The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 8

The following is a translation of Part 8 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the August 2003 (No. 416) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. Note: This is a tentative translation may require further polishing and revision.

Part 8: Steamed Sweet Potatoes

Taemon Yamada was from Koga County in Shiga Prefecture. He heard about God’s teachings for the first time in August 1887 and made a pilgrimage to Jiba that same month. He subsequently aspired to save others. By February 1888, when the 38th Shidokai Confraternity was formed as Taemon as head, he had already helped save 500 people.

The following story is about a pilgrimage Taemon made to Jiba with a man named Kamiyama, who lived in Shigaraki. Both Kamiyama and Taemon met along the way and had a heart-to-heart talk as they walked along the road that hugged the Wazuka River. People in those days walked at a much faster pace than we do today, and it is said that by midday they had already reached the banks of the Kizu River or Kamo in southern Kyoto Prefecture.

Kamiyama then turned to Taemon, offering: “Yamada-san, why don’t we have lunch? There’s a nice tea house over there.”

Taemon spoke to Kamiyama in a deferential manner since he was younger and had been a member of the faith for a shorter period of time.

“Why, thank you for the offer, but I’m fine. I can’t bring myself to enter such a fancy establishment. I’ve brought my own lunch; I’ll go and eat by the side of the road.”

Taemon declined as if the proposal was completely out of the question, so Kamiyama did not press the issue any further and went to the tea house alone and had a lunch with a bottle of warm sake. As he wondered to himself what the head of his confraternity was going to do, his gaze followed Taemon, who went to sit on a bank alongside a rice paddy and began untying the cloth wrapper he had tied to his body. Kamiyama had been curious about what Taemon was carrying with him, and finally learned then that the cloth wrapper contained his roughly-packed lunch. Taemon spread the contents of his wrapped lunch on his lap, which were several steamed sweet potatoes.

It is possible to conclude from this that this pilgrimage very likely occurred in autumn. It was approximately the time when Taemon made a rapid freefall into poverty. Kamiyama felt pity for him, speculating that Taemon was so poor that he did not even have enough rice to make a lunch for his travels.

Returning to the road, the pair reached Jiba. They offered their donations when they sat before the Kanrodai to pay their respects to God. Since there were no donation boxes at the time, it was possible to see the amount of another’s donation even without meaning to. While it is unknown how much Kamiyama had offered, Taemon’s donation was 50 sen in silver coinage. Kamiyama was greatly astonished at this.

This was during a time when one sho (3.5 kg, or about 7.7 lbs.) of rice cost 6 sen. It also was a time when 8 sen paid for a night’s accommodations and two meals at the inn known as Sawafumi that stood by Sarusawa Pond in Nara. Thus it need not be mentioned how unprecedented and substantial the donation was. A typical donation was about 1 or 2 sen; an overly generous one would probably have been about 10 sen at the most.

Kamiyama is told to have said: “Yamada-san, I thought you were eating steamed sweet potatoes because you did not have any money. But that wasn’t the case. You’re someone who pushes yourself to the limit and exerts yourself for the path. You’re different from the rest of us; you’re a person without any greed.”

This is an episode that illustrates the degree of Taemon’s frugality and the bold steps he took to express his gratitude to God.

Reference: Yamamoto Soseki 山本素石. Taigu Taemon.

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

Supplemental information

Rev. Taemon Yamada 山田太右衛門 (1853–1927; also written 太右衞門) later went on to become the first head minister of Koga Shikyokai 甲賀支教会 (branch church) in 1889. Now known as Tenrikyo Koga Daikyokai 天理教甲賀大教会 (grand church), it currently oversees 212 bunkyokai (“branch churches”) and 398 fukyosho (“fellowships” or “mission stations”), including Columbia Church in Portland, OR, and Sawtelle Church in L.A. Former branch churches of Koga Daikyokai include Nikko, Gamo, Hino, Tsuga, Chichibu, Gimi, Namiki, Nakano, Nakane, and Tono grand churches.

Update on March 1, 2008: Columbia Church has been relocated to Vancouver, WA (sanction received on January 26, 2008).


The above story mentions that Rev. Taemon Yamada and Mr. Kamiyama “offered their donations when they sat before the Kanrodai to pay their respects to God.” Historically speaking, this was not a full wooden model of the Kanrodai (13 sections) since it was not until 1934 when a wooden Kanrodai built to Oyasama’s specifications was placed at Jiba for the first time.

At the time of the story, the Kanrodai was only made of two wooden sections, which was placed at Jiba in 1888. See Kanrodai monogatari, edited by Tenrikyo Doyusha, for more information.

I’d thought to add that there is a movie on the life of Rev. Taemon Yamada.