13. Sow the Seed
Tosuke Maeda and his wife Tatsu of Anryu Village, Settsu Province, were peddling flower seeds under the name of Taneichi. They had had many children one after another, and they did not want to have more. But in 1865, Tatsu was again expecting a baby. Then Tatsu heard of a god in Yamato Province who would bring about an abortion, and so she went there. However, she did not arrive at the place of that god, but was guided by an unknown force to Shoyashiki Village. There she was granted an audience with Oyasama, who said:
“You are the Taneichi (literally, ‘seed market’), so you will sow seeds.”
What do you mean by sowing seeds? asked Tatsu. Then Oyasama taught:
“It means to go here and there and talk of Tenri-Ō.”*
Referring to the expected baby, Oyasama added:
“It will not do to abort the child. The baby will be a boy, the heir to the Maeda family.”
These words struck home to Tatsu and convinced her of giving up having an abortion. When she returned home, she told her husband Tosuke of Oyasama’s words and he too was convinced. From that time on they often returned to Jiba and received teachings from Oyasama. The baby was born on June 18th of that year and was named Tojiro.
Both husband and wife told people of the divine name of Tenri-Ō-no-Mikoto wherever they went to sell their flower seeds. Moreover, when they met a sick person, either the wife or husband would return to Jiba to pray for that person. All the sick people they prayed for were saved.
* God the Parent
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 8–9
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“Tosuke Maeda: converted in Ganji 1 (1864). He propagated the faith throughout Osaka while selling flower seeds under the name of ‘Taneichi’ in the area presently known as Anryu, Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City.1 He guided people such as Umejiro Izutsu (the first head minister of Ashitsu) to the faith.
“This would be roughly July 1879, according to a book entitled Shinmei Ashitsu no michi.”
This section is my summary of the information supplied by an article from Midori Horiuchi sensei (which itself ultimately comes from the first volume of Tenrikyō dendō shi, a multi-volume work on Tenrikyo history based Tomoji Takano’s research and interviews):
The Maedas were from Anryu, which is near the famed Sumiyoshi Shrine. Their store name “Taneichi” derived from the fact that Tosuke’s father, who founded the seed (or “tane” in Japanese) store, was named Ichibei. Since the store was also close to Sakai, people of Osaka referred to the store as “Taneichi of Sakai.”
When Tatsu was expecting again after having a number of children, she left for Yamato Province (now Nara Prefecture) go to a “Shomu Tennon san”2 that was renown for inducing miscarriages. When Tatsu stopped at a teashop to ask for directions to “Shomu Tennon san,” the woman who ran the shop told her about a god named Tenri-O-no-Mikoto in Shoyashiki Village and recommended her to go there instead.
As Anecdotes 13 above details, Oyasama tells Tatsu not to abort the child, as the unborn son was destined to become the heir of the Maeda household. Instructed by Oyasama to “sow seeds,” the Maedas, once converting to the faith, engaged in missionary work in Osaka, which included areas such as Sangenya, Ichioka Shinden, Abeno, and Senba.
Tall in height and serious-minded, Tosuke was a recipient of the Sazuke of the Fan (to be discussed in detail in Anecdotes 14) from Oyasama and helped save a number of ailing people. In 1872, after Tosuke and Tatsu left the store Taneichi in the hands of their son Ichijiro, they dedicated their time exclusively to “nioigake and o-tasuke.” It appears that there is no mistake that they helped guide to the faith people such as Umejiro Izutsu and Bunkichi Nakagawa who later became missionaries based in Osaka who contributed greatly to Tenrikyo’s early stage of growth (Horiuchi p. 117).
Eventually, their son Ichijiro, to whom the Maedas left in charge of running the seed store Taneichi, ran off and disappeared. When it was all said and done, it was Tojiro, the child that Tatsu had considered to abort, who succeeded his parents in the family business.3
There is much to consider here, especially with the supplemental information made available through Horiuchi sensei’s article. (I admit I was too lazy to hunt down a copy of Takano sensei’s work and take a look at it myself.)
(1) Tenrikyo and abortion
First of all, even before I take the supplemental info into consideration, it is notable that the above story is the only instance in Tenrikyo literature describing Oyasama’s life which I am aware of that explicitly touches on the subject of abortion. Although Horiuchi sensei says that she finds it to be curious for Tatsu, who was seeking to induce either a miscarriage or an abortion to be guided to Oyasama, who gained the reputation as a living goddess (Kami) of safe childbirth (ibid.), is it possible that Oyasama helped women have abortions as well? If so, I have never come across any evidence that even suggests this possibility. But, one wonders: Why did the woman at the teashop recommended Tatsu to visit Oyasama?
I would like to think that the teashop owner was a follower or at least shared the values echoed in Ofudesaki 4:131 (“The conception of a baby is by Tsukihi. Giving birth to it, also, is by the work of Tsukihi”) and knew that Oyasama would talk Tatsu out of having an abortion. But this is pure speculation on my part.
Nevertheless, although there is no explicit directive in the Tenrikyo tradition that disapproves of abortion, I would argue that Anecdotes 13 and the Ofudesaki verse quoted above are enough for most Tenrikyo followers to base their personal opposition against abortion and contraceptives in general. (While I have no statistical data to back this, I would make the assertion that Tenrikyo families in Japan — especially those in charge of running kyokai — have more children on average than the general population.)
Although the issue of overpopulation is a serious one with moral implications in the modern age when we take the precarious state of earth’s precious resources into consideration, I nevertheless personally find it comforting that Tenrikyo is pro-life without seeing the need to impose its values on others. It is also comforting that — to the best of my knowledge — Tenrikyo has not taken advantage of the guilt of parents who have carried out abortions by providing ceremonies that claim to pacify the tormented souls unborn children as other religions in Japan have done.4
(2) The metaphoric use of the word “tane,” “seed(s)”
Oyasama is described here using the phrase “sowing seeds” (tane o maku) as a metaphor for disseminating the divine name of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto and the Tenrikyo teachings.5
I find this intriguing. I consider this metaphor of sowing seeds at it is used here in Anecdotes 13 to be somewhat similar to the Parable of the Sower, said to have been taught by Jesus Christ. While such metaphorical usage can found elsewhere in Tenrikyo, as Horiuchi sensei points out, in the title of the work Tane maki kikō [Seed-sowing travels], written by the second Shinbashira (p. 108), “nioigake” (sprinkling the fragrance) is the metaphorical term that is overwhelmingly used today for propagating the faith.
Although phrases similar to “tane o maku” are found in the Song Seven as well, it is clear from the context that it is instead referring to the act of dedicating oneself for the sake of the faith (particularly at Jiba/the Residence) rather than specifically meaning the effort to spread the name of God. Consider:
As this Residence is the field of God, every seed sown here will sprout.
Since this is the field of this world, I, too, will sow the seed devotedly.
This time, I am glad to see that all of you equally have come here to sow the seed;
Those who have sown the seed, shall reap a rich harvest without fertilizing.
Nevertheless, the metaphorical use of tane/seed in another Tenrikyo Scripture, the Osashizu, proves to be quite diverse, as Horiuchi sensei discusses in her aforementioned article. (I will refrain here from going into too much detail.) Lastly, the use of tane/seed in the Ofudesaki, interestingly enough, is limited to two verses in describing God’s creation of humanity.7
(3) Epilogue and further insights
Some additional background information from Horiuchi sensei’s article before I conclude:
Although Tosuke and Tatsu Maeda exclusively devoted themselves to missionary work beginning in 1872, which led to the formation of a “confraternity” (ko) named “Shinjin-gumi,” in 18758, they eventually fell away from practicing the faith altogether.
Tatsu grew up as the daughter of a shrine priest devoted to “Myojin-sama” (which I perceive to be a generic term that could potentially refer to a diverse array of Shinto deities). She had “Myojin-sama” enshrined in her home altar and was referred to as a “living Myojin-sama” before she converted to Oyasama’s teachings. While she spent some time as a devoted missionary, once she began to have revelations herself circa 1882, followers responded in anger and stopped associating with her, stating that they could not bring themselves to believe in any revelations that originated away from Jiba (pp. 117–118).
While this was certainly an unfortunate turn of events, Horiuchi sensei has noted that Anecdotes 13 and the supplemental information related to it nevertheless depicts the ideal of a married couple practicing the faith together and the importance of spreading the fragrance of the teachings in a straightforward and unquestioning (sunao) manner (ibid. 118).
I would myself argue that although the Maedas failed to continue their faith, they still made an immeasurable and indispensable contribution to the growth of Tenrikyo. That their efforts appears to have led to the formation of the Shinjin-gumi and Shinmei-gumi (the latter founded by Umejiro Izutsu, who, as described above, later became a famed Tenrikyo missionary) would mean that, if I’m counting correctly, the Maedas can ultimately be credited with the founding of 50 grand churches alone!9
To conclude, I wish to offer a few personal insights:
First, it can be argued that Oyasama was not only correctly predicting that the child Tatsu was planning to abort was ultimately destined to become the Maeda family heir, she was also anticipating the result of the Maedas’ missionary effort (even if one takes into consideration the ignominious manner it eventually ended.) Regarding this, it may be somewhat noteworthy to point out that Oyasama did not request or command them to sow seeds but stated in a most matter-of-fact manner, that “You will sow seeds.”
Secondly, I also wish to speculate that the Maedas may represent an example (or an archetype?) of the kind of people Tenrikyo missionaries (or anyone else who is seeking to spread the faith) tend to encounter in their nioigake effort. That is, from my limited experience, I find that a number of people who happen show initial interest in Tenrikyo consider themselves deeply spiritual and have dabbled in or studied other faiths to some considerable degree. Although we may try to engage with them to the best of our ability, we find that their interest proves to be fleeting. Once their interest wanes, we often don’t hear from them ever again. If we ever find ourselves repeatedly going through similar experiences with others, our narrow human propensity to judge others as either good or bad candidates for conversion begins to get the better of us.
From a narrow human perspective, Tatsu would not necessarily be an ideal candidate for conversion. Consider this: the fact that Tatsu was born a daughter of a shrine priest (possibly Sumiyoshi Shrine itself?) and that she was considered a living embodiment of “Myojin-sama” would make most people think: “Ah, she’s too involved in the faith she grew up with. She wouldn’t bother with Tenrikyo.” Such thinking can even be justified when we see the end result which Anecdotes 13 does not provide, in which Tatsu began to give revelations herself, which estranged her from the very people she introduced the faith to.
Nevertheless, probably because of the divine insight that she had being the Shrine of God, Oyasama did not make such shallow distinctions. The Maedas sowed seeds as Oyasama said they would. Had Oyasama made such shallow distinctions or if the Maedas had not sown the seeds she had anticipated that they would, Tenrikyo would be close to one-thirds smaller today. (And I wouldn’t have been born at all.)
Therefore, I imagine the central lesson of this particular story is: because we can never fully anticipate the results of any nioigake effort, followers who decide to make such a conscious effort to spread the faith ought to feel encouraged do so at every available opportunity with utmost commitment and care. From a faith-based standpoint, it can be argued that the manner in which the faith will be transmitted and the places where its buds sprout is ultimately beyond human power. Consider the following passage from Scripture:
You say: “I sprinkled the fragrance. I spread the teachings there.” This may be one way of looking at it, but remember that the teachings could only be conveyed because God was waiting there for you to convey them.
Osashizu, June 4, 1892, night
(An Anthology of Osashizu Translations, p. 211)
- Next installment in this series: 14. Dyeing
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Horiuchi, Midori. 2000. “Tane o maku no ya de.” In Oyasama no oshie to gendai — Oyasama go-tanjō nihyaku nen kinen kyōgaku kōza shirīzu 1998 nen. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho. pp. 107-121.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō Oyasama (kyōso?) no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Although Anryu is actually a section of Suminoe Ward of Osaka, I have translated Sawa’s note as it appears. ↩
- I wonder: Could this refer to a shrine (or the mausoleum) dedicated Emperor Shomu (Shomu Tenno)? I am not aware of such (or any) posthumous reputation of Emperor Shomu as a Kami. ↩
- This is certainly not the first time nor the last time in Anecdotes of Oyasama where Oyasama is described to have insight on something we would not expect her to have as an ordinary human being. (See Anecdotes 7 for one such early example.) ↩
- See “Mizuko Kuyo and Abortion in Contemporary Japan” by Hoshino Eiki and Takeda Dosho (In Religion and Society in Modern Japan: Selected Readings) and Helen Hardacre’s Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan for more on this phenomenon. ↩
- A publication from Tenrikyo Doyusha elaborates on Oyasama’s explanation that sowing seeds “means to go here and there and talk of Tenri-O,” as follows: “Seeds are the source of crops. The first step toward reaping a rich harvest is to sow seeds. The first step to fulfill the radiant life known as the Joyous Life in the world is to widely convey the teachings of God the Parent, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, to others. We are taught that the sincerity of a single seed will, in the course of time, manifest as blessings returned ten thousandfold” (Ikiru kotoba, p. 83). ↩
- The two verses in question are:
A single word can be hinokishin. I simply sprinkle My fragrance around (Mikagura-uta 7:1).
From all over the world, carpenters are coming one after another. Sprinkle My fragrance on them! (Mikagura-uta 12:3) ↩
- These verses are as follows:
What do you think these loaches were? They were the very seeds of human beings (Ofudesaki 4:123)
I began human beings, taking a fish and a serpent as seed and seedbed (Ofudesaki 6:4).
- See on Parts 14 and 15 (“A Miraculous Voyage 1 and 2”) of The Footsteps of Our Predecessors series for a story involving Kawachi Fukuzo, a member of the Shinjin-gumi Another notable early member of this fellowship was Unosuke Tosa (founder of Muya Daikyokai). The Shinjin-gumi eventually became the foundation of Nishi Shikyokai (now daikyokai), founded in 1892. ↩
- To explain how I got this number: I added all the grand church lineages of Ashitsu, Yamana, Heishin, Azuma, Kochi, Muya, and Nishi. Ultimately, 5,195 Tenrikyo kyokai (out of a total number of 17,141) can trace their existence to the Maedas’ efforts. ↩