In 1881, the stones for the Kanrodai were being brought from Takimoto Village just east of Jiba. Umejiro Izutsu of the Shimmei-gumi [Confraternity] was instructed to haul the stones down a mountain, and Shirobei Umetani of the Meishin-gumi [Confraternity] was to haul them from the base of the mountain to the Residence. Tokichi Ueda and more than ten other men from the Hyogo Shimmei-gumi [Confraternity], who happened to be at the Residence just at that time, joined Shirobei’s group to haul the stones between Furu and the Residence.
The stones were being carried on nine carts. One of them got stuck at the gate of the Residence. At that very moment, Oyasama appeared from Her room and shouted:
Upon hearing Her voice, everyone pushed together with all their might and the cart rolled in easily. All were deeply moved by the solemn and inspiring presence of Oyasama.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 69.
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“From volume one of Shinmei Ashitsu no michi (the path of Shinmei-Ashitsu).”
My research / take
Anecdotes 82 appears to be significant for the reason it demonstrates the degree to which Oyasama inspired her followers. She helps the men pushing the stuck cart just by shouting “Heave!”
Harumichi Fukagawa sensei of the Oyasato Institute for the Study of Religion writes that the men pushing the cart were filled with wonder when it became unstuck with Oyasama’s shout and felt her “oya-gokoro” (parental love/heart). He goes on to suggest that the cart became stuck and unstuck as God intended, making the story a symbol of how God’s guidance works and of God’s parental love that has us to go through struggles in order to bring about progress.1 Or at least that’s what I take away from his commentary.
Now on to some historical details.
First of all, Shozen Nakayama2 happens to cover the stone quarrying and construction of the Kanrodai in deeper detail — including a list of contributors of donations and labor — in his Hitokoto-hanashi sono ni, pp. 141–186.
Next, it is notable that the quarrying of stone to make the Kanrodai took place despite the fact that Oyasama’s son Shuji had passed away for rebirth in April 1881.3 Apparently, Oyasama spent little time to mourn his passing; she remained singularly focused on paving the path toward world salvation. Her determination to press forward at this time is comparable to when she had the main building of the Nakayama property dismantled and sent her daughter Kokan to Osaka to spread the divine name of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto in 1853, the same year her husband Zenbei passed away.
The Life of Oyasama describes the stone quarrying as follows:
Oyasama clarifies the fundamental truth of the Service of the Kanrodai at the outset of part sixteen of the Ofudesaki and urges the construction of the stone Kanrodai, the center of the Service, from early 1881. On May 5, a search for stone was conducted in the hills around Takimoto Village, and quarrying was begun a few days later with the hinokishin of many followers. On May 14, members of the Meishin and Shinmei fellowships from Osaka joined in the quarrying, which became a lively affair. Thus, the necessary quantity of stone was prepared in this manner.4
My reading reveals the stone was quarried from the property of “Daishin of Saka,” who was the lumber dealer who looked kindly upon Izo Iburi when payments for the materials used in the construction for the Place for the Service could not be made on time.5 Refer to Anecdotes of the Honseki Izo Iburi 11 and 12 for more on Daishin.]
Fukagawa sensei’s research reveals other details I was not fully aware of:
- Shirobei Umetani (who appears in numerous subsequent selections from Anecdotes of Oyasama) embraced the faith in February 1881 when his elder brother came down with an eye disorder and was moved by a sermon of one of the intermediaries when he returned to Jiba.
- Tokichi Ueda embraced the faith in March 1881 and became the head (ko-moto) of the Hyogo Shinmei-gumi (the precursor of Heishin Daikyokai), which was formed in the sixth lunisolar month of the same year under the supervision of of Izutsu Umejiro’s Shinmei-gumi (hence its name, essentially meaning “the Shinmei-gumi of Hyogo Prefecture “). It is said that he and his followers joined in the stone quarrying/hauling on July 16 and witnessed a performance of the “Main Service” that same night.
Supplemental information: The establishment of the Meishin-gumi and Shinmei-gumi confraternities
Discussing Anecdotes 82 also gives me a good excuse to present the story behind the establishment of the Meishin-gumi and Shinmei-gumi confraternities. According to Fukagawa sensei, this story took place on May 14, 1881, the same day when the quarrying is said to have taken place according to The Life of Oyasama.
(The account below is my English paraphrase of an excerpt from Izutsu 2009.)
The year after Oyasama told Umejiro Izutsu “God is letting the roots of a great tree take firm hold in Osaka” (Anecdotes 71), a growing number of people began gathering before him, giving momentum to the prospect of forming a confraternity (ko 講). After discussing the matter among themselves, they decided to go to Oyasama for permission to form a confraternity.
As Izutsu’s group headed to Jiba, they met with Umetani Shirobei, the future first head minister of Senba Daikyokai, who was also on his way to the Residence to ask Oyasama to form a confraternity.
When they arrived, Izutsu (who stood at 179 cm in height) allowed the relatively smaller Umetani to pass through the gate first. When Izutsu met with Oyasama, he stated his wish to form a confraternity named “Meishin-gumi” [明眞組; “Clear-true-group”]. However, Umetani had already requested and granted the name “Meishin-gumi” [明心組; “Clear-mind-group”].
Izutsu had embraced the faith two years before Umetani did. Later that day, when Izutsu reached his lodgings, he assembled his followers and gave them the following impassioned instruction: “We must not be even a step late on this path. This has nothing to do whether one embraced the faith one step ahead or later. This is a matter that has everything to with whether one goes and dedicates oneself to Jiba one step ahead or later.”
By yielding to Umetani, Izutsu was not able to get his choice of a confraternity name. However, I find it intriguing that Oyasama bestowed him a name — Shinmei-gumi – that was shared with the confraternity that her son Shuji had formed and led before he passed away: Shinmei-ko. The characters “Shinmei” are exactly the same. It is not clear whether or not the Shinmei-ko folded after Shuji’s passing or even before.
What unfolded later is very much intriguing as well. The fortunes of Izutsu’s and Umetani’s confraternities could not be more different in terms of their organizational expansion even though they were founded on the very same date. It is as if losing his choice of a confraternity name as a result of deferring to Umetani lit a passionate fire in Izutsu.
I once counted up the churches that trace themselves to the Shinmei-gumi lineage of transmission and got 4,177! (The entire Tenrikyo organization itself has 17,141 branches, a number which includes the five overseas mission headquarters). Although most church lineage charts would only specify that Ashitsu had five branches that are presently daikyokai (grand churches), it must be noted that Yamana, Heishin, Azuma, and Kochi originally began as confraternities sharing the Shinmei-gumi name, meaning that 41 grand churches, including Ashitsu, ultimately resulted from this prolific organization.
Tomoji Takano sensei once explained his opinion on this difference between the Shinmei-gumi and Meishin-gumi as follows:
On June 27, 1977, a series of lectures were held at 38 Moya for followers of Senba Grand Church and I was asked to give a talk on my impressions of the path of the aforementioned grand church. Those who were sponsoring the lecture did so to mark the 96th anniversary since Shirobei Umetani was granted the name Meishin-gumi for his confraternity in 1881. I was given the task to give a talk to inspire the Senba followers.
The confraternity known as Shinmei-gumi (Ashitsu Grand Church) was also granted its name on exactly the same date as Meishin-gumi, but compared to Shinmei-gumi, that had gave birth to 376 grand churches by that time, Senba has yet to grow to the point where one of its branch churches was elevated to a grand church directly supervised by Church Headquarters.
When I got up on the podium, I asked everyone listening to consider the possibility that Heaven had given Meishin-gumi (Senba) its particular task while giving Shinmei-gumi (Ashitsu) another task. I then said noted that while it was Shinmei-gumi’s task to increase the size of the Tenrikyo congregation, the Meishin-gumi’s task was to convey God’s true teachings as exactly as had been taught. My talk had veered sharply toward an issue that was different from what the sponsors intended.
Nevertheless, this was something I strongly felt from before. While it is important to increase members, I believe it is also an important task to convey the teachings in manner that does not seek to adapt them to the time and place….
I believe that the o-tasuke the Reverends Nakata, Masui, Yamamoto, and Umetani engaged in entailed conveying the teachings, and persuading others of its truth to save them. I believe that those followers who were saved became followers for a lifetime and for generations to come. The gist of my talk was that Senba’s path consisted of a task in which it was entrusted to transmit such a faith.7
I went on quite a tangent here, but I was looking for an excuse to post the quote above from Takano sensei for some time. Deepening an understanding of a tradition and ensuring it is true to its original spirit can prove to be a valuable goal for congregations that find themselves having trouble attracting new members.
- Fukagawa, Harumichi. 2006. “Oya-gokoro — 82 ‘Yoisho.'” In Itsuwa-hen ni manabu iki-kata 2. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 51–73.
- Izutsu Umeo. 2009.”Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete: gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie 11.” Tenri jihō No. 4124 (4/5/2009), p. 3.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- _________. 1996 . The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo (third edition). Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1994 . Senjin no nokoshita kyōwa 1: Shizukanaru hono’o no hito, Umetani Shirobei. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Fukugawa 2006, p. 64. ↩
- Shozen Nakayama was the second Shinbashira — administrative/spiritual leader of Tenrikyo — and Oyasama’s great-grandson. ↩
- I discuss the events leading up to Shuji’s passing in Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 73. ↩
- The Life of Oyasama, p. 113. ↩
- Fukagawa 2006, p. 60. ↩
- Astute readers will note the discrepancy between my count (41) and Takano sensei’s (37). Takano sensei was writing in 1978, and since then Ochi, Kako, and Habashita have been promoted to grand churches. If we include Ashitsu itself to this number, this would bring 37 to 41, showing no actual discrepancy. ↩
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha pp. 7–9. ↩