Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 75

75. This is Tenri (The Reason of Heaven)

In the fall of 1879, Bunkichi Nakagawa, who lived at Honden in Osaka, suddenly contracted an eye disease and his condition became so serious that he was in danger of losing his sight. Umejiro Izutsu, his neighbor, without a moment’s delay began praying for Nakagawa’s recovery from the disease. Nakagawa was marvelously healed within a period of three days and three nights.

One day in 1880, Bunkichi Nakagawa visited the Residence to express his gratitude for having been saved. Oyasama received him and said:

“I welcome your seeking the parental home and returning here. Let us have an arm-gripping contest, shall we?”

Nakagawa, who habitually boasted of his strength and had even participated in amateur sumo-wrestling matches, could not refrain from smiling wryly for a moment upon hearing Her words. He could not, however, refuse Her and so he stretched forth both of his muscular arms.

Oyasama then quietly gripped Nakagawa’s left wrist and instructed him to grip Her left wrist as tightly as he could with his right hand. As instructed, Nakagawa gripped Oyasama’s wrist with all his might. Then, contrary to his expectations, he felt a sharp pain in his left arm as though it were about to break. He cried out, “I give up! Please, forgive me!” Then Oyasama said:

“You need not be surprised. If a child puts forth all his strength, the parent also must put forth strength. This is the reason of heaven. Do you understand?”

Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 65

Translation of “Sawa’s note”

“Bunkichi Nakagawa was the owner of a dyed goods store east of the home of Umejiro Izutsu (first head minister of Ashitsu). He introduced Izutsu to Tosuke Maeda (“Tane-ichi san”) when his daughter suffered from boils on her buttocks. Bunkichi Nakagawa himself embraced the faith after the events described in this story.”

My research / take

Upon reading Anecdotes 75, I have good reason to believe that Bunkichi Nakagawa was the “neighbor who was in danger of losing (his? her?) eyesight” mentioned in my discussion of Anecdotes 71.

The time period of “three days and three nights” it took for Bunkichi to be “marvelously healed” is actually the maximum time period that can be set in a prayer when a Yoboku administers the Sazuke.1 Even though Umejiro Izutsu did not have the ability to administer the Sazuke at that time, the connection is nevertheless compelling. Salvation occurring in “three days” is also given brief mention in the Ofudesaki as follows:

From your suffering at this time, be convinced, you and all the others.

There is no error in My free and unlimited workings, but there must be understanding in everyone’s mind.

When understanding comes to all of you, Tsukihi will assuredly save you.

What do you think of this salvation? You will be able to go out of doors in three days.

Ofudesaki 11:13–16

Although these verses are said to be specifically about Kokan’s illness (see my discussion of Anecdotes 43 for further details), it is just yet another compelling reason for me to believe that while particular verses from the Ofudesaki may have been written in regards to a specific historical context, they still can be applied in general situations outside their so-called original contexts.2

Oyasama’s tests of strength

Concerning Oyasama’s “arm-gripping contest” with Bunkichi, this is not the first time that she tests her physical strength with someone. (Earlier examples include Anecdotes 61 and 68, from 1878 and 1879 respectively.) However, this is the first instance among her tests (or contests) of strength in which she adds an instruction after she demonstrates a physical power that one would not readily expect from a woman in her 80s.

In the case of Bunkichi, she instructs: “If a child puts forth all his strength, the parent also must put forth strength. This is the reason of heaven (Tenri).” I’d like to consider Tenri3 here not as “the reason of heaven” (I must admit I have no clear idea what such a phrase is supposed evoke in English), but as a term that describes the natural order of things when it comes to the efforts we exert in our devotional life. If we exert our utmost, selfless efforts, God responds by providing blessings that align with our efforts. The instruction is intended to be an encouraging one for those who accept it as truth.

To quote the then Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Masahiko Iburi from the second half of his 2006 February Monthly Service Sermon:

In Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo, we find many anecdotes regarding contests of strength. In Her advanced age, Oyasama held a young man’s hands and asked him to put his strength into it. The harder he squeezed, the more painful his hands became, and soon he admitted his defeat. He realized that She was really more than human and became convinced that this must be the workings of God. Depending on the amount of strength or the amount of sincerity we exert, the Parent responds and shows us boundless workings. That is the parental heart, and these anecdotes demonstrate this point.

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


  • Greene, Daniel Crosby. 1895. “Tenrikyo, or the Teaching of the Heavenly Reason.” Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 23 no. 5.
  • Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of TenrikyoTenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
  • Tenrikyo Yoboku Association. 1993. Yoboku Handbook (second edition). Tenri: Tenrikyo Yoboku Association.
  • van Straelen, Henry. The Religion of Divine Wisdom. Kyoto: Vertias Shonin.

Further reading


  1. A book entitled Yoboku Handbook (out of print) has the following explanation on the procedures of administrations the Sazuke:

    “In praying to God the Parent, you should first state the sick person’s name, address, age, the name and state of the illness, the approximate date of onset, and then the prayer itself.

    “In the prayer, you should set a time period for the prayer. The longest term for a given prayer is three days and three nights. If the term of prayer is set for three days and three nights, you would be wrong to think that just one visit at the end of term of prayer will suffice; you should, rather, visit the recipient each day, conveying the teachings and administrating the Sazuke” (p. 62).

  2. I have previously written that Ofudesaki 11:16 is potentially applicable to the events that led Choe Jae-Han sensei to embrace Tenrikyo.
  3. I am personally beginning to have serious doubts over “reason” being a proper gloss for “ri.” In addition to “reason of heaven,” other attempts to translate “Tenri” include “heavenly reason” (D.C. Greene), “divine wisdom” (Henry van Straelen), and “divine truth” (pamphlet – “Tenrikyo: Teachings of Divine Truth”). I have also described Tenri elsewhere as “the cosmic order or natural law of the universe, the law of cause and effect” (Tenrikyology FAQ).

    Although Tenri is most commonly rendered as “truth of heaven,” I’ve also toyed with “cosmic law” or “cosmic order” as a possible alternate glosses. See The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 16 and Recent Questions no. 3: Was Tenri-O-no-Mikoto originally a Buddhist deity?