The following is a translation of an excerpt from the writings of Eitaro Imamura (1894–1969), who held several positions throughout his career as a Honbu-jun’in (senior official of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters), such as superintendent of Aomori, Akita, Iwate, and Wakayama dioceses, president of Doyusha, head of Publications Approval Office, and first head minister of Jibun Branch Church.
66. A Cherry Blossom Viewing in the Honseki’s Front Garden
There is the saying, “Cherry blossoms in full bloom in the third lunar month.” This would fall in early or mid-April according to the Gregorian calendar.
The mist hugs the foot of the mountains that surround the Yamato plain, which seems to float halfway in the mild warm air, looking very much like a scene from a traditional ink painting.
Clusters of various colors — the yellow of dandelions, the ruby-reds of the Chinese milk vetch, the refreshing green fields of newly grown wheat — present a tapestry of natural beauty.
There are many places in Yamato famous for its cherry blossoms. Areas centered near Imperial mausoleums and ancient burial tombs now are home to trees with the most dazzling flowers.
On one sunny day, the garden is filled with the light from the warm spring sun rising behind the roof of the Honseki’s home. The garden is located across the South Gatehouse past a clear, narrow brook, flanked by the homes of the Iburi and Nagao families and that of Shobei Masuno and Isaburo Masui in the back. The garden surrounded by these houses is about 660 square meters. In the open space within are several cherry trees. Among them are trees that are quite old, all in the glory of full bloom. Under the trees lies a straw mat where rice balls, sushi rice and other foods are prepared. The people of Mishima Village are talking and laughing merrily as they pour sake for one another. A warm, fresh breeze scatters a few petals into everyone’s sake cups.
This is a scene from a cherry blossom viewing where villagers have come at the Honseki’s invitation.
It was a little past noon when the Honseki appeared in his usual topknot hairstyle and wearing a short formal coat adorned with his family crest. He smiles cheerfully as he walks about, pouring sake for those attending. The people raise their cups in appreciation, imbibing their drinks deliciously. At times people can be seen exchanging conversation and jokes with the Honseki.
This intimate setting would continue for some time. The first Shinbashira and several leading ministers also stop by to share conversation, jokes, and a few drinks.
The Honseki would return to his home after about an hour. The villagers, however, are still deeply engrossed in the party under the cherry blossoms and show no signs of leaving. There are those who enjoy themselves to the fullest and hold out until evening.
This once-a-year party was a form of recreation for the villagers at the time. It also served as a place to nurture secure ties between the people of the village with those of Church Headquarters. When the cherry blossoms began to bloom, many people would wonder aloud, almost automatically with eager expectation, “I wonder when the Honseki will have his cherry blossom viewing this year.”
Those cherry trees that held so many nostalgic memories have since disappeared. I do not recall if they withered away, were cut down, or were replanted elsewhere. But the vision of those cherry trees that made those goodwill parties possible has not waned; these trees remain clear and vivid in my mind.
The path has since expanded year by year. The numbers of followers returning to Jiba have only increased. Many new dormitories have since been built and the area called “Jiba” has grown in size. The organization that is Church Headquarters has also grown, as well as the number of people it employs. There has been an exponential increase in merchants among the populace, as well as goods from all over Japan and abroad. It is almost impossible to imagine the change from the Jiba I knew as a child.
However, due to various factors, the intimacy between the local populace and those from Church Headquarters that was seen at the Honseki’s cherry blossom viewing parties is now gone. One can argue that the times and circumstances have changed, but I cannot deny that I feel a touch of sadness, a small void in the depths of my heart.
I cannot help but feel that the celebratory mood of the Sechi Festival originated with Oyasama’s intention in wanting to share the joy of the New Year with Her fellow villagers. There must have been the intention for Oyasama to become close, or rather to become one with Her neighbors. But is it an act of sacrilege on my part to presume that the Honseki took it upon himself to carry out this intention of Hers through a show of goodwill to the villagers with these cherry blossom viewings?
In the Mikagura-uta it says,
Villagers I wish to save at once,
But they do not understand My heart.
The heart of Oyasama embraces everyone in the world as Her own children. However, even among all Her children in the world, I believe that She always desired for those physically closest to Her — Her fellow villagers — to realize the heart of God the Parent before anyone else. Such is the reason why She wrote “Villagers I wish to save at once.” I cannot help but feel that this was Oyasama’s true intention reflected in these verses.
Oyasama taught us God the Parent’s intention and desire for humankind, God’s own children, to become one with the Parent. Although I may subject myself to criticism by making such a connection, various thoughts come to me as the cherry blossoms each year remind me of the parties at the Honseki’s home, who fully inherited Oyasama’s desire to share joy with Her children.
(From Ojiba konjaku banashi by Eitaro Imamura pp. 51–57, 60)
- Next installment in this series: 67. The Honseki’s Red Clothes
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.