Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 2

2. At Every Revelation Uttered

In October 1838, when the divine truth was first revealed, daughter Omasa was fourteen years old, and daughter Okimi (later called Oharu) was eight. Later, recalling their mother’s changed demeanor, the two said, “We were so frightened at the utterance of every revelation that we threw ourselves into each other’s arms, trembling and pulling the quilt over our heads.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 1

My take

This is a very straight-ahead selection from Anecdotes, so I’ll just give my commentary on the content before describing the historical context.

I find the Japanese to be very direct, it has an impact that I don’t feel in the translation. It might have to do with the sequence of what is described. If I were to rework the English after looking at the original, I would come with something like: “We were so scared each time God spoke that we threw the bedcovers over our heads and fell into each others’ arms, trembling.”

In any case, while we can only imagine what Oyasama’s daughters actually went through during this time, Anecdotes 2 helps give us a vivid taste of what their experience was like.

To pick up the overall narrative of Oyasama’s life after last time, I mentioned that she lived a relatively quiet life, a life more or less normal for a peasant housewife in 19th century Japan for her first 40 years.

Yet a crisis struck the Nakayama family in 1837, nearly a year to the date when God is believed to have first spoken through Oyasama. Shuji, her only son and heir to the Nakayama household, was struck by a sudden and debilitating pain in his leg. The family tried everything — from consulting doctors to praying at temples and shrines that were popularly thought to alleviate physical pains — but nothing proved effective.

The family eventually turned to a man named Ichibei Nakano, who is introduced in The Life of Oyasama (LO) as “an ascetic monk,” but possibly more effectively described as a “shaman.” More specifically, Ichibei was a practitioner of Shugendo, a religious tradition that emerged in Japan that is a complex mixture of Buddhism, Taoist, and various regional “Shinto” elements. Ichibei had a reputation in the area of being an effective healer that he allegedly attained through his strict ascetic training in the mountains.1

To heal Shuji, Ichibei pulled out a variety of prayers and ceremonies from his ritual repertoire and eventually suggested to hold a ceremony called a “yose-kaji.” (translated as “incantation” in LO; the terms “kaji-kitō” and “yori-gitō” seem to be more common in Shugendo literature).

To give an idea of what this ceremony is imagined to have been like, the officiating Shugendo priest would set up a purifying fire (goma), chant a particular formula of prayers to invite the spirits or deities causing the pain, and utilized a female medium to communicate with these spirits or deities. The ceremony was quite elaborate and expensive to hold, as it appears to have required people of the village to be present at the ceremony to pray for Shuji’s sake and for the Nakayama family to treat everyone who attended to a feast. While Shuji’s pain subsided after this “incantation” took place, the pain relapsed after about six months. The incantation was eventually repeated nine times over a years’ time.

Then, on 10/23/1838 (lunar), on top of Shuji’s leg pain, both Miki (Oyasama) and her husband Zenbei were in pain as well: she had pain in her back, Zenbei experienced pain in his eyes. It was a family crisis as the three most important members of the Nakayama household were in pain. They were successful in contacting Ichibei, who happened to be in the village. But they could not find the female medium who Ichibei employed during the earlier incantations. Since it was such an emergency, Miki was selected to take her place and took hold of the gohei wands in each hand as the ceremony stipulated.

Yet, accounts of the event describe that, contrary to Ichibei’s expectations, instead of a channeling a spirit or deity he was familiar with, God, claiming to be the “original and true kami” — which gives us the sense that God is attempting to explain to those present that this was not any deity could be found enshrined in a local temple or shrine speaking — spoke through Miki and expressed the wish to “receive Miki as the Shrine of God” in order to save humanity.

Although Zenbei and others tried to persuade God to “ascend,” the situation soon proved to be beyond their control. God would not take no for an answer. Negotiations between God and the people present, with Zenbei at the forefront, continued over a few more days until he relented on the morning of 10/26/1838, saying “I offer Miki to You” (Miki o sashi-agemasu). This date is considered the beginning of the Tenrikyo faith. All actions and words spoken by Oyasama after this date are considered to be sacred and holy.

To add other supplemental information, here’s my translation of “Sawa’s comment”:

Okimi, Oyasama’s third daughter, was born in 1831. She married Sojiro Kajimoto of Ichinomoto in 1852, when she was 22 years old. She gave birth to five sons and two daughters. She is the mother of the first Shinbashira, Shinnosuke Nakayama. She passed away for rebirth on lunar 6/18/1872 at the age of 42.

Anecdotes 2 based on oral accounts from Keitaro (or Yoshitaro?) Nakayama and Sotaro Kajimoto.

In all, with the exception of a miscarriage some people outside the tradition have claimed Oyasama experienced before the birth of Shuji, she had six children, one son and five daughters, two who passed away during infancy:

  • Shuji (1821–1881)
  • Masa (1825–1895)
  • Yasu (1827–1830)
  • Kimi/Haru (1831–1872)
  • Tsune (1833–1835)
  • Kokan (1837–1875)

(Note that I like to drop the honorific prefix “O” from women’s names, it sounds so old-fashioned to me. Besides, Miki and Kokan are almost never referred to as “Omiki” or “Okokan,” even in Japanese.)

I find that it is interesting that out of Oyasama’s four children who survived to adulthood, Masa and Haru are not mentioned much in the remainder of Anecdotes: Haru is mentioned again in Anecdotes 6; Masa is not mentioned again until 193 and 200.

To compare, Shuji is mentioned in Anecdotes 3, 25, 27, 46, 65, 73, and 110; Kokan is mentioned in Anecdotes 7, 14, 25, 35, 37, 43, and 110. Yet it may be natural for such a gap to happen since Masa and Haru married and left the Nakayama residence to live with their husbands. Masa did eventually return to Jiba, divorcing her husband and establishing a branch of the main Nakayama family and was Oyasama’s only child to live longer than her mother. (I know I should qualify that last statement with “withdrawal from physical life” in Oyasama’s case but I’m too lazy to do it; y’all Tenrikyo folks that happen to be out there know what I’m trying to say.)

*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, Japan: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.

Further reading

  • The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, p. 1.
  • The Life of Oyasama, Chapter One, pp. 1–7.
  • Miyake Hitoshi. 1993. “Religious Rituals in Shugendō: A Summary.” In Religion and Society in Modern Japan: Selected Readings. Edited by Mullins, Mark R., Shimazono Susumu, and Swanson, Paul L. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, Nanzan Studies in Asian Religions.


  1. For more online information on Shugendo, see the Wikipedia article or this other one that has some interesting explanations I didn’t find at Wikipedia.