10. The Long Way Around
In 1863, when Kiku Masui was thirty-nine years old, her husband, Isaburo, caught a slight cold. It developed into a stubborn case of asthma. Kiku was so religious by nature that she visited almost all the places of pilgrimage and worship within eight or twelve kilometers of their house in order to pray for her husband’s recovery. Still, he did not get well.
Then, Senkichi Yaoi, a next-door neighbor, advised her, “Kiku, you seem to have been to various places of worship one after another. Now, why don’t you go to the god in Shoyashiki?” Kiku felt as if she were being drawn to God by an invisible string, and she hurried to Jiba* at once. The seasonable time had come for her.
When Kiku was admitted into Oyasama’s room, Oyasama said warmly:
“I have been waiting for you, waiting for you,”
as if welcoming Her own child who had come home from afar. Then Kiku said, “I have been to so many places to pray until now.” Oyasama said:
“You have come the long way around. What a pity! You could have met all those gods if only you had come here,”
and She smiled gently. When Kiku heard these words, she felt that Oyasama was truly the Parent. She was deeply impressed and moved by an inexpressible feeling of adoration which penetrated into her heart.
* The Residence
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 5–6.
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“Kiku Masui’s son, who appears in Anecdotes 16, is also named Isaburo. Her son resumed this name after his father passed away (Meiji 1 — 1868).”
Just to clarify the note above, Kiku’s son was originally named Iemon. But he took on his father’s name “Isaburo” after his father passed away in 1868.
When I compared the above text with the Japanese original, I noticed an error in the translation. (Whoopsy!) Apparently, it’s not “Senkichi Yaoi,” but Sensuke Yaoi. Not a mistake you would normally catch, for I have to sympathize with the proofreaders. It’s hard to keep Japanese names straight sometimes — many of them sound the same.
As for the content of the story itself, I don’t really have much to add. Well, maybe I’ll add some commentary on one aspect….
It can be argued that Kiku’s actions were representative of someone from her time or even typical of Japanese religiosity today. To elaborate: Kiku’s husband Isaburo came down with a cold that developed into a stubborn case of asthma. Being devoted by nature, she visited all the places of worship that were located in her immediate vicinity (“two to three ri” according to the original Japanese text) to pray for her husband’s recovery.
Similar actions have been referred to elsewhere as genze riyaku (“this-worldly/practical benefits”).1 None of her prayers brought resolution to the situation until her neighbor told her about Oyasama. (Anecdotes 16 later reveals the distance between the Masui home in Izushichijo Village and Jiba was 50 cho or five and a half kilometers.)
After Kiku mentioned that she had visited various places to pray for her husband until she came to Jiba, Oyasama smiled. To translate literally what Oyasama said in response: “You sure took the long way around, stopping by here and there. That’s funny.2 You would [have discovered] that they [i.e., the Shinto kami and Buddhist deities Kiku prayed to at the shrines and temples she visited] are all right here if you had come.”
Koji Sato sensei also happens to quote Oyasama from the story above in a piece from Omichi no joshiki (which can be found in translation here) in which he discusses Tenrikyo’s relation to faiths predating its emergence. (I happened to tweak Oyasama’s quote in the translation as follows: “You surely chose to come the long way around. That’s strange. You could have met all those gods if only you had come here.”)
Oyasama’s words to Kiku are quite revealing from a theological stance. Japan is often described as the land of eight million kami. Oyasama seems to imply in her words that all of them (or at least the kami and Buddhist deities Kiku prayed to) were somehow living, present, or represented at Jiba, the place of human conception according to Tenrikyo theology.3
Although Oyasama’s words suggest an inclusive attitude toward other faiths (which arguably may reflect an inclination toward religious inclusiveness in general throughout Japanese history), it nevertheless is a type of inclusiveness that maintains the superiority of Jiba over places held sacred by other faith-traditions. While many temples and shrines in Japan even today nurture specialized reputations — such as shrines dedicated to Tenjin that claim to provide efficacy for students wishing to pass their university entrance examinations — it may be argued that Oyasama was actively promoting a faith that combined, preserved (maybe?) and transcended the forms of religious practice the general populace depended on for various “worldly benefits.” To quote (in translation) a publication from Tenrikyo Doyusha:
Oyasama expressed these words to a woman who went to various places of religious pilgrimage and worship in her immediate vicinity with the wish to cure her husband of illness. While there are many places in the world at large where kami are enshrined, Oyasama compares these as if they were each “a single finger” of a hand. Oyasama describes Jiba, the Home of the Parent where human beings were begun as “Like having both hands with all its fingers” (Anecdotes 170). Every form of protection can be found here.
Ikiru kotoba, p. 32
While other selections from Anecdotes reveal further inclination toward inclusiveness that nevertheless implicitly suggest the superiority of Oyasama’s teaching over Shinto and Japanese Buddhism (such as 170), the most promising area for research may lie in studies of what is called ura-shugo found in many narratives that describe the creation story Oyasama taught to her leading disciples.
I would certainly like to turn my attention to in toward such studies sometime in the future, but there is so much to do and so little time. I’ve still got 190 selections or 95% of this project to cover! Have I already bit off more than I can chew? We’ll see.
- Satō, Kōji. 2004. Omichi no jōshiki. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō Oyasama (kyōso?) no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
Further suggested reading
- For an excellent academic treatment of the phenomenon of genze riyaku, please read Practically Religious by Ian Reader and George J. Tanabe. ↩
- The Japanese phrase is “okashii na.” I am almost tempted to translate this as “That’s a shame!” ↩
- Such a sentiment is echoed in the following Ofudesaki verse — “Among those living in the same residence, know that there are both god and buddha (kami mo hotoke mo)” (5:5). Although “kami” and “hotoke” are officially translated as singular in English here, there is always an ambiguity in Japanese whether or not a noun is singular or plural. (There is no way to differentiate between the singular from the plural as we do in English by adding an “s”.) It is more than possible (and arguably more accurate) to translate “kami mo hotoke mo” as “Shinto gods and Buddhist deities.” ↩