Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 18 and 19

18. The Songs of Truth

When the sacred songs of twelve chapters were completed, Oyasama told Her attendants:

“These are the songs for the Service. Try singing them to the best tune you can find.”

Each of them sang to his own tune. After listening to it, Oyasama said:

“Thank you for your singing, but none of them will do. You should sing them this way.”

She sang loudly Herself. Then She told the attendants:

“These are the songs of truth. So you must dance to the truth. Try dancing the best way you can.”

Each of them arranged the dance and showed it to Oyasama. Afterward, She said:

“Thank you for your dancing, but no one danced to the truth. You should dance in this way. You should not just dance. You should dance the truth.”

So saying, She stood up and performed the dance movements Herself in order to teach the attendants.

In this way, Oyasama Herself taught the singing and dancing after having all the attendants try on their own.

This is the story told by Haru, wife of Ichibei Matsuo.

Note: Haru Matsuo was born on September 15, 1835, and entered the faith in 1866. She passed away on May 1, 1923, when she was eighty-nine years old.


19. Children Playing Shuttlecock

The songs for the teodori, part of the Mikagura-uta, were written by Oyasama at fixed times during the eight months from January to August of 1867. This was how the songs were taught to the world for the first time. It took three years to teach the dance.

Oyasama taught six persons how to dance, making the movements Herself with Her hands and arms, and repeating them three times. Three persons learned while the other three watched. Oyasama said nothing even if someone made a mistake.

“I would not put him to shame,”

is said to be Oyasama’s comment. She taught every movement three times and completed the teaching in three years. While teaching, Oyasama would say:

“It is like children playing shuttlecock during the New Year’s season, singing ‘One, Two.'”*

This is the story that Shirobei Umetani heard from a senior in the faith.


* Refers to the counting of the songs in the Mikagura-uta

Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 13–14.

Translation of “Sawa’s comment” (18 and 19)

“[18 based on the oral account] of Shintaro Matsuo, age 72, in 1955.”

“[19 based on] Honbu-in kōwa shū [Collection of talks from senior officials of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters].”

My take/research

I decided to discuss Anecdotes 18 and 19 together since they both cover how Oyasama composed and taught the Mikagura-uta and its accompanying dance.

According to Koshiro Masui sensei (1894–1968), Oyasama composed Song One, Song Two, and Song Three in the first lunar month of 1867 and the completed the rest of the Twelve Songs1 by the end of the eight lunar month of the same year (2002 [1955], p. 19).

Koshiro sensei also concludes that Oyasama did not personally write down the Twelve Songs herself. A comparison of the various manuscripts of the Mikagura-uta as written by Tenrikyo forebears suggest that Oyasama taught this Scripture orally and that they wrote it from memory instead of copying it from an original manuscript (ibid. pp. 19–20).

Finally, since Koshiro sensei also happens to name the six people who Oyasama originally taught the Songs and dance to, I’ll include them here for future reference: Gisaburo Nakata and Chusaku Tsuji of Toyoda Village, Kisaburo and Zensuke of Senzai Village, and Kaichiro Kitada of Mishima Village were taught the hand movements of the dance and Koemon Murata was taught the Songs. (I assume this meant that Oyasama trained him as a jikata or lead singer of the Service.) Koshiro sensei also mentions that an investigation would most likely reveal what the last names of the men from Senzai were, he nevertheless abstained from doing so for the time being (ibid. p. 20).2

That the surnames of Kisaburo and Zensuke are not readily apparent suggests to me that they dropped out of the faith when social and government opposition to Oyasama’s teachings intensified in subsequent years. But this is merely my own personal speculation. The name Kaichiro Kitada doesn’t ring a bell either.

I find the way Oyasama chose to teach the Twelve Songs as described in Anecdotes 18 particularly interesting. Instead of teaching how the Songs were meant to be sung and danced from the very beginning, she first asked her followers to compose the melody and come up with the accompanying dance for the Songs.

Another personal speculation I’d like to offer here is that Oyasama may have given followers the chance to come up with the melody and dance but then proclaimed that none of their offered melodies would do and that “no one danced to the truth,” in order to keep them from ever wondering to themselves why the Songs were sang in the melody they were sang in or why they were danced in the manner they were danced in.

Moving on, The Life of Oyasama describes that Oyasama gave the following instructions when she taught the dance of the Mikagura-uta:

“These are the songs of truth. So you must dance to the truth. You should not just dance. You must dance the truth” (p. 71).

The quote above looks like as if the first two sentences of the third quote and last two of the fourth quote attributed to Oyasama in Anecdotes 18 were combined together. I checked the original Japanese of both The Life of Oyasama (1956) and Anecdotes (1976) and found that one of the equivalents of the four English sentences were not exactly the same, but was nonetheless pretty close. It’s interesting that the English translations came out exactly the same, but it’s very likely that this exactness was intentional on the part of the translators.

I’d like to cite another quote from The Life of Oyasama that is attributed to her when she first taught the Service Dance:

“Hands that are limp in the performance of the Service betray a mind that is undisciplined. Also, it will not do to make even a single mistake in the manner of moving your hands. Through this Service, one’s life can be renewed. So important is this Service” (ibid.).

My cynical mind sees somewhat of a discrepancy here between this statement and the how Anecdotes 19 describes the manner Oyasama taught the Service Dance. If the Service was so important that it was not acceptable for “even a single mistake in the manner of moving your hands” to be made in performing it, why did she say “nothing even if someone made a mistake”? I can only attribute this discrepancy between her ideal and her action to her “parental love,” that she intentionally overlooked trivial mistakes while teaching the Service Dance because — as described in Anecdotes 19 — she didn’t wish “to put [followers] to shame.”3

Yet again, it is also possible that she allowed the original dancers to make such mistakes in order to show the veracity of her statement to others. It may be worthy to note here that, excluding the three gentlemen who seem to disappear from Tenrikyo history altogether (i.e., Kaichiro Kitada, Kisaburo, and Zensuke, since their death dates are not readily available in Tenrikyo sources), only Chusaku Tsuji happened to “outlive” Oyasama (I know, in a theological sense, that “outlive” isn’t the right term to use here).

Both Koemon Murata and Gisaburo Nakata both departed for rebirth4 shortly before Oyasama withdrew from physical life on 1/26/1887 (lunar calendar). I can only wonder whether or not this was a coincidence or if this had to do anything with Oyasama’s instruction that “Through this Service, one’s life can be renewed.” In any case, it is an instruction that ought to motivate Tenrikyo adherents like myself to dance the Teodori with utmost seriousness.

While the Teodori is performed with great solemnity and seriousness at Monthly Services conducted in the Main Sanctuary of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters and elsewhere today, that the Twelve Songs come in the form of counting songs and that Oyasama likened this counting to children playing hanetsuki5 at New Year’s suggest the ideal that these Songs ought to be festive and playful on top of being profoundly solemn. Take for instance, the following commentary:

“These are Oyasama’s words when She taught the Mikagura-uta Herself. She compared the singing of “One, Two,” which accompanies the dancing, to how children hit with paddles playing hanetsuki. The singing and dancing embody the freshly radiant mind at New Year’s, the joyousness of a carefree child. The spiritual state that brims with joy and in which greed is forgotten can found in this action” (Ikiru kotoba p. 9).

I only happen to know a couple of other Japanese”counting songs” other than Tenrikyo’s Twelve Songs, and in addition to sharing a widespread use of alliteration as a mneumonic device (i.e., “Hitotsu” or “One” is often followed by a word that begins with “Hi” and so on), they have a playful, festive quality to them.

I will end here, noting that it certainly is a demanding task to ideally balance the Teodori’s playfulness of form (as a counting song and dance) and the solemnity that is attached to it stemming from its function as an expression of profound religious devotion in Tenrikyo.

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


  • Masui, Kōshirō. 2002 [1955]. Mikagura-uta katari gusa. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
  • 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.
  • Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō Oyasama (kyōso?) no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
  • Yamochi, Tatsuzō. 1984. Kōhon Tenrikyō Oyasama den nyūmon jikkō. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.

Further reading


  1. Jūni Kudari 十二下り in Japanese. As seen in the text of Anecdotes 18 itself, “Juni Kudari” was once translated as “the twelve chapters” (see also, for instance, the English translation of Fukaya Tadamasa sensei’s Mikagura-uta kōgi, entitled Commentary on the Mikagura-uta, The Songs for the Tsutome, originally published in 1962 and revised in 1978). I am not sure when the convention was changed to call the Juni Kudari the Twelve Songs, but it must have been done in the last 20 years or so since I remember when the Songs were referred as “chapters” when I was a kid. (I occasionally hear some people calling them “chapters” even now.) But this happens to be a change I agree with, since it is admittedly a little strange to call series of dances “chapters.” (I were to finger the culprit, I would presume the influence of Yoshinaru Ueda sensei was at work, since he refers to each Song in his own commentaries as sho 章, which are, “chapters” in a sense, and his influence is overwhelmingly evident in the current English translation of the Mikagura-uta.)
  2. The information Koshiro sensei provides here is slightly different from what is noted in The Life of Oyasama. Compare: “The first persons who learned the songs were Chusaku of Toyoda Village and Koemon and Kisaburo of Senzai Village. The first persons who learned the dance movements were Saemon (Nakata Gisaburo) and Chusaku of Toyoda Village, Kisaburo and Zensuke of Senzai Village, and Ka’ichiro of Mishima Village” (pp. 71–72).

    I also find it interesting that the first persons to learn the Service Dance were six men instead of three men and women, as it is now danced during a Monthly Service.

  3. Tatsuzo Yamochi sensei offers the following commentary regarding these words:

    “We often practice the hand movements of the Service Dance at our churches. When we do, it is important to keep in mind that we ought not to put others to shame. We must teach in a way so that a person does not feel ashamed for being scolded for making the incorrect movements” (1984, p. 177).

  4. According to the Tenrikyo jiten, Koemon Murata passed away on 10/21/1886 and Gisaburo Nakata on 6/22/1886 (p. 879; p. 688). I assume the dates are Gregorian, not lunar, but I can’t completely say for sure.
  5. Some more links to give an idea what hanetsuki was/is like: some hanetsuki in artwork and hanetsuki on YouTube (unfortunately, the video doesn’t show how hanetsuki is played with the counting Oyasama mentions).