The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 33

The following is a translation of Part 33 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the September 2005 (No. 441) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 33: The Faith of Yoshi Nakagawa (1 of 3)

A woman, obviously from the countryside, walks the streets of Tokyo in shabby clothes. She carries a baby on her back who, weakened from an empty stomach, is only able to occasionally whimper at best. She walks while tightly gripping the handle of a faded umbrella. She walks briskly under the bright sun with the baby’s diapers placed out to dry on top of her umbrella.

Here we see a glimpse of the youthful missionary days of Yoshi Nakagawa, the first head minister of Tohon.

One night, Yoshi decided to sleep in the precincts of a small Shinto shrine. The infant on her back began crying wildly in hunger, a hunger that spanned several days. Although she brought him to her breast, all he does is cry even louder. No matter how much Yoshi tried, not a drop of breastmilk came.

At a loss of what to do, Yoshi took out a washcloth from her bosom. It was a washcloth that contained Yoshi’s sweat and the tears she shed away from the view of others. She took the washcloth and dipped it in a nearby stream and offered it to her baby. He stopped crying and furiously began to suck at it. This child, named Mitsunosuke, sucked his mother’s sweat and tears in the stead of her breastmilk.

Yoshi offered the following prayer to God the Parent while she gazed upon her child:

“I have no intention now to allow my dedication to the path to waver because of the love I have for my child. But there is a long road ahead. I am the mother of my child. Imagine how wretched it would be if by some remote possibility I would become depressed in mind or have my dedication toward single-hearted salvation falter because of my child. Please, it would be better for You to take the life of Mitsunosuke at this moment. He would most likely think: What an unloving parent! But the merit which he gained together with me in his infancy striving for the path will surely remain with his soul for all eternity.”

Before long, dawn began to break. Scooping some water from the stream with her hands, she turned toward Jiba and offered it to God the Parent. At that moment, Yoshi perceived the immeasurable preciousness of a single drop of water.

“Thank you, thank you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I have now come to understand my indebtedness to God and Oyasama’s hardships. Please forgive me. How unworthy I am!”

As Yoshi looked up, she saw a single dandelion blooming. This small dandelion was blooming beautifully in the glare of the first rays of the morning sun. This single dandelion blooming in the early spring, this small noble flower, appeared infinitely beautiful in Yoshi’s eyes.

Yoshi recalled her memory from the time as follows:

“I had no intention of crushing the dandelion with my foot. The dandelion bloomed when the peak season arrived. I wondered to myself: Would the peak season to bloom ever arrive for me and my children like this dandelion? Then, I came to be filled with an inexpressible fondness for this single dandelion that I could not bring myself to crush it.”

Reference: Takahashi Sadatsugu 高橋定嗣. Oinaru jibo: Tohon shodai Nakagawa Yoshi no michi 『大いなる慈母 東本初代・中川よしの道』. (English translation published as Great and Gentle Mother: Yoshi Nakagawa by the Tenrikyo Overseas Mission Department in 1986)

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

Supplemental information

Rev. Yoshi Nakagawa 中川よし (also written 中川與志 1869–1922) later went on to become the first head minister of Tohon Fukyosho 東本布教所 (“fellowship” or “mission station”) in 1898. Now known as Tenrikyo Tohon Daikyokai 天理教東本大教会 (grand church), it currently oversees 541 bunkyokai (“branch churches”) and 557 fukyosho, including Honrikuto Church in Culver City, CA. Former branch churches of Tohon Daikyokai include: Honpo, Hon’ai, Honshiba, Hon’e, and Honriyo grand churches.

The above article overlaps with the first chapter of Great and Gentle Mother: Yoshi Nakagawa (pp. 1, 3–5).


While this is part one of a series of three articles, those of you out there who may wonder what happened to the infant Mitsunosuke are going to be sorely disappointed, since this is not mentioned in the next two articles. I assume it is covered in Great and Gentle Mother, but I cannot guarantee this, for I must readily and ashamedly admit that I have yet to read this important translation.

Yoshi Nakagawa’s faith is certainly extreme, a kind that cannot be easily imitated and lies beyond the ability of most believers.

I admit I sometimes go ballistic when I see a dandelion. My gut reaction is to pull it out. This gut reaction isn’t limited to actual dandelions. There’s a Winnie the Pooh counting book my aunt bought for my son that has a page with art depicting nine dandelion clocks with its seeds wafting in the wind. I couldn’t believe how much it sickened me when I recently saw it!

But there is something inexpressibly pure about Yoshi’s reaction to seeing a lone dandelion amid her ordeals as a Tenrikyo missionary. She demonstrates a purity of mind that is certainly beyond the capability of yours truly.