The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 10

The following is a translation of Part 10 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the October 2003 (No. 418) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is tentative and may require further revision.

Part 10: “I Accept One Day as A Thousand Days”

In 1883, plasterer and head of Meishin-gumi Confraternity, Shirobei Umetani, stayed several days at the Residence and poured his heart and soul into the final touchups during the construction of Oyasama’s Resting House. The Resting House was completed in mid-November.

Oyasama waited for the proper time before making Her move from the South Gatehouse into the newly built Resting House that still emitted the fragrance of fresh timber. At midnight on November 25 (or 10/26 according to the lunar calendar), followers of confraternities such as Meishin-gumi and Shinmei-gumi held paper lanterns bearing the names of their confraternities and welcomed Her when She made Her move. Shirobei received a set of Oyasama’s red clothes the following day.

Upon receiving a set of Oyasama’s red clothes, Shirobei’s pilgrimages to Jiba became ever more frequent. He especially felt obliged to return to the Residence each 26th according to the lunar calendar when the Service was performed. He made it a practice to rest from work on each 26th. As each 25th approached, we would restlessly wait until nightfall when he would begin the preparations for his trip.

Shirobei’s wife, Tane, would say to him: “Dear, it’s getting quite late. Won’t you wait until tomorrow and return by rickshaw?”

To which he replied: “It is an act of shallow faith to go and worship riding a rickshaw. I’m going to walk.”

Shirobei would put on his straw sandals and cross the Jusan Pass in the dark of night. Doing this every month of course affected his work. One day, one of his valuable customers, the owner of a silk thread warehouse in Awaza, Osaka, summoned him as he was working on an earthen kitchen furnace he had been hired to complete. The owner had heard how Shirobei had recently gained the reputation of abandoning his work to go to worship “Tenri-san.”

His customer said: “You know, Shirobei-san, I hear that you’re becoming immersed in a strange religion. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I won’t tolerate you leaving anything half-finished. Make a promise to me that you won’t go to worship in any situation as long as I’m paying you to do this job. If you leave this job unfinished, I won’t let you in here again, understand?”

Shirobei knew very well how difficult it was to gain the trust of a single customer. He could not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds; he was pressed to make a decision. Would he put his faith or his work first? His pride as a craftsman caused him to lift his head and say: “I understand. I won’t go to Yamato.”

Although Shirobei had been sincere when he made his promise, he nevertheless failed to show up on the 26th.

“I accept one day as a thousand days.”

These were the words he received from Oyasama on that day. Though he initially departed for Osaka in high spirits, his feet grew heavier and weary with each step that brought him closer to home. When Shirobei went back to the silk thread warehouse with his workbox on his shoulder, the owner said to him: “A promise is a promise. Today is the last day I’m allowing you inside.”

The owner then smiled at the speechless and crestfallen Shirobei and asked: “How about it? Won’t you tell me about this religion that you’re so involved in? Would you be willing to take me along with you one time?”

Shirobei realized his customer’s request after completing the kitchen furnace. It was only a matter of time before the man became a follower.

Reference: Yamamoto Junji 山本順司. Shizukanaru hono’o 『静かなる炎』

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

Supplemental information

Rev. Shirobei Umetani 梅谷四郎兵衞 (1847–1919) later went on to become the first head minister of Senba Bunkyokai 船場分教会 (branch church) in 1889. Now known as Tenrikyo Senba Daikyokai 天理教船場大教会 (grand church), it currently oversees 168 bunkyokai (“branch churches”) and 185 fukyosho (“fellowships” or “mission stations”), including Meishin Brasil and Meishin America Church in New York.

Further suggested readings

For more stories in Anecdotes of Oyasama on Rev. Shirobei Umetani, refer to:

See also


Carmen Blacker describes the cap of a medium being cut up and distributed to believers after a Shugendo rite (The Catalpa Bow, p. 271), which is remarkably similar to how Oyasama distributed pieces of her red clothes (kimono) as protective amulets (the shoko mamori or “Proof Amulet”). Oyasama also appears to have distributed a 12-petal flower crest made from her red clothes to Service performers who wore them when they conducted the Service for Rain (The Life of Oyasama pp. 116; 189).

However, I am not aware of any precedence in any Japanese religious tradition where a person who is regarded holy gives a set of his or her clothes to their followers. But one would assume she only gave them to individuals who she recognized as having achieved a certain level of faith (specific examples other than Rev. Shirobei’s are abound in Anecdotes; see 43, 51, 91, 121, 127, 136, 149, 186, and 200).

Yet I wonder how many followers received the truth of the Sazuke (“Divine Grant”) compared to those who received a set of her red clothes during the years 1874–1887. I speculate that Oyasama was more discerning of bestowing the truth of the Sazuke. I assume there were just a couple of followers at the most who received both the truth of the Sazuke and a set of her red clothes. (Gisaburo Nakata is the only follower that comes immediately to mind.) It might be a fruitful topic for future research.

There are several surviving narratives describing how Oyasama’s red clothes were used to heal illnesses.

  • In Anecdotes 67 describes how Oyasama herself used a worn red undergarment to heal Tsurumatsu Nukuto.
  • In Anecdotes 51 Oyasama instructs, “Whenever occasions require, put [these red clothes] on and pray.”
  • Anecdotes 136 describes how Gisaburo Nakata used the red garment he received from Oyasama to stroke and heal an afflicted area of an ill person.