Nurturing Our Youth

The following is an excerpt from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 52–58) by Koji Sato (佐藤浩司), assistant professor at Tenri University and instructor at Tenri Seminary. Note: This translation is tentative and may require further revision.

Nurturing Our Youth

In the 1950s, a dashing young actor appeared on the Hollywood movie scene and touched a chord with young audiences with his portrayal of an adolescent rebelling against the establishment and its sense of values. This was of course none other than James Dean in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, which have since become classic films.

Society at that time saw adolescence as an immature stage of development before adulthood and thus did not take what these young people said very seriously. The field of adolescent psychology began to flourish at about this time. Because adolescents are in the midst of the storm and stress of a susceptible age, an adult can ruin the life of a young person by making one false step in their interactions with them.

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On the path, since the Osashizu says “Until age 15, the condition is of his parents” (March 12, 1891 / 2:998), a 16-year-old is treated as a full-fledged member of the church. But until what age is a person considered a “youth” or “young adult” of the path?

Although there are proverbs such as “life begins at 50 (or 60)” and “forever young,” these are only forms of expression that do not provide us with a practical age bracket. The Tenrikyo Young Men’s Association happens to limit its official membership age at 40 and the Tenrikyo Women’s Association considers its unmarried members who are younger than 25 as its “young women.” But these are not regulations that are strictly upheld.

Even when two people are of the same age, the reality is that any difference in their positions, roles, or abilities may make one of them appear younger than the other. In any case, a “youth” refers to someone who still has some room left to mature while having a degree of hidden potential for a bright future.

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How did Oyasama interact with young people? There are several stories in Anecdotes of Oyasama where Oyasama tested Her strength with a few young men.

When Tamizo Ueda was 18, Oyasama said to him,

Tamizo, let’s have a test of strength to see who is stronger.

Anecdotes of Oyasama 61, “Beneath the Corridor”

They gripped their hands together and with a shout of “One, two, three!” they began to pull. No matter how much strength he mustered, Oyasama sat completely still. Tamizo was astonished at Oyasama’s strength.

Another time two brothers, Ryozo and Tamezo Yamazawa, pulled at Oyasama’s arms but She did not even move an inch. On the contrary, it is said that the harder they pulled, the closer they were pulled toward Oyasama. This happened when Tamezo was about 24 or 25 years of age.

Anecdotes of Oyasama 80 “The Two of You Together”

Tatsujiro Hirano (who later founded Sakai Grand Church) joined the faith when he was 24 years old after he was saved from poor health. One day, Oyasama asked Tatsujiro to grip Her hands. As he did so with trepid reverence, She asked:

Is that all the strength you have? Put forth more.

Tatsujiro then gripped Her hands with all his strength and Oyasama gripped back with even more strength. Tatsujiro was humbled and was keenly impressed with Oyasama’s greatness. Oyasama then said:

How old are you? It is remarkable that you have followed the path this far. The path ahead of you is long. No matter what you may encounter, do not become discouraged in faith. The future is all well.

Anecdotes of Oyasama 68, “The Path Ahead is Long”

There are also stories that describe how Oyasama tested Her strength in the same manner with a kendo instructor (174) and a sailor (152).

More than anything else, these are stories that attest to Oyasama’s position as the “Shrine of Tsukihi” (God). Furthermore, one also has the feeling that because young adults tend to become caught up with depending too much upon their own strength and smarts, Oyasama is cautioning that this can lead to conceitedness.

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Oyasama not only showed God’s greatness with overwhelming strength but also spoke to young people with warm affection.

When Tsurumatsu Nukuto (who later founded Otori Grand Church) was 16, he suffered from an ailment of the stomach and was brought to the Residence on a wooden door used as a stretcher in a critically ill condition.

Seeing him in this state, Oyasama said, “Poor fellow.” She then took off the kimono-undergarment that She was wearing and slipped it over Tsurumatsu’s head. He sensed dawn approaching as he felt the clothing that still contained Oyasama’s warmth enveloping his body.

Tsurumatsu then stayed at Jiba for a week, gradually making a full recovery. He had a habit of saying, “Even now I cannot forget that warmth,” as he devoted his life to serving the path.

Anecdotes of Oyasama 67, “Poor Fellow”

Not long after Komakchi Komatsu (who became the first head minister of Mitsu Grand Church) joined the faith after being saved from cholera, he was granted an audience with Oyasama, who said to him:

You are 18. You are still young. Go through life without erring. As long you do not err, there is no knowing how wonderful your future will be.

Anecdotes of Oyasama 103, “Without Erring”

Komakichi accepted these words and abided by them for the rest of his life.

It is not an easy decision for a person to embark on a life of faith. To do so, one must use the freedom of mind God has granted them and choose a set of teachings they regard to be the embodiment of truth and make it the cornerstone of all their thought and conduct. For a young person lacking in experience and firsthand knowledge, the decision to embark on a life of faith in this way is a difficult prospect.

I imagine that the decision made by both Tsurumatsu and Komakichi to embark on a life of faith was based on their joy at being saved from illness and experiencing Oyasama’s greatness, warmth, and affection in how She interacted and spoke with them.

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From the point of view of the world, gatherings of young people are often considered a bother. Yet, they are not a bother for the path. For the path, [such gatherings] are sufficiently important… If you consider people who are not yet ripe in age more important than your own children, there is no knowing what great things can be accomplished from [the point of view of] the world.

Osashizu, June 19, 1893

These are Divine Directions that were given in response to an inquiry regarding the illness of Tora Hirano, the wife of Rev. Narazo Hirano, the first minister of Koriyama Grand Church. This Divine Direction attests to the importance placed on this path toward focusing our attention on young people.

After receiving God’s instruction, both Rev. and Mrs. Hirano had successors of the path serve at their church as seinens. These young men grew up to become human resources who played significant roles for their church. The tradition of having “seinens” serve at churches through doing a variety of tasks to encourage their spiritual growth continues to be an important means to nurture the youth of the path.

*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.


I have taken the liberties here of revising and making what I see as small improvements to the some of the quotes from Anecdotes.

Unlike what Dr. Sato notes here, I doubt that many Tenrikyo churches treat their 15+year-olds as “full-fledged” members, even though age 15 seems to be the threshold when it comes to God holding individuals responsible for their use of mind. But his excerpt here offers some food for thought.

Being that age 15 seems to be such an important age in Tenrikyo, why isn’t there a special Tenrikyo coming-of-age ceremony like Judaism has with Bar or Bat Mitzva? I am familiar with the so-called recognition of graduates of Shonenkai (Boys and Girls Association) at an annual Sokai (General Meeting/Convention), but this seems to be something too low-key to really have an impact on the young ones. Exchanging a child’s amulet for an adult one in the Foundress’ Sanctuary might prove to be a good ceremony for younger members to realize they are responsible for their own thoughts and actions.