TITLE The Foundress of Tenrikyo and Violence
AUTHOR Kazuo KUMATA (Department of Religious Culture, Faculty of Letters, Aichi Gakuin University, Japan)
Tenrikyo is one of the oldest and highly regarded of the Japanese new religions, and is important in Japanese religious history as the prototype of the modern new religions which have more than ten million members.
The Foundress of Tenrikyo, Nakayama Miki (1798-1887), when she got old, often had competition of strength with male believers and by defeating them easily, preached “God the parent has twice the strength”. It is argued that Foundress had to have competition of strength to prevent her religious movement, which aimed to save the socially weak and poor first of all, turning to another real riots of the poor. It is also argued that as for violence based on gender, Foundress did not say wives should respect husbands. I also see the present Tenrikyo and free cafeteria for children.
Foundress of Tenrikyo/trial of strength/violence of masses/ gender-based violence/ free cafeteria for children
Scholars and Authorities, Later (Nakayama Miki)
- Childhood of Tenrikyo and Violence
Ikada writes about relationship of the childhood of Foundress and violence as follows,
This year (1998 – Kumata) is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Nakayama Miki, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. The Foundress was born on April 18th, Kansei 10 (1798), the first daughter of Maekawa Hanshichi and his wife Kinu. Maekawa Hanshichi was the village headman of Sanmaiden village, Yamabe-gun, Yamatono-kuni (present-day Sanmaiden-cho, Tenri-shi, Nara-ken).
The Kansei era, when the Foundress was born, saw the so-called Kansei Reforms. Because of the Great Tenmei Famine and subsequent inflation, the finances of the Shogunate and feudal domains were strained, while the growth of commercial capital spurred on peasants’ abandoning of land, and brought about the crisis of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Shogunate tried to rebuild its system with extreme austerity measures, but the financially weak domains had no hope of fiscal recovery through thrift and taxation alone. On the contrary, severe austerity increased the peoples’ discontent, with peasant uprisings and riots in towns occurring often all over the country.
In Kansei 8, two years before the birth of the Foundress, there was a mass uprising by 30,000 peasants in Ise-ichishi-gun, Tsu. Like the Foundress’s birthplace of Nishisanmaiden, Tsu was ruled by the Todo clan. In Kansei 11, one year after her birth, there was a great riot and peasants, under the command of Hatamoto Yamaguchi Kanbei, attacked and caused damage to the Genbei family of Iwamura village, only 4 kilometers from Sanmaiden. People must have talked about rumors of these peasant uprisings not only in Sanmaiden but also in neighboring villages.
The Foundress’s father Hanshichi was later appointed a low-ranking samurai, permitted a surname and to wear swords. At the same time he was a metsuke village inspector and particularly sensitive to peasant uprisings. It is not difficult to imagine that around the time of the Foundress’s birth the Maekawa family talked about peasant uprisings and town riots (Ikeda 1998. Foreword. Ikeda, Shimazono & Seki (Eds.), p. 5).
The fact that “It is not difficult to imagine that around the time of the Foundress’s birth the Maekawa family talked about peasant uprisings and town riots” must inevitably have made Miki in her impressionable growing period think deeply about violence.
- Tenrikyo and Violence of the Mass
Ikada writes about Tenrikyo and violence as follows,
The Foundress of Tenrikyo lived in the age of upheaval from the late Edo to the Meiji Restoration. In particular, during the 1860s and 70s, while the Foundress was preaching most vigorously, Japan was in the midst of terrorism and civil war. Yamato, where the Foundress was, saw the Tenchugumi led by nobleman Nakayama Tadamitsu start the civil war to overthrow the Shogunate in August of the year Bunkyu 3 (1863) by attacking the Edo Magistrate’s office. On May 5th of the subsequent year, Genji 1 (e), a Choshu ronin assassinated the painter Reizei Tametomo, who was suspected of being a Shogunate spy, in Sanmaiden village where the Foundress was born.
This regime change was attempted not only by specific classes – the nobles and samurai – but also, especially in the late Edo, spread to commoners in the form of peasant uprisings and riots in towns. According to the statistics of one researcher, the number of peasant uprisings became “In the three years of the Keio era 44.3 per year, the most in the Edo period”. Riots in cities were frequent occurrences. In reality, local documents tell us that direct petitions and riots happened frequently in the towns of Yamato.
In the midst of such a state of affairs, the Foundress’s first systematic teachings were developed in the form of the jiuta (local song style) Mikagura-uta, of the tsutome ritual. The Foundress taught yokigurashi (“joyous life”), offering a mysterious peace of mind to many people who were suffering from anxiety in an age of violence and rumor. And in Keio 3 (1867), she began to teach the tsutome as a method to pave the way for the desire of people who sought peace. This was the year when the Edo Shogunate was destroyed. In this year there were riots in the village of Tanbashi, a post station along the highway close to the Foundress’s family home (Ikeda 2007, pp. 100–101).
“From the 1860s to the 70s, especially, when the Foundress preached vigorously, there was terrorism and civil war in Japan.” Thus it was probably necessary for the Foundress to have “trials of strength” with male believers, to preach that “God has twice the strength” and to teach non-violence and to “Lean on God as you go”.
However, I do not agree with Ikeda in the following regard.
At the time (Meiji 8 (1875) – Kumata) the Foundress was teaching the Muhonzutome (song and dance to pray for peace), Japan was undergoing the rebellions of former samurai against the new regime following the modern revolution of the Meiji Restoration. The Saga Rebellion was in Meiji 7 (1874), two years later came the Shinpuren Rebellion in Kumamoto and the Hagi Rebellion in Choshu, in Meiji 10 the Satsuma Rebellion. Although such rebellions appeared to be military uprisings by local military powers, they were were fundamentally hegemonic conflicts within the ruling classes – the Foundress called them “high mountains” – and the ordinary people were their victims (ibid, pp. 105–106).
Here Ikeda seems to be trapped by the view of the masses held by left wingers in the old days, according to which the masses are always victim of those with power. What is lacking in Ikeda’s discussion is regarding the masses as the subject of violence. When the Foundress spoke of Muhon (“struggles”), she was of course thinking of the violence of “those in high mountains” (those with power), but also, I think, of the violence of “those in low valleys” (the masses), such as the peasant uprising and riots in towns in the Edo period and the farmer’s uprisings in the Meiji era. In fact from Meiji 15 to 18, when the Foundress was alive, there was a succession of uprisings by farmers all over Japan as farmers were impoverished by Matsukata’s deflationary policy, which began in Meiji 14 (See Hasegawa 1977).
- Trial of Strength Explained by Foundress herself
Foundress explained her trials of strength as follows,
Even when she was old, the Foundress did not weaken, and sometimes made a trial of her strength against people who came before her.
One day a wrestler came, and the Foundress, who was sitting on the upper dais, pulled his arms so that he was dragged to the upper dais, dumbfounding him. The Foundress said that needless to say ordinary peasants and townsmen are like this and that however strong one may be, God is twice as strong. This was not a case of the Foundress exercising her own power; rather it showed that God came into her.
She would pinch the back of someone’s hand between her index finger and pinky, causing unbearable pain, and astonishing all.
Many people had their strength tested in these ways. She told in detail of the trial of strength when Umetani Shirobei came before her.
“When I first began this faith, if I went against God’s wishes, I suffered great pain to my body, whereas if I tried to do as God said, my husband and others accused me and I suffered. I could not help it; there were days when I thought I would rather die. I silently got out of the bed in the dead of night and tried to throw myself down the well three times. I stood there and just before I threw myself in, I found I was paralyzed: I could not move my arms or legs. Then out of nowhere came a voice. It said: ‘Do not be impatient! I am waiting for you to get old! Go back!’
“I thought these were the words of God and I was able to go back. I could only go back to bed , and behave as if all was well. This happened three times. Then I thought the well was no good, so the next time I went to the pond, but this time my body felt so weak, I could do nothing. Then again, out of nowhere, though I could see nothing, a voice said, ‘Do not be impatient! I am waiting for you to get old! Go back!’ I could only go back and sleep. I also went three times to the pond, but I could not die as I wanted.
“God has been waiting patiently for this day. No one would think that an old woman of over 80 could have strength. If I show strength here, one can only think that this is the power of God. So God told me to undertake a trial of strength. You, take my hands and pull them as strongly as you can.”
Umetani, being a young man, pulled as strongly as he could but instead was pulled up immediately. He said he had been humbled. “When someone comes, God tells me to have a little game – so I do.”
And she said,
“Waiting for me to get old patiently means, for one thing, a woman in her 40s or 50s cannot make men listen to her through the night, but no one would doubt that a woman over 80 could. And I can make any speech. I can preach. So God was waiting very patiently for me to get old.”
Certainly (Moroi 1970, pp. 138–141).
The Shobun’iin’sho is a record of the stories passed down about the Foundress. Its author, Moroi Seiichi, never even met the Foundress. But this section about the trial of strength is reliable because it was heard from a specific person, Umetani Shirobei.
Those who encountered the Foundress’s “trials of strength” must have thought that it was unnecessary to use real violence to respond to social injustice and the persecution of Tenrikyo. All they had to do was “Lean on God as you go”.
4．Did Foundress Approved of Violence?
In the Shobun’iin’sho, in which Moroi Seiichi, an intellectual Tenrikyo believer, recorded legends of Nakayama Miki in the Meiji era, the following is recorded,
The Foundress said,
“In the world there are hoodlums who people call ‘boss, boss’. At first sight they look like villains. But they help people more than anybody else. They take money and possessions from those who have them, and generously give them to those in trouble and in difficulty. In this way many people in trouble are saved. So they are healthy and their body (borrowed from God – Kumata) is strong.” (Moroi 1970, p. 259)
Present-day Tenrikyo would deny that the Shobun’iin’sho records legends of the Foundress, dismiss it as of little value as a historical document. Nor do I believe that Miki spoke in this way. Ikeda believes that this is a historical fact regarding the Foundress (personal communication). However, the Foundress, in her writing Ofudesaki (a sacred book of Tenrikyo – Kumata), prohibits believers from using violence.
“Tsukihi (The moon and sun, i.e. God – Kumata) cannot bear to look on any longer.
That is why I shall work in all matters.
However strong and youthful you may be,
never think that such a state can be relied on.
At this time, God is openly revealed, and speaks to you freely without restriction.
(Ofudesaki, p. 207)
This part of Ofudesaki was quoted from vol. 13 (of 17 volumes) written in Meiji 15 (1882). The Foundress was probably thinking of the farmer’s riots caused by the Matsukata Deflation policy. From this statement of denial of violence, I do not agree with Ikeda that the Shobun’iin’sho story is a historical fact. However, up to a certain period in Tenrikyo there was a mood in which the likes of Moroi Seiichi, an intellectual, could propagate such legends. As the robbing of money and possessions was reasonable, it felt only natural that rich people should donate great sums of money.
In Ofudesaki the Foundress had this to say to believers:
“However strong and youthful you may be,
never think that such a state can be relied on.”
It was probably because there were some believers who might use violence if there was no prohibition.
Both Ofudesaki and the Shobun’iin’sho clearly show that early Tenrikyo, which aimed at “raising up the low valleys” (= salvation of the socially weak), was close to the riots of the poor people. At least one reason why the Foundress had to undertake trials of strength with male believers was to prevent her religious movement from turning to rioting. “Lean on God as you go”. You do not have to use violence.
- Violence based on Gender
For new Japanese religions, this-worldly religions concerned with the intense sufferings of the masses, an extremely serious problem is how to cope with the domestic violence from which housewives – a large proportion of believers – suffer. For Tenrikyo, coping with the problems of domestic violence is all the more serious because the religion regards couples as the basis (= hinagata) of human relations.
In the Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo (1976), two anecdotes suggest how the Foundress reacted to this problem. In Anecdote 137, “A Single Word”, she scolded a male believer, saying: “Isaburo, you are gentle and sociable to everyone outside your house. When you are at home and face your wife, you become angry and shout at her; that is the worst thing you could do. Never do it again.” (Anecdotes, p. 101) Even the act of becoming angry and shouting at one’s wife is strictly prohibited, so physical violence towards a wife was out of the question for the Foundress.
In present-day Tenrikyo official teaching reagarding this problem is as follows: If a female believer suffers from domestic violence, being careful never to accuse the wife, the husband and wife must each receive counseling, and if the problems cannot be solved even after discussion, “Divorce after apologizing to God” is necessary. (Tenrikyo-Yamatobunkakaigi 2004).
Present-day Tenrikyo advises to be careful to ensure that female victims are not accused, but on the other hand wives are told to “respect your husband”, on the authority of Anecdote 32, “on the wife’s word”. However, such modern interpretations of Anecdote 32, “on the wife’s word” are questionable.
Gozonmei no koro, in which Takano Tomoharu wrote down what he heard from old men who had known the Foundress, includes “Inui Yasu Dan” (p. 214–222), an anecdote about Foundress from the early Meiji period (from Meiji 1 to Meiji 10).
Yasu-san, in Anecdote 32 grew up in a family of the faithful at a time when Tenrikyo was still derided. In those days hin he no ochikiri (becoming poor) was hinagata (an example of faith) in Tenrikyo. Male believers, in particular, like Zenbei, the husband of the Foundress, and her oldest son Shuji, must have been mocked.
Anecdote 32 probably originated in advice to encourage husbands to ‘drop out’ and dedicate themselves to the faith. After the death of the Foundress, when the good wife and wise mother norm was universalized in the Meiji 30s, this anecdote was misunderstood as meaning that wives should respect their husbands unconditionally, whatever their husband may be like. The Foundress said that couples should respect each other, but her pronouncement was detached from its context and misunderstandings seem to have continued even to the present.
6.Persecution of Tenrikyo
Regarding persecution directed against Tenrikyo, the Foundress was basically an advocate of non-violence. Anecdote 183, “Stormy Wind”, says:
“Around 1885 and 1886, opposition from Buddhist and Shinto priests and others became stronger in proportion to the rapid expansion of the path (religious faith – Kumata). Some followers lost patience to such an extent that they suggested active resistance.
“The Foundress compared them to a stormy wind or muddy water, and preached non-violence.
The people calmed themselves after hearing the Foundress’s words.” (Anecdotes, p. 144)
But in an unavoidable situation in 1886 the Foundress appointed Hirano Narazo (1843–1907) to her bodyguard in the permanent staff of the residence and made him practice violence (ibid, p. 148). Narazo was a notorious ex-yakuza boss in the area and became a strong believer in Tenrikyo, giving up his life as a yakuza, when his life was saved. His biography Michisugara (1920), says that it describes both good and bad things honestly. According to this book, when unfortunate things happened to people who became the enemies of Tenrio-no-mikoto (the name of God in Tenrikyo – Kumata), believers recited:
“Have your strongest come against Me.
God has twice the strength.”
(Ofudesaki III-84; Michisugara 1920, pp. 74–75)
This also supports my view in regarding trials of strength by the Foundress as a method to prevent believers from using violence.
7.Present Tenrikyo and Challenges of Free Cafeteria for Children
The reason why present-day Tenrikyo has an explanation which doesn’t explain is of course that it wants to emphasize the supremacy and originality of the Foundress. Present-day Tenrikyo explains as follows:
“The several episodes involving trials of strength were a way of showing that Oyasama was truly the living Shrine of God the Parent, in a manner that was simple and effective (“Acknowledgement,” Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo 1976).
Moreover, the second leader of Tenrikyo, Nakayama Shozen, compiled the current sacred books just after World War Two. He was a graduate of the University of Tokyo and did not think as seriously of violence as the Foundress, simply wanting to show society that Tenrikyo was always a peace-loving religion.
I have already raised the question of domestic violence and gender policy regarding present-day Tenrikyo. What I want to say is that present-day Tenrikyo should react to the development of globalization and the widening income gap after the 1990s. I want to ask who “those in low valleys” are in modern Japanese society. Tenrikyo is a religion which aims at “raising up the low valleys” (= salvation of the socially weak).
Recently (2018), many Tenrikyo churches began to run cafeterias free for children (How to Begin Cafeterias for Children (Tenrikyo)). In modern Japanese society one sixth of children are living under the poverty line. I think that a free cafeteria for children is appropriate for Tenrikyo, which values parenthood and “raising up the low valleys.” I want to add that Tenrikyo churches run these cafeterias spontaneously, without orders from Headquarter. I want to support them.
(1) Umetani Shirobei is one of the earliest devotees of Tenrikyo.
(2) Ikeda Shiro asserts that not only the Foundress but also her husband Zenbei and eldest son Shuji are hinagata (= examples) of the Faith (Ikeda, ibid.). I agree with him. Genius is not a personal phenomenon but a small group phenomenon.
(3) In 2018, there are already nearly 3,000 free cafeteria for children in Japan.
This is a paper is a complete rewrite of “The Founder of Tenrikyo and the problems of violence,” Bulletin of Faculty of Letters of Aichi Gakuin vol. 37, published in 2008. For the rewrite, I owe a great deal to personal discussi0ns with Shimazono Susumu (Jochi University) and Ikada Shiro (Tenri University). Paul Mason (Aichi Gakuin University) kindly corrected my English. I am very grateful to them.
Hasegawa Noboru. Bakuto to Jiyu Minken [Gamblers and Free Civil Rights]. Chuko Shisho, 1977.
Ikeda, Shimozono & Seki. Nakayama Miki – Sono Shogai to Shiso [Nakayama Miki-Her Life and Thoughts]. Akashi Shoten, 1998.
Ikeda Shiro. Nakayama Miki no Sokuseki to Gunzo: Hisabetsu Minshu to Tenrikyo [Nakayama Miki’s Legacy and People: Discriminatory Masses and Tenrikyo]. Akashi Shoten, 2007.
Moroi Seiichi. Shobun’iin’sho. Tenrikyo Doyusha, 1970.
Takano Tomoharu. Gozonmei no Koro [When the Foundress was Alive]. Tenrikyo Doyusha, 2001.
Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo Manuscript Edition. Tenri Jihosha, 1976.
Tenrikyo Koriyama Daikyokai (ed.) Michisugara [Episodes of Faith]. Koriyama Daikyokai, 1920.
Tenri Yamato Bunka Kaigi (ed.) Michi To Shakai – Gendai Jijo o Shiansuru [Faith and Society – Thinking of Difficulties in Modern Times]. Tenrikyo Doyusha, 2004.
Kodomo Shokudo no Hajimekata (Tenrikyo) [How to Begin Cafeterias for Children (Tenrikyo)]. https://sites.google.com/view/eoji. Accessed 2018/09/11