The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 64

The following is a translation of Part 64 of the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the April 2008 (No. 472) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Part 64: “People Are Treasures, People Are Important”

On the alcove post in the room of Chujiro Okuma, the second head minister of Keijo Daikyokai, there was a strip of paper with the words “hito wa takara, hito wa taisetsu” — “People are treasures, people are important.” Rev. Okuma was a man who walked the path of a true person of faith and lived true to these words by wrapping his followers and those belonging to Keijo’s affiliate churches with unfathomable parental affection.

We would like to present an episode involving Rev. Okuma and a young live-in seinen named Shigeharu Yamamoto.

Yamamoto was a seinen who served Keijo in the early years of Showa (1926–1989). He had an unhappy childhood and a short temper. He had the tendency to be greatly confrontational and reckless toward people he believed to be wrong. For this reason, he could not find joy in his work wherever he was hired. Yamamoto failed to reflect upon his own nature and was consumed with resentment, feeling that everything was the fault of others, the fault of society, or the fault of the system.

Yamamoto began his seinen duties at Keijo with a wish to redeem himself, but he would become upset at the slightest things, and a year passed as he constantly thought about leaving the church either today or tomorrow.

At 2 a.m. on March 13, 1932, the day of Keijo’s monthly service, Yamamoto was sleeping in the church office. He was awoken by the sound of the front glass door shattering. He also heard someone shouting.

When Yamamoto went to the church entrance he found a drunken Mr. X. Not only did Yamamoto hate drunks, he particularly had a previous dislike for this man who was about the same age as his father. As he heard this man say to him, “You were slow opening the door,” his inborn nature got the best of him as he exploded in anger. After hitting Mr. X two or three times with his fists, Yamamoto tied the man to a tree in front of the church entrance.

Just then, the door of the west guest entrance quietly opened and Rev. Okuma appeared. He walked toward Yamamoto and gently inquired, “What happened?”

But before Yamamoto could answer, Rev. Okuma realized the situation and said with tears in his eyes: “Mr. X, your innen manifested itself tonight. Allow me to apologize.”

He turned to his seinen as said: “Mr. Yamamoto, allow me to ask for forgiveness. Could you please untie these ropes? Here, let me loosen them.”

Yamamoto unconsciously jumped to untie the ropes from Mr. X and carried them to his room. He could not get another wink of sleep that night. He could not shake out of his mind the generous words and gentle demeanor of Rev. Okuma — the first man who treated him like a human being.

There was certain a sadness concerning the justice of it all since the incident came about from a misstep on Yamamoto’s part and concerned a person that he had injured, not Rev. Okuma. It might have been possible that Yamamoto was sensitive to the contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in human nature. Further, he saw the true manner of how to live as a human being with Rev. Okuma’s conduct, who had taken on another’s misdeed as his own and could not help but show tears and ask for forgiveness from a no-name seinen.

This incident triggered a drastic change in Yamamoto’s life. He entered Tenri Seminary and began a life as a person of the faith.

Rev. Okuma helped raise numerous people with ardent thoughtfulness for his spiritual children and a consistent conviction in which he did not blame others but accepted any mishap as a sign of his own lack of virtue. This became the motivating force that allowed the miraculous blessing of Keijo Daikyokai and virtually all of its affiliate churches to reestablish themselves in Japan in a few years’ time after they were driven to abandon the Asian continent where they were originally founded.

Reference: Izurimachi Nobuyoshi. Junkyo no hito.

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


(1) This particular Footsteps episode is a good example of the difficulty of rendering “innen” into English. Rev. Okuma allegedly said “Your innen manifested itself tonight” to Mr. X. I have to wonder: Does it really make sense to translate innen into causality here? (Which official convention tells us to do at the moment.)

I have heard arguments that innen is a word that ought not to be translated into English (such as hinokishin among others). I tend to agree as I am unsure if “causality” really gets the point across. Is “innen” karma as we in the West have now come to understand it?

I once speculated that “innen” refers to certain “paths of the mind” or mindsets we each tend to have that help influence our lives for good or ill. Still giving the matter some thought….

(2) I am also not so keen about the concept of “spiritual parent” and “spiritual children” (ri no oya/ri no ko). I am unclear whether the terms themselves come from Scripture or not.

I’ve always suspected that the concept was either devised by some ministers to help them consolidate their authority over their followers or was something that took on a disproportionate emphasis in the Tenrikyo tradition. (I mean, I can think of a thousand other concepts and teachings that are, or ought to be, far more important.) I honestly have little tolerance for ministers who talk about “ri no oya” to no end. I must say, however, that Rev. Okuma sets an excellent example for not only ministers of Tenrikyo, but anyone who finds themselves in the position of nurturing and guiding others.

(3) Finally, that Mr. X seems to have been responsible for breaking the glass door and Mr. Yamamoto’s response reminds me of the words of Rev. Kuraji Kashiwagi: “When people with dust disappear from a church, it means that there are no longer new people coming into the church. This means that the truth of the activities devoted to single-hearted salvation at the church has weakened. While this may look good, it is not something a church should be happy about.” (click here for my source of this quote)

As I grew active in Tenrikyo, I have certainly met people who were not what you could call exemplary models (at times called naruhodo no hito) or people who embody the faith. When we begin to frequent church activities, it is almost guaranteed that we find ourselves interacting with people who get on our nerves and bring out the worst in us as exemplified in the episode with Mr. Yamamoto and Mr. X. Too many Tenrikyo followers end up leaving the fold altogether because they have issues with particular people, not with the teachings per-se.

This is certainly a sad thing. There needs to be some recognition on our part that we’re all in this together — trying to find our way to the Joyous Life and humanity is a work in progress; none of us are perfect. To put Rev. Kashiwagi’s words in another way, just as it is natural for a hospital to be filled with patients who are in need of physical healing, it is natural for a religious organization to be frequented by those who require spiritual improvement — and I would like to think this needs to be especially recognized by followers who have been with the faith longer than others.

Supplemental information

Originally Keijo Fukyosho 京城布教所 (Seoul “fellowship” or “mission station”) when founded by Matsujiro Okuma 大熊松次郎 in 1908. It was ranked as a daikyokai (grand church) beginning in 1940, the first and only church outside Japan to have such a designation until it was forced to relocate to Kyoto in 1946 as a result of Japan’s defeat in WWII. Rev. Chujiro Okuma 大熊忠次郎 (1886–1957) served as the second head minister between 1931 and 1957.

Tenrikyo Keijo Daikyokai 天理教京城大教会 currently oversees 155 bunkyokai (“branch churches”) and 123 fukyosho, including Daejeon 大田, Hyeseong 慧星, Jeongneung 貞陵, and Seoheung 瑞興 Gyohae in South Korea.