Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 73

73. Holy Fire for Invocation

On September 22, 1880, the Buddhist ritual of burning a holy fire for invocation1 was being performed in front of the main gate as part of the opening ceremonies for the Tenrin-Ō-Kosha. Oyasama, wearing Her usual red garments2, appeared at the six matted room located east of the north raised room3 which had the dais. She sat down, watched the proceedings for a short while with a smile, and then returned to Her room.

Concerning the establishment of the [confraternity], Oyasama previously had said:

“If you do such a thing God shall withdraw.”

Despite Her words, Shuji established the [confraternity] at the risk of his life. When one considers Oyasama’s acceptance of Shuji’s sincerity by Her gracious presence at the invocation, one cannot help but think of Her boundless parental love and be filled with deep emotion.

Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 63

Background information

I’d like to supply some background information in an attempt to put Anecdotes 73 into perspective. (Warning: This portion is very nerdy.)

Oyasama’s son Shuji was motivated to form the Tenrin-O-Kosha due to the fact that Oyasama lacked the legal authority to conduct her religious activities in a historical context where religious activities in general were coming under increasing scrutiny and regulation by the Japanese government in the late 19th century.

The teachings that Oyasama promoted clashed with the national ideology adopted by the Meiji government (inaugurated by the “Meiji restoration” in 1868) that sought to unite the country against the threat of colonization from Western powers. The account of creation Oyasama taught, which claimed that the whole of humanity descended from Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto4, was an implicit denial of the central notion in State Shinto that asserted the emperor was divine, an important notion on which the government based its legitimacy.

The path toward legal recognition for Tenrikyo, the faith organization that grew out of Oyasama’s devoted following, was long and tortuous. Steps toward legal recognition began as early as 7/1867, when Shuji applied for and received a license from the Yoshida house in Kyoto (i.e., the Yoshida Shinto Administrative Office, which had a de facto monopoly on granting legal authorization for non-Buddhist religious activities until the Meiji restoration).

Shuji’s main motivation in obtaining this license stemmed from the fact how monks belonging to the Shinshu denomination of Buddhism and the Shugendo tradition frequently came to the Residence to protest against her religious activities.

Such antagonism was so great that monks from a particular Shugendo temple burst into the Residence and went on a rampage after they could not get the upper hand in their arguments against Oyasama and went to the home of Chushichi Yamanaka to continue their violence before making a formal complaint at the local magistrate office (an event I briefly describe in my discussions on Anecdotes 20 and 28).

The situation became so serious that villagers, tired and angered by the escalating violence, armed themselves with clubs and hoes to block the monks’ entry into Shoyashiki.5 A concerned Shuji attempted to settle the situation and visited to inquire after the assistance of Kishiro Nishihata, the village head of Kobayashi that neighbored the temple in question.

Once the monks learned of this, they surrounded Nishihata’s residence and threatened to drag Shuji out and kill him. Nishihata, who was responsible for Shuji’s well-being, succeeded in having a peer of theirs, Shingoro Morimoto, to appease the rage of his colleagues.6 The threats did not end until the Nara Magistrate Office intervened with an investigation and subsequently imprisoned a number of Shugendo monks.

With the license from the Yoshida Shinto Administrative Office, Shuji gained legal authority to allow followers to worship at the Residence and to conduct prayers. It is assumed that Shuji received training in the rituals and doctrines of Yoshida Shinto at this time. Yoshida officials also told him that he no longer had to endure any obstructions from Shugendo practitioners and Buddhist priests, and was encouraged to hold them off with guns if necessary.7

Although he and Oyasama’s followers were overjoyed at obtaining legal status, she herself remained unimpressed, as these legal measures went against her will.8 Oyasama declared that “The daimyo, together with their guards armed with spears and their palanquin bearers will be abolished.”9 and foretold the downfall of Yoshida Shinto: “True, the Yoshida clan is apparently great. But in fact it is no more than one of the branches of a tree. The time will come when it will wither.”10

Oyasama’s second set of words became reality in 1870, when the Yoshida Shinto Administrative Office was abolished and her movement was essentially vulnerable to official suppression once again. While her followers were in awe as they remembered her prediction several years before, they were disappointed to lose the sanction they attained.

When attempts to file for legal recognition from the new government were made, Oyasama declared: “Go if you think it necessary. But you will breathe your last before you arrive. Do not go to make such a petition.”11

Nevertheless, while Oyasama’s religious movement was essentially illegal from 1870, the situation remained relatively quiet for a number of years. Persecution from prefectural authorities did not begin until 1874, following the creation of the Great Promulgation Campaign (taikyo senpu undo).12

Shuji became the village head of Shoyashiki in 1873 and “[b]ecause Shuji was the village head, the Nakayama family’s residence was offered as the venue for preaching the Shinto nationalization program.”13

As suggested above, the ideology of State Shinto was incompatible with Oyasama’s vision and she soon challenged local Shinto priests over the legitimacy of the new Meiji government.

In the tenth lunar month of 1874, Oyasama sent two of her disciples, Gisaburo Nakata and Ichibei Matsuo to inquire about the deities enshrined at Oyamato Shrine.14 This event initiated a wave of intense scrutiny from the authorities, and Oyasama was later interrogated and held in police detention on numerous occasions.

In was in such a situation that Shuji found himself in. Wishing to protect his mother and to allow followers to assemble at the Residence, he obtained a license from Sakai Prefecture in 1876 to run a steam bath and an inn as a way to circumvent tight regulations regarding unauthorized forms of religious expression. Oyasama expressed disdain at the measure, warning Shuji “God the Parent will withdraw along the way.”15, which meant he was defying God’s will and risking his life.

In 1880, Shuji made efforts to once again obtain legal status as a religious organization, this time under the patronage of a Shingon Buddhist temple. Again, Oyasama declared, “If you do such a thing, God the Parent will withdraw.”16

Disregarding the warning, Shuji brought Oyasama’s movement under the jurisdiction of a former Shugendo temple, the Kongozan Jifukuji. Anecdotes 73 is a description of the Buddhist-style inauguration ceremony for the Tenrin-O-Kosha (kosha being a lay religious association or confraternity) which Shuji helped establish.

Insight from Yoshinaru Ueda sensei and  Tatsuzo Yamochi sensei / Epilogue

Theologian Yoshinaru Ueda notes that although Oyasama had expressed harshly that God would “withdraw,” according to Anecdotes 73, she does not demonstrate similar opposition on her part at the inauguration ceremony itself. Although Oyasama was more than free to express her (i.e., God’s) opposition, instead, we read that “She sat down, watched the proceedings for a short while with a smile, and then returned to Her room.”

Tatsuzo Yamochi sensei, on the other hand, is more direct:

goma purifying fire was set up near the JibaKanrodai, Buddhist monks chanted prayers, and someone from the temple came to give a sermon. One would presume that Oyasama would have been angry with this and feel that this ceremony went against the divine truth. However…[w]hile the mindset of Her children was not in accord with the divine truth, Shuji laid his life on the line. It is apparent from this account by Oyasama watching over a part of the ceremony, She recognized his sincere efforts.17

Nevertheless, despite Shuji’s endeavors, the establishment of the Tenrin-O-Kosha failed to fully provide protection from official persecution. Villagers voiced protests that their homes were constantly used by friends and relatives who visited the Residence.18 The police viewed the followers’ worship and “Kagura” dance as a violation of the proscribed mixing of Shinto and Buddhism.19

The most notable event that revealed the inefficacy of the patronage of the Jifukuji was the confiscation of two sections of the stone Kanrodai in May 1882. The prefectural authorities at this time wrote the Kanrodai sections and a set of Oyasama’s red clothes “were detained as the articles used as the tools of the crime of seducing the public by prayers and charms of sorcery.”20

Oyasama’s warnings became reality a year later, as Shuji died in April 1881, leaving his widow Matsue in charge of the Tenrin-O-Kosha. Matsue herself died in September 1882, and the Jifukuji subsequently canceled their patronage of the Tenrin-O-Kosha in December of that year, effectively making the status of Oyasama’s religious movement illegal and subject to increased police censure.

The Life of Oyasama explains Shuji’s intentions establishing the Tenrin-O-Kosha as follows:

“Shuji knew well that such a plan could not possibly be acceptable to God. But compared with the arrest and imprisonment of Oyasama, his life meant nothing to him. He felt compelled to take whatever measures he could for the safety of Oyasama and those who gathered at the Residence.”21

Knowing this may allow readers better appreciate the closing sentence of Anecdotes 73: “When one considers Oyasama’s acceptance of Shuji’s sincerity by Her gracious presence at the invocation, one cannot help but think of Her boundless parental love and be filled with deep emotion.”

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


  • Hatakama Kazuhiro. 2002. “Society and Tenrikyo During the Meiji Period.” Tenri Journal of Religion 30 (March 2002), pp. 83–103.
  • Hayasaka Masaaki. 1987. “Tenrikyo Under the Structure of National Shintoism: Double-faced Aspects in the Development of Tenrikyo Doctrine During the Lifetime of the Foundress.” Tenri Journal of Religion 21 (December 1987), pp. 9–38.
  • Katsurajima Nobuhiro. 1992. Bakumatsu minshū shisō no kenkyū: Bakumatsu kokugaku to minshū shūkyō. Kyoto: Bunrikaku.
  • Miyake Hitoshi. 1993. “Religious Rituals in Shugendō: A Summary.” In Religion and Society in Modern Japan: Selected Readings. Edited by Mullins, Mark R., Shimazono Susumu, and Swanson, Paul L. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, Nanzan Studies in Asian Religions, pp. 31–48.
  • Moroi Masaichi. 2002 [1970]. Seibun iin shō. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
  • Murakami Shigeyoshi. 1989. “Ofudesaki no rekishi-teki shisō-teki igi.” G-TEN 42 (June 1989), pp. 13–22.
  • Nakayama Shozen. 1964Hitokotohanashi (English translation). Tenri: The Headquarters of Tenrikyo Church.
  • Okuya Bunchi. 1936. Tenri kyōso Nakayama Mikiko jitsuden / tsuketari Iburi IzōōTanbaichi, Nara: Kinoshita Shinshindō.
  • Takano Tomoji. 2001 [1971]. Gozonmei no koro. 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.
  • Ueda Yoshinaru. 1976. “Kōhon Tenrikyō Oyasama-den itsuwa-hen ni tsuite.” Michi no dai 65 (May 1976), pp. 26–43.
  • Yamochi Tatsuzō. 1993 [1984]. Kōhon Tenrikyō Oyasama den nyūmon jikkōTenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.

Further reading


  1. “Buddhist ritual of burning a holy fire for invocation” is a gloss for “o-goma 大護摩 o taiteiru.” I assume an o-goma is a larger-scale version of the goma fire ceremony that “symbolically burns away passionate delusions” (Miyake 1993, p. 42), a ceremony central to both Shingon Buddhist and Shugendo traditions.
  2. See Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 35 for a discussion regarding the significance of Oyasama’s red garments/clothes.
  3. “Raised room which had the dais” is a gloss of jodan no ma 上段の間. It refers to a room in the structure known as the Place for the Service. It has also been glossed as “raised floor.” Not to be confused with a room with the same name (in Japanese) was also built in Oyasama’s Resting House (completed in 1883). This room in the Resting House is referred in English as the “raised room” (The Life of Oyasama) or “raised chamber” (Anecdotes).
  4. According to the canon of State Shinto, Izanagi was the father of Amaterasu, or the divine ancestor of the imperial clan. By presenting Izanagi and Izanami as the parents of human beings, Oyasama’s account of creation was, by implication, denying the divinity of Amaterasu and the emperor. By no means was she alone taking this position, as the writings of Konkokyo were even more explicit in this regard (Katsurajima 1992, p. 38).
  5. Takano 2001, p. 158.
  6. ibid. p. 159.
  7. Moroi 2002, pp. 64–65.
  8. Takano 2001, p. 163.
  9. Moroi 2002, p. 66.
  10. The Life of Oyasama, p. 74.
  11. The Life of Oyasama, p. 80.
  12. According to the Encyclopedia of Shinto, “The Great Promulgation Campaign which took place between 1869 and 1885 was a large-scale Restorationist Shintō enlightenment movement which the government undertook in order to enhance the resistance by popular beliefs to Christianity (which remained banned up to 1873) and also to publicize the significance of the Meiji Restoration” (Shinto Edification: Shintō edification prior to the Second World War). (Link to entire online article)
  13. Hatakama 2002, p. 92.
  14. This action cannot be unrelated to the fact that the Oyamato Jinja was made into the local Shokyoin (teaching academy) for the promulgation of State Shinto (Murakami 1989, p. 17). On June 23, 1874, Hirosuke Koike, an official of Nara Prefecture, attended an enshrinement ceremony at Oyamato as an imperial representative. At this ceremony the imperial regalia were enshrined, with each piece of the three regalia symbolizing a different kami among the imperial pantheon (Hayasaka 1987, p. 18–19). Shigeyoshi Murakami has suggested that the government’s usurpation of Oyamato Shrine for the purpose of State Shinto shocked the populace who had long worshiped there (1989, p. 17). I speculate that Oyasama may have been deeply concerned since the Oyamato Shrine was not only her natal family tutelary shrine, but women of the Nagao clan (Oyasama’s mother’s natal family) long served as miko or shrine maidens there (Takano 2001, p. 22). Oyasama may have used the recent events as an opportunity to send two of her followers to confront the priests of the shrine.
  15. The Life of Oyasama p. 101.
  16. ibid p. 110.
  17. Yamochi pp. 359–360.
  18. Among the complaints that were voiced against Tenrikyo by the villagers were: “If our relatives visit Tenrikyo we must house them and when it rains, we must lend them umbrellas. Why, even our children waste money, when a row of stalls are arranged on festival days on the street. So the officials must suppress them or they must pay for our loss” (Nakayama 1964, p. 145).
  19. Okuya 1936, p. 308.
  20. quoted in Hayasaka 1987, p. 28.
  21.  The Life of Oyasama, p. 110.