Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 38

38. From the Hills in the East

Around 1874, Oyasama used to sing this song to Herself:

The moon rising from the hills in the east,

Like pushing a cart, or like a water wheel,

Rumbling, rumbling, rumbling.

Its melody was said to be the same as that of “Takaiyama kara” (From a high mountain).

Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 33

Translation of “Sawa’s note

“[From] Nazo to nazo by Hidetaro Kita, [published in] 1936.”

My take

Stuck. Stumped. Such was my predicament when I first speculated on what the religious importance of what Anecdotes 38 could be.

There have been two selections from Anecdotes of Oyasama so far that offered no initial obvious hint to what religious meaning it contained: selections 1 and 14.

Anecdotes 1 “Balls and Weights” describes how Oyasama, before becoming the”Shrine of God” in 1838, was skilled at separating cotton fibers from its seed, spinning thread, and weaving elaborate patterns at the loom. I noted that while I did not see the account as having any religious meaning, it was nevertheless “important in the sense that it potentially helps connect followers to Oyasama” and helped remind followers that “she was once human like we were.”

The significance of Anecdotes 14 “Dyeing” (which describes how Oyasama occasionally used the soil from Chushichi Yamanaka’s property to dye cloth) proves a little trickier to explain since it is a “post-1838 ” account. One of Tenrikyo’s central theological tenets is that Oyasama’s words and actions after she became the “Shrine of God” is considered sacred and ultimately derived from God’s desire and mission to “save all humankind.” (Please click on the link above to see how I attempted to attribute religious symbolism to what seems to be a non-religious and non-spiritual endeavor.)

The same predicament applies to Anecdotes 38. A strict theological stance cannot simply perceive it as a story chronicling how Oyasama amused herself by singing a particular song in 1874.

My initial intuition was for me to utilize this episode as my justification for singing “Happy Birthday” to the former Shinbashira in the Foundress’ Sanctuary. So here is my spiel, my pitch: If Oyasama can sing about a cart and a water wheel going “don don don” (rumble, rumble, rumble), what’s the harm of singing Happy Birthday in the Foundress’ Sanctuary? (Such was a topic in my blog from last month.) But I can’t really imagine that anyone would take this argument seriously. (Sigh.)

In any case, I can’t give up searching for a deeper significance to Anecdotes 38 at this juncture. Even at the risk of overreaching, I still think there’s some hidden symbolism to be found here.

That this song Oyasama sung had the same melody of “Takai yama kara” (From a high mountain) offers an interesting clue. I also find it intriguing that the song is attributed to her in the year 1874.

Taka(i) yama” or “high mountains” is a metaphor in the Ofudesaki that refers to the authorities and privileged classes.1

1874 happened to be the year in which Oyasama is said to have initiated the “mission to the high mountains.” The Life of Oyasama touches upon this subject as follows:

Written about that time in part five are the verses:

Perhaps you cannot foresee what is going to appear. From the high mountains, a broad path will open.

I have been preparing to open this path, but those of you close to Me know nothing of it.

Those who come here to summon or to investigate, come because it is God’s intent.

Ofudesaki 5:57–59

God the Parent’s intention was to “open a broad path from the high mountains.” Each summons and investigation by the authorities was from the intention of God the Parent to hasten the salvation of the high mountains.

Thus, in the Ofudesaki, God foretold the hardships of Oyasama which were to occur about 18 times during the next 12 years. God also revealed the truth of the divine intention behind these occurrences. The mission to the high mountains was then beginning in the form of the detention and imprisonment of Oyasama (pp. 85–86).2

This leads me to conclude that Oyasama was not simply singing a song to amuse herself. I speculate that she was making a statement about the impending opposition and interference from the authorities. Comparing the lyrics from two versions of the original song3 and Oyasama’s version offers more hints and possible hidden symbolism.

Here is Oyasama’s song (in Japanese):

Higashi yama kara / o-de yaru Tsuki wa / sansa oguruma osu ga yo ni / iyo sa no suisha de don don don

I got the lyrics for “From a high mountain” below from a website of a NPO preserving children songs and lullabies from all over Japan. One is from Shiga in central Japan. The other is from Shizuoka, more northeast toward Tokyo where Mt. Fuji is located:

Shiga version:

Takai yama kara / tani soko mireba / uri ya nasu no hana zakari / uri ga shami hiku / nasubi ga odoru / soko de kabocha ga / ondo toru

My translation:

“Looking from the high mountains to the low valleys,

There are melons and eggplants blossoming at their height

The melons play the shamisen, the eggplants dance

Then, the pumpkins begin their song”

Shizuoka version:

Takai yama kara / tani soko mireba yo / uri ya nasu no hana zakari yo / ara don don don / korya don don don

My translation:

“Look from the high mountains to the low valleys,

Melons and eggplants are blossoming at their height

Hey there, don don don (rumble, rumble, rumble)

Here now, don don don”

I can only wonder what these versions of “From a high mountain” actually sound like. Oyasama’s version seems to be an amalgam of the Shiga and Shizuoka versions. (The Shiga version actually has a few more verses but I just stuck with presenting the first two.)

Both versions of “From a high mountain” share the first verse. (The Shizuoka version has a “yo,” which doesn’t really change the meaning significantly for me. It’s just appears to be an affective nonvocable.) In addition to “high mountains,” it also has “low valleys” (tani soko) which happens to be another metaphor in the Ofudesaki that referred to the underprivileged classes that Oyasama sides and associates herself with.

As for Oyasama’s alternate lyrics, I see the Moon (Tsuki) as referring to God (referred at times as “Tsukihi,” Moon-Sun, in the Ofudesaki) and the rolling/rumbling of the car wheel and water wheel as symbolizing the incessant opposition that was to come from the high mountains.

Again, I may be overreaching here, but I wonder if the song Oyasama sang in 1874 contained the following message: “Although subsequent investigations and summons from the high mountains will be ever incessant, it is actually being initiated by God, so do not be concerned.”

I couldn’t dismiss the 1874 connection as a mere coincidence and this is the conclusion I have ended up with.


Further reading


  1. In the Ofudesaki, “takai yama” appears five times compared to “takayama,” which appears 31 times (Ofudesaki sakuin, p. 173). The five “takai yama” verses are the following:

    Until now, among the high mountains no useful timber has yet appeared (3:140).

    Until now, the high mountains have been boastful while the low valleys withered (4:120).

    Perhaps you cannot foresee what is going to appear. From the high mountains, a broad path will open (5:57).

    Until now, the high mountains, boastful, have thrived and done as they pleased in every matter (6:72).

    However high the mountains, floodwaters will reach them. Yet in the low valleys there will be no danger (7:13).

  2. For more, please see my timeline of 1874 as well as a brief discussion on significant developments from that year in my commentary on Anecdotes 35.
  3. This same song, “From a high mountain,” appears to be the same song sung by Rin Masui as described here in Anecdotes of the Honseki Izo Iburi 63: Dancing in the Dead of Night.