88. From a Dangerous Place
The events of this story took place in late autumn of 1881. Unosuke Tosa was saved from near shipwreck close to Okushiri Island off Hokkaido. His ship docked at the port of Osaka, and on the same day he returned to Jiba to offer his thanks to God. He worshiped before the Kanrodai, offered his thanks to God the Parent, and vowed to carry out his firm resolution in the future.
He was so happy that he told the seniors at the Residence in detail the story of his having been saved. One of those who was listening, interrupted and asked whether that event had occurred at a certain time on a certain day in a certain month. When Unosuke calculated the date of his salvation, he realized it was exactly the same day. According to the senior, “Oyasama opened the sliding door and stood for a while facing north, waving an open Service fan, calling to someone to come,
‘Ho there! Ho there!’
I thought it was very strange. Now that I have heard your story, I understand what She was doing.” At this, Tosa was so touched with emotion that he could not contain himself. He made his appearance before Oyasama and, bowing deeply before Her, offered his gratitude, “Thank you for saving my life.” His voice trembled, and his eyes were so filled with tears that he could not clearly see Oyasama’s face. Oyasama spoke to him in a gentle voice and comforted him, saying:
“I brought you home from a dangerous place.”
Tosa then and there decided to leave his lifelong work as a seaman and made a firm resolution to dedicate his life to the single-hearted salvation of others.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 74–75.
Supplemental information from Taimo
“A Honbu-in (Church HQ executive staff member). First head minister of Muya.
“Born in Ansei 2 (1855) in Mukoshima Village (currently part of Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture). In 1878, he embraced the faith after being saved by the Shinjin-gumi in Sangenya, Osaka from wet beriberi. In 1881, he establishes the Awa Shinjin-gumi. In 1889, he establishes Muya Shikyokai. He passes away for rebirth in 1928 at the age of 74.”
Supplemental information on Unosuke Tosa (1855–1928)1
In 1855, Unosuke Tosa was born the second son of Takizo and Kiu Shirai in Mukoshima, Sawa County, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
His father died when he was 10 years old and he began helping his mother sell fish. However, they became increasingly destitute. With the single desire to have his mother live in comfort, he became a cook on a Kitamaebune (north-bound ship) when he was 13. It appears that Unosuke was well-suited to life on the high seas, for he became a full-fledged sailor at age 17. His future appeared to be full of promise.
When he was 21, he left Yamaguchi and settled down in Muya Port in Naruto City, Tokushima, where he sailed on a Kitamaebune belonging to a marine transport business. Then, three years later in 1878, he wed Masa, the adopted daughter of Shinpei Tosa and became the successor to the Tosa family.
In autumn of that year, Unosuke began to suffer from wet beriberi.
At the time, the Kitamaebune from the Kinki region and Shikoku Island would leave their ports in spring and return in autumn. After the cargo was unloaded from the ships, they would be moored in the Aji or Kizu Rivers until the following spring while undergoing maintenance and repair. There were many inns for sailors in nearby Sangenya, who would take turns looking after the moored ships.
It was while on ship duty when Unosuke began to suffer from his illness. Someone recommended that he see a doctor and was diagnosed with wet beriberi. He immediately returned to Muya to inform his family and began treatment with a local doctor but his condition simply worsened. He went to Osaka at the end of the year and had himself examined at a cutting-edge medical school. Unosuke despaired when he was told: “You won’t get a second chance after your heart stops. The best I can do is to offer you a placebo.”
The landlady of the inn Unosuke stayed in took great care of him and happened to be a follower of the Tenrikyo faith. She told him: “The human body is a thing borrowed from God. God created it and loans it to human beings. We are taught ‘the mind alone is yours’ and that a physical condition can improve depending on a person’s state of mind.”
Unosuke, who was deeply impressed by the teaching of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed,” requested the landlady to have Hakata Tojiro, the director of Shinjin Confraternity2 who was also a missionary in Sangenya, to help save him. A three-day, three-night prayer service was conducted and Unosuke received the vivid blessings of a recovery.
Unosuke made his first return (pilgrimage) to Jiba in October 1879 with other members of the Shinjin Confraternity. When he mentioned that he wished to donate a stone lantern or a torii gate to express his appreciation for his recovery, he was told: “We worship God, who is also known as God in Truth, who created human beings. There is no way to express your appreciation to God outside of helping others be saved.”
Upon hearing this, Unosuke made a firm resolve to help save others for the rest of his life. He would visit his mentors in Sangenya to learn the teachings and the Service Dance.
In the summer of 1880, Unosuke went to Shioya, Hokkaido, and fell ill during his stay there. Upon deeply examining how he lived his life and used his mind until then, he ended up with a 22-point pact.
After he apologized to God and resolved to follow these 22 points, he was blessed with a swift recovery. He then made a follow-up resolution to quit sailing and exclusively devote himself toward the task of saving others. (This may well be the “firm resolution” that Unosuke “vowed to… carry out in the future” mentioned in Anecdotes 88.)
However, sailing was a lucrative occupation and he faced fierce opposition from his adoptive parents when he expressed his desire to become fully devoted to the Tenrikyo faith. Upon facing such opposition, Unosuke then worked twice as hard as the average person while doing missionary work on the side. In spring 1881, he brought 16 people on a pilgrimage to Jiba.
It is roughly around this time when the events described in Anecdotes 88 took place.
Although I personally find it a shame that Unosuke Tosa’s conversion experience is not detailed in Anecdotes of Oyasama, I realize that its omission probably stems from the fact that Oyasama was not directly involved. (The tale of Unosuke’s first return to Jiba would have also made a wonderful addition.) Unosuke does not appear in Anecdotes until 88, which details an event in which Oyasama is directly credited with.
Although one of the seniors at the Residence tells Unosuke, “Now that I have heard your story, I understand what She was doing,” the text does not elaborate any further.
There is an assumption that the connection between Oyasama waving a Service (folding) fan and Unosuke’s salvation at sea is self-evident. (The way Anecdotes 88 had been translated does not help much. I probably would have preferred to go with a phrase like: “I thought to myself, ‘Why, Oyasama sometimes does unexplainable things.’ Yet after hearing what you just told me, I can finally make sense of her actions.”)
That Oyasama is credited with saving Unosuke and his ship from an accident at sea through the act of calling out to him and waving an open Service fan in his general direction is an implicit suggestion that she possessed (possesses) superhuman powers.
If such a suggestion may be too much of a leap of faith for some readers to accept, it is possible to maintain that although a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil may not necessarily set off a tornado in Texas (the so-called “butterfly effect” of chaos theory), Anecdotes 88 is an account of a woman who waved a fan in a village in Nara Prefecture and helped a ship off Okushiri Island, Hokkaido, from a shipwreck.
In any case, Unosuke immediately and readily accepted that Oyasama had saved him from certain death without any doubt on his part. Her words “I brought you home from a dangerous place” may have had a spiritual implication in addition to the actual situation she is credited saving Unosuke from.
The near shipwreck may be considered God’s way of causing Unosuke to finally abandon his occupation and fully embrace his calling as a Tenrikyo missionary. That he was still caught between fulfilling his social obligations as an adoptive son and becoming completely dedicated to God’s path might have been a “dangerous place” for him to be in a spiritual sense.3
We will later see the immediate consequences of Unosuke’s decision to finally carry out his “firm resolution to dedicate his life to the single-hearted salvation of others” in Anecdotes 99.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976 Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo, Manuscript Edition. Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Tenrikyō Seinenkai, ed. 2007. “Oyasama: Jūshichi nin no kodomo.” Taimō 467 (November 2007), pp. 16–17.
- Tosa Takenao. 2009. “Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete: gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie 12.” Tenri jihō No. 4131 (May 24 issue), p. 3.
- Takano, Tomoji. Disciples of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo, pp. 88–92.
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 52: The Path of Repayment to God
Stories with brief mention of Shinjin-gumi followers:
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 14: Miraculous Voyage (1 of 2)
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 15: Miraculous Voyage (2 of 2)
- Information from this section has been paraphrased/translated from Tosa 2009. ↩
- Tosa Takenao sensei refers to the Shinjin Confraternity as the “Shinjin-ko” (“True-heart-religious confraternity”) in his article, whereas I believe it is more common to refer to it as the “Shinjin-gumi” (眞心組; “True-heart-group”). Further reseach is certainly needed to confirm what the actual name of this religious association was. ↩
- Consider these verses from the Ofudesaki:
Because Tsukihi sees a dreadful and dangerous path opening before you step by step,
Know that Tsukihi worries and is anxious to tell you quickly about that path.
Just as you humans worry about your children, I worry over your dreadful and dangerous path.
Tsukihi is anxious about your dreadful and dangerous course. Yet none of you is aware.