Goddess mug shot

The Goddess Speaks

Faye Watanabe Kurren

Obligation and honor
still play important role

An abiding sense of obligation and honor has been deeply ingrained in me -- something that I believe is directly attributable to my Japanese-American heritage. I realize the concepts of obligation and honor may seem anachronistic and the thought of these being desired virtues of Japanese-American women may, admittedly, make many flinch. However, to put our modern-day sensibilities at ease, I want to clarify at the outset that we can all benefit by holding to these virtues while adapting them to be relevant in the 21st century.

The word "obligation" is typically associated with activities performed grudgingly or out of constraint. However, the obligation that I'm referring to has instead been a source of strength and empowerment for me. The desire to be a good steward of my skills and experiences for a better, more vibrant community has been an underlying principle for me and continues to influence my leadership style.

As a parent of two college-age daughters and a leader of a local company, I know that good qualities are passed on only by example, not by words. The same has been true in my own life, with both of my parents investing in the young lives of many students during their careers as public-school educators. Although I do not recall my parents speaking much about obligation and honor, their daily example served as a constant and vivid reminder of these virtues.

THE IMPORTANCE of each person's contribution to benefit the whole can be found in subtle yet profound ways in traditional Japanese activities. Mochitsuki, the pounding of mochi for the New Year's holiday, for example. After soaking hundreds of pounds of mochi rice and heaping them into flat wooden boxes stacked four deep over an open flame, the pounding process begins.

Two mallets are swung alternately in a rhythm that allows a third person kneeling by a stone urn to deftly turn the hot rice after three or four blows. All of this is hard work, but no one in our family would ever think of missing mochitsuki -- even if it means getting up early, working all day and coming home with burnt hands and sour muscles, covered with katakuriko, or potato starch, which is used to prevent the mochi from sticking.

In a small way, mochitsuki captures the essence of our Japanese heritage. It symbolizes respect and honor for the past and the joy of caring for family and friends and collectively enjoying the fruits of our labor. Bringing that same kind of care to the workplace and my community today is an obligation and truly an honor.

Faye Watanabe Kurren is the president of Tesoro Hawaii Corp. This essay is reprinted from "Japanese Women of Hawaii: A Legacy of Strength and Leadership." "The Goddess Speaks" is a Tuesday feature by and about women. If you have something to say, write "The Goddess Speaks," 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail

The Goddess Speaks is a Tuesday feature by and
about women. If you have something to say, write
"The Goddess Speaks," 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813;
or e-mail

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