Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 14

14. Dyeing

One day Oyasama instructed:

“Do the dyeing tomorrow morning.”

Kokan immediately began to make preparations. Just that evening, Chushichi Yamanaka in Mamekoshi learned of it through the Invocation of the Fan. His wife, Sono, immediately made preparations, woke up early the next morning before daybreak, and returned to the Residence with some earth* and pieces of cloth in a bundle over her back. She greeted Oyasama and told Her the reason for returning.

“Ah! That’s marvelous! Just last night my daughter, Kokan, and I were talking about the same thing,”

Oyasama said, and was delighted. Similar incidents occurred several times.

The dyeing was done with water from the well northeast of the very place which was later determined as the Jiba, where the Kanrodai was to be erected.

“Draw water from the well,”

Oyasama said. So water was drawn from the well. The earth was rubbed on the cloth and the cloth was soaked in water. It was soaked and dried, and dried and soaked two or three times until the dyed material became a beautiful binroji** color. The water from the well had a metallic taste.***


* When Oyasama visited the home of Chushichi Yamanaka in August 1865, She noticed that the earth from the bank of the stream which ran along the east side of the house would be suitable for dyeing. She therefore expressed a desire to have some of it. Thereafter, that earth was brought to the Residence many times. It is said that the earth was from a compost of bamboo leaves in the bamboo forest.

** Binroji refers to the nut of the betel palm tree which grows in India and Malaysia. In Japan, the meat of the nut was dried and used for dyeing, and produced a dark black color which was called ‘the binroji color.’

*** In Yamato Province there were many wells with water that had a metallic taste. However, water from other wells did not produce as beautiful a dye as that from the Residence.

Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 9–10

Translation of “Sawa’s note

“The reference is Yamanaka Chūshichi-den [Biography of Chushichi Yamanaka].”

My take

Well first of all, Anecdotes 14 is the only place I have ever come across the word “binrōji.” I did a Google search in both English and Japanese. The English search results suggest that a binrōji nut refers to the tagua nut, the first time I’ve heard of such a thing. (Also, for some reason, the English Anecdotes here fails to put a macron over the “o.” A proofreading oversight?)

What I found amusing about the results of the Japanese Google search [ビンロージ] was that the first three results happen to be Japanese Anecdotes of Oyasama-related blogs. I would also like to add that the translation above does not include the reference that is cited in the Japanese regarding the binrōji-related information: The Heibonsha World Encyclopedia.

As for the content itself, I have already discussed two anecdotes involving Yamanaka Chushichi so far (Anecdotes 11 and 12.) Although no specific date is given for Anecdotes 14, I would presume that the events above must have occurred between 8/1865 and 2/1866 lunar (or sequentially between Anecdotes 12 and 15.

I also failed to mention in my discussion of Anecdotes 12 that according to The Life of Oyasama, Oyasama was at the Yamanaka home between 8/19 and 8/25/1865, where she “not only conveyed the will of God the Parent to those who came to Her but also saved many people who were suffering from illnesses and various troubles” (pp. 50–51).

While there seems to be no profound religious meaning to the events described in Anecdotes 14 at first glance, it is nevertheless notable for its brief mention of the Invocation of the Fan (ōgi no ukagai1), which was also called the Sazuke of the Fan (ōgi no Sazuke).

According to The Life of Oyasama, Oyasama began to distribute the Sazuke of the Fan in the spring of 1864; 50 to 60 persons were eventually said to have been recipients of this grant (p. 38). Oyasama bestowed to recipients a fan with which they could inquire the will of God by interpreting the fan’s movements that was said to move on its own upon the utterance of a prayer.

Another use of the Sazuke of the Fan was specifically for the sake of inquiring the prognosis of an ill person (Tenrikyō jiten, p. 103). A recipient of the Sazuke of the Fan would place the fan on his lap and silently contemplate over the ill person’s present state. It was said one could then interpret whether or not there would be a recovery according to the direction the fan happened to move. Yet, as I have mentioned previously in my discussion of Anecdotes 12, Oyasama banned all subsequent use of the Sazuke of the Fan possibly circa 1868 (ibid. p. 369), due to the fact that the Grant was abused by some of its recipients. The second Shinbashira has written that “God’s will was not conveyed as it should have been; some egotistic, personal interpretations were mixed” when it was administered (Nakayama 1986, p. 20).2

Now, on to the main theme of Anecdotes 14. The account here describing how Oyasama received soil from the Yamanakas to dye cloth does not have any overt religious overtones at all, to the point where it may lead some to conclude that Oyasama had occasionally turned her attention to secular matters, that she was not always exclusively focused on religious matters per se. But I imagine this would not be the kind of interpretation Church Headquarters would like to promote, for all her words and deeds after 10/26/1838 are considered sacred in Tenrikyo tradition.

While we have seen an earlier selection describing Oyasama’s secular pursuits (Anecdotes 1), it would be safe to assume that it is describing something pre-1838, before she became the Shrine of God. Thus I feel that Anecdotes 14 requires a good amount of active pondering and contemplating on our part in order for us to come up with more significant and appropriate interpretations.

It may be better to maintain that Oyasama did not just happen to “notice” the quality of the soil on the property when she visited the Yamanaka residence in 8/1865; she was searching for something the Yamanakas could contribute other than rice, which they could bring and allow further cultivation of their devotion and deepening ties to Jiba and Oyasama. This particular anecdote may be seen as just one of the variety of ways in which Oyasama actively nurtured the connections she had with her followers.

Further, I wonder if this outward act of combining the soil from the Yamanaka property and the “metallic-tasting” well water3 symbolizes a collaborative effort between the two families or between the Yamanaka residence and Jiba.

The final note describes that the combination of the Yamanaka soil and the well water from the Residence produced a dyed cloth unmatched in beauty compared with water from other wells. While the dyed cloth they made together was beautiful enough (samples that would be really nice to see if they ever happen to remain with us today), such collaboration was merely a small step that helped enrich other more beautiful and important collaborative efforts such as the Place of the Service (physically made possible by Izo Iburi) and the Tenrikyo path itself (which, of course, had even more collaborators along the way).

Any supplemental information regarding Anecdotes 14 (such as, for example, a hint of what the dyed cloths were used for — maybe to make the Service kimono, perhaps?) would help further illuminate the significance of the events it describes. Until then, I imagine I’ll just make do with what little information that I was able to find at this point and move on to the next selection.

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


  • Nakayama, Shozen. 1986. “The Theory of Doctrine and the Practice of Faith.” In The Theological Perspectives of Tenrikyo: In Commemoration of the Centennial Anniversary of Oyasama / edited by Oyasato Research Institute, Tenri University, p. 3–28.
  • Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, ed. 1997. Kaitei Tenrikyō jiten. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
  • Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
  • _________. 1996 [1967]. The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo (third edition). Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.

Further reading


  1. The phrase “ogi no ukagai” appears in Song Six of the Mikagura-uta (and translated as follows):

    This time, it has appeared. The invocation of the fan, How marvelous it is! (6:10)

  2. A passage from an Osashizu from June 21, 1890 touches on the issue that God revoked the ability to invoke the divine will from Sazuke of the Fan recipients.
  3. I imagine that it is not a total coincidence that water — the first of the ten aspects of God’s complete providence and which Scripture suggests is essentially the same as God (Mikagura-uta 5:3) — happened to be the very ingredient provided by the Residence in this collaborative effort. I also wonder if the location of the well as northeast of Jiba might have some specific symbolic meaning.