The Early Years: From Mukoji to Ichinomoto
Izo Iburi was born the fourth son of Bunyemon and Rei Iburi on 12/28/1833 (lunar calendar). In all, Izo’s mother Rei gave birth to seven children: eldest brother Shobei, elder sister Iye, elder brother Juhei, younger sister Ina, and younger brother Kumejiro. (The Iburis’ had a third son who died in infancy.) Izo grew up in the mountain village of Mukoji in Yamato (present day Nara Prefecture), some 20 kilometers southeast of Jiba. The surname “Iburi” (literally, “falling rice”) is thought to have come from the Iburi stone located in the mountains of Mukoji Village. Its name comes from a legend that claims when Emperor Shomu (reigned 724–749 A.D.) visited the area, rice fell from the heavens upon this stone.
Izo’s childhood name was Kamematsu and he was known to have been a mischievous and handsome boy. He attended a local temple school from the age of eight. However, three years later, Izo was compelled to drop out of school when his father, Bunyemon, the village head, was accused of embezzling public funds. Though an investigation cleared Bunyemon of these charges, Izo nevertheless received intimidating glances from his classmates. Izo’s father Bunyemon felt responsible for even allowing the false accusations to surface and subsequently transferred his family inheritance to his brother Yohei.
Izo demonstrated an interest in carpentry from an early age. He often visited construction sites to watch carpenters at work while carrying his younger brother, Kumejiro, on his back. One day, Izo noticed at one work-site that carpenter Tajuro was putting the reference line in the wrong place. When Izo attempted to point out the mistake, Tajuro answered: “What? Don’t bother me kid; I’m working here. Why don’t you go somewhere else to play?”
Confident, Izo continued to insist: “Mister, if you put the reference line there, you won’t be able to build the rest of the house as you planned. I think you should do a double-check.”
Tajuro reluctantly did as Izo suggested and shouted: “Yikes! You’re right!” Everyone who happened to be there was awed at Izo’s natural gift for carpentry.
Soon Tajuro visited Bunyemon Iburi and suggested that he should apprentice Izo as a carpenter. Although his parents initially refused, with Tajuro’s earnest persuasion, Izo formally began his training at the ripe age of 14. However, because Tajuro was actually a miller by trade and only worked as a carpenter on the side, Izo’s opportunity to develop his skills was limited. A few years later, Izo became an independent, full-fledged carpenter. However, there was little work in the remote village where he lived. Unable to make a living, he decided to leave his home in Mukoji.
Izo left for Ichinomoto, now a suburb of Tenri City, at the age of 22 to work for master carpenter Isaburo Yamashita, who was married to his cousin Tami Kohiro. Mr. Yamashita, unlike the miller Tajuro, must have been a master carpenter, for Izo honed his skills under his tutelage and became a master craftsman himself, establishing a reputation as a sincere and industrious worker. His work not only took him around Ichinomoto but as far as Nara and Koriyama, and he soon gained one or two apprentices of his own. On top of building homes, he often made useful household items such as footstools and chopping boards, which his customers greatly appreciated.
Izo’s three marriages
Izo married three times in his life. After marrying his first wife, Natsu Kawabata, in 1856 at the age of 24, Izo moved into a house that was located near where the JR Ichinomoto train station presently stands. Unfortunately, however, Natsu passed away after giving birth and their child also passed away before reaching age two.
Izo next married a cousin of his late wife, Narae Takeda, in 1858. But because she was still young and immature (they married when she was still 15), she never helped with the housework.
One day, when Izo came home from work, he found Narae sleeping in her futon. Worried that she was sick, he asked her what was wrong. When she answered that she was only resting, Izo was greatly relieved, saying, “Thank goodness, thank goodness.”
According to Rev. Eizo Ueda (the late third head minister of Chuwa Grand Church; 1894–1958): “A typical husband who finds his healthy wife snoozing each day away would probably get upset and kick at her to get her up. Perhaps because Izo’s personality was so different from a typical person, he was able to gain the merit he received to become the Honseki although his causality in his early life could in no way be called favorable.”1
Despite the fact Izo treated her with such kindness, Narae thoughtlessly spent the money he had so painstakingly earned and she gambled her way into a large debt. After repaying the debt by selling his household belongings and rice fields, even the good-natured Izo could not take any more and finally divorced her.
For the next two years, Izo lived together with his apprentices and said that he was content to live the rest his life as a widower. However, his neighbors could not allow “the most honest man in Ichinomoto” to remain unmarried for very long. Through a marriage introduction (mi-ai) at age 29, Izo eventually tied the knot again with Sato, the eldest daughter of Takeyemon and Nami Baba. Sato, 28 at the time, also happened to be a divorcée.
When Sato moved in with Izo, she was flabbergasted at the state he lived in with his two or three apprentices. The closets and dresser drawers were filled with filthy undergarments. Sato spent her days tidying up the home and doing the laundry. Sato, who was raised in a relatively well-to-do household complained to her neighbors, “Though I knew he was poor, I had no idea that it was this bad.”
Guidance from God the Parent
Izo took great care of Sato. However, her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Later in life, Sato confessed that before her two early pregnancies, she seriously contemplated divorcing Izo so she could return home. But Sato received guidance from God the Parent when she became bedridden following her second miscarriage in 1864. Izo frantically sought relief for his wife for it was not rare for a woman to lose her life as a result of a serious miscarriage. He sought relief from various sources, employing doctors, using medicines, and even had special prayers conducted, but Sato’s condition only grew worse.
Izo was about to head all the way to Tondabayashi near Osaka to seek help from a famous doctor when he met his friend Kisaburo of Tsubao Village who asked him where he was headed. Once Izo explained he going to bring a doctor from Tondabayashi to treat Sato’s illness, Kisaburo told him there was no need to travel so far. Kisaburo encouraged Izo to see the “living god” in nearby Shoyashiki Village who granted miraculous blessings relating to childbirth. Izo felt as if he were drawn to Shoyashiki and began heading south where Oyasama awaited him with great anticipation.
- Next installment in this series: Part Two: “A Carpenter Will Appear”
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha 天理教道友, ed. Ten no jōgi: Honseki Iburi Izō no shōgai 『天の定規―本席飯降伊蔵の生涯』, pp. 17–18, 33–38, 166–168.
- Ueda Eizō 植田英蔵, ed. Ningen Honseki-sama 『人間本席様』, pp. 16–34.
- _________. Shinpan Iburi Izō den 『新版飯降伊蔵伝』, pp. 2–22.
- Shinpan Iburi Izo den, p. 15 ↩