Herman Aihara had many feelings about many things. Some were unspoken as was the Japanese custom, but those he shared were voluminous. The following are expressions of some of these feelings over the last fifteen or so years, respectively included as his side of the story of looking back on his life.
“Disciplining physical unfreedom is the foundation of spiritual freedom. God didn’t give us unlimited biological freedom, but appreciating and taking into consideration our unfree physical condition leads us to greater freedom, both physically and spiritually.” (Macromuse, Spring 1985)
“The condition of no exclusivity is a state of mind with which one understands and lives Oneness or Totality…Exclusivity is one of the natural manifestations of ego. As long as we have an ego, we live with some exclusivity. Therefore, there are always wars, hatred, separation and antagonism among all human life.”(Macromuse, Summer 1984)
“Ohsawa’s medicine was to live with no exclusivity – to accept even sickness, bacteria, pains and tumors. Ohsawa’s medicine is not to eliminate bacteria, viruses, or tumors, but to make them your friends, your benefactors…Today, wars and antagonism cover (the) face of the earth. The cause of this lies in the fact that there is no real leader in today’s world society, whether political or spiritual.” (Macromuse, Summer 1984)
“My job is listening to complaints…To me, you are the teacher and I am the student. That is the way it works in Vega. Vega is where the students come and pay money and do the teaching. And the staff is learning. It used to be that the students were the only staff….At Vega you are learning basically yourselves.” (Talking to students about Vega)
“Usually death is physiological. The kidneys become weak and more acidic which stops metabolism. Glucose can’t be turned into energy. At this point the body knows it’s going to die. The heart weakens and slows down. The oxygen supply slows down and the brain stops functioning. We give up. This we call death. If the heart is strong we can come back. Sometimes you come back.” (Talking to students at Vega)
Herman had faced death at least four times over the years. Once, in a bathroom in Japan the heater for the bathtub was leaking gas and he was knocked unconscious. When he fell down, he hit the wall and his parents heard it and came and rescued him. Once, when he was mountain climbing, he fell twenty feet in two seconds, but was caught by an overhang. In these two seconds he saw his whole life flash before him. Because it happened so fast, there was no time for fear or pain. He calls this the borderline. When you come to it you either cross it or don’t. People who have previously died, like loved ones, invite you to cross it. If you refuse, you come back.
“The spirit never dies. You come back or repeat again and again, not in a physical body, a plant, or an animal, but something entirely different.”(Talking to students at Vega)
“Spiritual thinking understands God, or Infinity, Unconditional Love, Faith, Truth, Courage, Health, and Happiness. …the place from which one can understand both the physical world and the spiritual world at the same time is the narrow gate of heaven.
This came to me while I was in the water. When I gave up all emotion and accepted whatever God’s decision was for me, I reached the balancing point and I began floating toward the shore naturally. If I had continued to struggle I would have lost.
When we reach this balancing point we lose all emotion. We reach the point where we love everything and everyone, hate changes to love, enemy changes to friend, sickness changes to health, unhappiness changes to happiness. In other works, we reach God’s judgment or what Ohsawa called supreme judgment. Reaching this point is the goal of macrobiotics. Reaching supreme judgment is possible when we eat natural foods such as whole grains, fresh vegetables, and sea vegetables as our main food. Foods that are chemicalized, synthetic, or altered by processing are not balanced. If we eat these foods, we may lose the ability to see God’s wisdom, plan, memory, and goal. This is the cause of our sicknesses, bad emotions, and unhappiness.
The balance line between life and death is like a razor’s edge. Our life is a crossing of this thin edge. Nobody really knows what will happen a second later. Ohsawa sensei said we are born as we wish. I didn’t know I was born as I wished; however, I know I lived the way I wished after the age of 32 when I began macrobiotic thinking and eating.
To me, the macrobiotic way of life is to eat natural foods so that we are able to receive, understand, and accept God’s guidance and judgment. As Ohsawa said in his lectures, ‘No words, on teachings, no concepts have value unless the lead us to God or Infinity.'” (Macrobiotics Today, May/June 1996)
On February 5th, 1996, Herman almost drowned.
He was fishing in the Feather River when an unanticipated release of water from Oroville lake caught him by surprise. He lost his balance trying to negotiate the slippery bottom, faster current and rising water. His body floated on the water. The more he struggled, the more he sank.
“For a split second the sad idea that my life was over” crossed his mind. He decided just to relax. “I lay back on the water and watched the sky. It was so beautiful and peaceful. This was the balancing point. I heard a voice saying not to worry. It was the same voice I had heard from my teacher Ohsawa by telephone many years ago while he was still staying at my apartment in New York while I was traveling by boat to Holland and had forgotten my passport.
I began floating towards shore where a man extended a branch and pulled me out of the water. He left before I could ask his name. To me he was an angel sent by my teacher Ohsawa because I still have some of Ohsawa’s work left to do.”( Ironically, on Herman’s 77th birthday, arrangements were made to charter a fishing boat to take him out on Lake Oroville. The Captain of that boat turned out to be the person who saved him from the clutches of the Feather River.)
Soon after the fall equinox of 1920 , behind Nagasaki in Arita in Southern Japan, Nobuo Nishiyama (later named Herman by George Ohsawa to ease acceptance into western cultures) was born into a poor family of nine kids.
In this porcelain making town next to the white stone yielding mountains of Southern Japan, Herman had a happy childhood. Because his family knew they wouldn’t eventually be able to keep him, he was told that his real parents were in Tokyo, working on getting a business going and that he would go to them when they were ready.
He got along well with his first family, growing up in the country, in a more yin environment. At the age of 9 he was taken by his Aunt and Uncle to Tokyo, where they lived as a family in a very yang environment and he ate very yang foods all the time.
He didn’t get along with his new “parents”. He became unhappy and confused. His heart wasn’t being nourished.
Herman majored in metallurgy at a Tokyo University. It was here in 1941 that he first had the opportunity to meet Ohsawa.
Ohsawa was part of a seminar there titled Concept of World and gave a speech in which he included the principles of yin and yang. Herman was very interested and tried to eat this way at home, but became too yang because of too much oil, salt, and fish.
Many years later, after an unhappy arranged marriage and his wife committing suicide, he decided to go to Ohsawa’s school to find out how to live.
He embraced Ohsawa’s teachings and, in 1952, left the school and headed for America.
He was given a two month visa, but when it expired he had already decided that this was where he felt most comfortable. He had never felt that comfortable in Japan. For ten years he struggled with immigration.
In order to stay longer he enrolled in many different colleges and studied mathematics (which was easy for him because he wasn’t good with the language and his background was scientific) so he could get a student visa. He traveled to Europe once and to Nassau twice in attempts to reenter the US legally. Finally, President Kennedy mandated that 4000 foreign engineers would be allowed to stay legally and Herman was home.
When Herman first came here he went, as had two other of Ohsawa’s students, to New York. He stayed at Michio’s apartment on Manhattan.
He had been corresponding for several years with a woman he met at at Ohsawa’s school and, in 1955, he invited her to New York. After several months Herman and Cornellia were married by Michio
The language problem was restrictive on job opportunities so Michio, Herman, and Noboru Sato started a business together. It was a gift shop called Azuma that became successful and expanded to five stores.
Eventually, Herman had to leave New York because of the immigration problems. He returned in 1961 and worked to organize the macrobiotic community there…
Sandwiched between the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis was a time when the threat of nuclear war became very real in the early sixties.
The seeds of macrobiotics had been previously planted throughout the western world by George Ohsawa, and, through himself as well as in the form of his students, placed here and there to come to fruition under the nourishment of local surroundings. Manhattan was one of the places these seeds took root.
There, in a bustling megapolis abundant in opportunities for both learning and teaching, several Japanese immigrants began the long journey of establishing a more peaceful way of life based upon living in harmony with mother earth and her inhabitants.
Through subterranean stores and living quarters, little by little, step by step, the process unfolded. There was no organic food; there were few books; there was little support.
At first, hidden away from the threatening misunderstand it brought along with it, and then flowering out into the open, it was exposed to widespread attack from those armed with the fear that living in America had come to mean. The fear of conflict, the fear of sickness, the fear of poverty, the fear of failure, the fear of fear, the fear of death; all a ball and chain on the pursuit of a peaceful, one world existence.
Manhattan, a world center with its dense population and its economic base, also became a target in the threat of nuclear attack. The cold war was getting warmer. Many of those who could decided to leave this hot bed for the security and safety of rural America.
Based upon advice from George Ohsawa, these pioneers, Herman, Cornellia and twelve other families, thirty six people in all, headed cross country in an automobile caravan for California. They went to Chico and eventually formed the Chico-San Food Company (san is a Japanese term of respect).
In 1967 they moved to Carmichael, near Sacramento. Three years later they moved to San Francisco. After some time in San Francisco, they decided to leave the violent nature of the city and headed back to Oroville and bought a house for the Ohsawa Foundation.
They weren’t very welcome there because of their hippie like appearance and looked around for alternatives, finding a 50 acre piece of property located above Berry Creek on the Feather River at Middle fork with an altitude of 2000′. The price was a reasonable $85 per acre. However, the amount of energy it took to keep everything going as well as work the land wore everybody down and in 1978 it was sold and the move made to Oroville.
Once in Oroville, everything began to flourish. Later it was expanded to the present day property, of which part used to be a hospital where many of the townspeople were born.
Macrobiotics Today had its beginnings in the early sixties when Herman started a small newsletter in New York called Macrobiotic News.
In 1959 and 1960, George Ohsawa headed the first summer camps in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The camps moved around every year(Big Sur, 1964, Ohsawa; outside LA, 1967, Aihara) until landing in 1970 at French Meadows, where it’s been held ever since.
When Herman first came to California, the Ohsawa Foundation was in LA and Herman commuted back and forth. Tiring of this, the George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation was formed in 1970 in San Francisco to put on the camps and publish and distribute books. In 1974 Vega was established in Oroville, separated from GOMF as a tax exempt organization. The rest is history.
The brushes with death in his early life along with the near drowning in early 1996, the results of the coffee/donut incident as reported at the 1997 French Meadows Camps and the fact that Herman really didn’t make any changes in his lifestyle opens up speculation as to what he was doing.
Obviously he had experienced what it was like to be close to physical death, at least several times. When he was younger he looked upon it in terms of wanting to survive and to experience much more than he already had. Don’t just yet answer the call of the spiritual world if you don’t have to.
After many years of experiences and hard work the choice once again was presented to him. This time he never mentioned seeing his life flash before him, only about how relaxed he felt on the narrow edge of heaven’s gate; the comforting voice of his mentor’s angel telling him to stay in the physical world because he still had “some” more of Ohsawa’s work to do.
He was doing just that. He was telling us about letting it go. He was telling us not to be afraid. He was telling us about infinity, unconditional undying love, faith, truth, courage, health, and happiness. He was doing the rest of what he had been doing all his life. He knew that when it was time to go his heart would give out from the inside after giving so much outwardly. He understood the warning. He is smiling from somewhere beyond the razor’s edge.
On a beautiful picture perfect Northern California day in early March the following words were among those that flowed from the hearts of two who loved him in a gracious farewell:
“Herman understood who he was, where he came from and where he was going. He would spend the rest of his life on earth teaching us the importance of understanding these things for ourselves…He accepted mistakes of others just as graciously and patiently as he accepted all of life…He enjoyed his time at camp so much. In fact, he measured his life by camp. Every year he said, ‘Each time I come to camp I know I’ve lived another year’…Rest well my friend, until we somehow, in some way, meet again.” Carl Ferre
“His students should know that Herman was aware of how much you loved him at the end of his life. As he lay there in his room, your love, prayers and hopes arrived hour upon hour in waves of silence that engulfed him and they are arriving even now and for always. Once, at the hospital, in a very precious moment when no one else was there, I went close to his side and called his name. Herman’s eyes opened, a little, and I leaned down and said, ‘Herman, can you feel it? All of your students love you.’ His eyes opened much wider and he smiled that Herman smile at all of you. You make him very happy.” David Briscoe
Still fishing…to be continued…
We all have something to learn from this and the first thing is understanding what it means to be human. One from the heart.