Naorai (Post-Service Meal)

The following excerpt is from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 153–158) by Koji Sato, professor at Tenri University and instructor at Tenri Seminary. Note: This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Naorai (Post-Service Meal)

There is a naorai (post-service meal) following the monthly service of many Tenrikyo churches. There are mission stations that do the same.

Of course, there are churches and mission stations that do no have a post-service meal. There is also no set way on how to hold a naorai; there is a great variety among them.

The number of people of the path who see a naorai as a reception where worshipers eat and drink together is not few. However, naorai once had a special meaning in Shinto service (saishi). The origin of the word is naori-au or “a mutual return to normal.”

A Shinto service is said to be comprised of three parts.

The first part is the “ritual” or “ceremony” that begins with making offerings to a god or gods.

The second part consists of taking down the offered sake and food so the god(s) and human beings can share in partaking them. This is called the “naorai.” The famed nativist, folklorist, and Shinto scholar Shinobu Origuchi explains that it is called naorai because it was believed to be the time to confirm whether the ceremonies were conducted correctly and if they were not, the god Naobi-no-kami would use his power to correct any mistakes.

The third part of the Shinto service is the “banquet.”

Even at Tenrikyo Church Headquarters there was a time when the reception was separated from the partaking of offered sake.

In late 1893, constructive of the home of the Honseki Izo Iburi, located south of Church Headquarters, was completed. In the Divine Direction from the time, there was a request that went along the lines of, “Request to partake offered sake on the north property of the Honseki’s residence by church head ministers and important staff ministers before wining and dining on the second floor of Church Headquarters.”

Later, the original meaning of “naorai” as a shared meal with God gradually was forgotten and instead came to refer to the subsequent banquet or reception.

It is a blissful occasion to partake offered sake and smack one’s lips at a meal after conducting the solemn yet joyous service. It is an enjoyable event for those sharing the same faith to speak informally and frankly with their head minister.

However, there are times when excessive drinking leads to a deficiency of reason. Also, because Japan has increasingly become a society dependent upon automobiles, there has been an increase in the number of worshipers who come to church in their own vehicles. It is a matter of course that driving after consuming alcohol should not be permitted, even it was sake that was offered to God. Serious questions are now being raised about what a naorai ought to be and how it should be held.

There are several stories in Anecdotes of Oyasama that relate how Oyasama served sake to returning followers.

In one story, Sasuke Uehara, who later became the first head minister of Azuma Grand Church, met with Oyasama in May 1881. Oyasama was greatly pleased, served him Herself, piling some steamed bamboo shoots, sweet potatoes, and burdock root on a small plate. She also poured him some sake in a cup with a design the Sun and Moon with a cloud, and encouraged him to have a drink.

Anecdotes of Oyasama 81 ,”Now, Help Yourself”

Another time, in August 1886, Kinjiro Nakanishi of Osaka (later the first head minister of Oe Grand Church) came to pay his respects to Oyasama. Oyasama sipped a third of sweet rice wine from a cup with a Sun and Moon design, had him drink the rest, and gave the cup to him.

Anecdotes of Oyasama, 186 “Such a Fine Present”

These stories seem show us the ideal way in which God and human beings are to share food and drink.

God the Parent has granted the serving of alcohol at times of celebration. When members of Takayasu Branch Church (currently a grand church) requested permission to serve alcohol at their opening ceremony, God gave clear permission:

Sah, sah, it will be fine to serve it, it will be fine to serve it.

Osashizu, August 17, 1890

However, God the Parent stops at giving permission to excessive celebration that seeks to top the celebrations of others. When the same aforementioned Takayasu Branch Church was to conduct the Tenth Anniversary of Oyasama, they also were relocating the church and about to build a temporary shack on its premises. After seeking permission to build it, they also asked permission to serve sake and lunches to followers. In the Divine Directions from the time, we read:

Sah, sah, the mind alone, the mind alone. Listen and understand well the single truth to which I say, “the mind alone.” I completely accept the truth of the mind alone that says, “To do it this way is enough.” However, I cannot accept the truth of “We’ll do it this way because those people did so.” A troubling circumstance is an overwhelming circumstance; you cannot say that there is no truth of relief [in your hearts]. If it is the mind/thought alone, I shall accept.

Osashizu, March 13, 1896

Again, in another Divine Direction, we read:

At a small occasion, where everyone enjoys him or herself, at a happy occasion: a bit, a sip of an offering of sake I say. I must be able to accept the mind of dedication you have exerted until now. An offering can even be a bamboo leaf that is wet with sake. There is no need for anything fancy. Just have a little taste, a whiff of an aroma. Just prepare a little, I say.

Osashizu, July 4, 1892

Isn’t the expression “A bamboo leaf that is wet with sake can also be an offering,” rich and powerful words for us to consider?

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