Catholic nun's 'how to live' becomes a hit in Japan

January 02, 2013

By JIRO SONODA/ Staff Writer

A book of teachings by a 96-year-old Canadian nun in Japan has been flying from shelves at bookstores here, with readers expressing thanks for her Christian and self-help advice, such as, "Always smile."

Sister Jeanne Bosse moved to Japan in 1947 as a member of the Congregation de Notre Dame, a Catholic order of nuns. Today, she carries out ministry work in Chofu, western Tokyo, playing the organ in chapel and leading Bible study classes.

The book, titled "Shiawase-wa Hohoemi-ga Tsuretekuru-no," or "Smile Brings Happiness," contains pithy advice on how to see the beauty in life and in others.

"Humans continue to grow as long as they live," Bosse writes.

The volume has run to four editions since going on sale in September, with a total of 19,000 copies printed so far. It is published by Media Factory Inc., which reports receiving letters of thanks from readers.

"It gave me courage," one wrote. Another said: "I copied out passages in my notebook."

"I have done nothing special. I was surprised to hear of the plan to publish it," Bosse said. "I pray that it will serve readers well and bring them hope."

Bosse moved to Japan at the age of 30. At first, she taught music at a school in Fukushima run by the Congregation de Notre Dame. She then worked as a supervisor and dorm mother at a dormitory for female college students in Chofu, and later as a mother superior at a convent in Kita-Kyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture. She then returned to the order's Chofu branch and since 1997 has led Bible studies there.

The book was the idea of 52-year-old Eri Kamata, who had lived in Bosse's dormitory as a college student and today is a participant in her Bible study classes. Kamata was always inspired by Bosse's fresh outlook on life and was determined to help get the sister's thoughts to a wider audience.

Kamata already possessed transcripts of some of Bosse's teachings, but she now began to interview her, compiling what eventually became a self-help volume.

The book opens with a simple exhortation: to smile at all times.

Kamata said everyone who meets Bosse remembers her smile.

"Your face will change, depending on what's in your mind," Bosse writes.

"Your face will shine," she advises, if you can try to appreciate anew something which until now you have taken for granted. And she adds, "Wash your heart clean every day, so that it doesn't gather dirt."

Perhaps Bosse's biggest advice is also her smallest: "Find delight even in tiny things."

"It is important to have a sense of wonder," Bosse writes, who urges readers to have curiosity in their daily lives, because they will find new treasures in things such as animals, food and the stars.

"View things positively," she writes, "as if wearing rose-tinted glasses."

Even disappointment can be turned to good, she explains, citing the time when, in her 70s, she received an order to relocate from Tokyo to Kita-Kyushu. The move baffled her, she writes, and led to her losing curiosity in life. But then she realized she had been able to work, thanks to the power of God and the people around her.

The experience left her with a greater understanding of the sufferings others must endure. "When you feel a thorn in your heart," she writes, "that's the time to review your life."

At age 89, Bosse underwent knee surgery, and at 90 learned how to use a computer.

Her daily routine remains an active one, playing the organ at Mass in the morning and later watching a Japanese TV drama. After lunch, she writes e-mail messages to her relatives in Canada. She does her hair, irons her clothes and does the cleaning.

Bosse eats a snack every day at 3 p.m., a rice ball rolled in dried seaweed. "My biggest sin is my appetite," she writes.

The book concludes with the words, "I, too, am on a journey."

By JIRO SONODA/ Staff Writer
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Sister Jeanne Bosse leads a Bible study group at the Congregation de Notre Dame mission in Tokyo's Chofu on Oct. 3. (Jiro Sonoda)

Sister Jeanne Bosse leads a Bible study group at the Congregation de Notre Dame mission in Tokyo's Chofu on Oct. 3. (Jiro Sonoda)

  • Sister Jeanne Bosse leads a Bible study group at the Congregation de Notre Dame mission in Tokyo's Chofu on Oct. 3. (Jiro Sonoda)

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