Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 106

106. Symbolic Serving

Oyasama was confined in Nara Prison for twelve days starting from October 29, 1882. While Oyasama was in prison, Shirobei Umetani stayed at the Residence. Every day during the twelve days, he got up before dawn and walked some eleven kilometers to Nara Prison with Shinnosuke, the first Shimbashira, and other seniors to bring things to Oyasama. About the time they arrived at Nara, the sky would begin to turn gray. It would be about nine o’clock when they returned to the Residence after delivering the things.

One day, the party of three were attempting to pass the gate of the jail without greeting the gatekeepers. They were stopped and threatened that they would not be allowed to go home because they had not greeted the gatekeepers. The three persons apologized and knelt down with their hands in the muddy ground, after which they were allowed to go.

At the Residence, visitors were harassed by police officers on guard at the entrance. In addition, different officers would come to investigate as often as three times during a night, so that people in the Residence could sleep for only two hours or so each night.

On November 9th, Oyasama was met by numerous persons when She returned to the Residence. She called Umetani to Her and said:

“Shirobei, thank you very much for your trouble. I did not feel hungry at all, thank you.”

In the prison they could only deliver things for Oyasama and were not allowed to see Her. No one could have told Her that it was Shirobei who had delivered the things. Therefore, Umetani wondered how She knew that it was he.

While Oyasama was in prison, Shirobei’s wife, Tane, in Osaka also prepared meals for Oyasama and served Her symbolically every day, calling to mind Oyasama’s hardship.

It was on the next day, the tenth, and thereafter that Shirobei was allowed to make personal inquiries of Oyasama without an intermediary.

Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 89–90

Translation of “Sawa’s note”

“Umetani Shirobei was born on 7/7/1847 in Higashi-Sakata, Habikino, Osaka. He is the first director of Meishin-gumi and the first minister of Senba Daikyokai.”

Supplemental information from The Life of Oyasama

Anecdotes 106 might be considered important in how it describes what happened behind the scenes during Oyasama’s detainment in prison in October/November 1882.

The Life of Oyasama describes this incident in some detail. Although I initially hoped to offer a short post for a change, I felt it would be beneficial to present a sizable citation here.

The pressures exerted by the police continued to increase after the removal of the Kanrodai, but Oyasama, paying no heed, remained steadfast in urging the performance of the Salvation Service. The Service was performed daily from October 12 through October 26 with Oyasama seated in the north room with the raised floor.

About that time, an incident involving some followers of shallow faith erupted in Senboku County, Osaka Prefecture. It became a police matter and was called the “Abiko Incident.”

The followers at the Residence, greatly worried, requested that the will of God the Parent concerning this matter be revealed. The divine words were:

Sah, over the mountains and across the seas, over the mountains and across the seas, over here and over there, the name of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto will resound, will resound.

At this, the clouds of worry were cleared away.

Further, on the evening of the Chrysanthemum Festival, September 9 by the lunar calendar, Tokichi Izumita, in an excess of zeal, argued hotly with a police officer in Osaka.

At that very hour on that very same night, the following revelation was given at the Residence:

Sah, sah, inside the Residence, inside the Residence, the filth is unbearable, unbearable. God will clear it all away, clear it away. Sah, everything is sufficient; there should be no complaints. The first six of My ten providences are operating. The Path will spread sufficiently in the Eight Directions. Sah, there is One who will not be lowered. Who knows when or where God will take Her?

The followers were wondering why, despite their daily performance of the Service, the police did not come to take them away, while, unbeknown to them, an order for their arrest was en route from the Osaka prefectural authorities to the Nara Police Station as the result of the two incidents.

At the Residence, on October 26, while the Service was in progress, one of the Service performers, Hanzaburo Maegawa, accidentally tripped over Tomegiku Tsuji‘s koto and fell. That same day, Risaburo Yamamoto mistook the glutinous rice, used for rice-cake offerings, for the usual rice and cooked it for the meal. Vaguely uneasy because of these two incidents, the followers were hoping that nothing further would happen. But, on the very next day, the 27th, an officer from the Nara Police Station arrived with Hidejiro Adachi, a fellow villager, for investigation.

This time, articles ranging from the mandala and all of the implements for the Service to the paper lanterns in front of the altar and the framed pictures in the parlor were removed and hauled to the house of the village representative. Those who happened to be present were Kajimoto, Umetani, Kita, Masui, and others.

Two days later, on October 29, Oyasama was summoned to the Nara Police Station along with Ryojiro Yamazawa, Chusaku Tsuji, Gisaburo Nakata, Risaburo Yamamoto, and Seizo Morita. The party started out for Nara before daybreak, Oyasama riding in the rickshaw of Mizukuma of Osaka and the other five going on foot, taking a bypath.

At the police station, Oyasama and the others were sentenced to detention. Shinnosuke and many others, who had gone to the police station to accompany Oyasama home, stood waiting at the gate. Oyasama and the other members of the party finally emerged led by an officer and proceeded to the north. Shinnosuke’s group followed at first but the party went directly through the gates and entered the prison.

Only seventeen at the time, Shinnosuke, accompanied by Takai, would leave the Residence early each morning at the break of dawn to go to the prison to deliver things to Oyasama. After he did all he could do, it would always be after nightfall that he would start home from Nara.

Umetani and Kajimoto also went to deliver things to Oyasama. Hanzaburo Maegawa did too. And so did Gonjiro Sawada and Masa Nakayama. Of course, everyone walked. Also, a never-ending stream of followers visited Oyasama daily bringing gifts.

On the day before Her return, someone threw a bag of tonic medicine into the steam bath with the intent of causing trouble. Fortunately, it was discovered quickly, and nothing came of it.

This was the longest hardship due to imprisonment that Oyasama had undergone in the seven years since 1875, and, although not a drop of prison water or food passed Oyasama’s lips, She returned to the Residence in good health on November 9.

On the day of Her release, there were one hundred and fifty or sixty rickshaws and one thousand and several hundred people out to greet Her. After resting briefly at an inn called Yoshizen, Oyasama started home in a long procession of rickshaws, greeted on the way by hundreds of well-wishers. It is said there were no rickshaws in all of the Nara-Tanbaichi region available for hire on that day.

On the way, Oyasama’s party crossed paths with Izo Iburi in front of the Monju Temple in Nara.1 Izo was being taken to the Nara Prison as a result of a summons, having been held the previous day at a branch police station in Obitoke.

The Life of Oyasama, pp. 174–178

My take

It might be notable to add that Oyasama went through 12-day detentions on a few occasions. I have once heard that 12 days was the maximum sentence they could hand down for what Oyasama was essentially being accused of: practicing religious activities that were not approved by the Japanese government at the time.

At the conclusion of Anecdotes 106, it is mentioned that Shirobei Umetani is granted permission to meet Oyasama without an intermediary the day after she is released from prison. It’s possible to see this as a kind of promotion.

I find this to be a significant development for Shirobei; it is a recognition of not only his efforts, but also the devotion of his wife Tane, who, when she was minding the fort back home in Osaka, prepared meals behind the scenes and indirectly served them (or “symbolically” as Anecdotes 106 puts it2) to Oyasama. It demonstrates one way how they carried out their vow to “follow the path together” that is described in Anecdotes 92. Shirobei’s promotion is just another example that the efforts of a devoted woman can be integral to a man’s success.


  • Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1996 [1967]. The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo (third edition). Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.


  1.  This incident in which Iburi Izo (1833–1907) is taken into custody on the same day Oyasama is released has been previously detailed on in The Life of the Honseki Izo Iburi, Part Seven.
  2. The Japanese for “symbolic serving/served… symbolically” is “kage-zen,” which literally means “shadow-meal.” A better rendering would be “a meal served behind the scenes” since something done “in the shadows” would be considered suspicious behavior in English, while there is no such connotation in Japanese.

    It is somewhat unfortunate there is no description of how Tane “symbolically” served Oyasama. I would assume she presented the meal before the altar of the Meishin-gumi Confraternity. Then, again, their symbol of worship could easily have been a gohei on a wooden platform.