Based on Kaiso-den by Sakae Ôishi
Translated by Charles Rowe and Yasuko Matsudaira
The Oomoto Foundation, Kameoka, Japan, 1982
Unlike the Co-Founder and subsequent spiritual leaders of Oomoto, the Foundress left no autobiographical writings, and the story of her life comes to us entirely through the recollections of people close to her. The present biography is based on Sakae Ôishi’s Kaiso-den (Life of the Foundress) published in 1949, which has remained the definitive work on the Foundress. We have also taken advantage of more recent research to supplement Mr. Ôishi’s biography, and have included a new section on Kamishima. In so doing, we have endeavoured to follow Mr. Ôishi’s policy of “taking care to ensure the accuracy of historical events and to present them as such in a straightforward manner” (from the preface to the original Kaiso-den) .
There is still much that could be added, and if certain episodes are not mentioned it is not necessarily because they are not of deep significance in the ‘divine plan’. However, we hope that we have been able to present, in Mr. Ôishi’s words, “a simple account of the main deeds of the Foundress”, and to throw some light on the early history of Oomoto. We hope at the same time that the reader may share the interest we have felt in researching the remarkable story of the life of Nao Deguchi.
Charles Rowe and Yasuko Matsudaira
A Grandmother’s Prediction
The years l836 and 1837 were years of terrible famine in Japan. Torrential rains inundated the fields, destroying the crops. Starving people ate everything conceivably edible, to the point of boiling and eating the rush outer layer of the mat flooring to stave off the pangs of hunger. Even the wealthy had nothing to eat, many dying of starvation with fortunes at their sides.
Families everywhere viewed with horror the arrival of another mouth to feed, and the abandoning of unwanted infants was an open practice. Given the lax attitude of society toward this primitive method of birth control, successive crop failures sealed the fate of countless innocent babies. At the time there lived in the village of Fukuchiyama in the province of Tamba a certain Gorôsaburô Kirimura, who followed the family tradition of carpentry.
At one time the Kirimuras had been carpenters in the service of the nobility, entitled to surname and sword, a privilege usually denied those below the rank of samurai. They were also innkeepers and led a very comfortable life. From Gorôsaburô’s generation, however, a series of family misfortunes forced the Kirimuras to sell their estate and take up residence in a small house.
Gorôsaburô and his wife Soyo had two sons, and in 1836, at the peak of the famine, Soyo conceived a third child. This event precipitated a family crisis and Gorôsaburô and Soyo would lie in bed talking over their predicament in whispers until far into the night. The only solution seemed to be to get rid of the baby, until one night Gorôsaburô’s mother Takeko overheard their discussions from the adjoining room . Deeply incensed, she took them to task saying, “How can you talk that way about a child God has blessed you with! You know the old saying that children born in times of distress make a mark on the world. There must be some reason for you to have a child in a year like this. This old woman has only a few more years to live, and if the worst comes to the worst, just let me starve instead. At any rate, I don’t want to hear you talking like this again!” Thus it was that on the morning of the 22nd of January, in the accursed year of 1837, as the faint rays of the morning sun brought life to the mountains of Tamba, Nao Deguchi, the Foundress of Oomoto, gave a healthy first cry.
Being born during a year of exceptional famine and at a low point in the family fortunes was only the beginning of the hardships that lay in wait for the Foundress. Her father, by nature headstrong and cantankerous, would often resort to physical violence when he had been drinking. When Nao was only two years old, Gorôsaburô in a fit of rage threw her out into the snow in the back garden. Again, when Nao was four, her father sent her out to buy rice wine. Lost in play, she forgot her errand and when she returned empty-handed, her father bundled her up in the bed clothes and shut her in a closet. Her mother Soyo, on the other hand, was a truly good woman, gentle, and scrupulous in her duties as a parent. Her conduct was so exemplary that her mother-in-law, a rather difficult woman, often boasted about her son’s wife to the neighbors. Nao’s strength of character, so evident in later years, no doubt owed much to the upbringing she received from her mother. Meanwhile things got worse and worse for the Kirimura family until Gorôsaburô was reduced to eking out a living as a street vendor of a kind of sweet drink made of fermented rice. Finally in 1846, when Nao was nine years old, Gorôsaburô developed malignant cholera and after a day of suffering passed away. The loss of the breadwinner to a family already in such unenviable circumstances was a blow that is difficult to imagine. As a result Nao went into service at a certain Kanaya rice merchants’ in Fukuchiyama. In her new surroundings, Nao’s industry and tidy appearance earned her a good name with both the master of the house and the other servants. In addition, her devotion to her mother was outstanding. All of her salary she saved for Soyo. Twice a year the servants received new kimonos, but Nao exchanged hers for money and sent the money to her mother. Such exemplary behavior attracted wider and wider attention until the lord of the fief of Fukuchiyama awarded her a commendation when she was eleven years old.
After three years at the rice merchants’ Nao went on to employment at a number of other households, but the family needed her at home and at the age of sixteen she returned to help with her mother’s work, the spinning of yarn. Due to her perfectionist nature, she was so skillful that her yarn brought twice the usual price, it is said.
Adoption Into the Deguchi Family
In countries where ancestor worship is indigenous to the culture, a barren marriage produces a peculiarly critical situation. If you have no children, who is going to sweep your grave and honor your tablet on the family altar after you are gone? If you have only daughters, they are going to marry and undertake such duties only in their husbands’ families, and your problem is equally acute. In Japan adoption is the commonest solution to such a dilemma. If you can not have children of your own, you are forced to adopt some child from a more distant branch of the family or even from outside the family in order to insure that after you have passed on, there will be someone of your own family name to carry out these essential rites. Spirit entities that lack such support from the world of mortals are believed to become extremely vengeful ghosts afflicting their former families with illness and misfortune of various kinds. Therefore it is of great concern to the entire family that the ancestors be properly placated.
In Soyo’s home town of Ayabe there lived a man named Masagorô Deguchi. Having no children of his own, he adopted a certain young man called Masahei, who married Soyo’s younger sister Yuriko. Unfortunately Masahei died without leaving any children, and Yuriko begged Soyo to allow her to adopt Nao into the Deguchi family to continue the family line and so serve the ancestral spirits.
In 1853, when she was sixteen, Nao was adopted by Yuriko in Ayabe, but she did not get along with her aunt, and after six months she went back to her mother in Fukuchiyama. One day the following year, Yuriko, desperate to continue the Deguchi family line, came to the Kirimuras’ house and threatened to haunt them after her death unless Nao came back to the Deguchi family. That evening, Yuriko drowned herself in a well.
At the time, a certain Giemon from a community near Fukuchiyama was seeking Nao’s hand in marriage, and Nao seemed in favor of the arrangement. After suffering a serious illness, however, Nao, terrified by her aunt’s threat, resigned herself to going to Ayabe. So, in 1855, at the age of eighteen, Nao returned to the Deguchi family. In the same year, the Deguchis adopted a certain Toyosuke Shikata, who changed his name to the family name of Masagorô Deguchi, and he and Nao were married on the 20th of March.
The Foundress’ Husband
The former Toyosuke was a carpenter and twenty-eight years old at the time he entered his new family and married Nao. He brought with him three apprentices and a sizable debt.
Masagorô, as he was to be called, was a very lighthearted fellow and extremely fond of sake (Japanese rice wine) of which we are told he drank about two quarts a day. While drinking he liked to amuse everyone with an endless repertoire of songs and jokes. His work as a carpenter, however, was outstanding and very much in demand in the area. Unfortunately, he was by nature generous and easygoing so that he often took a loss on his various projects, and he was also inclined to free his apprentices before there was time for them to repay their master for teaching them their skills.
Nonetheless, the newlyweds managed to live comfortably at first, even building a new house immediately after the wedding. Such felicity did not last long. Masagorô’s chronic negligence and mismanagement in matters of the family’s finances and his over-generous attitude toward associates and relatives set the family fortunes on a downhill course that ended in ruin.
As their resources dwindled, the number of their children increased. The year after their marriage a daughter, Yoneko, was born, followed by three children who died in infancy. Next came a second daughter, Kotoko, a son, Takezô, a third daughter, Hisako, a second son, Seikichi, a third son, Denkichi, a fourth daughter, Ryôko, and on February 3, 1883, the day of Setsubun, when Nao was forty-six, the fifth daughter, Sumiko, was born. This last daughter was to become the second spiritual leader of Oomoto.
Meanwhile, the family debts grew and grew and eventually they had to sell their house and move into a rented accommodation. For a while they tried running a tavern, supplementing their income with selling rice cakes. Every night Nao would grind about eight quarts of rice in a stone mortar and pestle to provide rice flour for the cakes. All this with the young Ryôko strapped to her back and the infant Sumiko to her breast. Hisako and Seikichi would put the finished cakes into boxes and go out to peddle them on the streets. Meanwhile, the bibulous Masagorô was in his wine cups.
Next to his sake he enjoyed the performance of skits and singing that wandering troupes of minstrels brought to the village. Nao would pack a lunch for him and he would absent himself from the domestic scene. One such group is said to have so fascinated him that he followed them around the town and into the outlying villages without returning home for twenty days. Through all the hard times Nao remained devoted to her husband, listening meekly to his every request however unreasonable. The harmony that prevailed in the household was the model of the neighborhood, and after Masagorô’s death, Nao often remarked that her only regret was that she could never afford to keep a whole barrel of rice wine in the house for her husband.
In 1885 when Nao was forty-eight years old, Masagorô fell from the roof of a house he was repairing, severely injuring his pelvis. The injury, made worse by chronic alcoholism, was complicated by palsy, which became so severe that for three years he was laid up unable to move.
Adversities never come singly, and so it was with the Deguchis. The eldest son, Takezô, was at this time studying carpentry with a certain Kichizô of Kômura, but he became sick of his profession and caused a great stir by attempting to take his own life. The attempt was unsuccessful, but he did give himself a serious injury.
Thus, at a time when no one knew where the next meal was coming from, Nao was faced with the nursing of two invalids and the rearing of her eight children. In the piercing cold of winter the whole family would huddle together under a threadbare quilt. When summer came, since the mosquito net had long since been sold to buy medicine, Nao would be up most of the night burning mulberry root to keep away the mosquitos so that the younger children could sleep. Meanwhile Masagorô was his old indifferent self, guzzling and wisecracking, with the occasional comic song thrown in.
Desperate for a way to feed the family, Nao at last hit upon the idea of collecting rags and wastepaper. Since it was an outdoor business, she had to leave the two invalids and the children at home. Through it all she never ceased in her dedication and her kindness and never left the house without asking her husband if there was something she could get for him. And so, in the end, even the thoughtless Masagorô was deeply moved by his wife’s devotion saying, “I have always done what I wanted without thinking of anyone else, and now God has punished me. When I think of your kindness, it brings tears to my eyes.”
The ordeal Nao went through during these years is almost beyond imagining. Each morning Hisako made a lunch for her of rice gruel with herbs, but Nao would invariably say, “I don’t need it. You have it.” Or she would take it outside where Ryôko and Sumiko were playing and give it to them. Once, on her way back from a long journey to Miyazu to buy rags, as she was climbing the steep slope of Fukô Pass, in the falling snow and with an empty stomach, she collapsed and fell into the valley below where she lay dying of cold and hunger until at the last moment she was rescued by some passersby.
Incredibly, however, in the depths of poverty and engaged in the grubby work of rag-collecting, Nao never let herself look untidy. She was scrupulous about the laundry, and the womenfolk of the town would remark that Nao looked better in her patched and rice-starched kimono than other people in their best dress.
Once, while her daughter Hisako was working as a servant-girl in a place called Yagi, Nao, in desperate need, swallowed her pride and in order to borrow money visited the family where her daughter was employed. The master of the house asked his maid three times, “Is that really your mother?” so unwilling was he to believe that a woman of such refined appearance would send her daughter out to work as a servant.
The Passing of Masagorô
In the third year of his illness and only a month after New Year’s, Masagorô’s condition took a turn for the worse, blotches appearing on his arms and legs, and even Nao began to despair of his ever recovering. At this time Masagorô begged his wife, “You’ve looked after me for a long time, but it looks like this is the end. Do you think I could have a cup of sake in parting with this world?”
“Of course, of course,” Nao replied. “I’ll go and get some right away. In the meantime pull yourself together and please don’t talk like that any more!” Rushing to the door, she stopped, realizing that she had not a penny to her name. Desperately looking around the house, she was unable to find anything to exchange for money, everything pawnable having long since gone.
At last her eyes alighted on the old scales, the very tool of her trade upon which the entire family’s welfare depended. Carrying the scales to the pawn shop, she asked for a loan of three sen, only to be told that they were not worth it. In the end she was able to borrow two sen from her rag-collector friends and with that she bought sake for Masagorô.
Back home, tasting the sake, Masagorô was very happy and said, “Delicious! Delicious! Now I have no regrets.”
And so, on the first of March, 1887, after his long suffering, Masagorô passed away at the age of sixty. On her knees at her husband’s side, Nao wept, begging the gods to let her make the long journey with him.
The funeral was held with a bare minimum of ceremony.
After Masagorô’s passing, the Deguchi family resources reached rock bottom as adversity followed upon adversity among the members of the household. Yoneko, the eldest daughter, who had entered upon a second marriage with a certain Shikazô Ôtsuki of Nishimachi in Ayabe, in 1891 began to show signs of insanity. As for the sons, the would-be suicide Takezô eventually recovered from his wounds but refused to continue his carpentry training and finally drifted away not to be heard from again for seventeen years. Seikichi enlisted in the army and with the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 was sent to Taiwan where he soon died in action. Denkichi, under duress, was adopted by the same Ôtsuki who had married Yoneko. Thus the prospects for the family seemed bleak indeed, but just as household affairs reached their lowest ebb, events took a completely unexpected turn.
It all began on the night of the lunar new year of 1892. Nao, then fifty-five, had a mysterious dream in which she found herself in the midst of a series of palaces, many-tiered and beautiful beyond anything she could have imagined. Choosing what appeared to be the central palace, she entered through the main portal and beheld, sitting upright on a throne, a divine figure with noble aspect and a long beard. Nao, overwhelmed by the sublime appearance of this godlike personage, approached as if entranced. Raising his majestic form to its full height, the divine figure took Nao’s hand and led her deep into the palace where they came to a staircase leading up to a shrine. Ascending the steps alone, the divinity intoned some words of prayer and then led Nao back to the main hall.
Nao, still in trance, left the palace and turned to what she conceived to be the northeast. There, beyond a large gate, loomed a palace even more imposing than the first. Enthroned within was another divine figure, the sublimity of whose person and the brilliance of whose jewels made Nao tremble with awe.
This divinity rose slowly from his throne, and proceeding straight up to Nao, looked fixedly at her face. The inspection over, he resumed his throne without uttering a word. Nao, terrified, ran out of the palace and through the gate as fast as she could.
Outside, she beheld yet another magnificent palace, inside which she discovered her late husband, Masagorô. Forgetting all else, she ran to him, and as the two were excitedly talking over old times, Nao abruptly awoke from her dream.
The next night and the next Nao had similar dreams, and from about this time a mysterious spiritual aura seemed to settle around her.
The Beginning of the Foundress’ Spirit Possession
On February 3, 1892, Nao paid a visit to her daughter Yoneko in Nishimachi. Ryôko and Sumiko, then eleven and nine years old, remained at home. Lonely and cold, they huddled around a charcoal fire, and talking about their sister in Nishimachi, they soon grew drowsy and fell asleep. At about midnight, they awoke with a start to hear a loud voice shouting, “Sumiko! Ryôko! Open the door!”
The voice was their mother’s, but never before had they heard her speak in such a loud and commanding tone. The two girls ran to open the door. The Nao who strode into the house, far from her usual gentle self, showed an imperious presence that would have quelled the devil himself.
“Go to your sister’s house at once,” she ordered, “and tell her to light thirty-six candles and chant the name of the holy sutra.”
The astonished girls ran barefoot out of the house clutching their wooden clogs in their hands. After running for a while, they paused to catch their breath and one of the girls said, “She really did say light thirty-six candles and recite the name of the holy sutra, didn’t she?”
“What would make her say a thing like that?” “You don’t think she’s gone off her head like Yoneko?” “What will we do if Mother goes crazy too?”
Arriving at the Ôtsuki household, they gave Ôtsuki and their sister Nao’s message. Ôtsuki muttered to himself, “It seems their mother has finally gone mad,” and to the girls, “All right, all right. Go home and tell your mother not to worry. Yoneko is lighting the candles and getting ready to chant the name of the sutra.”
The girls left Ôtsuki’s house and returned home, but their mother was nowhere to be found. Anxiously searching the house, the two girls found their mother’s kimono in one of the rooms. Hearing a noise outside by the well, they went to see, and there, in the freezing weather, was their mother bathing in buckets of icy water.*
- * Pouring buckets of cold water over one’s person is standard practice for Japanese ascetics.
When Nao returned to the house, the girls reported, “We’ve been to Nishimachi and said what you told us.” “Well done,” their mother replied. “You must be frozen. You’d better get into bed before you catch cold.” This time it was their mother’s usual calm, tender voice, and the girls went to sleep much relieved.
From this time on, Nao’s icy ablutions continued every evening, and an invisible spiritual presence entered and left her at intervals. This presence seemed to push up with great power from the pit of her stomach, and Nao would begin roaring in a great voice not her own. In her own quiet voice she would reply or ask questions and the spirit would roar in response. In this way Nao and the spirit possessing her carried on their strange dialogue, and it was thus that the Foundress’ possession began.
Nao was perfectly aware when the spirit entered her. First her body became extraordinarily heavy, and she felt a great force in her abdomen. At this time all feeling of fatigue left her and her posture became erect and rigid, like an effigy in stone. Presently her body began to rock backward and forward and she would raise and lower her feet alternately. At such times Nao’s chin would be drawn in, her eyes glittering, and with tremendous pressure from the pit of her stomach the voice would come forth in a solemn tone.
Nao, who did not care for all this bellowing in a loud masculine voice, would occasionally clench her teeth, determined not to speak. In vain. The great voice would burst forth even so, forcing her mouth to open.
Nao Questions the Spirit
When the Foundress first entered this state of spirit possession she was startled and alarmed by what was happening to her, and only wished to rid herself of the intruder. Since this proved to be impossible, she eventually settled down and began to question the entity as to who and what he was.
“Who are you?” “I am Ushitora no Konjin.” “Surely you are trying to deceive me.” “I am God. God does not lie.” “Are you really such a great god? How can I be sure you aren’t just a fox or a badger?”* “I am not a fox or a badger. I am the god who will reconstruct the world.”
- * In Japan the fox and the badger are often supposed to be the manifestations of low spirits that delight in perplexing or tormenting mortals.
After repeated questioning, Nao was forced to the conclusion that she was indeed possessed by some form of deity. She also came to understand that her lifelong sufferings had been predetermined as a trial, a cleansing of body and spirit in preparation for her use as a pillar for the divine plan, and she resigned herself to a life of complete obedience to the spirit’s urgings.
Before reaching this conclusion, however, true to her cautious nature, she worried a great deal that she might be leading mankind astray with these pronouncements of the “reconstruction of the greater world”. And so she consulted priest-mediums and occultists of various kinds to examine the spirit and pass judgement on its authenticity.
Judgement of the Abacus Fortune-teller
On one occasion, Nao was told that at a place called Oro in Kimimura, there lived a man who told fortunes using the Japanese abacus and who was renowned for exorcising demons. As soon as she learned this, she set out for Oro.
Nao felt that it was strange for the deity in possession of her to choose such an illiterate person as herself to make his divine will known. And even if the entity occupying her were really such a great spirit, she, at her wits’ end as to where the next meal was coming from, was hardly in a position to devote herself to such momentous affairs. Furthermore, she secretly wished to be rid of this awesome being and the sooner the better.
At Oro, the fortune-teller asked Nao’s date of birth and other details, and proceeded to rattle away on his abacus. Presently he looked up, his face a picture of horror.
“Nao!” he said. “This is absolutely incredible! How do you intend to go about building a shrine to contain and placate such a powerful deity? It would take the power of the Emperor and all his court.
“In the hands of a mighty spirit such as this, if you go around saying all kinds of things, people will think you are crazy. You had better let me seal it up for you.” So saying, he produced a small box of white wood, and handing it to Nao, said, “Put this on your family altar when you get home.”
Nao carried the box home with extreme care and was about to place it on the household shrine when her hand sprang back convulsively, the box clattering to the earth floor. The spirit’s voice came booming through.
“Well, I’ve certainly put you to a lot of trouble! That must be the best fortune-teller in Japan. But I’m not the kind of puny god to be impressed with petty sorcery like his. This isn’t the first time that he has sealed me up. Many ages ago he was one of those who shut me away in the northeast as it was ordained. So it is his karma to try again, but it is not going to do him any good this time.”
About a week later, Nao, worried about the fortune-teller, went back to Oro to see how things were with him. When she arrived, she saw a mourning sign outside his house with neighbors going busily in and out. When she asked one of the mourners who the deceased might be, she was told that the fortune-teller had begun to suffer stomach pains and then violent paroxysms after confining a certain powerful spirit about a week before, and the previous night, taking medicines and calling doctors to no avail, had died. Nao wept.
In her search for answers to her problem, the Foundress went to priest-mediums far and wide, and also visited shrines in Yagi, Shimabara, Osaka, and Fukuchiyama. But wherever she went, there was no one who could tell her what the spirit possessing her was.
For thirteen days after her initial possession, Nao went without food, and for seventy-five days she was not allowed to sleep. Meanwhile she cried out warnings to people in a loud voice urging them to reform, but the people only regarded her as insane.
About this time in Ayabe there were frequent outbreaks of fire, evidently the work of an arsonist although the culprit always managed to elude the authorities. Finally the establishment of a timber merchant in Senda-machi was burnt to the ground and the neighbors recalled that Nao, in her possessed state, had been crying out, “If you don’t reform in time, there is no telling where the sparks will fly.“
Putting two and two together, the neighbors informed on Nao to the police, who took her to prison for questioning. Meanwhile the real culprit was found and Nao released, but the neighbors, on the advice of the police, got together and made a small cell where they confined the ‘madwoman’.
The job of Nao’s jailer fell to her son-in-law, the spiteful Shikazô Ôtsuki, who kept strict guard, only allowing her the most meager nourishment. Nao wanted desperately to escape but found her supervision too strict and in despair she even contemplated suicide. At this the spirit’s voice again made itself heard.
“You must not die! Your life is all-important for the great things expected of you. Be patient, and I will get you out on the night of the full moon. If you die here in defiance of my orders, your spirit will go on in this cell as if it had never left your body.” So however much she wished for death, even this escape was denied her.
The Beginning of the Scriptures
While still in detention, Nao appealed to the spirit, “If I carry on like this, roaring in a loud voice, people will only think me insane, and besides, it’s painful to shout so loud. Would it not be possible to make your august will known in some other way?” The voice in reply commanded her to take up a writing brush. However there was no writing brush in the cell, and even if there were, unlettered as she was, Nao could not have written even a single word.
Nao hesitated, but the voice spoke again: “It is not you who will do the writing. I will make you write, so take up the brush and forget your doubts.” Nao looked around. Her eyes fell on a nail and she picked it up. To her amazement, her hand began to move of its own accord and scratched some words on a pillar — words which the illiterate Nao could not read.
This was the beginning of the scriptures of Oomoto, to be called the Ofudesaki meaning “from the tip of the writing brush”. Later, Nao was to write in profusion on proper paper with brush and ink, reaching, by her passing in 1918, approximately two hundred thousand pages of which she was never able to read any part.
Content of the Ofudesaki
The Ofudesaki is written throughout in hiragana (cursive syllabic script). The writing style is quite artless, and to the layman it looks truly unskilled. But scholars have admired it, pointing out similarities with the plain and forceful, natural script of the Six Dynasties (AD 222-589) of China.
Nao wrote the Ofudesaki with a small brush of inferior quality, a cheap inkstone, and a crude grade of ink. Because it was a spiritual power guiding her brush and not Nao herself, her illiteracy, ageing vision and lack of adequate lighting could in no way prevent the torrent of words.
The literary style of the Ofudesaki is decisive throughout with interrogatory phrases or hesitations nowhere to be found. The following are some sentences from the opening of the work:
The Greater World shall burst into bloom as plum blossoms at winter’s end. I, Ushitora no Konjin, have come to reign at last… Know ye, this present world is a world of beasts, the stronger preying upon the weaker, the work of the devil. Alas, ye world of beasts! Evil holds you in such thrall that your eyes are blinded to its wickedness — a dark age, indeed. If allowed to go on in this way, society will soon lose the last vestiges of harmony and order. Therefore, by a manifestation of Divine Power, the Greater World shall undergo reconstruction, and change into an entirely new creation. The old world shall suffer a most rigorous purification that it may become the Kingdom of Heaven where peace will reign through all ages to come. Prepare yourselves for the Age of Peace! Ye sons of men, hold yourselves in readiness! For the word of God is never-failing…
Activities After Leaving Detention
When Ôtsuki came to visit Nao in her cell on May 30, 1893, Nao calmly turned to him and said that if he could effect her release, she would agree to anything he asked. At this time, happening to be in straitened circumstances financially, Ôtsuki agreed to free her if she would let him sell the Deguchi family’s house. Thus, on her fortieth night of detention, the night of the full moon, Nao walked out of her cell.
Ôtsuki relieved Nao not only of the house but also all the household effects down to the very pots and pans. All that was left was the stone mortar in which Nao had once ground flour every night for the cakes that the children sold. With nowhere to live and not even a cooking utensil to her name, Nao was forced to send her children elsewhere to be cared for while she herself began to lead an unsettled existence, spending her time at Ôtsuki’s house or with Hisako in Yagi. Meanwhile she occupied her time sorting rags, spinning yarn or minding children. She also began healing sick people by her prayers.
Soon after leaving detention, Nao cried out in possession that the following year a war would take place between Japan and China. This pronouncement was followed early the next year by an order from Ushitora no Konjin to go to China. Nao did not know exactly where China was, but obediently set out and had got as far as Kyoto, when Ushitora no Konjin told her that she could go home, that He just wanted to see if she would really go or not. That year, 1894, the Sino-Japanese war broke out, the war that was to claim the life of Nao’s second son Seikichi. Nao’s prediction had come true.
It was not long before the news of Nao’s spiritual powers began to spread, attracting the attention of Kamejirô Ôhashi, priest of the Konkô-kyô shrine in Kameoka. Thinking to make use of her healing powers to spread the teachings of Konkô-kyô, he dispatched another priest of the shrine, Sadajirô Okumura, to Ayabe where he invited Nao to stay in his house and enshrine her god next to the god of Konkô-kyô. Believers began to flock to the shrine as Nao’s reputation grew. In the meantime, Nao was busy washing, cooking, running errands or cutting firewood in the mountains.
It soon became evident that Okumura had little interest in Ushitora no Konjin and was only using Nao to further the interests of his own sect, and after a while Nao left Konkô-kyô. Okumura’s prayers were no match for the Foundress’ and, deeply humiliated, he finally ran away under cover of darkness. Another priest of the sect induced Nao to return, but after more difficulties Nao severed her ties with Konkô-kyô once and for all. This was in 1897 when Nao was sixty years old.
A Man from the East
Some years previously a mysterious prediction had appeared in the Ofudesaki to the effect that a man would come “from the east” who would recognize Ushitora no Konjin and make his message known to the world. Accordingly, Nao bid Hisako and her husband set up a tea stall in the shade of the pine trees by the roadside outside Yagi where they should await the man from the east.
Presently a young man with blackened teeth, wearing an old-fashioned cape and carrying a large valise, stopped at the tea stall to take a rest. Deciding that this could be the man they were waiting for, Hisako showed him some writings from the Ofudesaki, told him something of her mother, and invited him to Ayabe. The young man seemed startled and then impressed by what he read, and so, on the 8th of October of 1898, he did indeed meet the Foundress for the first time.
The person in question was a certain Kisaburo Ueda from Anao, now a part of Kameoka. As it would happen, this young man had been undergoing austerities in a cave on Takakuma-yama, a holy mountain near Kameoka, in the late winter of the same year, and while deep in trance had received a divine command to go to the northwest where someone would be awaiting him.
Nao was sixty-one and Kisaburo twenty-seven years old when their first meeting took place. The young man spent two days with the Foundress before making his way back to Sonobe where he was then living.
At first it seemed that nothing would come of their encounter, but Ushitora no Konjin kept insisting in the writings that Ueda was “the very one” and about a year later Nao sent one of her followers, Heizô Shikata, to try to persuade Kisaburo to come back to Ayabe. But first the young man had to return to his native village of Anao to inform his mother and grandmother of his intentions, and to pray at the local shrine for guidance in the days ahead. He then rejoined Shikata at Sonobe and the two set out for Ayabe.
A deepening sense of trust marked the second meeting between Nao and Kisaburo and on January 1, 1900, Kisaburo and Sumiko, Nao’s youngest daughter, were married before the altar of Ushitora no Konjin. Kisaburo Ueda changed his name to Onisaburo Deguchi, the name he was to make famous as Co-Founder of Oomoto and one of the most controversial figures of his times.
Opening of Oshima
Off the coast of the Tango Peninsula in the Sea of Japan, some twenty-five miles from the nearest port, there is a small uninhabited island called Oshima. According to popular tradition, this was the island of the Palace of the Dragon King of the Sea, known to every Japanese child from the nursery tale of Urashima Tarô, who was taken there on the back of a turtle and given a magic box by the Princess. Oshima was also believed to be the scene of other, lesser-known legends such as that in the Kojiki of the hunter-god who found his way to an enchanted island while searching for his brother the fisher-god’s magic fishing hook that had got lost in the sea.
The Palace of the Dragon King is also of great importance in Buddhism: in the writings of Shinran, founder of the Jôdo Shinshû sect, we read that in the final days of decadence, when the teachings of the Buddha are no longer to any effect in the world, it is at the Palace of the Dragon King that they will be preserved.
Ordinary human beings could not lightly undertake the pilgrimage to such a numinous place, and the superstitious local people had believed from of old that while a man may make the journey once in his life (but woe betide him who attempts a second visit), women were absolutely forbidden to set foot on the island. To violate this ban meant to arouse the anger of the Princess of the Dragon Palace, the sea would then turn wild, and all sorts of monsters and hobgoblins would appear and swallow the woman whole, leaving her descendants damned for all generations to come.
On July 4, 1900, Nao, then sixty-three years old, set out from Ayabe for this island, on orders from the Ofudesaki. With her were her daughter Sumiko and her new son-in-law Onisaburo (the former Kisaburo), Heizô Shikata, who had brought Onisaburo back to Ayabe, and another follower, Keitarô Kinoshita.
At dusk the party reached the port of Maizuru. They managed to hire a boat to take them across to Oshima, and were about to embark when the sky, which until that moment had been clear, suddenly began to swirl with black clouds, while the wind whipped up roaring waves. The ferryman judged that a bad storm was coming, and decided to put off the evening’s departure. “You’ll be putting your lives at the mercy of the sea,” he said. “Wait until tomorrow and we’ll go then, if the weather permits.”
The oarsmen, too, were unanimous in declaring that it would be quite out of the question to set out, and singly and in pairs they turned their backs on the sea and began to make their way home. Nao, paying no heed to their warnings, cried defiantly, “This is a divine command! We dare not delay even a single hour. You must take us across now. The sea is rough this evening because the Court of the Dragon King have come from the Palace Under the Sea to welcome us. That is why this fierce wind is blowing and this rain falling. Everything is as it should be. God is with us, so you need not fear. If you row as far as Bakuchi Cape, the wind will drop, the rain will stop, and the waves will calm down. After all, whether we live or die depend entirely on God’s will. If God does not wish us to die, whatever happens we will be quite safe. God is now protecting us, so let us set out at once.”
Kinoshita was able to persuade two fishermen, Iwakichi Tanaka and Rokuzô Hashimoto, renowned for their skill in handling boats, to come with him to the shore front. But when they met the others in Nao’s party who began to plead with them to row to Oshima, the fishermen gaped at them in amazement. “No matter what sort of divine command it may be, we can’t go out in this weather,” they said. “A11 these years we’ve thought of our boats as home, and in ordinary foul weather we’d give it a try, but this is different. Who are you anyway? Usually it’s us who want to set out and the passengers who get upset. You really are a reckless bunch, aren’t you?”
Kinoshita turned to the fishermen and said, “Well, however far you get or don’t get, we’ll pay you the full fare to Oshima, so please at least give it a try and if you want, you can turn back at any time.”
Peering at the earnest faces around them, the fishermen said, “Well, you are so intent on going, perhaps it is a divine command after all. Without such conviction you would hardly want to go in weather like this. Let us just seek the guidance of the god of the island.”
So saying, they stepped on to the pier, and facing the direction of Oshima, closed their hands in prayer. After drawing lots to ascertain the deity’s decision, they turned to Nao and the others, half relieved and half apprehensive, and said, “The god tells us to go, so let’s make it as far as we can.” Straight away they got a boat ready, put the five passengers into it, and began rowing out of Maizuru harbor, singing sea chanties at the tops of their voices in competition with the wind and the rain.
When the party had made its way to the mouth of the bay, just as Nao had said, the rain stopped, the sky cleared, the wind dropped and the raging waves were becalmed. Soon the sea was like a mirror disturbed only by the boat’s ripples, tinged silver in the starlight.
Presently, after rowing without a break on the calm sea, the fishermen cried out, “There is Oshima ahead!” Far in the distance the delighted party could see Oshima like a black shadow obscuring the moon. The fishermen, too, forgot their fatigue and rowed even harder.
Before long, the eastern sky began to glow red as the sun rose, and soon the island of Oshima loomed to fill the scene before them, while a morning chorus of birds filled the air. The island Nao and her party had reached was a place of surpassing natural beauty, with luxuriant foliage and countless birds warbling a chorus of welcome.
Stepping ashore, Nao purified herself at the beach, and the others followed her example in performing their ablutions. They proceeded to pay their respects at the shrine on the island, making offerings of the fruits of the earth and reciting prayers for peace.
These prayers completed, the party took their leave of Oshima. The sea was still calm when they rowed back to the mainland, and the morning after they arrived at Maizuru, they set out afoot on the journey back to Ayabe.
Opening of Meshima
As soon as she returned from Oshima, Nao resumed the writing of the Ofudesaki, and before long she received a new order. This time, they were to go to another island even less accessible than Oshima, an uninhabited island on which no human being had set foot in living memory. This was the island of Meshima, where, according to the Ofudesaki, Ushitora no Konjin had been confined — a place of the deepest significance for Oomoto.
On August 2 of the same year, Nao, Onisaburo and Sumiko left Ayabe once again with six followers. Their mission on Meshima was to build a shrine to Ushitora no Konjin and all the gods of Heaven and Earth, and to pray for world peace.
As before, they hired Rokuzô Hashimoto and Iwakichi Tanaka to row them across, and the party embarked from Maizuru, this time on an unusually calm sea.
The bay was like a polished mirror, and the party admired the moonlit scene as the fishermen pulled on their oars in a leisurely manner. When they reached Bakuchi Cape, a most unusually tranquil scene spread out around them, the reflection of the lighthouse playing on the ripples behind them, the Milky Way spread out across the sky above with its reflection in the sea below, and between the two the recumbent crescent moon gently shining far off on the horizon, almost touching its reflection in the water. The fishermen rowed throughout the night, declaring that there had not been such a calm sea for many a year, and that it was surely thanks to the protection of the gods of Oshima and Meshima.
The next morning, the two boats safely reached the shore of Oshima, and the whole group joined Nao in reciting the Amatsu Norito prayer before the shrine on the island. Keitarô Kinoshita and three others, Yasunosuke Fukubayashi, Yôsuke Shikata and Takezô Nakamura, stayed behind on Oshima to clean the shrine precincts, while Nao, Sumiko, Onisaburo, Heizô Shikata and Toranosuke Fukushima, Hisako’s husband, left for Meshima.
Meshima, true to its reputation as a tabooed island, was of quite a different nature from Oshima. Although the boatmen insisted that the sea was exceptionally calm that day, mountainous swells from the open sea were pounding the boat remorselessly. Seagulls, albatrosses and cormorants, like so many black dots on the rocks, looked down at the visitors in seeming wonder, and in addition to these there were thousands of seabirds now soaring, now diving over the waves.
As they could find no landing place among the sheer cliffs, they rowed around the island wondering what to do, when Nao said, “Go to that rock over there!” The rock that Nao indicated was almost perpendicular, offering no way of getting a hold on it. Meanwhile there was the constant danger of a high wave’s dashing the boat against the rock while they were hesitating.
Onisaburo tied a long rope around his waist and leapt from the boat just as the waves carried it near the rock. Fortunately, Onisaburo was able to keep his grip on the coarse rock and scramble up about five yards to a slightly less precipitous place. From there he threw the rope into the boat. When the fishermen had secured the rope to the boat, Nao clung to the rope, while Onisaburo hoisted her up. In this way, starting with Nao, the others were able to disembark. Tanaka and Hashimoto stayed in the boat and began to dismount the shrine which Nao had brought from Ayabe, while Heizô Shikata and Toranosuke Fukushima hauled it up from above on the rope, pillar by pillar. Eventually arriving at a level rocky place about two meters square, some thirty meters up, they decided that this was to be the site of the shrine. Onisaburo recited the enshrinement prayer, and after offering products of the mountains, fields, rivers and seas to Ushitora no Konjin, the Princess of the Dragon Palace and all the gods of heaven and earth, Nao recited the Norito prayer for world peace, and finally all the party chanted the purification prayer.
After completing their prayers, the party got back into the boat and rowed once around the island, admiring the fantastic rocks and cliffs, before rowing back to Oshima. On Oshima they made offerings and prayers before the shrine, now swept and cleaned, and after making a tour of Oshima, they made their way back to Maizuru, where they arrived safely on the evening of the 3rd. On the 4th, they returned to Ayabe.
Pilgrimage to Mount Kurama
In autumn of the same year Nao was to make yet another pilgrimage. The Ofudesaki showed that three people were to accompany her, but did not indicate their destination. First they were to go to Yagi and there await further instructions.
The many followers who had heard about this all implored Nao to let them accompany her, but Nao firmly refused, saying that Ushitora no Konjin had not granted his permission.
At one o’clock on the morning of October 1, Nao set out accompanied by Onisaburo, Sumiko, and Haruzô Shikata, in straw raincoats and sedge hats. Haruzô Shikata was a vehement critic of the newcomer Onisaburo, and together with other of the more fanatical of Nao’s followers, was conducting a campaign to oust Onisaburo from the group. At first Onisaburo refused to go with Shikata, but as Nao insisted, he reluctantly agreed to join the pilgrimage. Nao carried a staff of plum, Onisaburo a staff of male pine, Sumiko a staff of female pine and Shikata a staff of bamboo. A quarrel immediately broke out between Onisaburo and Shikata, with the latter insisting that the staff of male pine was rightfully his. Finally, however, he gave in and dejectedly set off behind the others with the bamboo staff.
As this group was nearing Enoki Pass, they saw Yasunosuke Fukubayashi standing by a bonfire. Fukubayashi had given the other followers the slip and, dressed in travelling clothes and clutching his own plum staff, was waiting for Nao’s party. As soon as he saw the party he fell down on his knees and begged permission to accompany Nao on her pilgrimage. Nao stubbornly replied, “Under no circumstances can we have you come with us. It is a divine command.” Fukubayashi, in tears, declared that he would not return home even if it meant dying on the spot. Onisaburo, impressed by his determination, interceded with Nao and suggested that she just let him carry the luggage, even if he could not go as one of the pilgrims. Nao finally relented, and Fukubayashi, in ecstasy, hoisted the bags of the other four onto his shoulders, and followed at the rear of the group.
Eventually arriving at Toranosuke Fukushima’s house in Yagi, Nao’s party rested for the night. The following morning, Onisaburo was praying before the Fukushimas’ altar, when he became possessed and wrote the following poem :
Yo no naka no
hito no kokoro no
Kami no Hikari ni
hiraku kono michi
(The hearts of the people of this world have become dark “kuramu”. The path to be followed is opened by the Divine Light. )
Thus it was revealed that their destination should be Mount Kurama, north of Kyoto.
The party stopped enroute to pray at Kitano Shrine in Kyoto (a shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a Scholar of the Heian Period revered as the patron saint of learning). Nao became sad, thinking of the long time Ushitora no Konjin had been confined in the northeast with no one to build a shrine to him or worship him, when there were magnificent shrines such as this dedicated to mere human beings. The party hastened on to Mount Kurama.
Atop the mountain are the sprawling precincts of Kuramadera, a Buddhist temple. Within these precincts there is an inner shrine where the temple’s followers believe that a ‘Demon King’ is enshrined. This powerful spirit is said to have come to Earth from the planet Venus 6,500,000 years ago to preside over the destiny of the human race as the Spiritual Ruler of Earth. Those who cooperate with this spirit receive divine protection, but those who oppose it are destroyed.
Arriving at the inner shrine, Nao recited the Amatsu Norito prayer, after which they spread their straw raincoats on the ground and began an all-night vigil before the shrine. At about dawn some white-robed ascetics came up to the shrine. One of these suddenly began shouting at Onisaburo, “Lower your head! I am the great Demon King of Kurama!”
Onisaburo, seeing that the man was possessed by a lower spirit, retorted, “Save your breath, you old badger,” and exorcised the spirit.
Seeing the man fall on his back, the other ascetics turned on Onisaburo and shouted angrily, “How dare you be so disrespectful to the great Demon King of the mountain!”
At this point another from among the ascetics, a certain Sumimoto from Osaka, became possessed and stepped forward saying, “I am the true Demon King. Have no doubt.” Turning to Onisaburo, he continued, “You and the old woman are vessels of the true God. Thank you for coming here. From now on I will dwell in the hill of Hongûyama in Ayabe.”
Then turning to Shikata, he said, “Haruzô, you are the vessel of perverted spirits. Reform yourself!”
After one more night on the mountain, Nao and her party began the journey home to Ayabe. Shikata confessed to Fukubayashi that he had had a terrifying experience in the night, but would not go into detail. This former leader of the anti-Onisaburo faction became completely downcast after his experience on Mount Kurama and soon left Oomoto for his home in Uedani. A month later, on 13 November 1900, he died at the early age of eighteen.
One stormy night, when they had been back in Ayabe only a few days, Nao turned to Onisaburo after a sudden strong gust of wind and said, “The Demon King has just come to rest in Hongûyama, and his family have settled in the big cedar tree.”
Mission at Moto-Ise
On April 19, 1901, Nao wrote the following in the Ofudesaki : “There is no water in the world to compare with the pure crystal water of the door of the Celestial Rock Cave at Moto-Ise. Go there and bring back some of this water.”
The Celestial Rock Cave is the scene of the ancient Shinto myth of the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu, who, upset by the wild behavior of her younger brother, the deity Susanoo no Mikoto, hid herself in the Rock Cave so that the world was plunged into darkness. This cave is said to be at Moto-Ise, north of Ayabe, where the Sun Goddess was originally enshrined before the present Grand Shrine of Ise was established on the Pacific Coast. The Ofudesaki continues: “If this were not the command of Ushitora no Konjin, you would not be able to get this precious water. Ushitora no Konjin has given his permission, so you will not be hindered.”
Keitarô Kinoshita went to Moto-Ise to reconnoitre. When he got back he reported that the drawing of this water had been prohibited from time immemorial, and it was said that should anyone defy this ban, there would be devastating hurricanes and great floods. There was a priest on guard to see that no one touched the sacred water, and to get to the place where the water could be drawn it was necessary to cross a fast-flowing river some twelve feet wide.
Six days later, on April 26, 1901, Nao, now sixty-four years old, left Ayabe with Onisaburo, Sumiko and thirty-nine followers, most of whom had no knowledge of what the mission was about. With them they took two segments of green bamboo to carry the water.
Arriving at Moto-Ise, they stopped to rest at a tea shop. Unknown to the other followers, one of the party, a man by the name of Yoshimatsu Moritsu, slipped away to the shrine while Kinoshita waited at the entrance of the tea shop for word that the coast was clear. All this was in order that none of the more excitable members of the party find out what was happening.
As the sun was beginning to set, Moritsu came back and reported that the priest on guard had gone back to his house, probably for his supper. Kinoshita, realizing it was now or never, ran off as fast as his legs could carry him. Arriving at the rock cave, he could dimly make out in the fading twilight an old tree trunk lying across the river, an access which had not been there six days before. Using the tree trunk as a bridge, he crossed the river, filled the bamboo joints with the sacred water, and returned to the tea shop.
Nao was overjoyed, and when Kinoshita told her about the tree trunk, she said, “That was no ordinary tree trunk. That was surely the Dragon God himself coming to our help.”
The next day they prayed at the shrine and bade farewell to Moto-Ise, walking all through the night back to Ayabe. Only when they were back in Ayabe did Nao publicly announce the nature of the mission they had accomplished.
The holy water which they had brought back was first offered on the altar of Ushitora no Konjin. One cylinder was set aside, and the other the followers passed around, taking a sip each, before pouring the remainder into the Oomoto well, to be designated as Kimmeisui (golden bright water), and into the wells of the former Deguchi and Shikata homes. (At the time both these wells belonged to outsiders, but they were later to return to Oomoto.)
The remaining cylinder of water they mixed with the water of Kimmeisui, and in May, Nao, accompanied by thirtyfive followers, took this water to the island of Meshima, climbed to the summit of the rock where they had landed the previous year, and poured the water into the sea below, praying:
“Oh, Ushitora no Konjin, we humbly beseech you, with your power, wide as the Pacific Ocean and deep as the Sea of Japan, to make this pure water from Moto-Ise circle the seas of the world, turning to clouds, turning to rain, snow and hail, watering the five continents, cleansing corrupt spirits, washing away impurities, and building a paradise on earth.”
Concerning this ritual decantation, Nao remarked, “In three years this water will go around the whole world, and then the world will begin to move. Meanwhile people whose destiny it is to serve the divine plan will begin to gather here.”
Mission at Izumo
On 25 April 1901, the day before the party set out for Moto-Ise, Ushitora no Konjin spoke through the Ofudesaki of yet another labor for the group, a long trek to the Grand Shrine of Izumo:
“If you make a … journey to Izumo and successfully fulfill a certain mission, the gods will reconstruct the world — both the things above and the things below. Failure to complete this mission means that you can never comprehend this coming great event. On the other hand, once you achieve this understanding, all things can then accelerate.”
Izumo, on the northwest coast of the Sea of Japan, is not only in geographical contrast to the Grand Shrine at Ise, final resting place of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, on the southeast, Pacific coast. According to Shinto tradition, after the gods and goddesses had succeeded in luring Amaterasu out of the cave in which she had secluded herself, they banished Susanoo, her offending brother, from heaven and it was at Izumo that he first arrived. The deity enshrined at Izumo is Susanoo’s descendant Ôkuninushi no Mikoto, who ceded control of the country to the descendants of the Sun Goddess, reserving for his own line the right to govern the world of the unseen.
In the early morning of 1 July 1901, Nao, Onisaburo, Sumiko and twelve others began the long journey on foot to Izumo, there being no railway at the time. Onisaburo had at first demurred at making the trip on foot pleading a painful case of neuralgia in his legs. Nao insisted that they go together and a riksha was arranged to take the patient. Shortly before their departure, however, Onisaburo’s neuralgic condition rather mysteriously cleared up.
On the eleventh they reached the Grand Shrine and put up at an inn nearby. The following day they prayed at the shrine, and after two days’ rest they received the sacred fire, said to have been kept alight since the age of the gods, as well as some water from the well and some of the earth of the shrine precincts. The sacred flame they took by lighting three long ropes, only one of which was to arrive back intact. Their mission accomplished, they set off for home, arriving at Ayabe on 20 July.
The earth they scattered on the hill of Hongûyama and various other places on the Ayabe grounds. Half of the water they poured into the well of Kimmeisui, and the rest they mixed with the water of Kimmeisui, and on 25 July Nao, Onisaburo, Sumiko and a party of followers travelled to Meshima, where Nao poured the water into the sea as she had the water of Moto-Ise.
The fire was kept glowing for one hundred days on a bed of charcoal, with a watch kept over it night and day. On the one hundredth day they lit fifteen candles from the fire and let the candles burn down, thus returning the holy flame to heaven.
Seclusion on Mount Misen
At about the time Nao and the others returned from Izumo, there were almost daily visits from the police, who warned that it was unlawful for an unauthorized religious group to gather followers and that further activities would be banned unless Oomoto could get official recognition. Onisaburo retorted that the Constitution of 1889 guaranteed freedom of religious belief, but the police, not to be dissuaded, finally posted constables at the gates, and worshippers stopped coming to Oomoto. Onisaburo then decided that Oomoto should have the necessary authorization if possible, and suggested to Nao that he go to Shizuoka to confer with his mentor Katsutate Nagasawa. Nagasawa who, in the old days, had taught the youthful Onisaburo much about Shinto was the director of the Inari Kôsha, an officially recognized Shinto lay association. Nao was against Onisaburo’s going and advised him not to worry about the police. However, police interference was becoming more troublesome by the day, and in the end Onisaburo decided to defy Nao’s wishes and to set out secretly for Shizuoka, together with Keitarô Kinoshita. Accordingly, the two men left Ayabe on 15 October 1901.
When Nao found what they were up to, she was highly incensed, and on the 19th she went into seclusion in a shrine on Mount Misen, a holy mountain some seven miles northeast of Ayabe. Until 1872 it was forbidden for women to climb Misen, and even after the lifting of the prohibition, local women continued to avoid the mountain. Two followers, Ichitarô Gono and Takezô Nakamura, accompanied Nao to the shrine halfway up the mountain but as soon as they got there Nao sent them back with strict orders that she be left alone.
Arriving back at Ayabe, Gono and Nakamura relayed Nao’s orders to the other followers, but Kamejirô Kinoshita (Keitarô’s father) and Yoshimatsu Moritsu, hearing that the Foundress had nothing to sit on but bare wooden floorboards, immediately began weaving straw mats, which they took to the shrine in the middle of the night. Gono, on behalf of the other followers, furtively went back and forth to the shrine from the nearby village of Ôishi to see that she was all right.
Heizô Shikata, who had been absent when these events took place, was filled with concern when, upon his return, he heard of Nao’s seclusion. “We cannot leave her alone on the mountain, whatever her orders may be,” he declared. “I must go to her no matter how angry she gets.” Shikata left Ayabe alone on October 22, arriving at Mount Misen in the late afternoon.
The trees on Mount Misen have now been cleared but at that time it was still an untamed mountain, dark even at noon, and at that season shrouded in mist. Shikata eventually found his way to the shrine within which he saw Nao sitting quietly in the glow of a candle. Nao turned to him and in a tone of displeasure said, “Why have you come in spite of my orders to be left alone ?” Shikata said that he had heard that she was alone on the mountain, and had come out of concern for her. Nao allowed him to spend one night in the shrine, offered him some of her food (parched barley flour mixed with water) , and invited him to pray with her. After their prayers, Nao became possessed and the awe-struck Shikata prostrated himself before her in an attitude of worship. The cold night air of the mountain steadily encroached on the shrine but Nao’s possession continued into the middle of the night. Finally Nao gave a loud cry and the spirit left her. “Heizô, it must be late,” she said. “Let us get some rest.” Shikata, still wearing his coat, rolled over on the mat and slept.
Before dawn Nao was up and about. Taking the feeble-sighted Shikata by the hand, she led him down to a nearby waterfall where she performed her ablutions. Returning to the shrine, they lit candles and had their morning prayers. At last the day broke and the far-off mountains of Ayabe came dimly into view. As they were mixing flour with water for their breakfast, there was a sudden loud noise from the valley below like a giant tree falling, followed by a rumbling like an earth tremor from the mountains beyond. Shikata, startled, turned to Nao, who smiled and said, “Our guardian spirits are good and lively today !”
After breakfast, Nao said, “Heizô, I have some important business to attend to, so please go back now. And, please, tell the others not to come here.” Shikata said a prayer for the Foundress’ safety and left the mountain.
Four days later, on the eighth day of her seclusion, Nao was sitting quietly in the shrine writing the Ofudesaki when she heard the noise of people approaching and poked her head out to see who they were. These people, unaware of Nao’s presence, had come from the village below to sweep the shrine. Seeing a white-haired old woman suddenly appear and look at them, the startled villagers ran down the mountain without stopping to make sure what they had seen, and soon word got around that a baboon had made a place for itself in the holy shrine. The whole village decided to drive out the intruder, and before long Nao was confronted with villagers and a local constabulary advancing on the shrine wielding bamboo spears. Just then Ichitarô Gono appeared on the scene and explained to the excited crowd that what was in the shrine was no monkey. The indignant villagers turned on Nao, demanding an explanation. Nao calmly replied, “I am here in seclusion because the world is in darkness.” The villagers were rude to Nao and ordered her to get out, but Nao, quite unperturbed, said, “Today I have finished one week of seclusion, so I am leaving now whether you want me to or not.”
Meanwhile, Onisaburo and Keitarô Kinoshita had finished their consultations with Katsutate Nagasawa in Shizuoka and had come back as far as Kyoto, where they stopped to see to the procedures for registration with the prefectural authorities. Finding, however, that they did not have a certain seal which was necessary to complete the forms, Onisaburo sent Kinoshita back to Ayabe to get it. While waiting for Kinoshita’s return, Onisaburo passed the time visiting spiritualists in and around Kyoto, until one day he was set on by some occultists who seemed intent on killing him. Making his escape, Onisaburo decided to give up waiting for Kinoshita and to return to Ayabe alone.
Waiting for him in Ayabe were a hostile reception from the other followers and a summons from the police. Rushing to the police station at Uesugi near Mount Misen, he found Nao being questioned. The police ordered Onisaburo to pay a fine, but Onisaburo knew that the closing of holy places to women had been abolished by law back in 1872, and secured Nao’s release without further ado.
Nao and Onisaburo
The Misen episode illustrates the almost irreconcilable difference between the roles of Nao and Onisaburo in Oomoto. Nao’s role was faithfully to receive revelations from Ushitora no Konjin, while it was Onisaburo’s task to interpret these teachings and build an organization that would make them known to the world a world hostile to the founding of a group in accordance with Ushitora no Konjin’s strict injunctions. This dichotomy caused considerable tension, arousing much anti-Onisaburo feeling among Nao’s followers.
Once after returning from their pilgrimage to lzumo, Nao and Onisaburo became possessed, and the spirits possessing them proceeded to have a fierce quarrel. The followers present were horrified wondering what the outcome would be, but were even more surprised to see the Foundress and Onisaburo, coming out of their trances, being if anything more friendly than before.
However, this difference did also show in their lifestyles. For example, when in the cold weather one of the followers would bring in a charcoal brazier, Nao would refuse to warm herself even after reaching the age of eighty, saying it was disgraceful to think of one’s own comfort while engaged in divine affairs. Onisaburo, on the other hand, would immediately go over and warm himself, saying that on the contrary, it would be a shameful waste just to let the charcoal turn to ash.
The frugal Nao wore simple cotton clothes all her life, while Onisaburo was fond of dressing up in all kinds of outfits, Japanese or Western-style as the fancy took him.
If Onisaburo should say that he wanted to eat sushi, Nao would immediately prepare this dish for him ; should he say he fancied mandarin oranges, she would go all the way into town to buy them. Nao allowed Onisaburo to have whatever he wanted. When he overindulged, however, she would pray for Ushitora no Konjin’s guidance.
“Nao, do not worry,” came the reply. “Without this man the divine plan will not succeed. Should you search the whole world you would not find another to take his place. If I revealed his true nature now, the forces of evil would interfere. That is why I have made him appear the way he is.” So Nao went on as before.
Another bone of contention concerned the Ofudesaki‘s warnings about a food crisis :
“People use the good earth planting useless trees and flowers, not giving a thought for the rice, barley, wheat, beans and millet, which are the very life of the people, saying that these things can always be purchased from abroad. But the time will come when every square inch of land will have to be planted with cereals.”
In accordance with this, Nao admonished against the wasting of arable land, and whenever she had time would tend her own vegetable garden. Onisaburo, however, saw nothing wrong in planting colorful flowers to delight the eye. Nao, seeing Onisaburo’s flowers, would pull them up, and Sumiko, finding herself in a dilemma, finally took to hiding her husband’s plants under the verandah.
Prayer for Peace on Meshima
The years from 1901 to 1904 were difficult times for Oomoto, and austerity was a matter of necessity rather than personal inclination. For a while the entire staff, including Nao and Onisaburo, supported their activities by making twine from rice straw the most humble cottage industry. Many of the followers worked as laborers on building sites for 35 sen (1 sen = 1/100 yen) a day. As this was not enough to keep fed and to buy paper for the Ofudesaki, they worked at night for an additional 25 sen. The coarse paper used for writing the Ofudesaki cost approximately two yen per kan (about nine pounds). In 1903 a great amount was written, some fifty-eight volumes in the month of June alone. This, with the additional fifty-eight volumes for a copy, came all together to 116 twenty-page volumes, and even by working overtime and getting only one or two hours’ sleep a night, the followers could hardly keep pace with the demand.
In 1905 the Russo-Japanese War, which had broken out the previous year, was at its height, and the country was in turmoil in anticipation of the arrival of the Baltic Fleet, which was said to be heading toward Vladivostok. Suddenly an order came for Nao, then sixty-eight years old, to go to Meshima to pray. At first she was to go alone, but after making special prayers at the request of the anxious followers, she was allowed to take two people, Ichitarô Gono, then twenty-three, and her third son Denkichi Otsuki, then twenty-eight years old . Denkichi had been adopted by Shikazô and Yoneko Otsuki at the age of three, had worked at a textile mill in his childhood, and later came to Oomoto where he took charge of the weaving workshop.
In the afternoon of 14th May, Onisaburo and the other followers saw the three off at Ayabe Station (the Ayabe-Maizuru railway line opened in 1903) , and the pilgrims reached Maizuru just after sunset. While they were taking a rest, Ichitarô Gono’s father arrived with their provisions, which had been got ready in advance. These included one kan of paper, writing brush, ink, one shô (about 1/2 gallon) of rape seed oil, lamp wicks, tinder, flint and steel, three rice bowls, three spoons, two shô of roasted rice, two shô of parched barley flour, two shô of unhulled rice, about a pound and a half of white sugar, and one bamboo cylinder of drinking water about four inches in diameter and eighteen inches long. This was to last them for forty days.
Late that evening the group set out on a calm sea with Rokuzô Hashimoto and Iwakichi Tanaka at the oars as before. Reaching Oshima at sunrise, they offered prayers before the shrine and left again for Meshima. Arriving at Meshima, Nao turned to the boatmen and said “Thank you very much for your trouble. Please come back for us in forty days.”
The boatmen, aghast, said, “On this island there lives a great serpent, so they say. You are the first people to come here in living memory and besides, there is no water to drink. You can’t survive a single night here, let alone forty. “
Smiling, Nao replied, “God says forty days, so forty days it has to be.” The boatmen, used by now to this unique old woman’s resolution, saw that there was no point in trying to dissuade her, and bidding their passengers an anxious farewell, they rowed off towards Maizuru, looking back repeatedly.
First of all Gono and Denkichi went off in search of a place for their ablutions and somewhere to sleep. For the former, they found a pool about six feet square left by the waves, and for the latter they considered a spot on the summit of the island, shaded by camellias, but in view of Nao’s age they chose instead a flat rock near the pool. The young men soon grew thirsty as they worked gathering camellia twigs to make a bed, but they could not help themselves freely to the water as the one cylinder was to last them for forty days, so instead they chewed grasses to quench their thirst. Climbing up to the top of the island they gathered some more twigs, which they tied into bundles and threw down below. Tired and thirsty as they were, however, their aim was not what it should have been, and the bundles of twigs plunged into the sea. As they watched helplessly they heard the sound of water dripping from a nearby rock.
Tasting the water and finding that it was fresh, they ran off to tell Nao about their discovery. Nao said, “You just made an offering of camellias to the Princess of the Dragon Palace, so the gods have specially favored us with water,” and immediately made a prayer of thanksgiving. Gono and Denkichi fixed the bamboo cylinder to the rock so that it would receive the dripping water, and resumed their work with renewed vigor, and by dusk they had prepared a bed of twigs and reeds for Nao. As it grew dark they poured some oil into a hollow in the rock and improvised an oil lamp. Then after their evening prayers, they settled down to their first night on the island.
First thing the next morning they went to check the bamboo cylinder and were delighted to find it full to the brim. Food, however, remained a problem. Immediately after landing on the island, Nao had strictly forbidden them to take the life of any living thing, so it was out of the question to catch fish or gather birds’ eggs. For each meal they rationed themselves three small spoonsful each of flour mixed with water, which did little to alleviate their hunger.
But Denkichi and Gono could not complain too much with the aged Nao showing no sign of discomfort, and at the beginning they stoically endured this austere diet. As the days passed, however, Denkichi’s hunger got the better of him, and he begged his mother : “I can’t bear it. You and Gono may be able to last forty days, but I still don’t have that kind of strong faith. I’m sure I won’t last even ten. If I don’t have one of those seagull’s eggs I’ll go crazy ! I’m sure Gono is hungry, too.” Nao refused, saying that it would be taking life. Then she closed her eyes and seemed to be meditating for a while, after which she opened her eyes again and said, “Very well. There is no way but to pray for Ushitora no Konjin’s indulgence and take the eggs.” From then on the two made it their daily routine, besides their thrice-daily ablutions and prayers, to collect drinking water and firewood and to gather gulls’ eggs. Nao, as before, continued her repeated ablutions and prayers and the writing of the Ofudesaki.
On the ninth day their provisions were getting low, and their bodies were becoming weak and emaciated. Denkichi again appealed to his mother, “I can’t hold out any longer. I’m going home !”
On hearing this outburst, Nao, who still showed not a trace of tiredness, Iooked at her son in despair and said, “I didn’t insist on bringing you here, it was you that wanted to come. So what are you grumbling about ? Even if I say, yes, go home, what will you do ? We have no boat and we are out of contact with the rest of the world. How are you going to cross the sea to Maizuru ? Since you’ve come all this way, can’t you stop moaning and be patient a little longer ? I can live for thirty days on water alone, so if you feel so hungry, you can share my portion of food between the two of you.” Denkichi was thoroughly ashamed and determined to make a new effort of endurance.
On the evening of the eleventh day, however, he went to Nao again. “I suppose it won’t do any good saying this, but I just can’t last any longer. Rather than starve here on this remote island, I am sure we can be of some service on the mainland. Please ask the gods to make it possible for us to return. “
Nao closed her eyes in meditation and presently said, “What a pair I’ve brought with me ! On my own I would be able to accomplish so much here. But Ushitora no Konjin says that our mission here is nearly completed, so let us pray together.” This time they prayed more fervently than they had since arriving on the island.
About halfway through their prayers, a great wind and rain suddenly rose up, and as the recitation came to an end, Nao in a powerful masculine voice cried out, “Thank you !” The storm died down as suddenly as it had begun. Gono and Denkichi asked Nao what was the meaning of her unusual amen. Nao, much delighted, told them that the Princess of the Dragon Palace had just appeared and promised to help Ushitora no Konjin in this crisis, and that what they had heard was Ushitora no Konjin’s acknowledgement. Nao went on to describe the appearance of the Dragon Princess. With blank looks on their faces, the two young men went off to look for wood to build a fire to dry their soaked clothes, and Nao, feeling sorry for them, said, “Since our business here is over, I will call a boat to take us back tomorrow.” Although they doubted whether a boat would really come, Gono and Denkichi got little sleep that night.
Getting up early the next day, Gono and Denkichi spent the morning watching the sea, and at a little past noon they saw seven or eight boats come into view. The Navy base at Maizuru was keeping a vigilant watch of the waters separating Japan from Russia and had noticed that there were people on the supposedly uninhabited island of Meshima. Suspecting them of being Russian spies, the Navy had ordered these boats, local seaweed-gathering vessels, to go and investigate.
As the boats came closer, one of the occupants cried out, “Where are you from ?”
“We are from Ayabe,” Gono and Denkichi shouted back.
“What are you doing here ?”
“We have come here to pray.”
“If you are from Ayabe, then you know lwakichi ?”
“Of course I know him. He lives next door to me. All he ever does is gamble all day long.”
The boatmen realized that these were not spies but were genuine Ayabe folk, and were about to turn back when Gono and Denkichi called out to them asking to be taken to Maizuru. The boatmen agreed and that evening Nao, Denkichi and Gono were back on the mainland.
The twelve-day ordeal on Meshima was to be the last of Nao’s arduous missions which had begun with the opening of Oshima in 1900. In 1906 Onisaburo left Ayabe under pressure and was to stay away until 1908. He put this time to use furthering his studies of the Japanese classics and Shinto theology, as well as gaining valuable practical experience serving as priest at a Shinto shrine in Kyoto and at the new Shinto sect Mitake-kyô, where he soon rose to the position of director of the Osaka branch.
In 1908, with Onisaburo back in Ayabe, Oomoto began to move with fresh impetus. The Autumn Festival of that year attracted one hundred worshippers, and in 1909 Oomoto built its first sanctuary. Oomoto’s problems were by no means over, but Nao’s hardships were less than they had been. However, Nao continued in her austere way of life.
The Ayabe winter is severely cold but Nao never failed to perform her ablutions before writing the Ofudesaki, even in the coldest season. The followers, counting the layers of ice by the well in the morning and seeing that the Foundress had bathed five and six times in the middle of the night, would implore her to stop, but Nao said that to do so would be sacrilege. Even after Ushitora no Konjin himself told Nao to stop her ablutions, she continued until she returned from a pilgrimage she had made to Ise with Onisaburo, Sumiko and her granddaughter Naohi in April, 1912. Nao was then seventy-five years old.
Her clothes were all of coarse cotton, and on her feet she always wore paper-thonged straw sandals. She observed an extremely simple diet saying that fancy foods did not appeal to her. She would eat very little at meals : two or three mouthfuls of rice in a big lacquer bowl with hot water poured on to it, two bowls at the most. To go with her rice she was fond of carp, whether in miso soup or boiled in sweet sauce. Other fish she hardly ever ate. She also liked tofu (bean curd), shiitake (a kind of mushroom), and all kinds of vegetables. Almost anything that grew out of the earth she would improvise into food plantain, dandelions, even acorns. “There will come a time when you will have to eat these things,” she said. “When that time comes, you will be sorry you did not prepare for it.”
Nao was fond of tobacco but refrained, saying that it was unbecoming for a woman to smoke. Naohi, the present Spiritual Leader of Oomoto, twice happened to see her grandmother taking a furtive puff from Sumiko’s kiseru pipe, and on each occasion Nao made a shamefaced apology.
Building proceeded at Ayabe, and in 1914 a new sanctuary, the Kinryûden, and a new house for the Foundress were completed. In the same year, work began on a project which had been ordered in the Ofudesaki some ten years back the construction of a lake in the Oomoto grounds as a miniature sea for the Princess of the Dragon Palace. In this lake, called the Kinryûkai (Golden Dragon Sea) , were islands representing Meshima and Oshima, and another island called Ôyashima. On each of these islands were small shrines. One day in the early spring of 1916, when the work was nearing completion, Onisaburo while meditating had a vision of an island which he seemed to have seen somewhere before. This island seemed to be calling to him from the sea to the southwest, but more than the general direction he could not tell. Onisaburo had indeed seen this island before, or rather its model, for its shape was the same as that of Oyashima in the Kinryûkai. Onisaburo sent two followers to search for this island and presently they returned with news that there was an island which answered this description off the coast of the Inland Sea. This was Kamishima, a small rocky uninhabited island some seven miles southwest of the town of Takasago.
On 4 October Nao, then seventy-nine, Onisaburo, Sumiko and some one hundred followers journeyed to Kamishima to enshrine the deity of the island, the spirit Hitsujisaru no Konjin, God of the Southwest. The following day the party returned as far as Osaka, where Nao was moved to put brush to paper.
Nao was astounded at what Ushitora no Konjin had to say. The time had come to reveal the true nature of Onisaburo’s mission. Onisaburo’s spirit, she wrote, was the spirit of Miroku, the savior who will usher in the new age. Onisaburo, who had been distrusted and ostracized by the other followers ever since joining Nao, was reaffirmed as the vessel of the spirit Hitsujisaru no Konjin, the complementary opposite of Ushitora no Konjin, and moreover the Ofudesaki had referred to this spirit as that of the savior Miroku.
From that time on, Nao could rest assured that Onisaburo would carry on the work of the reconstruction of the world according to the divine plan.
The pilgrimage to Kamishima was Nao’s last long voyage. On 19 September 1917 she paid a visit to the new home of her daughter Ryôko, who had married Keitarô Kinoshita. After this Nao did not leave Oomoto. From then on she was usually to be found in her house writing the Ofudesaki.
One day Onisaburo, who wanted to show Nao the expanding buildings and gardens of Oomoto, carried her around the grounds on his back. Nao expressed her pleasure and gratitude but added how much happier she would be for even one person to see the truth.
To the very end Nao was full of concern for others. One chilly March morning one of the followers, Jinsai Yuasa, went to pray and noticed Nao squatting on the verandah in her nightclothes emptying the contents of a waste paper basket. Supposing that Nao had mislaid something valuable, he went over and asked her what it might be. Nao replied that she had not lost anything but was doing this for the waste paper collectors. Looking closer, Yuasa saw that she was carefully sorting the waste paper into three piles.
” On many occasions she was heard to say, Our poor soldiers ! Our poor factory girls !” And early in the morning when the nearby factory whistle blew, she would think of the factory girls and say, “Ah ! That’s what they wake up to every morning.”
One day at the end of October 1918 a well-known reciter of jôruri (classical Japanese ballad drama) called Harukodayû, an Oomoto believer, came from Osaka insisting that he be allowed to perform for the Foundress. When artists like Harukodayû came to offer performances, Nao invariably declined saying that here at Oomoto she was being shown the great drama of the world, and that there was no need to watch man-made theatricals. Her attendants were therefore much surprised, on hesitantly informing her of the presence of this artist, to hear her meekly reply, “Oh, so God wishes me to hear some jôruri.”
“What a good mood the Foundress is in today. Until now she has not once agreed to watch plays or listen to jôruri recitations. Let’s get ready right away before she changes her mind,” they agreed, and so that evening Nao sat down to Harukodayû’s performance in the Kinryûden.
After the recitation was over, she remarked, “That man is one of the best in Japan, I hear, but I haven’t a clue what is good about him or even what kind of story he was telling. I suppose if you can’t understand something you can’t understand it, however skillfully it is told to you. God proclaiming his wonderful teachings to the world and not a single person listening is just like me not understanding today’s jôruri.”
Nao had stopped writing the Ofudesaki some time back and was busy every day making amulets for the believers. When it grew late, Sumiko would suggest that she leave her work and go to bed, but Nao would always insist on working a little longer. One evening at the beginning of November, however, Nao obediently extinguished the lamp and said to Sumiko, “Now my work is over. I will do as you say.”
On the fifth, Hisako came from Yagi, and Nao and her daughter spoke of many things. Nao wanted to talk until late but Hisako excused herself saying that she would return in the morning. Before dawn Hisako was back at her mother’s side. Nao woke up and asked for a cup of water. Hisako fetched some water for her mother, who drank it thirstily and then went back to sleep.
Nao got up early as usual on the morning of the sixth and was on her way to the bathroom when she collapsed. Hisako and a follower who was there ran to the corridor and gently moved Nao back to her room. Onisaburo was immediately summoned and rushed to her side. Nao spoke a few words to him and peacefully sank into a coma.
Afternoon came and there was no change in Nao’s condition. Fearing the worst, the followers sent telegrams to all the branches of Oomoto, and prayers went up from Oomoto branches far and near.
At 10: 30 on the evening of the sixth of November 1918, Nao Deguchi took her leave of this world at the age of eighty-one. At 12: 00
Late in the evening of the eighth Nao was laid in her coffin. Among the belongings placed in the coffin according to tradition were paper, ink and writing brush. On the ninth the coffin was brought into the Kinryûden.
The summit of the hill Tennôdaira, from which Mount Misen can be seen in the distance, was chosen as the Foundress’ resting place. On 12 November the followers began preparing the tomb, carrying stones and earth day and night. The funeral was held on 6 December.
However, as though the gods did not yet consider Nao’s eighty-one years of hardship enough, Nao’s tomb was on two occasions violated by the Japanese authorities. During the first persecution of Oomoto in 1921, the authorities ordered that the Foundress’ tomb be restructured on a smaller scale on the grounds that it was too large and too similar to the tombs of members of the imperial family. Again in 1935, during the second ‘Oomoto Incident’, Nao’s remains were transferred on official orders to a public cemetery, and for over ten years her spirit was enshrined in a pine sapling at Oomoto, where it awaited the time when it could return to its proper resting place.
Onisaburo died on 19 January 1948. And it was not until 3 November of that year, thirty years after the Foundress’ passing, that she and Onisaburo were laid to eternal rest in their tombs atop Tennôdaira.
As we look back over that first great wave of the founders of the religions of the world of Moses and Mohammed, of Gautama and Jesus, we may well be impressed as we read their biographies that salvationary zeal could persist through lives of such incredible suffering and hardship. The biography of Nao Deguchi would remind us, even in modern times, that to infuse the world with a new aspect of divinity requires the same courage and readiness to immolate the self. That such great spirits continue to come forward in times of crisis may remind us again of humanity’s high destiny.
The Buddha brought into the world a vision of wisdom. The Christ brought a vision of love. Nao Deguchi has brought us a vision of a New Age dedicated to the principles of brotherhood and justice. All require a radical reorientation of the heart of man that these visions may become the realities of a world to come. And the biographies of these great reformers serve us as models for the part we ourselves must play in the unfolding drama.
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