*The following is a translation of Part 11 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the November 2003 (No. 419) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is tentative and may require further revision.
Part 11: Repaying God’s Blessings
In August 1889, the heavens shook and the earth split as a raging catastrophe ravaged the countryside. Torrential rains devastated Yoshino County in Nara Prefecture. A hundred and 68 people perished in the six hamlets in village Totsukawa alone. Conditions descended to that of a living hell.
In October the same year, nearly 2600 people from 600 of the 2403 afflicted households left Totsukawa for the frontier of Hokkaido. The group crossed the treacherous mountain road, turning repeatedly to glance back at their home village, which they felt they would most likely never see again. Among this group were Sadayoshi and Nami Nishigaki. Nami was in the ninth month of her pregnancy.
October 27. The group, besieged by heavy wind and rain, boarded the steam train that took them from Sakai to Kobe. They left Kobe Harbor by boat and reached Otaru on November 6. Nami gave birth to a baby boy while the boat made its way via the Japan Sea.
Struck by cold winds and soon drenched in snow and mud, the group desperately made their way 50 kilometers or so inland by uncovered carts and by foot. By December, 39 people succumbed to disease. By July 1890, the death toll had reached 96 people.
One can easily imagine the severity of the long travel, the northern winter, and the primitive means in which they were reduced to making their living. Their new home was named “Shintotsukawa-mura” (“New Totsukawa Village”; currently known as Shintotsukawa-cho, Kabato County, Hokkaido Prefecture), where Sadayoshi spent the days swinging an axe in the Hokkaido wilderness.
One day, he confided to Nami that before leaving the village of his birth, his mother was saved from a gynecological disease of five years and he was saved from an illness that afflicted him for 30 years through a single Sazuke prayer administered by Yaichiro Ino, a Tenrikyo missionary.
Sadayoshi told his wife of this unforgettable experience that still stirred his emotions. Nami considered that any salvation her husband experienced was the same as any salvation she experienced herself. She willingly agreed to follow him in his endeavor to repay God’s blessings. This marked the beginning of the couple’s united effort to do o-tasuke (salvation work for others).
When they spent the day toiling to clear the land, they spent their nights dedicating themselves to o-tasuke. When they spent the day engaging in o-tasuke, they tilled the earth at night by the light of a bonfire.
Although he was devoting himself to engaging in o-tasuke in this way, Sadayoshi had never been to Jiba and thus had not received the sacrament of the Sazuke. All he did was fervently tell people who were ill about how he was saved.
After reading “the ten aspects of the complete providence” and “the eight dusts” — texts written for him by the missionary Yaichiro — Sadayoshi chanted God’s sacred name while stroking the afflicted area of the ill person.
The couple’s actions attracted the attention of others. When they went against the migrants’ written pledge, they received strict reprimands from village officers and fellow villagers. Yet Sadayoshi remained undaunted in his efforts to repay God’s blessings, and instances of miraculous cures followed him wherever he went.
Reference: Tenrikyo Doyusha, ed. Michi — Tenrikyo dendoshi o aruku.
Rev. Sadayoshi Nishigaki 西垣定喜 (1858–1933) later went on to become the first head minister of Shintotsukawa Fukyojimu-Toriastukai-sho 新十津川布教事務取扱所 (precursor to “fukyosho“) in 1893, the first Tenrikyo “kyokai” established in Hokkaido. It was renamed Uryu Shucchosho (出張所 “branch office”) in 1898 and is now known as Tenrikyo Uryu Daikyokai 天理教雨龍大教会 (grand church). It currently oversees 54 bunkyokai (“branch churches”) and 38 fukyosho (“fellowships” or “mission stations”).
Though any comparison will probably only go so far, the migration from Yoshino to Hokkaido conjures in my mind imagery akin to Grapes of Wrath.
The most amazing thing about this story is how Rev. Sadayoshi Nishigaki was able to save others without the truth of the Sazuke. In fact, according to the Tenrikyo jiten: kyokaishi hen (Church histories edition of the Tenrikyo encyclopedic dictionary), he did not receive the truth of the Sazuke until a year after he became head minister of Shintotsukawa. Someone needs to find those documents Yaichiro Ino gave him!
Further suggested reading
The series “Yukari no chi o otte” (Tracking historical locations) in the April to December 2005 issues of the monthly periodical Yoki (nos. 672–680) by essayist/artist Bunji Aoyama 青山文治 may prove useful for anyone who wishes to read more on Sadayoshi and Nami Nishigaki (it’s only in Japanese, however).