In honour of Ikumi Keiki, 1854-1927, Osaka, Japan.
The person who inspires every drop of our essence,
every line of our words, every statement of our attitude,
every aspect of our values and every decision about our destiny.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt made an unofficial visit to Japan in 1905, shortly before the peace treaty between Japan and Russia was signed, and showed a special interest in discovering the country’s culture and traditions.
A woman named Ikumi was the master who was put in charge of showing the president some of Japan’s many customs, including the tea ceremony, the art of calligraphy and ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. The president was fascinated by the great spiritual content of the Japanese arts and the deep mix of emotions they transmitted. “They have a power and a pull that I cannot describe, they have truly captivated me; there is something very strong here that I do not know how to put into words, but I can feel it”.
Weeks later the Japanese authorities received a written request from the White House, in which the American president explained his admiration for Japanese culture and his desire to discover the deeper meaning of what Ikumi had led him to feel, seeking to understand the force contained in the different Japanese art forms, forms that he had failed to fully decipher. The letter concluded with a very polite request asking that Ikumi personally be the one to reply to his letter.
This is the original letter, although parts were certainly censured by the Japanese authorities before it was sent:
Dear Mr. Roosevelt,
We are mesmerized by the powerful and furious fire of the dragon, and then we lose ourselves. We forget everything behind the fire. And it is precisely what is behind the fire, the dragon, that makes it possible for his fire to burn.
You can give yourself to the pursuit of perfection not only in the implicit humility of the tea ceremony, in the patient precision of calligraphy or the harmonious communion of flowers, but to any other way of Japanese life and every second of your life will have been given away. Every movement, gesture and instant in these arts involves the manifestation, worship and respect for our ancestors, our history and our culture, respect for who we are and everything around us, our friends and our enemies, for both the deliberate and lightning-fast decisions in which our fate awaits, every breath we take, for every word we utter, every moment we treasure. It is the expression of a tribute, a bow, a continuous ceremony honouring a way of thinking and feeling, a way of believing and of strength, a way of living and dying.
It means maintaining the spirit of what we were and who we continue to be in spite of time, circumstances and setbacks. It means understanding the use of tenacity and courage in every battle of life without losing honesty, fairness, courage and love. It means transforming fear into a warm breeze, choosing your actions based on principles and not fear. It means freeing the mind from distraction and training it to achieve excellence in all things. It means recognizing harmony, purity, quietness, humility, simplicity and the depth of the soft beauty that life in its infinite forms offers. It means admiring firmness and discipline, surrendering completely to a set of moral principles. It means flowing with the changing seasons, transforming yourself into spring when the time comes or into winter when it catches up to you. It means being able to live as if your body were already dead, and thus be free to take your path and achieve success in your calling. It means taking responsibility for shaping our soul, to look at the example of the past and incorporate it into ourselves, in the hopes of rediscovering our present and making sense of the future
"It comforts me to understand that there is now nothing. Courtesy of the roar that threatens the silence, only the beautiful beat of a spring flower will feel the cold rain of its storm".
Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment and work as an intermediary between Russia and Japan soon after. Work which meant the end of a war. It is said that the president wrote Ikumi again after the war ended, thanking her for her words and ensuring Ikumi that they had served to awaken his consciousness and were an unexpected source of enrichment and inspiration that he would always carry with him.