July 7, 2019 Sermon
These days, when I fly to Tokyo, I try to fly into Haneda. It is much closer to where I
need to go. Still, jetlag keeps me up at night, and I naturally end up watching television at
two and three in the morning. This time, I felt lucky to have caught a very interesting
program by NHK called 「プロフェッシャナル、仕事の流儀」, which could be
translated, “Professional: the Way of Work.” The word, ryugi (流儀) is difficult to grasp.
For lack of a better word, I translated this here as “way”. But, in actuality one must
visualize a bit more to appreciate its true value. We are speaking of a way of life,
something in which one can spend an entire lifetime practicing, discovering, correcting, and
improving. It requires discipline, vision, and a desire to reach perfection. In this pursuit,
one can find truth.
This program airs weekly on Mondays. The one I saw was a rerun, but a great one
featuring Niitsu Haruko (新津春子), who happens to be the single reason why Haneda
Airport has consistently been awarded by Skytrax as the cleanest airport in the World.
Niitsu was born in Shenyang, China in 1970, to a Chinese mother and Japanese father. She
went to Japan at the age of seventeen, along with four other family members. Niitsu had a
hard life from such a young age. Shenyang is in Manchuria, one of the areas colonized by
the Japanese military before and during WWII. Throughout grade school, she was called
“Japanese devil”, yelled at, and thrown rocks at. When she went to Japan, she was
discriminated against again, this time she was called, “Chinese” because she could not
speak Japanese. She looked for a part-time job in high school, but no one wanted to hire her
because of her language deficiency. Finally, she saw a job ad for a cleaning position. She
thought that this job would not require her to be fluent in Japanese, and pounced on it. At
the age of 25, she was hired to clean at Haneda International Airport. She was hired, but
again, she experienced prejudice in her workplace. People also looked down upon her for
being in sanitation. She overcame these as she had to. She never thought that she hated
cleaning. In 1996, a year after she began work at Haneda Airport, she received a license
from the Japanese government as a professional in building sanitation. A year after that, she
was licensed to be an instructor in cleaning. By this time, she was acknowledged as the
airport’s number one or two most qualified sanitation experts. The Japanese take building
maintenance seriously, to the point that they have a building cleaner’s tournament every
year. As Haneda’s best, Niitsu entered this contest, but had always come in second or third.
She could not figure out why until her supervisor gave her some direction.
Niitsu had a talk with Suzuki Yu, who said, “You may be lacking in kindness” (「君に
はね、やさしさが足りないんじゃないかな」). Niitsu recalled what Suzuki had said,
“You are only thinking about yourself” (「自分のことはかり考えている」). What
Suzuki meant to say was that she did not seem to be doing it for others. She seemed to be
doing it only for herself. She finally understood that she was not lacking in technique, but
that her feeling towards cleaning was not enough. Niitsu recalled how she was before,
saying, “I always had a harsh countenance, treated my equipment wantonly, and I was

satisfied as long as my area was clean” (「いつも固い表情で作業し、道具を雑に扱い
、自分の担当場所さえキレイになればそれでいい」). Ever since her discussion with
Suzuki, Niitsu was reborn into someone who saw meaning in her cleaning. She cleaned
with a smile, with confidence, because she was doing it to serve others. She explains that
her happiness arrives from her knowledge that the people who use the facility are happy to
be in a clean environment. Niitsu entered this contest in 1997 and won first place as its
youngest recipient at the age of 27. Niitsu got married to her husband who she had known
since she was 20, but did so at the age of 28 because she had sworn not to get married until
she had won Japan’s national cleaning contest. This is the level of her dedication to
cleaning.
Today, Niitsu stands at the top of her profession, as the outright expert in cleaning at
Haneda Airport where there are about 500 employees in the maintenance division. Haneda
Airport was voted as the cleanest airport in the world again in 2019, making it the fourth
straight year that it was voted as the cleanest. What she discovered through her personal
objective of winning the national award for building cleaning can teach us many things
about our study.
First of all, let me point out how cleaning is an important practice for us. There is a
disciple of the Buddha named Shuri-handoku (周利槃特). He was not the most intelligent
disciple, whereas he had an older brother, Maka-handoku (魔訶槃特), who was very

cleaver. They both joined Sakyamuni’s sangha hoping to become his disciple. Alas, Shuri-
handoku was unable to learn even a verse of the sutra. Sakyamuni caught on to the fact that

Maka-handoku was trying to cast Shuri-handoku out of the sangha. This is when
Sakyamuni handed Shuri-handoku a piece of cloth and asked him to clean their living area
while chanting, “Get rid of dust, get rid of dirt.” Cleaning was all that was expected of
Shuri-handoku by the Buddha. And, it was all that he did. However, in this way, it is said
that Shuri-handoku learned about getting rid of rāga (貪), dveṣa (瞋), and moha (痴). “ton”
(貪) comes from “ton-yoku” (貪欲) or deep greed. “shin” (瞋) comes from “shin-i” (瞋恚)
or hateful anger. “chi” comes from “gu-chi” (愚痴) or utter ignorance. Together, they are
referred to as “san-doku” (三毒) or three poisons. Shuri-handoku did not need to memorize
difficult passages or learn difficult words to master a very difficult concept of Buddhism.
Niitsu’s discovery is equally important. What she had lacked in the beginning of her
practice were the right goals. Her emphasis was a bit misplaced. It was not that she lacked
technical expertise. She already possessed this in abundance beyond anyone. She lacked
the right frame of mind. Her objective was to become the best cleaner. Yet, in her quest,
she lost sight of what cleaning should be for–to help others. It was only when she
approached her job with the mindset of cleaning to create a good environment for its users
that she could finally complete herself. Today, Niitsu describes cleaning as “kindness” (
「清掃はやさしさ」). When she discovered love in her work, she was able to reach
higher goals. Seeking the best in you, whatever it may be, is a search for the Buddha within
you. (Eisei Ikenaga)