The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 34

This is a translation of Part 34 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the October 2005 (No. 442) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 34: The Faith of Yoshi Nakagawa (2 of 3)

The following is an account of the birth of Yakichi and Yoshi Nakagawa’s third child Mitsunosuke. By this time Yoshi had gained the reputation in her area as a miracle worker through her salvation work. Yoshi was so busy that she nearly had no time to sleep as she devoted herself toward saving others up to her expected date of delivery. However, once she gave birth, Yoshi would no longer be able to engage in salvation work. So Yoshi offered the following prayer: “God, while I apologize for making such a selfish request, I ask that you somehow allow me to give birth after I am finished with helping this particular person.”

Yoshi, who immersed herself in her missionary work without the slightest concern for her own matters, requested God the Parent to extend her delivery three, four, even five times in this manner. Consequently, Mitsunosuke’s expected date of delivery passed and it is said that the child spent 11 to 12 months in Yoshi’s womb.1

On the day of her delivery, Yoshi was at the country retreat of Genjiro Kusakabe. Her eldest son, Kurakichi, who was eight years old at the time, came to the main house of Genjiro’s residence and said. “Mommy’s about to give birth to the baby.”

Hearing this, Genjiro’s wife Fusa became flustered and flew to the scene. Shizu Kusakabe, the head of Tanyo Shudansho, also rushed to help. Soon, several people had arrived to help. The first thing they thought to do was to boil some water. Yet there was no pot to boil water in.

All they found was a small pan with a hole that seemed to have cobwebs formed at its bottom. They all looked around the empty house once again with astonishment.

There was not a single grain of rice. There was no miso (soy bean paste). There was no firewood. All they saw were Yoshi, Kurakichi, and eldest daughter Haruko, who barely had enough clothes to wear. Kurakichi and Haruko were sitting still in the corner shoulder to shoulder.

Fusa and Shizu both wondered when Yoshi had the time to cook meals as she was usually running about night and day in the name of salvation work. Yet they had not imagined that Yoshi was living in such conditions. Come to think of it, they recalled how her two young children silently stood at the entrance every evening at dinnertime, holding hands as they waited for their mother who would not return.

No matter how much Yoshi devoted herself to saving others, the people who came to assist her delivery had not imagined the degree of her hardship. “We didn’t know. We’re so sorry. We’re so sorry.”

Fusa, Shizu, and the others all scattered while shedding tears. Each brought something: a pot; a washtub; firewood. They all cried in sorrow over Yoshi’s living conditions as they boiled water in preparation for the birth of the baby.

Nevertheless, Yoshi rejoiced, saying, “I am able to follow in the steps of Oyasama’s Divine Model in this way.”

Reference: Takahashi Sadatsugu. Oinaru jibo: Tohon shodai Nakagawa Yoshi no michi. (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 eighth chapter of Great and Gentle Mother: Yoshi Nakagawa (pp. 56–58).


Here is an excerpt from the “Translator’s Note” from Great and Gentle Mother that may help put the above story into perspective:

Some of the events reported in Great and Gentle Mother can seem quite shocking to the American reader, especially those concerning Yoshi Nakagawa’s neglect of her own children. I, personally, experienced very strong negative reactions to some sections. Although it is no way intended to apologize for or explain away such incidents, I have tried to set down some considerations here in order to help the reader to view these scenes in such a way as to increase understanding and, hopefully, to prevent alienation.

First of all, since this book was compiled from bits and pieces and is not a single narrative, and because no other biography of Yoshi is available in English, the reader should try to some extent to reserve judgment until reading the whole story.

Secondly, I think it is very important to keep Yoshi’s beliefs in mind. Yoshi was a person who took the Tenrikyo teachings very literally and put them into immediate practice. She sincerely believed that her fate left her no choice but to devote herself one hundred percent to being a missionary and that, if she did not give one hundred percent, she and her family, including her children, would then end up (as she put it to her daughter, Kiyoko) living “in the gutter.” She also believed that any hardships her children may have suffered in the course of her devotion to God’s work would be rewarded many times over, if not in their later adult lives, then in their future lives. Yoshi also believed that if she relied totally on God, then God would protect her and protect her children.

Thirdly, the style in which some incidents are told seems to be especially agonizing for the Western reader. By going into great detail concerning the physical suffering of Yoshi’s children, the author appears to be going out of his way to make things worse — although, in fact, the reaction of the native Japanese reader may be that of increasingly teary-eyed admiration for Yoshi’s noble sacrifice. Indeed, this very conflict between duty (her pledge to devote herself entirely to God’s service) and her emotion (her pain at seeing her beloved children suffer) is a classic one in Japanese literature.

Finally, do not forget that Yoshi loved her children dearly and was even afraid that her feelings might get in the way of her determination to put all of her energy into saving other people. Yoshi’s love for them may not be expressed in so many words in some scenes because it is already understood by the Japanese reader; unfortunately, however, the cynical, contemporary American may require much more reassurance.

pp. v–vi.


  1. “Eleven to 12 months” here corresponds to the traditional Japanese count, which adds a month to the Western manner in which a woman’s month of pregnancy is counted.