The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 27

The following is a translation of Part 27 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the March 2005 (No. 435) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 27: Applause in a Prison Cell

Chujiro Otake immigrated to Brazil in 1929 and settled in Tietê, São Paulo state, where he labored to clear virgin forests and cultivate coffee. After much adversity and hardship, he began to concentrate on missionary work in the city of Bauru. He returned to Jiba with a large number of followers for the 50th Anniversary of Oyasama in 1936. Bauru Kyokai (church) was established in February of the same year and Chujiro was installed as the first head minister.

However, World War II soon brought on a dark age in the history of the Tenrikyo mission in Brazil. Before the full outbreak of the war, the Brazilian government enforced strict control on the Japanese populace. Under the rationale that Tenrikyo was a religion of the enemy, all Tenrikyo activities were subject to strict surveillance; churches were closed and gatherings of the congregation were banned.

Speaking the Japanese language was banned as well. Even Japanese who happened to chance upon each other on the street and exchanged greetings in their native language would not be spared from being taken into custody by the police.

Chujiro was taken into police custody in March 1942 and was detained by the Bauru police for 20 days before being transferred to São Paulo City Prison. While in jail, Chujiro always volunteered to clean the toilets. An old man, a fellow prisoner who was a follower of another religion, denounced him as an attention-seeker.

Not long after, Kichisaburo Nomura, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, was on his way home and had sent a message announcing that the war was expected to continue for some time. Anyone who wished to return to Japan had 48 hours to join him before his ship departed. While most of the Japanese prisoners chose to return to their home country, Chujiro did not. When the old man who had denounced him asked, “Why aren’t you going back to Japan?” Chujiro answered: “My fellow Tenrikyo brothers and sisters staked our lives to come to Brazil. I have no intention of going back.”

The old man then burst into tears and apologized to Chujiro: “I’m sorry. I’ve misjudged what Tenrikyo was about. Forgive me for insulting you.” The old man, who was an adherent of another religion, converted to become a Tenrikyo follower.

All the prisoners were assigned cleaning shifts on a regular basis. Yet Chujiro often volunteered to do the cleaning when the shifts were assigned to elderly prisoners. When a German prisoner complained it was only fair to have everyone do their shifts, Chujiro replied, “We members of the Tenrikyo faith take it upon ourselves to do undesirable tasks.”

The man was impressed by Chujiro’s words and said: “That’s admirable of you to take on undesirable tasks for the elderly prisoners. Although we can’t do anything to show our goodwill in a prison, the least we can do is to give you a round of applause.”

So all the prisoners gave Chujiro a round of applause each time he returned from outside, which would continue until he reached his bed located at very back of the prison cell.

Reference: Daichi to taiyo no ko 『大地と大洋の子』.

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

Supplemental information

Rev. Chujiro Otake 大竹忠治郎 (1905–1992) later became the first bishop of Brasil Dendotyo (Tenrikyo Mission Headquarters in Brazil) in 1951. He is still highly revered by the Tenrikyo faithful in Brazil. There is even a bronze bust of him in a park that is named after him located near the mission headquarters!