The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 52

The following is a translation of Part 52 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the April 2007 (No. 460) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 52: The Path of Repayment to God

Sailor Unosuke Tosa had been told at an Osaka hospital that his heart condition that arose from beriberi was beyond medical help. Yet, after hearing the teachings of the path spread to him from the proprietress of a sailor’s inn, he received the blessings of a vivid cure and returned to Jiba to express his appreciation.

Around that time (circa 1879), the Residence was quite a miserable sight; it had nothing comparable to the splendor of the grand shrines and temples that Unosuke was familiar with in his travels throughout Japan. Unosuke was astonished at seeing the condition of the Residence, and shed tears as he felt it was a tremendous shame that Oyasato — the Parental Home of everyone in the world and the abode of a living goddess — was in such a state.

Unosuke turned to Ryosuke Yamazawa, who sat nearby, and expressed his desire to donate a gate or a lantern as an expression for his gratitude for having been saved from certain death. Contrary to his expectations, Ryosuke Yamazawa waved his hand in dismissal and explained: “No, no. There is no need for such things. God here is the true Parent of the world’s people. Her only desire and delight is to see Her beloved children live the Joyous Life and She has long undergone a series of Hardships. Do you understand? If you wish to express your indebtedness and gratitude, there is no other path than to help save others so that they can live lives of joy.”

Unosuke thought: “That it is said God only delights to see the Joyous Life of Her children proves that She is the true Parent of human beings. Illness afforded me the thankful opportunity to meet the true Parent. How lucky can a person be?” Filled with solid determination, he said to himself, “As long as there is life in me, I will never stop walking the path that seeks to save others,” and greatly rejoiced at making his first step on the long road of making repayment to God.

Having been saved from certain death, Unosuke had experienced God with his very being. He was driven by an uplifting urge to perceive the divine intention and his innate desire that always sought to learn more. Such was evident in how he dedicated himself to practicing the service dance until he was unable to bend his knees to go to the toilet and how he manually copied a manuscript of the Ofudesaki when he stayed at the home of Tojiro Hakata on his way back from Jiba to Osaka.

The Ofudesaki subsequently captivated Unosuke’s attention and he devoted himself to its memorization. After some months had passed, one day he stopped by the home of Seizo Morita from Ikoma, who was looked up as the unofficial administrator of Tenrikyo affairs in the Western provinces, and said: “I have memorized the entire Ofudesaki, so I would like you to test me.”

Seizo Morita was inwardly astonished at this overture. He smiled as he reached for a copy of the Ofudesaki and sat before Unosuke, saying: “Please begin.”

Unosuke took a bow, placed both his hands on his lap, and calmly began reciting the Ofudesaki from memory. The verses flowed effortlessly from his lips like streaming water. Seizo Morita, who listened with admiration, lifted his hand to signal Unosuke to stop when he was about to complete reciting Part Three and said, “No need to go any further.”

Unosuke expressed his thanks, saying, “Forgive me for my immaturity,” and stood up to leave.

As Seizo Morita saw the dignified Unosuke walking off, he turned to his disciples — who were merely standing nearby, flabbergasted at what they had seen — and reprimanded them, saying: “Truly, we’ve met a man who is be reckoned with. He’s definitely in a league above all of you.”

Reference: Tenrikyo Muya Daikyokai. Shodai no ashiato.

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


While I imagined myself somewhat knowledgeable on Unosuke Tosa, to whom I ultimately trace the transmission of my faith to, I was unfamiliar with this episode. While there are religious traditions that highly value the memorization of scripture, personally, I find rote memorization to be somewhat overrated.

Memorization of the original text, as Unosuke did above, may have some value as the wording of the original text is considered sacred and therefore non-negotiable; once the wording is changed, its status as sacred text is potentially compromised.

With this in mind, there is the issue to consider whether or not memorizing a translation of scripture really amounts to anything of value, since there is always the possibility of an official translation being “improved” and changed since language is not static. Translations tend to require periodical updating. Memorization of a translated text has the tendency to promote attachment to a particular translation, undermining efforts to improve existing translations. The translations — which ideally, ought to be negotiable to some degree — become “non-negotiable” in of themselves, and this development hampers efforts to understand the intended message of the original texts. The phenomenon of some Christian sects insisting that the King James translation of the Bible is the only acceptable version comes to mind as I write.

Geez, that’s some weird tangent I went on!

Supplemental information

Rev. Unosuke Tosa 土佐卯之助(1855–1928) later went on to become the first head minister of Muya Shikyokai 撫養支教会 (branch church) in 1889. Now known as Tenrikyo Muya Daikyokai 天理教撫養大教会 (grand church), it currently oversees 160 bunkyokai (“branch churches”) and 194 fukyosho (“fellowships” or “mission stations”), including Daihakuyo, Guaimbé, Miko Bastos, Oriente, and São Miguel kyokai in São Paulo state, Brasil.

Former branch churches of Muya Daikyokai include Myodo, Shuto, Nan’a, Kagawa, Hofu, Awa, Takamatsu, and Kunina grand churches.

Further suggested reading

For more stories involving Rev. Unosuke Tosa, refer to:

There also happens to a movie based on his life.