zhou Enlai (in December 1974), and Zhao Puchu, who was also vice president of the Buddhist Association of China.

Deng Yingchao said energetically: “By all rights, I should have gone to pay my respects to you, but you have done me the honor of coming to see me.”

Consideration for others, expressed in words and actions, brings people’s hearts together.

Demurring, Shin’ichi greeted her warmly: “I’m just glad to see you so well. Thank you for making the long journey to Japan. I am overjoyed to be able to welcome you. Your visit to Japan will add beauty and fragrance to the history of our two nations, just like the cherry blossoms that perfume the spring air.”

Great Mountain 26

For his meeting with Deng Yingchao, Shin’ichi had prepared an album of photographs. It contained pictures of the Zhou Cherry Tree, which he had planted as a symbol of the premier’s wish for lasting friendship between China and Japan, as well as the Zhou Enlai and Deng Yingchao Cherry Trees, which he had just planted with members of the visiting delegation from the All-China Youth Federation. There were also photos of the Chinese international students studying at Soka University.

He showed the album to Deng Yingchao one page at a time, and told her that the students from China were studying hard. Looking at the pictures, she smiled brightly and said: “I really wanted to visit Soka University on this trip, but unfortunately my schedule won’t allow it this time.”

She recalled Shin’ichi’s fourth visit to China the previous September and spoke fondly of her memories of their meetings on that occasion.

During that visit, Shin’ichi had spoken to her about holding an exhibition in Japan conveying Premier Zhou’s spirit and achievements, using it as a means to promote enduring friendship between the people of the two countries.

Their conversation at the State Guesthouse in Tokyo also touched on the proposed exhibition, Deng Yingchao’s impressions of Japan, her meeting with the Japanese emperor, and China’s progress in implementing the goals set forth by Zhou Enlai known as the Four Modernizations. As they enjoyed a friendly exchange of thoughts, the time seemed to fly by.

Deng Yingchao asked Shin’ichi to visit China again, and he replied with a smile that he would and looked forward to seeing her again soon. Their cordial conversation ended after about 40 minutes.

Everyone stood up and began to move toward the entrance. Then, feeling as if he couldn’t leave without telling her what was in his heart, Shin’ichi said to her: “Actually, I’m thinking of stepping down as Soka Gakkai president.”

Deng Yingchao stopped suddenly. She looked Shin’ichi in the eye and said: “President Yamamoto. You mustn’t do that. You are still too young. And most importantly, you have the support of the people. As long as you have their support, you must not step down.”

Hers were the serious eyes of a leader who had devoted her entire life, together with her husband Zhou Enlai, to building the People’s Republic of China; they were also the eyes of a loving mother of the people.

Great Mountain 27

Deng Yingchao said emphatically: “You must not retreat a single step!”

Then, a smile returned to her face.

As someone who had struggled ceaselessly for decades in the most perilous of circumstances, with foes on all sides, her words carried great weight. Of course, it would be up to him to decide whether to step down as president, but Shin’ichi was touched by Deng Yingchao’s sincerity and grateful for her words of support.

In response to her heartfelt concern, he renewed his determination to work as long as he lived for enduring friendship between China and Japan, no matter what his position or circumstances, just as he had vowed he would to Premier Zhou.

To keep his promise to Deng Yingchao and to fulfill his vow to continue working for friendly relations between the two countries, Shin’ichi visited China for a fifth time the following year, in April 1980.

Deng Yingchao invited Shin’ichi and his wife, Mineko, to her residence, the Xihuating (Western Flower Hall), in the Zhongnanhai area of Beijing. She had lived there with Zhou Enlai for many years.

Shin’ichi and his wife, and the others in their group, were shown into the living room, which, they were told, was where Premier Zhou had met many overseas guests before the completion of the Great Hall of the People. Deng Yingchao also showed them the garden of the residence. A crab apple tree was covered with pink buds, and lavender lilac blossoms perfumed the air.

They strolled through the garden as they continued their friendly conversation.

Shin’ichi visited China again in June 1984. On that occasion, Deng Yingchao welcomed him at the Great Hall of the People, in her capacity as the chairperson of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. She spoke of her wish to further expand opportunities for exchange between the young people of China and Japan.

Five years later, on June 4, 1989, the Tiananmen Square incident occurred in China. After that, many Western countries suspended official meetings with Chinese leaders, and Japan froze loans to the Chinese government, moves that isolated China within the international community.

Shin’ichi thought: “Ultimately, ordinary Chinese people are facing difficulties. Now is the time to strive even harder as their friend and open a window of exchange. That, after all, is the true meaning of loyalty and friendship!”

Only when we open such windows can dialogue take place.

Great Mountain 28

Originally, Shin’ichi was scheduled to visit China in September 1989 and take part in events celebrating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but because of various circumstances, his visit had to be postponed. Shin’ichi had a representative convey to Deng Yingchao his firm determination to visit in spring the following year. He also sent her a life-size portrait of her and Premier Zhou.

Shin’ichi was firmly determined to prevent China from being isolated within the international community.

Then, in May 1990, the 7th Soka Gakkai Delegation to China and an additional Soka Gakkai friendship exchange delegation—together comprising a total of 281 Japanese Soka Gakkai members—visited China. This served as a stimulus for the reopening of exchange with China, and after this many other groups who had been waiting and watching, hesitating to reengage with China, followed.

Shin’ichi and Mineko once again visited Deng Yingchao at her residence in Zhongnanhai.

She was 86 years old and had been hospitalized at the time, but she discharged herself from the hospital and greeted her guests at the door to her home. Shin’ichi rushed up to her and took her hand. She was already having difficulty walking and it was obvious that she was quite weak, but her mind remained as sharp as ever.

Shin’ichi said with great concern: “Please, as the mother of the people, stay well. When the mother is well, her children are well.”

Deng Yingchao presented Shin’ichi with an ivory paper knife that had belonged to Premier Zhou, as well as a jade pen holder that she had long used, saying that she very much wanted him to have them. Both gifts were tantamount to national treasures. She must have sensed that the end of her life was drawing near. Shin’ichi perceived her state of mind, and his heart ached. He accepted the gifts as symbols of the eternal struggle for peace and friendship.

It would be their last meeting. Deng Yingchao passed away two years later, in July 1992, at the age of 88. But the ties of friendship and trust she and Premier Zhou had built between China and Japan have lived on as an enduring bridge between the two peoples.

The heart is invisible. But when hearts are firmly joined, genuine friendship emerges.

Great Mountain 29

On the afternoon of April 13, the day after his meeting with Deng Yingchao at the State Guesthouse, Shin’ichi met with Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Matsushita Electric (later renamed Panasonic Corporation), in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Shin’ichi felt he should also inform Mr. Matsushita, with whom he had developed a close friendship, of his intention to resign as Soka Gakkai president.

“I intend to step down as president and continue my work in another capacity for the sake of the next generation and the future.”

Matsushita did not ask about the details, but said with a smile: “I see. So you are going to be stepping down from the post of president. I think the most admirable life is one where you can be proud of yourself and give yourself a pat on the back.”

It was a deeply insightful comment. Social or organizational positions or other people’s opinions and assessments are utterly insignificant. Living an honest life faithful to one’s own convictions is the way to true victory as a human being.

That evening, Shin’ichi traveled to the recently completed Kanagawa Culture Center in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, arriving there shortly after 8:00 p.m. The next day, April 14, he would be attending gongyo sessions marking the center’s opening.

The Kanagawa Culture Center was a 10-story building with two basement levels. Its red-brick façade gave it a stately, cosmopolitan air.

It was here in Kanagawa, at the Eastern Japan Youth Division Sports Meet held at the Mitsuzawa Stadium in Yokohama on September 8, 1957, that his mentor, Josei Toda, had made his Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. Kanagawa was, in that sense, the place where the Soka Gakkai’s peace movement began.

In front of the culture center was Yamashita Park, and beyond that, Yokohama Harbor. In the dark, ship lights bobbed in the harbor and a line of streetlamps stretched out like a beautiful string of sparkling jewels. It was a fitting place, Shin’ichi thought, to bring to a close the Seven Bells and to announce the Soka Gakkai’s departure on a new voyage of peace and culture.

As ship whistles sounded in the night air under starry skies, Shin’ichi sensed the coming dawn of a bright new day.

Great Mountain 30

On April 14, two gongyo sessions, one in the daytime and one that evening, were held to celebrate the opening of the Kanagawa Culture Center. The members present were filled with joy and excitement.

Shin’ichi attended both sessions and expressed his deepest appreciation for everyone’s efforts. In his words of encouragement at one session, he reminisced fondly about the first discussion meeting he attended in Yokohama: “I think it was 30 years ago, when I was 21. The meeting was being held at a leader’s home near Kokudo Station on the JNR (now JR) Tsurumi Line. There were five guests, and the room was full of members—men, women, young, and old.

“As befits a youth, I energetically shared my experience in faith and, introducing the guidance of my mentor, Josei Toda, stressed how great Nichiren Buddhism is. I recall that all five of the guests decided to join the Soka Gakkai that day.”

The most powerful force in propagation is not only rich life experience, but conviction in the power of the Gohonzon and the earnest wish for the happiness of the other person. Even if one is young, words filled with conviction and concern for others will resonate with people and strike a chord in their hearts.

“Here in Kanagawa, too, I have energetically participated in propagation activities and discussion meetings, and put my all into giving district Gosho lectures and personal guidance to members. All of those efforts are now happy and meaningful memories of my youth. I have also deeply engraved in my heart all of the precious, unforgettable members who strove in activities together with me.”

Shin’ichi thought that if it was announced that he was going to resign, the members would be more than a little surprised. But it was vital that their faith remain unswayed by anything. That’s why he felt he had to urge them to establish absolutely unshakable faith.

He added: “The Soka Gakkai will experience many turning points and face critical junctures that it must overcome. But at all times, the starting point we need to return to is what President Makiguchi called the ‘stand-alone spirit,’ the great spirit of kosen-rufu.”

  • *1Georg Simmel, The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 181.