Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 1

Just a few more things to note on Anecdotes of Oyasama as a whole and on this new series before I start digging into the content of Anecdotes 1:

  1. According to theologian Yoshinaru Ueda, when The Life of Oyasama was being put together leading up to the 70th Anniversary of Oyasama (1956), between 20 and 30 selections were considered for the publication before the second Shinbashira, Shozen Nakayama, gave a signal to take them out. He suggested that it would be best to wait until enough selections were collected that could make up an entire separate publication, which eventually became Anecdotes of Oyasama (Ueda 1976, 29). This would mean that the remaining 170 to 180 selections were collected in the 20-year gap between the two publications.
  2. Anecdotes is organized in the chronological order when the described events are thought to have occurred. Some selections from Anecdotes don’t have exact dates. As I noted last time, there are 200 selections in all and no narrative connects them all as a seamless whole. So I will do my best to indicate where each selection belongs within the larger historical context, to “fill in the gaps” so to speak as I go from selection to selection.
  3. I am starting this new series with the awareness that there is a degree of sensitivity at the official level on making Tenrikyo Scripture and supplemental texts to the Scripture such as Anecdotes available online. I certainly do not understand the reason why, and this sensitivity has not stopped people (majority Japanese) from posting content from the Scripture and supplemental texts in their blogs and websites.

Well, I’ll tell you what: This sure ain’t gonna stop me either! Since I would like all potential visitors to to know what I’m blogging about, I’ll include full texts of each selection. (If anyone says anything about this being an infringement on Tenrikyo Church HQ copyrights, I would make the argument that making content available online potentially leads to increased demand for product.)

Well, ready or not, here I go!

1. “Balls and Weights”

Oyasama was very deft. She used to separate cotton fiber from its seeds by pulling it apart with Her hands wrapped in cloth, and She did it very quickly.She also had a very good hand for spinning yarn out of the cotton that She had thus cleaned, and for weaving cloth from it.

The yarn was taken to a dyer, and fabrics were woven in patterns by Her. Her favorite patterns were elaborate ones, such designs as “balls and weights” and “cats and oval gold coins.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 1

Translation of “Sawa’s note”

Anecdotes 1 based on Kajimoto Sotaro’s oral account from 1954.”

My take

Anecdotes 1 is not dated in the text, but judging how Anecdotes 2 describes God’s first revelations through Oyasama (Miki Nakayama), one would be safe to assume it describes her life pre-1838.

“Balls and Weights” is the only pre-1838 selection in this collection, and I do not see it to have any particular religious meaning.

Yet it may be important in the sense that it potentially helps connect followers to Oyasama in describing her secular pursuits which she largely abandoned after becoming the “Shrine of Tsukihi” in 1838; reminding that although she is considered to have been conferred with divine status after 1838, she was once human like we were. But this is just my speculation.

To give a rough summary of Miki Nakayama’s life until 1838, she was born Miki Maegawa in 1798 (lunar 4/18, which would make it June 2 according to the Gregorian calendar). Her father was a musokunin, a quasi-peasant-samurai rank. It is believed to have been bestowed to him by the local lord after he provided lumber for a construction project. The rank was limited to his generation alone and could not be inherited by his sons (Tenrikyō Dōyūsha 15, n. 15).

The Life of Oyasama notes that Miki was a particularly gifted and “remarkable” child. When I initially pondered where to place Anecdotes 1 in its historical context, I intuitively placed somewhere between the following passages:

When She was about six, She began to sew and to spin cotton thread by imitating Her mother. She knit money pouches and sewed small bags for holding rice bran, which She took pleasure in giving to the neighborhood children.

The Life of Oyasama, p. 8.

Miki never took lessons in needlework but mastered the art by Herself, simply by sitting beside Her mother and watching her work. She was able to make handicraft items, duplicating what She had seen but once.

By the age of twelve or thirteen, She not only cut and made garments out of wide bolts of cotton but was also able to weave with more dexterity than the average person.

The Life of Oyasama, p. 9.

Yet upon reconsideration, I realize it could be placed almost anywhere pre-1838.

Back to summarizing Oyasama’s early life, she is said to have been particularly devoted in her faith in Pure Land Buddhism and once expressed the desire to become a nun. She married Zenbei Nakayama, the scion of a landowning peasant household in 1810 (Making her 12 years old by Western count or 13 according to the customary manner of rendering age in Japan.) While she is described being an exemplary housewife, she lived a relatively quiet and normal life until 1837.

Back to Anecdotes 1, I only can wonder what these “elaborate” patterns that Oyasama sewed looked like. I did an online search of the original Japanese phrases with Google Images but did not have much luck with tama ni fundō (“balls and weights”).

“Neko ni koban” (“cats and oval coins”) proved to be more fruitful, and the majority of the results suggest something very similar to the lucky cat (“makeni neko“) found in shops across Japan. I would also like to mention here that the phrase “neko ni koban” is the Japanese equivalent of the maxim “pearls before swine,” though I don’t really think it has any deep significance here.

Some of the things Oyasama made allegedly have been preserved to the present, but I have never seen any of these items in person. I also wonder if Tenrikyo Church HQ has any of them in their possession. One wonders if these should be displayed as sacred artifacts somewhere in Jiba, but there appears to be a conscious de-emphasis on relics in Tenrikyo that can be found, for example, in variant expressions of Buddhism and Christianity.

If I ever were given the chance to redo this translation, it would probably look something like:

1. “Balls and Weights”

When Oyasama separated cotton fiber from the seed, She did it very quickly and effortlessly by pulling the fiber with Her hands wrapped in cloth. She was also quite skilled at spinning thread out of the cotton fiber that She collected in this way and at weaving at the loom.

After the yarn was taken to a dyer, She wove the fabric into various patterns. She was particularly good at weaving elaborate designs such as “balls and weights” and “cats and oval gold coins.”

Without a good idea of what the particular patterns “balls and weights” and “cats and oval coins” actually looked like, I can’t judge whether if the current translation can be improved on.

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


  • Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1996 [1967]. The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo (third edition). Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
  • Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1993. Hinagata kikō. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
  • Ueda Yoshinaru. 1976. “Kōhon Tenrikyō Oyasama-den itsuwa-hen ni tsuite.” Michi no dai 65 (May 1976), pp. 26–43.