The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 39

The following is a translation of Part 39 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the March 2006 (No. 447) issue of Taimo, pp. 36–37. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 39: The Faith of Choe Jae-Han (1 of 2)

Choe Jae-Han, the founding minister of Won Nam Seong Gyohae (church), suffered from several illnesses from his youth. When he finally succumbed to Hansen’s disease, it left him without a place to work. Jae-Han subsequently abandoned himself to despair and plunged himself into a world of darkness. He spent his days and nights fighting and gambling; his notoriety increased as he repeatedly went in and out of prison.

However, one late summer, when he was 36, his suffering reached a saturation point. He developed a fever one morning which did not dissipate even at night. The fever continued to burn his insides over the next two days. Jae-Han remained in a comatose state for three days. Then, at around 2:30 a.m., his eyes suddenly opened. Still unconscious, he stopped breathing. His pupils dilated and his arms and legs twisted inward as if he was clinging onto a telephone pole.

His brother rushed to bang on the door of Tenrikyo Genwa Bunkyokai in Nara City in the wee hours of the dawn. It was about 7:30 a.m. when head minister Hideno Kimura arrived at Jae-Han’s bedside. A throng of people had gathered in front of the Choe home, located in an alley in Sakai City. A strange, foul odor wafted from inside and Jae-Han was a horrible sight to behold, curled on the bedding like an empty cicada shell.

Jae-Han’s brother cried, pleading: “Kimura sensei, please save Jae-Han! I won’t be able to face my ancestors if he were to die in this state. I’ll even offer a million yen, so please save him!”

Jae-Han came back to life at 8 a.m. after Rev. Kimura’s administration of the Sazuke. Jae-Han’s ghostlike eyes started moving before she concluded the Sazuke prayer. He yawned and exhaled a deep breath. The people who were lined outside roared in astonishment.

Thinking he had awoken from sleep, he attempted to surprise the people around him who were yakking away in excitement with a sudden shout. When he did so, his upper body sprang up like a coil.

When he tried to stand after having a slight urge to go to the toilet, his entire body shook for no apparent reason and he flipped over. When he tried to stand once again, his legs hardened like stone.

He had no option but to crawl flat on the floor like a cat slipping under a fence and was barely able to finish his business. In his profound struggle to go to the toilet, he deeply contemplated on the words he heard from Rev. Kimura just the other day: “The body is a thing we borrow from heaven.”

Jae-Han later learned from his brother about everything that had transpired after he had lost consciousness. He became convinced that the Tenrikyo Sazuke was a prayer that had the power to bring a dead person back to life and was profoundly struck by the divine miracle that took place. He then pledged to himself that he had to somehow repay the great blessing that restored him to life.

Reference: Yamamoto Soseki. Kaisei no bokensha: Choe Jae-Han.

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

Supplemental information

Choe Jae-Han (崔宰漢 최재한) went on to found Genhaku Bunkyokai (元博分教会) in Hakata in 1954, which was later relocated to South Korea in 1968 and renamed Won Nam Seong Gyohae (元南星教会). Won Nam Seong Gyohae currently oversees 37 branch churches, including three in Japan.

While the above reference is a good read, it is out of print at the moment. There happens to be a movie in Japanese based on it that is still available and it would be a great project to dub it in English or Korean with English subtitles. Some of the cheesy music needs to be taken out though.

Rev. Choe happens to be mentioned in an old article by Shimazono Susumu in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. That’s a pretty prestigious peer-reviewed journal, whoo-hoo! It must be noted that he happens to be referred as “Choi Jae-Whan” in the article. Korean is just one of many languages that prove to be difficult to romanize/render in the English/Latin alphabet. I’ve always struggled on how to do it properly myself; I still don’t know the best way to render 元南星/원남성: Won Nam Seong? Won-namseong? One nam sung? This wouldn’t be an issue if everyone could read Korean, considered by many as the most logical writing system on the planet.