33. The Bridge Between Countries
Risaburo Yamamoto of Kashiwara Village, Kawachi Province, injured his chest in a village sumo-wrestling match in the autumn of 1870 at the age of twenty-one. For three years from that time he was sick in bed. Doctors were consulted and prayers were offered here and there at shrines and temples for his recovery. But it was to no avail. In fact, his condition became worse until he was on the verge of death. Just at that time, during the summer of 1873, his family heard of God the Parent from a sawyer named Kuma. He had come from Furu, Yamato Province, to work at the To Sawmill in that same village of Kashiwara. Upon hearing of God the Parent, Rihachi, Risaburo’s father, promptly returned to Jiba in place of his son. Oyasama said:
“This Residence is the Residence where mankind was first created. This is the birthplace of man. No matter how serious, any sickness will be cured. Bring your son here at once. I have been eagerly waiting for your coming.”
Receiving such encouraging words, Rihachi returned home and conveyed them to his son. Whereupon Risaburo began to say, “I want to go and worship the god in Yamato.” The family members tried to stop him by saying, “You will never make it to Yamato.” But Risaburo pleaded, “I don’t care, I still want to go. I want to be near that god.”
In response to his earnest pleas, a stretcher was prepared. When it became dark, he was quietly carried out of the gate. However, on the way, when they came to a big bridge over the Tatsuta River, Risaburo stopped breathing, and so they turned back. But when they reached home, he miraculously started to breathe again. Because he pleaded, “I don’t care if I die,” the family, according to custom, drank water from a sake cup at what might be a final parting. Carrying him on the stretcher, they again departed for Yamato late at night with lanterns. It was a dark night.
The group finally reached Jiba on the evening of the following day. The gates of the Residence were already closed, so they sought lodging in a nearby home. The next morning, Risaburo, who was on the verge of death, was brought before Oyasama. She said:
“You need not worry. You shall be saved for sure if you decide to dedicate your whole life to serve this Residence.”
Continuing, She gave him the following words:
“The bridge between countries; a rough log bridge. Without a bridge, a river cannot be crossed. Will you dedicate your life, or not? Arakitoryo, arakitoryo!*”
Oyasama ordered a bath for Risaburo, and said:
“Take a bath now.”
When he returned from the bath, Oyasama said:
“You must now feel fresh and lively.”
Although he had been in no condition to take the bath, he had no trouble doing so. In fact, Risaburo’s suffering disappeared and his pain faded away. He heartily ate three bowls of the rice gruel that Oyasama gave him. Due to Oyasama’s warm parental love, Risaburo received God’s blessing and regained his health on the sixth day. After staying a month he returned to Kashiwara. The villagers were struck with admiration when they saw his vigorous health.
*Arakitoryo: literally, ‘the master wood cutter’; it has the meaning of ‘pioneer missionary.’
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 26–28
Translation of “Sawa’s note“
“[Based on] the oral accounts of Risaburo’s younger sister Masa Nakano, who accompanied him until the bank of the river when he left Kashiwara late at night. [First published in] the January 1936 edition of Tenri jiho. [This story describes] the beginning of Chuka Daikyokai.”
My take / research
An article from Yoshinaru Ueda sensei, in which he discusses this particular story among others, has provided me with some insight that I feel has far-reaching implications for Tenrikyo adherents reading Anecdotes of Oyasama. Regarding the following quote attributed to Oyasama — “This Residence is the Residence where mankind was first created. This is the birthplace of man. No matter how serious, any sickness will be cured…. I have been eagerly waiting for your coming” — he writes:
The everliving Oyasama gives these splendid words even today to anyone who returns to Jiba with a life-threatening physical condition. If we read these words while considering that [Yamamoto Risaburo] stopped breathing along the way, these are truly words that leave a deep impression (1976, p. 35).
There was something in what Ueda sensei wrote that gave me an “Aha!” moment. For those who consider themselves adherents of Oyasama, the words attributed to her in texts such as The Life of Oyasama and Anecdotes of Oyasama cannot simply be regarded as words that she gave to a particular person in a specific historical context. Given that Oyasama is considered to be “everliving” by Tenrikyo adherents, all the words attributed to her ideally apply to anyone who is willing to accept them as such.
Being mindful that Oyasama’s words are “living words” (which happens to be the title of a Tenrikyo publication I’m currently working on) gives the lessons throughout Anecdotes of Oyasama a depth that may otherwise be missed if one pays too much attention to the particular details. (This is something that I may have instinctively touched upon but failed to be so clearly conscious of so far.)
I hope my discussions on future selections of Anecdotes will be more fruitful with this newly-gained insight. But I must admit it’s against my nature to refrain from obsessively geeking over any background details. The best I can do is to keep things in perspective and aim for as much balance I can in future discussions.
Going back to Anecdotes 33, Ueda Yoshinaru sensei also writes:
Dedicating oneself to serve (fusekomi1) the Residence means to offer one’s life and to resolve to thereafter live singly focused on God and the salvation of others. There is no greater resolution one can make that compares with this…. Seeing that Risaburo received God’s vivid blessings even after stopping breathing at one point, it is imagined that we ought to perceive the resolution he made as the standard for anyone whose life is in danger (ibid.).
Supplemental information from Toshihiko Yamamoto sensei
I’d like to supply some background information I got from a 2008 article from Toshihiko Yamamoto, a fourth-generation descendant of Rev. Risaburo Yamamoto while recapping some of the main parts of Anecdotes 33.
Risaburo was from an area of Kawachi (presently Osaka Prefecture) that was known for growing cotton and did business under the name “Wata-Ri” (or “Cotton-Ri,” presumably because he was named Risaburo and his father Rihachi). It was said that cotton prices fluctuated whenever he moved his eyes.
Risaburo was the third son (as implicated in his name, written in kanji as 利三郎), yet his father readily entrusted the family estate to him instead of his older brothers. Risaburo was openhearted and wrestled under the name “Yatsugane.” When he injured his chest wrestling in 1870, it is said that one of his ribs penetrated his lung and he was infected with tuberculosis. He lost weight at an alarming rate. His illness forced him to be quarantined in a stable. He spent the next few years living in the stable, surrounded by straw. His father Rihachi did all that he could for his son, employing doctors and praying at shrines and temples, to no effect. Eventually Risaburo could no longer even drink water. Fellow villagers even came to say, “Flowers will bloom from cooked beans if he were to recover.”
A series of unexplainable events took place three years later in the summer of 1873. Rihachi visited a practitioner of the deity Inari who gained a reputation for healing illnesses and was told, “A god in the southeast is clapping her hands and waiting for him.” Risaburo himself had a strange dream. He stepped out into the rice fields in the back of his property and faced the east toward Yamato. The sky was red. He dreamed that, as he gazed at the sky, his mind eased, his chest pain faded, and his illness was cured.
It was at this time when the sawyer brought news of a living goddess in Shoyashiki Village, Yamato Province, who healed a variety of illnesses. Toshihiko Yamamoto sensei then speculates that these three events caused even the normally skeptical Risaburo to sense a premonition that he would be saved.
After Rihachi returned to Jiba in Risaburo’s place and received Oyasama’s words that encouraged Risaburo to return himself, he insisted on making the trip, to which his family vehemently opposed. They were convinced that Risaburo would not make the trip, and worried that their fellow villagers would suspect that they did it to rid themselves of him, the infirm head of the family. According to Toshihiko sensei, this was the reason why they initially departed for Jiba in the dead of night.
Risaburo stopped breathing at the bridge that crossed the Tatsuta River, roughly one-thirds of the way. He resumed breathing again when he returned to Kashiwara Village. Concerning this, Toshihiko sensei writes:
This is a development that is perhaps unthinkable in [the perspective of] modern medicine. I sense God’s hastening here. I wonder if it was God’s intention to have the people make a firm resolve to bring Risaburo to the Residence instead of doing it in secret so others wouldn’t know about it.
Toshihiko sensei then describes there was an exchange of drinks of water in a sake cup.2 He then relates that Risaburo was repeatedly carried back and forth after ceasing and resuming breathing on each occasion. Still, Risaburo insisted on making the trip, even if it were to cost him his life. It was not until the day after next when he finally reached the Residence where Oyasama eagerly waited for him.
Toshihiko sensei then relates that Risaburo firmly made good on his resolution to dedicate his whole life to the Residence and that the descendants of his family have similarly continued to do so as well. He goes on to write that his father often told him: “You must not leave Jiba. Members of the Yamamoto household must dedicate their lives serving this Residence.”
I close this post with a hefty quote from Yamamoto Toshihiko sensei:
Whenever I read this story, it makes me think of what to do when a serious illness is shown to me. I believe that Risaburo’s conduct provides a hint on how I should perceive such a situation.
First of all, the following question naturally comes to mind: Why was Risaburo so desperate to go to Jiba, regardless of the fact that he did not know anything about having faith in this path?
I imagine what spurred him was the three “messages” that God was waiting in the east to save him. Considering that Oyasama said, “I have been eagerly waiting for your coming” when Rihachi went in his place, it is clear that God the Parent’s “guidance” was at work.
That Risaburo aspired to go to Jiba to the point where he said “I don’t care if I die” must have stemmed from a conviction that he would be saved if he went. And, it is possible that he also sensed a great, unseen force that was “calling him forth” as he headed to the Residence, holding onto this rope to recovery that he was not about to let go. I imagine that, even though it was an extreme situation where he stopped breathing each time he set out3, he was able to reach the Residence because his spirits were kept up by the joy he felt with each step that took him closer to Oyasama’s side.
In other words, I believe this story relates to us how important it is to cling to and lean on God the Parent when an illness is shown to us.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Ueda Yoshinaru. 1976. “Kōhon Tenrikyō Oyasama-den itsuwa-hen ni tsuite.” Michi no dai 65 (May 1976), pp. 26–43.
- Yamamoto Toshihiko. 2008. “Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete: gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie 4.” Tenri jihō No. 4083 (June 22, 2008), p. 3.
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors, Part 60: “A Bridge Between Countries” (describes the same events as Anecdotes 33 above)
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors, Part 1: “If You Listen To God’s Teachings”
- Takano Tomoji. Disciples of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo, pp. 51–55.
- See Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 15: These Seeds for a brief discussion on fusekomi. Note no. 8 also provides links for further reading. ↩
- Information on the Japanese edition of Wikipedia also mentions that the practice of exchanging drinks of water in a sake cup was done in life-threatening situations or when it was foreseen that it could be the last time two or more people would see each other alive. ↩
- Toshihiko Yamamoto sensei actually writes “he stopped breathing as he traveled one ri” but I chose to simplify this expression in the translation above. A ri 里 is an old unit of measurement equal to 3.927 kilometers or 2.44 miles. ↩