The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 50

The following is a translation of Part 50 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the February 2007 (No. 458) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 50: Saving Another At the Risk of Her Life

This is a story from the time when Yoshi Nakagawa, the first head minister of Tohon Daikyokai, was still doing missionary work in Akakuma. She stepped into a general goods store and the old woman who ran it mentioned to her that a woman nearby had just passed away after suffering form post-delivery complications. Yoshi causally responded to this by saying: “That’s quite a shame! It wouldn’t have come to that if she had only clung to God for protection!”

Matters became complicated when a villager who overheard this said, “Yoshi, if you say so, then let’s use the power of Tenrikyo to bring her back to life!”

Soon, a number of people came to escort Yoshi to the recently deceased woman. A worker of miracles as she was, Yoshi felt the color drain away from her face. She thought to herself: There was no way to save someone who was already dead. However, the villagers were adamant. Eventually, Yoshi made the grim decision to go forward. She immediately apologized to God: “These people have come demanding to have a dead woman to be saved. I must admit that such a difficult task was brought before me because I been so strong-willed until now. I offer my apologies a thousand times over. Please allow me to make this selfish request to You to take my life now so that I do not dishonor Your name!”

Upon reaching the home of the deceased, Yoshi turned to the husband of the late woman and said: “There certainly must be great degree of resolve on your part for you to say you want your dead wife to be saved. Do you have enough resolve on your part to hear me out if her life was to be saved? The truth of heaven will work according according to the mind of the one who listens. To fulfill this impossible request to have this life be saved, you must make an impossible resolution.”

The man spoke for the first time, asking, “What do you mean by an ‘impossible resolution’?”

“It is sincerity. It is truth. Do you really think you can just ask God to save the life of your late wife? Are you really asking her to be saved with a mind of sincerity?”

“I would do anything if she were to be saved.”

“I am not talking about what you are willing to do after she saved. Tell me [of your resolution] before she is saved. You are making an impossible request. Can you still make such an impossible request after being reduced to nothing? Do you think you can bring back the life of your wife from the jaws of death with money or material possessions?”

The man, who until that moment schemed to “teach this hateful Tenrikyo missionary a lesson,” flinched before Yoshi’s resolve and found himself driven to a corner.

“I am also very serious as long as you are asking for your late wife to be saved. Surely you are very serious yourself to ask such a request. Show me your sincerity. Show me how serious you are.”

Yoshi had the man resolve all the sincerity he could muster. At that moment, she was able to see the measure of his spirit.

Then, Yoshi went outside to a frozen pond. Stepping and cracking the ice, she went in, immersing herself in the water to her neck. She sat, closed her eyes, and put her hands together in silent prayer. She invoked: “Tenri-O-no-Mikoto sama! I offer my life to You. Please do not allow me to dishonor Your name!”

Although the villagers vigilantly kept their eyes on Yoshi, their intent to teach her a lesson eventually evaporated before her steadfast resolve to save another at the risk of her life.

In two hours, the deceased woman came back to life. Blue in the face and lips turned purple, Yoshi was on the verge of losing consciousness. She was brought back to her senses when she heard someone saying: “Lady Yoshi from Tenri-san! The woman has been saved!”

Yoshi came out of the pond with help from the villagers. The clubs and bamboo spears they had readied were left hidden at the back of the house.

Reference: Takahashi Heisuke. Nakagawa Yoshi.

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


This is quite a disturbing story in that it relates how the villagers were planning to give Yoshi Nakagawa a lynching, if not plotting her death outright. It offers a glimpse into the degree of social stigma Tenrikyo had at one time in Japan. This is just one tale among many others demonstrating an almost superhuman level of faith held by Yoshi Nakagawa.

Supplemental information

Rev. Yoshi Nakagawa (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.

Further suggested reading

  • Takahashi Sadatsugu. Great and Gentle Mother: Yoshi Nakagawa (published by the Tenrikyo Overseas Mission Department in 1986)
  • The Faith of Yoshi Nakagawa (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)