Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 59

59. Festival

In January 1878, when she was twenty-eight, Koiso Yamanaka (later Iye Yamada) was drawn to the Residence to serve Oyasama. Oyasama told her about the significance of the twenty-sixth day of the month:

“Festival (Matsuri) has the meaning ‘to wait.’ (matsu: wait, ri: principle). Do not do anything else the whole day of the twenty-sixth. The only thing you must do on that day is to give thanks for the marvelous protection of God the Parent.”

Koiso sewed the red garments and combed Oyasama’s hair as part of her daily routine. Usually, Oyasama prepared the red cloth Herself and handed it to Koiso.

Not long after Koiso started to serve Oyasama in the Residence, on April 28, 1878 (March 26th, lunar calendar), there was still time left after sweeping and cleaning. So she said, “Oyasama, it seems wasteful to be doing nothing from early morning. I wish you would give me some red cloth to sew.” After thinking for a while, Oyasama said:

“I understand.”

Then, She cut the red cloth quickly and smoothly, and gave it to Koiso.

Koiso was happy to have something to do, and began sewing at once. No sooner had she put a few stitches into the cloth than she was in pitch darkness even though it was daytime. In complete amazement, Koiso cried out, “Oyasama,” and said to herself, “Now, I understand. It was against the divine will to think it was wasting time. I will sew the red garment tomorrow.” The moment she made up her mind, it became daylight again, and everything was all right with her.

Later, when she told Oyasama what had happened, Oyasama instructed:

“I cut the red cloth because you, Koiso, said it was wasting time to be doing nothing from morning. If you sweep and mop, you need not do anything else on the twenty-sixth day except perform the Service. You must not.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 51–52

Translation of “Sawa’s note

“[From] Yamada Ihachiro bunsho (written documents of Ihachiro Yamada)”

My research / take

The central lesson that is presented here instructs the faithful that nothing other than the Service and its preparations must be done on the 26th. The importance of this lesson is most strikingly captured here by Koiso Yamanaka’s temporary loss of vision.

Oyasama’s instruction that one must do nothing from morning other than prepare for the Service and wait (matsu) until it begins has somewhat of an interesting parallel with the activities prohibited on the Shabbat (Sabbath) in the Judaic tradition.

A notable difference is that the specific reason for “waiting” for the Service (other than the fact it is a kind of matsuri or “festival to wait for”) is not really explained.

In the Judaic tradition, the prohibition of certain activities on the Shabbat is connected with how God rested on the seventh day after creation according the account described in Genesis.

In contrast, there is implication that, an unsatisfying explanation it might be for those of us who are non-Japanese, the reason one must “wait” for the Tenrikyo Service is self-evident from term matsuri alone.

The Tenrikyo Service and non-Tenrikyo matsuri

I’d like to go on a brief tangent here regarding the Tenrikyo Service as it was conducted at the time. According to The Life of Oyasama, followers commemorated the “day of origin” of the faith (lunar 10/26/1838) by gathering on the 26th of every month as early as 1863 .1

However, there is no account anywhere that I am aware of that helps give us any idea about what actually took place on the 26th of each month (referred to as the “go-meinichi” or “anniversary day”) during these early years since it was not until 1866 or 1867 when anything resembling the Main Service (hon-zutome) was introduced to the Tenrikyo canon. (Oyasama composed the first section of the Kagura in 1866 and the Twelve Songs in 1867.)

The Life of Oyasama also mentions that September 30, 1880 (or 8/26 lunar) marked the first time the Service was “performed for the first time with the full set of instruments,” including the three stringed instruments2, which makes one wonder how the Services were conducted until then. Further, at about the same time the events described in Anecdotes 59 are said to have taken place, Oyasama’s son Shuji formed the first social organization (ko) devoted to the faith circa April 1878.3

In any case, I find it notable that Oyasama (as described above in Anecdotes 59) uses the term “matsuri” to teach Koiso the significance of the Tenrikyo Service. I don’t recall the term matsuri being used very often by Tenrikyo adherents at present when they refer to the various types of Tenrikyo services (saiten).

Yet when one considers that many of the names of these services end with the suffix “-sai4(the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of the same character used to write matsuri), although Tenrikyo Services may not necessarily be specifically referred to as such, I guess there nonetheless is an implied sense that these services are indeed types of matsuri.

I’d like to offer a couple of lengthy quotes from academic sources that give their respective takes on matsuri here just to offer points of comparison and contrast:

In modern Japan matsuri (the word means both “festival” and “fête” in the religious sense) has come to mean a pubic festival, and most rural and urban communities in Japan have a matsuri during the year. A number of famous ones have nationwide, even international, renown. The large matsuri full of color and spectacle are particularly attractive to tourists, but the smaller festivals, those that occur annually in almost any Japanese community, perhaps better reveal the anthropological significance of the matsuri. Such festivals, which usually occur in and around a Shinto jinja, are commonly part of the annual round of rituals of a particular shrine. It is the main ritual of a shrine that is usually the occasion of a public festival.5

The word “matsuri” is roughly equivalent to the English “festival,” through the Japanese term once held a more deeply religious connotation. Havens (1988:148) suggests that “the theological sense given to matsuri is probably closest to the English terms ‘to worship’ or ‘to show reverence,’ and Shinto priests commonly refer to the religious rituals they perform for their parishioners as “matsuri“….

Matsuri assume a variety of forms, and attempts to place them within a single category meet with some difficulty. However, all standard definitions describe the matsuri as an opportunity for humans to interact directly with the supernatural (Yanagawa 1987:81–87). Another commonly mentioned feature is that the deity, after being summoned into the society of humans, is treated in the manner of an honored guest. This includes the offering of food and drink as well as lively entertainment. Matsuri, therefore, almost invariably contain a conspicuous “play” element, in which the deity, too, is thought to take pleasure. This aspect is perhaps better presented by the term “festivity” than by “ritual,” and the event as a whole encompasses both categories.6

Thus, “matsuri” is a generic term in Japanese used to refer to a festivity, often one that has some religious significance. Common elements of the Tenrikyo Service with the explanation of matsuri above include

  1. The Tenrikyo Service can be considered a means through which adherents “interact directly” with God
  2. There is some sense that God is present as “an honored guest” both during the Service and the naorai (“post-service meal”)

Although the sentiment hoping that God will “take pleasure” in the “joyous and spirited” performance of the Service is routinely expressed in the “service prayer” (saibun)7 read prior to the actual beginning of singing and dancing, an outside observer once astutely noted his impression of a tense atmosphere pervading adherents as they sang during the Service.8

However, one of the opening verses of the Ofudesaki does succinctly express the sentiment that a spirited performance of the Service brings joy to God. Consider:

When all are assembled and quickly do the Service, as those close to Me become spirited, God, also, will be spirited (1:11).


Further reading


  1. The Life of Oyasama, (p. 39).
  2. idid. p. 111
  3. ibid. p. 106.
  4. Tenrikyo services that include the -sai suffix include: Grand Services (Tai-sai), Oyasama Birth Celebration Service (Oyasama go-tanjo-sai), Monthly Services (Tsukinami-sai), New Year’s Day Service (Gantan-sai), and Memorial Services (Mitama-sai).
  5. Ashkenazi 1993, p. 4.
  6. Schnell 1999:14.
  7. Upon examining the saibun read at the Services at Tenrikyo Church Headquarters between January 1, 2006, and September 26, 2009, the Shinbashira expresses the humble hope that God will become spirited upon observing the Service 51 out of a total of 53 times. In comparison, words expressing the“joy” (yoki) and “spiritedness” (expressed in a variety of forms such as isande, isami-gokoro, and others) on the part of the human (active) performers and (passive) attendants are expressed 29 times and 32 times respectively. (The 32 appearances of “spiritedness” include two service prayers that had it appearing two times each.) One of the prayers actually quote Ofudesaki 1:11 in its entirety.
  8. I am quite confident that I read this somewhere, but I can’t recall the exact source. I am assuming it was an observation noted by Henry van Straelen in The Religion of Divine Wisdom.