The origin of Oomoto
Oomoto, which may be translated as The Great Origin, or The Great Source, came into being as a religion and spiritual movement when its foundress, Nao Deguchi, had the first of a series of celestial visions on the lunar New Year of 1892. The following year the foundress set down the first pages of her Sacred Writings. A few sentences from the opening paragraph may give the clearest idea of Oomoto’s divine mission.
- “The Greater World shall burst into bloom as plum blossoms at winter’s end. I, Ushitorano-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…”
In regard to “the world of beasts”, Nao Deguchi had endured its iniquities to an incredible extent. Born the daughter of a poor carpenter in a mountain village northwest of Kyoto, she spent early years of unremitting hardship amid the turmoil and suffering that marked the breakdown of the Tokugawa regime. Famine, high taxes, and oppression prevailed, and the lot of the rural population was bitter in the extreme.
Nao grew up entirely illiterate, farmed out by her parents as a nursemaid and servant girl. Eventually she was adopted into the Deguchi family and a marriage arranged with another person adopted into the same family. She bore him eleven children, three of whom died soon after birth. Then the husband fell from a roof he was repairing and after three years of total paralysis, also died. To support the children and her sick husband, Nao was forced to perform the most menial of tasks, at one time becoming a rag picker. Calamity followed upon calamity. One of the remaining eight children tried to commit suicide, then disappeared never to be seen again. Both her eldest and second daughters went insane with puerperal fever.
Through it all, Nao remained kind, courageous and sweet-natured. Deeply pious, she daily performed religious observances before her household shrine. As if the disasters that dogged her existence were not enough, she subjected herself to spiritual penances of the most rigorous kind. Then, when she was fifty-six years of age, amid all the grinding poverty and family misfortune, her life took a most unexpected turn.
It began with the vision on that fateful New Year’s day. In the vision Nao found herself transported to a heavenly realm of shining halls and temples. After wandering among these sacred buildings, she encountered an angel who conducted her into the presence of the leading spirit, the Great God himself, who appeared to her in the form of a kindly old man. He descended from his throne, approached her and for a long interval peered deeply into her eyes. Then, seemingly satisfied, he returned to his throne.
Several more visions occurred in the ensuing days. At last came a time when she felt herself shaken with divine emotions and demanded to know who it was that had taken over her being. Wild roarings burst forth from the pit of her stomach and finally a terrible voice announced that he was Ushitora-no-Konjin and that he had come to transform the hideous state of the world into a new order of society.
Appalled at the responsibility, Nao at first refused to accept her role. But the presence that spoke so commandingly had come to stay and at last she gave in. Thus began Nao Deguchi’s career as medium for Ushitora-no-Konjin that was to last for twenty-six years until her death in 1918.
Things, however, did not go smoothly in the beginning. Nao’s family and the local villagers were upset at the appearance of this awful voice in their midst calling upon them to repent and to prepare the new way. Finally, after a brush with the police, Nao’s family locked her in her room. This illiterate peasant woman then seized a nail and began scratching in crude phonetic script on the walls of her cell. She was totally incapable of reading what she had written but the miracle of her writing so impressed those around her that they began to take the strange manifestations more seriously, and the villagers slowly began to rally to the cause.
With Nao properly equipped with paper and writing brush, Ushitora-no-Konjin began pouring forth what mounted up to an immense body of writing, that by the time of Nao’s death reached nearly one hundred thousand pages. The contents were filled with prophesies and warnings, often crystal clear yet in other places puzzling and obscure. But the general drift was never in doubt. The hearts of men and the society they composed should undergo complete regeneration while the group that gathered around Nao at Ayabe, in the mountainous rural area northwest of Kyoto, should become the spearhead of the movement. Over and over again the voice that spoke through Nao insisted that whatever was to happen in the world would happen first on a small scale at Oomoto. Oomoto was to become the paradigm, the exemplar, of the destiny of mankind.
The coming of the Co-founder
Ushitora-no-Konjin continued to use Nao Deguchi’s writing brush to build a body of scripture that would eventually provide a program for divine reconstruction. The writing included prophecies, the nature of the Supreme Being, the role mankind should play, the need among adherents for purity and courage, warnings against delay and against the machinations of the powers of evil, and much more. These writings came to be called Ofudesaki, or “from the tip of the writing brush”. Since the script was crude, the material abstruse and filled with picturesque symbols and obscure references, Ofudesaki caused much confusion and perplexity among the followers.
One prediction, nonetheless, was quite clear. A man from the east would appear and he would be able to understand and explain to the world what Nao’s writings were meant to convey. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1898, Nao instructed her daughter and son-in-law to go to the banks of the Oi River outside the village of Yagi and establish a small tea-stall by the side of the road. There, they should await whatever might happen.
Shortly, an outlandishly dressed young man of about twenty-seven years came along the road from the east, stopped, and asked for a cup of tea. When Nao’s daughter asked what his profession might be, he answered, “Saniwa.” (A saniwa is a classifier, judge, and interpreter of spirit teachings.)
Sensing that this could, indeed, be the person they were watching for, Nao’s daughter confided that her mother was a medium, urged the young man to come and meet her, and showed him some pages from the Ofudesaki. The young man began reading, gave a visible start, and expressed his willingness to meet the writer. Thus the historic first meeting between the foundress and co-founder of Oomoto materialized from what seemed a mere coincidence.
The young man in question, destined to become one of the most unusual and controversial figures of his age, already bore the marks of eccentric genius. Born Kisaburo Ueda, on July 12, 1871, in the village of Anao (now part of Kameoka City), he early showed signs of precocity. His father was a tenant farmer living on the verge of destitution in a semi-feudal farming community. His grandmother, however, was a poetess in her own right and took over the education of the sickly child, introducing him to the study of classical Japanese poetry.
At the age of twelve he became substitute teacher in the village school. This position he quit in order to continue studying on his own. He read omnivorously in the Japanese classics and attended night school at a local Buddhist temple in order to study Chinese literature. At the age of seventeen he was already contributing poetry and prose to a literary circle, and he never ceased writing for the rest of his life.
Parallel to his literary endeavors, he showed keen interest in science and began a career of inventing farm implements. This he abandoned to take up veterinary medicine under his cousin and is said to have memorized a sixteen-volume textbook on the subject. He then began a dairy farm that might have taken up the rest of his young manhood were it not for a series of traumatic events that set him off in an entirely new direction.
The death of Kisaburo’s father in 1897 was a profound shock to the young man. While his father lay dying of an unknown sickness, Kisaburo frantically tried all known remedies and at last sought spiritual help from the surrounding temples and shrines. The empty rhetoric and unhelpful attitude of the religious practitioners were a bitter disappointment to him, opening his eyes to what he perceived to be the spiritual bankruptcy of the age. After his father’s passing, Kisaburo’s attitude turned entirely nihilistic and he began drinking heavily, associating with local riffraff, and quarrelling with the villagers.
Then, on the evening of February 28, 1898, he was set upon by a gang of local thugs who thrashed him unmercifully and seemed intent on killing him, but were driven off by some friends of Kisaburo who happened along. The friends dragged the victim, more dead than alive, to a small cabin on his dairy farm. Next morning his mother and grandmother appeared at the cabin and the grandmother, with tears in her eyes, took him to task for his godless ways begging him to consider the state of his soul and to reform himself.
According to his own testimony, he neither moved nor spoke but felt deeply moved by his grandmother’s words. Eventually he drifted off into unconsciousness and the second night fell into a trance where he was approached by a divine messenger in European clothes who carried him away in spirit to the shrine atop Mt. Fuji.
When he awoke the next morning, he rose and clad only in his nightshirt, betook himself to nearby Mt. Takakuma where he secluded himself in a cave and, with neither food nor water and in piercing cold, he fell into deep meditation. For two days he sat while eerie, unearthly sounds played over the mountainside.
At length he sank into a trance whereupon a divine emissary appeared and escorted his soul-body to the spirit world, leaving the physical body sitting crosslegged at the entrance of the cave. During the following days he wandered throughout the many spheres of the afterlife enduring the rigors and incredible sufferings of hell and purgatory as well as savoring the indescribable bliss of paradise.
His first stop in these journeys was the great hall of judgment for the wicked, where the king of the underworld informed him that henceforth he would be the intermediary between the physical world and the world of the unseen and that he must therefore experience for himself the reality of the spirit world in all its manifold aspects. He never forgot the role of mediator thus conferred upon him, and the remainder of his life testified to the importance he placed upon his divine mission.
Years later Kisaburo set down in astounding detail a record of these spirit wanderings. They form the bulk of the eighty-one volumes of his Stories from the Spiritual World, and constitute one of the main scriptures of Oomoto. Journeys to the spirit world by ascetics have occurred rather frequently in history, but an account so comprehensive and in such detail is rare indeed. One thinks of Dante and of Swedenborg. At any rate, as far as visionary insight in more recent times is concerned, Kisaburo’s experience would seem to be unique.
He emerged from his ordeal a completely altered person and, assured at last that his career had divine sanction, plunged anew into his theological studies. These led him to study under Katsutate Nagasawa, the head of the Inari-ko Sect. Under this great Shinto mystic, young Kisaburo achieved a new understanding of his occult powers. Among other things he discovered in himself the power of psychic healing enabling him to perform many miraculous cures including the restoration of paralysed limbs and of sight to the blind.
He also became adept in the practice of chinkon-kishin, a form of Shinto meditation that links a man’s soul with the Divine. While practicing chinkon in a temple in June of 1898, he seemed to hear ‘a voice from far away urging him to go to the northwest where he would find someone awaiting him. Thus it happened that a young traveller stopped at a tea-stall on the banks of the Oi River one fine autumn day and read for the first time pages from Nao Deguchi’s Ofudesaki.
- On the lunar New Year of 1892, Nao Deguchi had the first of a series of celestial visions that eventually led her to become medium for the god Ushitora no Konjin for twenty-six years. The pronouncements of this great spirit comprise the over one hundred thousand pages of the “Ofudesaki”, the first divine scripture of Oomoto. In his first communication, Ushitora no Konjin announced his and Oomoto’s mission — to reconstruct the world and bring into being a society of justice and brotherhood never before known on earth. Ushitora no Konjin also indicated that “a man from the east” would reveal to the world the true meaning of the Ofudesaki. Consequently, in 1898, an eccentric young genius named Kisaburo Ueda did indeed come from the east, read pages from the divine work, and meet Nao Deguchi for the first time.
Among the many things that must have come up at that first meeting of the foundress and the co-founder, certain views they shared must surely have formed a bond between them from the very outset. Young Kisaburo had early experienced the injustice and the oppression that marked the period. He had spent his own youth in an unending fight against poverty, and on many occasions defended hapless villagers against exploitation. By the time of his initial encounter with Nao Deguchi, he had already earned himself a reputation as a kind of local hero, and his quick response to the needs and rights of the downtrodden remained to the end, as well as a determination to create a new society in which repression and injustice should form no part. Consequently he must surely have responded wholeheartedly when he read Ushitora no Konjin’s references to “a world of beasts — the stronger preying upon the weaker.”
Another point upon which, it is said, Kisaburo found himself in agreement was the concept of a single over-arching deity that governs its creation through a hierarchy of divine agencies. The many gods of Shinto could thus be understood as expressions of The One, or as reflecting the multifarious operations carried on within the Unity.
From this great intuition of the oneness of all being was to come a guiding principle of Oomoto, namely the common origin of all religions. Not only are we all children of the one God, but our religions are all expressions of one divine impulse. Assuredly religions differ in various ways, but according to Oomoto those differences reflect the diversity of epoch, of climate, of culture, of racial characteristics within which the one Deity has chosen to manifest from time to time. Religions are thus free to function according to the needs of the groups they serve. But no religion need view another religion as inferior or as false because of the differences between them. They are all siblings, sprung from the one Creator, and forever linked by their common origin.
Division of labor
Yet, in spite of the many point on which there was surely instant agreement, Kisaburo found much in the scriptures to perplex him, and after a day or so at Ayabe with the foundress, he left without committing himself. Ushitora no Konjin was not to be denied, however, and continued dictating to Nao such passages as :
- Deguchi and Ueda both shall be appointed to investigate and rectify the world. Ushitora no Konjin as well as myriads of angels shall enter into Deguchi and Ueda.
The following year Nao sent an appeal to Kisaburo that eventuated in the young man’s moving to Ayabe and taking his place in the movement. On New Year’s Day of 1900, Kisaburo married Nao Deguchi’s youngest daughter, Sumiko, and eventually changed his name to Deguchi. Nao conferred upon him the name Onisaburo, and it was as Onisaburo Deguchi that he was to go down as one of the most fascinating and eccentric religious reformers and political idealists in the history of Ja pan.
Long before the meeting of Onisaburo (Kisaburo) and Nao, the voice that spoke through Nao had outlined the difference in their duties within the organization. Nao was to become known as the Spirit of lzu, or of rectitude and severity. Its element in nature would be fire that flames upward thus emphasizing the vertical aspect of revelation, that is, communion between the lower and the higher, and its symbol would be the sun.
Mizu was originally the mythical orb conferred by heaven upon an emperor of ancient China at the time when he received the mandate of heaven for virtuous administration. Onisaburo was to become the Spirit of Mizu that would interpret and spread abroad the divine teachings, its element in nature would be water which spreads over the surface of the earth thus emphasizing its horizontal aspect, and its symbol would be the moon.
According to Nao’s writings, when these two spirits came together, the foundations for the great work would be laid and the new order begin its encroachment upon the old. In brief, Nao would receive the revelation from the spiritual world, and Onisaburo would form the religious body that would make the revelation an earthly reality. This cooperation between the vertical and horizontal aspects of the work are betokened in Oomoto as a cross within the circle of unity.
When Onisaburo set about interpreting and implementing the divine decrees, however, he ran into fierce opposition. First of all, he found himself clashing with the more fanatical element in Nao’s following who repeatedly tried to oust him and finally forced him to retire from the organization for several years. These hotheads viewed any attempt to placate the local authorities as mean-spirited, and they openly defied the police at every turn.
Nevertheless, Onisaburo saw all too clearly that without some sort of government sanction, he would stand little chance of escaping harassment or of expanding the movement beyond the handful of defiant farmers and villagers who composed its membership. But then, how could he in good conscience seek cooperation from a regime that the scriptures had already denounced, in so many words, as evil and doomed ?
He outlined the dilemma in the following words :
- Though our criticism of governmental conduct was justified, criticism alone was not enough, particularly in view of the country’s subservience to the Emperor and an all-powerful capitalist system. . . So what were we to do ? Should we have fled to India to escape these constraints ? An impossible dream !
Challenges and maneuverings
The problem of obtaining official standing for Oomoto continued to defy solution and at the same time Onisaburo’s presence at Ayabe aroused ever deeper resentment among the more fanatical element in the congregation. Finally, in 1906, Onisaburo left Ayabe and entered the Koten Kokyusho (Institute for the Study of Japanese Classics) , a newly established preparatory school in Kyoto for those wishing to become Shinto priests. Onisaburo was graduated, took the examination for the priesthood, and passed. Shortly thereafter he was accepted as junior priest at Kenkun Shrine. Onisaburo’s charisma and individualistic thinking immediately attracted a number of adherents and almost as fast aroused the jealousy of the teachers in higher positions. Their repeated attacks created such a furor that after only six months the brilliant young priest found it necessary to leave.
The Mitake-kyo sect in Fushimi asked him to join them and he promptly did so. There his amazing powers of healing the sick by prayer attracted so much attention that in 1907 he was made director of the Osaka branch. During these years Onisaburo’s grasp of Shinto thought increased to the point that he finally felt it within his power to explain and interpret the scriptures of the foundress — the Ofudesaki. Or perhaps even more, he now felt confident that he could connect the teachings to Shinto thought in general, thus making it possible for the Japanese, so steeped in Shinto tradition, to relate the puzzling and the obscure to the known and the accepted.
Meanwhile Japan was foundering in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War. The government, determined to consolidate and extend its power base, became more and more impatient of criticism and resorted ever more widely to repression of liberal and religious thought and expression. In 1908, driven by his vision of a new Japan, Onisaburo founded the Dai Nippon Shusai Kai or Society for the Greater Purification and Reform of Japan. In the same year, he unexpectedly left Osaka and returned to Ayabe where he took up his organizational duties in Oomoto and published the founding statutes of his new society. He also began lecturing and writing, and in every way sought to spread his ideas.
Nonetheless, the problem of official recognition for Oomoto remained. Trying to straddle the problem, Onisaburo wrote in the statutes of his new organization :
- The rules of our society are not those of an explicitly religious body ; allegiance to the Emperor is the essential focus of our activities. . .
Such statements were obviously a sop to allay government suspicion. Oomoto was in fact a religious organization completely at variance with imperial policies, and it is doubtful that the government was to any extent taken in.
In Japan today it is hard for us to visualize the risks involved in intellectual honesty and moral integrity during those days. It was a time when any sort of adventurer could pass himself off as a “patriot”. But to defend any kind of liberal stand took superhuman courage and inevitably ended in ruthless suppression by the authorities.
It was under such conditions, in 1909, that Onisaburo undertook a project dear to the heart of the foundress. He began publication of a magazine to introduce to the world Nao Deguchi’s Ofudesaki. It was Oomoto’s first publication, and it ran for only four issues. In Nao’s “world of beasts, the stronger preying upon the weaker”, there could be little doubt as to who the “beasts” were, and it seemed unwise to go on provoking the very authorities from whom Onisaburo sought authorization. Furthermore his use of kanji (Chinese characters) to explicate the difficult text struck the farmers and villagers in the congregation as hifalutin and provided more ammunition for the anti-Onisaburo faction.
Kamishima and the ultimate endorsement
And so things rocked along during the period between 1908 and 1916. Onisaburo’s Society for the Greater Purification and Reform of Japan went on as a branch of Oomoto, exciting ever more suspicion and hostility from the fanatical element around Nao ; and even though Onisaburo continued to lecture and write, there were few to heed. For a time he advocated joining Oomoto with the Inari-ko branch of Shinto since that organization already enjoyed the official sanction he sought, but Nao rejected the idea out of hand. Finally Nao herself came to distrust Onisaburo’s political maneuverings, and his opposition at Ayabe used the opportunity to pronounce him a devil and even went so far as to raid his study and destroy the documents they found .
Then, on October 5, 1916, Ushitora no Konjin, the voice that spoke through Nao, stepped in to settle matters once and for all. On the previous day Nao, Onisaburo, and Sumiko his wife had journeyed to Kamishima, an island of great mystical significance to Oomoto, to conduct a ceremony at a small shrine on the summit of a mountain. On the day in question, they all returned to Osaka where Nao was strongly moved to put brush to paper. To the foundress’s amazement, Ushitora no Konjin announced that Onisaburo was to be the saviour of the world, the very spirit of the Miroku no Yo, the New Age for which the world was waiting.
- Now the time has come when earth and heaven shall lie revealed. . . That is why Henjo Nanshi (Nao Deguchi) appeared — to reveal to the world its true state. Then, as soon as Henjo Nyoshi (Onisaburo) appears, the people of the world must set about purifying and reforming themselves in preparation for the wondrous things in store. . . That is why the Spirit of Hitsujisaru no Konjin (Onisaburo) has come to worship at Kamishima on this occasion. His arduous yet divine vocation has now been made plain. .
- Since the time when the ancestors of the Heavens went into seclusion, the world has lain in darkness. Formidable as may be the task of the reconstruction of the world, the time has now come to set about it. The spirit of Henjo Nyoshi (Onisaburo) will come forth to bring into physical reality such vivid undertakings that the New Age will stand revealed to all the hosts of the myriad worlds.
Nao was herself astounded, and all her distrust and resistance collapsed. For the first time Onisaburo stepped into full authority in Oomoto. His own insight and guidance were now to become Oomoto’s spiritual compass, and at last he was free to exercise his great organizing abilities and to spread Oomoto as a religious and political movement throughout Japan. From that time on, Onisaburo’s following began its phenomenal growth and his opposition within Oomoto began to dwindle.
The passing of Nao
During the next two years, the voice of Ushitora no Konjin as it spoke through Nao became more and more insistent. In the final communications there was even a note of desperation. The powers of evil, the legions of the Black Angel, were on the march. Oomoto followers should purify themselves and set to work with total dedication to defeat these powers. Now was the time when men would either prove themselves or forever fail to do so. From the Ofudesaki, January 12, 1918 :
- How many times must I warn you. . . the way of Good shall prosper through your singleminded devotion, so return to the way with all possible haste, and strive to attune yourselves to the Spirit of the Holy Land. The Age of Evil cannot endure. Those whose bodies dominate their spirit shall know great tribulation. Have ye not heard this said since 1892 ? Men and women alike should be firm in their resolve lest they find themselves unable to stand during the days of extended turmoil.
Partly Ushitora no Konjin’s urgency stemmed from his awareness of Nao’s approaching death. She was eighty-three and it would be no easy matter to find replacement for so pure, so receptive, a medium. True, Onisaburo’s mediumistic powers were awesome, but with a head so full of intellectual ferment could anyone receive the Word with such clarity, with such artless sincerity, as did the foundress ?
And so Nao Deguchi passed away on November 6, 1918, as the nations fought through the culminating days of the first world war. Her death, as her life, was marked with agonizing pain. But she uttered no word of complaint and died whispering, “Our poor workers. Our poor soldiers !” They interred her body on the mount of Tennodaira, just outside the sacred precincts of Oomoto overlooking the peaceful landscape surrounding the town of Ayabe.
- Oomoto, as a religion, came into being in 1892 when the great spirit, Ushitora no Konjin began using Nao Deguchi as medium for his communications. The group that formed around Nao remained a local organization centered at Ayabe, northwest of Kyoto, until the arrival of Kisaburo Ueda, who married Nao’s youngest daughter, Sumiko, and took the name Onisaburo Deguchi.
- Onisaburo at first experienced opposition from the group around Nao and from a government that refused the new religion official sanction. With the Kamishima incident, however, opposing elements within the religion began to collapse and by the time of Nao’s death in 1918, Onisaburo was firmly in control of Oomoto. But government hostility and suspicion still remained a problem.
Oomoto Spreads Its Wings
Although Ushitora no Konjin in the writings of Nao Deguchi kept calling for a reconstruction of the world, there was little the foundress could do to spread the teachings of Oomoto beyond the thousand or so farmers and townspeople who formed the congregation at Ayabe. After the events at Kamishima, however, and with Onisaburo firmly at the helm, Oomoto began to extend its influence throughout Japan at an astonishing rate. At first the co-founder used the lecture platform and the written word for spreading his ideas. For this, after 1917, he had at his disposal the periodicals Ayabe Shimbun (The Ayabe News) and Shinrei-kai (The World of Spirit) , both printed at Ayabe.
The response to these efforts amazed everyone. Writers, scholars, and intellectuals invaded Oomoto to attend lectures and take part in religious services. Particularly surprising was the number of officers from the imperial navy who showed interest. Young people as well began flocking to the headquarters at Ayabe. It would be interesting to speculate what aspects of Onisaburo’s thinking so magnetized the minds of this array of visitors. Was it the spiritual element, offering something beyond the narrow pragmatism and materialism of the age? Or the emphasis on international cooperation and world reconstruction in an ethos becoming daily more chauvinistic? Or perhaps the call for peace as militarists gathered the reins of government ever more firmly in their hands ?
Needless to say, Oomoto’s sudden and unexpected popularity did not go unnoticed in other circles and drew ever more violent criticism from various religious groups and from the press in general. People do not enjoy having their consciences flayed, and efforts to raise the moral level carry with them their own dangers, too often in the tendency to arouse the most virulent hatred.
Undaunted, Onisaburo continued expanding the scope of Oomoto activities. In 1917 he bought the site of Kameyama Castle in Kameoka, not far from Anao, his own birthplace. This purchase opened the way for establishing a second headquarters for Oomoto. It is significant that Kameoka is much closer to metropolitan Kyoto (twenty-two kilometers) than it is to Ayabe (fifty-six kilometers). Ayabe is a mountain fastness far withdrawn from the rush and confusion of big city life. It is reclusive, its serenity inviting the sort of spiritual communion for which sages from time immemorial have sought the wilderness or a cave in the hills.
Kameoka is different. Although a mountain pass separates it from Kyoto, Kameoka is nonetheless far more available to the metropolitan centers of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. Eventually it would become the headquarters for Oomoto’s international activities and the face that Oomoto would turn to the world. The distance between Ayabe and Kameoka remained a geographical symbol for dynamic aspects of Oomoto that never quite coalesced.
For there continued to co-exist within the organization international elements and at the same time strong nationalistic views. Oomoto was originally a religion of peasant origin, yet the thought of Onisaburo added dimensions that by their universal appeal would attract the most forward-looking thinkers on the issues of global synthesis. Indeed, these contradictions never quite seemed to resolve themselves even in the co-founder’s own mind. Today he could assert that all religions everywhere are equally emanations of a single divine impulse, and tomorrow advocate Japan’s ascendancy as divinely ordained. At his lectures, patriots and internationalists sat side by side, each group finding support for its own views.
Meanwhile the influx into the Ayabe headquarters continued. A new missionary effort, spurred on by prophecies of “the urgency of the times”, took form to further spread Oomoto throughout Japan. Students left their schools sometimes selling their books to finance the journey to Ayabe. Teachers, forbidden to join the new sect by school authorities, gave up their jobs to come. At Ayabe in its rustic setting, far from the trammels of urban existence, residents underwent a crystallization of body and soul, and purified went forth to spread the new faith. From a diary of the times :
- We washed our rice in icy cold water ; we looked for firewood in the forest with frost upon the ground ; we sat up far into the night, praying and holding discussions.
There could be no question as to the success of the campaign. Within five years Oomoto grew from a constituency of less than a thousand centered mainly at Ayabe to over three hundred thousand adherents with centers in all parts of Japan. Money began to pour in from all sides. Poor people reading Ayabe Shimbun (The Ayabe News) made donations. Navy personnel, ever more fearful of militaristic actions by the government, gave financial support. Officials, teachers, soldiers contributed. Indeed, rightists and militarists in government circles had cause for alarm.
To top matters off, in August 1920, Onisaburo bought a large-circulation daily newspaper called the Taisho Nichi-Nichi and its offices in Osaka. This appropriation of a mass communication medium by a religious organization was unprecedented and it raised a furor throughout Japan. The new owners made their position perfectly clear in the first issue :
- The present political situation in Japan is dominated by partiality and is directed for the interests of a single party. On the material level, our society is dominated by class struggle. Furthermore, the plans of our diplomats are narrow and nationalistic in nature and show no concern for the long-term future of the world. Journalists and novelists share in this corruption. Considering the decadence of the present age, Oomoto has no choice but to sound the alarm. Most of the big name newspapers are lacking in ideals. Faced with the dishonesty of the capitalists, we are ready to struggle against the government, against exploiters, against profiteers. . . We must awaken the world to the extent of its peril. Above and beyond this, it is imperative to improve the social conditions of the country. . .
And as if the government had not enough cause for concern, in 1919 Oomoto founded a mission center in Tokyo, the Kakushin-kai (Association of the Faithful) that attracted a number of celebrities, high ranking officials in the armed forces, and even members of the imperial family. Government ministers reacted by ordering out of the armed services anyone who became a member of the sect.
Government Sounds the Alarm
These were days when there was an upsurge of democratization and the government found itself hard pressed on all sides. Certain groups had banded together to urge the abolishing of the emperor system and the establishing of a republic. On May Day of 1920, the first real civil disorders broke out. This was the occasion for the government to start organizing a string of fanatically right-wing factions, and one of their first concerns was this fast growing religious organization in their midst, so insistently calling for reforms of every kind and an entirely new orientation in government policy.
Even the more liberal opposition party in the government gave in to the demands of the ruling party and joined hands with ultra rightists to urge repression. At last, on the strength of the outcome of a series of “studies”, the anti-Oomoto group issued the official proclamation :
- The Oomoto religion constitutes a danger to our country’s security and an obstacle to the establishment of a healthy nation.
The Minister of Home Affairs, the Minister of Education, and the Minister of Justice ordered a critical eye to be kept on Oomoto and Onisaburo, and on January 10, 1921, the Attorney General issued a secret order committing Oomoto to trial.
There can be no doubt that two factors contributing to Onisaburo’s enormous charisma were his shamanistic powers and his gift of prophecy. Few events of any magnitude took place that someone could not remember the co-founder’s having predicted. For instance, Onisaburo once ordered workers to build a pond at Ayabe. The workers began to dig but found only stones and rubble. Since no spring or other water source appeared, the workers began to suspect that it was just another wild idea and the work lagged, much to Onisaburo’s annoyance. Finally they managed to excavate a very dry basin and the project came to an end, seemingly in vain. However, it was not long before the town council, in the interest of fire prevention, asked for permission to run a water course through Oomoto’s grounds. The channel passed through the recent excavation, filled it with water, and there was indeed a lake.
Among the co-founder’s predictions, the first that attracted attention on a nationwide scale was of a natural catastrophe to occur in Tokyo. The disastrous earthquake that leveled Tokyo in 1923 is now a matter of history, and the newspapers were quick to remember that Onisaburo had foreseen it. Ayabe was consequently swamped with visitors eager to sing the praises of the great seer.
The Oomoto Case I Begins
It cannot be said, then, that the surprise raid with which the government launched its attack on Oomoto took the believers totally without warning. Nao Deguchi had outlined the event in a general way in the Ofudesaki and Onisaburo had even predicted the day of its occurrence. That day was February 12, 1921, when in the early hours of the morning, over two hundred armed police surrounded the headquarters at Ayabe and began their search of the premises.
This show of armed strength and the nature of the search the police carried out were indications of how seriously the government took the fantastic rumors that had been circulated about Oomoto in the previous years. These rumors had it that Oomoto had at Ayabe a network of underground installations where wholesale massacres took place, women were raped by the hundreds, and innocent people subdued by magic and witchcraft. Of more concern to the government were fears that Oomoto was really a socialist plot parading as a religion and that those notorious cellars concealed an arsenal of weapons, trained troops, and a large cache of money in preparation for taking over the government by force. In particular there was a report that Onisaburo had somehow got hold of an imperial banner to which he ordered followers to pay homage.
Onisaburo was away in Osaka working at the newspaper office when the raid took place. The other leaders at Ayabe, including Sumiko Deguchi, Onisaburo’s wife, alarmed at the commotion, were assembled in one of the rooms when the police burst in shouting, “You are guilty of high treason and violation of the rights of the press !” The group could only stare back, dumbfounded.
The police then proceeded to go over every inch of the residences, sanctuary, offices, and library. They examined every book, photograph, painting, and took into custody all of Onisaburo’s documents and personal letters. One of the police officers approached Sumiko Deguchi and demanded to know where she had hidden the imperial banner. She could only reply, “What imperial banner? All we have here are the sashes that our workers wear. Unfortunately for the expectations of the prosecution, their search did not turn up so much as a pistol or a single corpse, and only a small amount of money. Nonetheless, they returned in ten days and searched again, even ripping out floor boards to look underneath.
Meanwhile Onisaburo was placed under arrest at his newspaper office in Osaka, charged with high treason, and removed to Kyoto for detention. At the same time in Ayabe, the police took into custody Wasaburo Asano, staff head of the publication Shinrei-kai (The World of Spirit) , and Sukesada Yoshida, its editor and publisher. The authorities also placed under surveillance and subjected to frequent searches Sumiko Deguchi and eighty other members of the sect.
Thus began the Oomoto Case I that was to last for six years. There was to be continuous police harassment, vicious and libelous attacks by a State controlled press, crippling restrictions on publishing and other activities within the sect, rigid censorship, and more. But the spirit of Oomoto, far from paralyzed by these concerted attacks, remained firm and courageous. The prophecies had done their work well. Since these tribulations had been announced in the holy scriptures, they must be a part of the divine plan. It was only a matter of bending to Divine Will.
- Oomoto, as a religion, came into being in 1892 when the great spirit, Ushitora no Konjin, began using Nao Deguchi as medium for his communications. The group that formed around Nao remained a local organization centered at Ayabe, northwest of Kyoto, until the arrival of Kisaburo Ueda, who married Nao’s youngest daughter, Sumiko, and took the name of Onisaburo Deguchi.
- After Nao’s death, Onisaburo began to extend Oomoto’s membership and influence throughout Japan at an astonishing rate. In so doing, he came in sharp conflict with the Imperial government by his call for reconstruction and reform in society.
- The government reacted by issuing an order for Onisaburo’s arrest along with two other Oomoto leaders, and the Oomoto Case I began.
In order to understand the arrest and trial of Onisaburo, Asano and Yoshida, it is necessary to take into consideration the autocratic nature of the government at the time. In general, military juntas and fascist states are quick to dispense with the niceties of democratic legal procedures. They arrest on suspicion, and then look for or concoct evidence to justify their actions.
It is hardly apropos, therefore, to point out the very real reasons for which the government might have accused Oomoto in the person of Onisaburo of high treason. It is true that the government had established as its official religion State Shinto, declaring Amaterasu Omikami to be the highest divinity, ancestress of the Imperial family and guarantor of the Emperor’s own claim to divinity. In direct challenge to these claims, Oomoto worshipped Ushitora no Konjin as original Creator of the Universe, thus relegating Amaterasu to a subordinate rank. This was blasphemy.
Nor had Nao and Onisaburo in their writings spared the government their criticism and even ridicule for the government’s militarism, chauvinistic claims, and general unconcern for the sufferings of the common people. These and others might have constituted proper grounds for prosecution, but it is probable that they only came to light after the trials had already begun and the prosecution had been forced to dig deeper in their search for justification of their actions.
Certain phrases in the foundress’s writings had already roused government suspicion so that the Ofudesaki was under ban because of “radical ideas”.
Nevertheless a conflict of ideologies can hardly explain official rancor to the point of determining to crush Oomoto entirely. More likely was the government’s high-handed treatment of any group that refused to follow official policies and procedures, exacerbated by Oomoto’s alarming growth in membership and influence under Onisaburo’s leadership. In particular the Tokyo branch of Oomoto, enlisting as it did high ranking officials in the army and navy and even members of the nobility, must have roused government paranoia to intolerable levels. There were also Onisaburo’s prophecies of Japan’s defeat at the hands of her enemies, predictions that might indeed undermine morale, and most of all the persisting rumors that Onisaburo was planning a coup d’etat with the intention of declaring himself emperor.
At any rate the first trial dragged on until October 5, 1921, when the prosecution obtained a verdict of guilty and Onisaburo was sentenced to five years in prison, Asano and Yoshida being given lesser penalties. Oomoto at once appealed the decision to a higher court.
In the meantime, invoking various ordinances from the past, the government ordered Oomoto to rebuild the tomb of the foundress on the grounds that it resembled the tomb of the Emperor Meiji. Then, shortly after the passing of the first sentence, the Imperial government ordered the destruction of Oomoto’s main sanctuary at Ayabe. A guard of three thousand five hundred army veterans and police were called in to “protect” the workmen carrying out the demolition. The first blows were struck October 20, and the sanctuary was ultimately destroyed.
As a result of the first verdict of guilty, Oomoto was officially labelled a “heretical religion” and a state subservient press printed sensational accounts of the trial. An aroused public began its persecution of Oomoto followers while the government stepped up its program of harassment by surveillance of Oomoto leaders, censorship of Oomoto publications, and crippling restrictions on Oomoto activities.
The Reikai Monogatari or Stories from the Spiritual World
After the first incarceration, and out on bail while appealing the five-year sentence, Onisaburo took advantage of enforced leisure caused by government restrictions on Oomoto’s activities to start dictating to a group of scribes an account of his experiences on Mt. Takakuma in 1898. The results of this endeavor were the Reikai Monogatari (Stories from the Spiritual World) which together with the Ofudesaki make up the sacred scriptures of Oomoto and a rehabilitation after the destruction so savagely wrought on the religion by a hostile government.
Onisaburo commenced the dictation on October 18, 1921, with the intention of publishing 1,728 volumes of around four hundred pages each. He continued dictating off and on until 1934 when publication of the eighty-first volume brought the work to a close.
Customary procedure required four scribes to take down his words. He dictated while lying down without notes or references of any kind, the account pouring from his lips in a sustained flow. The first volume of four hundred pages required ten days to record, but as the scribes became more accustomed to the work, they were able to take down a whole volume in three days.
The collection of stories that comprise the bulk of the work might be described generally as an account of the struggle of good against evil in remote times before the dawn of recorded history, some of the narratives taking place even before the Creation. In this, the Reikai Monogatari shares something with Milton’s Paradise Lost. The interesting thing about these almost mythological accounts is that in many instances they are masked prophecies. Under the guise of inexplicable and often far-fetched narratives, the prophecies lie innocently embedded in the vast text until one day events form so startling a parallel that their prophetic content is revealed.
Why did Onisaburo disguise prophecies in this way ? The usual explanation is that because of the difficulties Oomoto was having with the authorities, the co-founder may have wanted to avoid any further trouble or censorship. There could be other explanations. Prophecies can be dangerous when put in the hands of the credulous or the uninformed, inciting to much rash and ill-timed action. Prophecies also put people on the alert and such people may interfere with the proper unfolding of events. A disguised prophecy, on the other hand, will issue a kind of subconscious guidance to those who need it, and leave everyone else unaffected. For the same reasons, even in the case of an avowed prophecy, the prediction may be more effective because of what it omits to say rather than for what it has actually predicted.
Interspersed among the historical episodes are also accounts of Onisaburo’s boyhood, predictions for both the immediate and the more distant future, moral teachings, anecdotes, dissertations on politics, philosophy, art, education ; there is an account of the Creation, of the origins of Oomoto, an explication of the nature of God, of the positioning and functions of divine beings, and of man’s relationship with the Divine. In particular there is a detailed description of the world of spirit, that world divided into three parts which Christians understand as Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell.
The basic teaching of the Reikai Monogatari, however, may be summed up in the two words “purification” and “reconstruction”. Men must first purify their own hearts, and they must then reconstruct the world. These two steps are essential before we may enter the Miroku no Yo, the new age of brotherhood and love, the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
And how are we to purify and reconstruct ? The method is summed up in the words reishu taiju. (These words are the title for the opening section of Stories from the Spiritual World and comprise the first twelve volumes of the work. Onisaburo himself maintained that these opening volumes contained the most important part of his teaching.)
Reishu taiju means “the flesh subordinated to the spirit”. Onisaburo wrote, “To make a turn-about from materialistic views to spiritual ones is the real meaning of human repentance.” It is not a crushing or a humiliation of the flesh. Flesh for us mortals is a kind of dynamo, and its cooperation is essential. Instead there must be an influx of spirit to which flesh plays a secondary and supportive role. Wordly ambition then becomes spiritual aspiration. Earthly desire changes into divine love. Selfishness gives way to the spirit of sacrifice. This is true conversion.
“Flesh” and “Spirit” as “Yin” and “Yang“
In order to identify “spirit” and “flesh” with universal principles, Onisaburo turned to Taoism with its yin/yang polarity and taught that spirit is the human equivalent of the cosmic principle of yang, and flesh the human equivalent of the cosmic principle of yin.
- The cosmic dual forces of Yin and Yang, water and fire, matter and spirit, are two related elements . which arose from the Great Original Spirit of the universe.
- For the Great Original Spirit, both of them are undoubtedly equally essential, and there cannot be any disparity in their importance. If Yin should perish, Yang would simultaneously perish, and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other. Their coexistence is extremely important — far beyond the necessity of a pair of eyes or of limbs.
- However, if significant activity is to take place inside the universe, one of these primal aspects should take precedence and the other should be subordinate. There could be no activity if both stood on an equal footing. And this relation must be permanently immutable. Otherwise all movement would degenerate into disorder and lose every semblance of unity.
- To preserve a well ordered and significant activity permanently, it was inevitable that a discriminating relationship between yin and yang be fixed. So, at the very beginning of all movement, the Great Original Spirit made yang to have priority and yin to be subordinate.
- It is not easy to understand this principle as it applies to the vast universe. The universe is too immense, too profound. But the universe is filled with microcosms which are ruled by the same principle, and we, as human beings, may find ourselves easier objects of study.
- If we ponder on ourselves, we find that we possess a dichotomy which is the spiritual function (yang) and the physical function (yin) The spiritual function urges us on toward elevation, purity, refinement, justice, philanthropy and sacrifice. It is the fountainhead of the highest ethical feelings and fortifies our aesthetic natures. On the other hand, the physical function causes immoral tendencies toward greed, desire for excessive display, brutality, etc. and in extreme cases, depravity, dissoluteness, exclusiveness and selfishness. These two processes are always in opposition to each other inside our body. Nor can we escape so long as we are human beings. If we had not the spiritual function, we would be immediately brutalized and our existence would lose all value. And if we had not the physical function, our very lives would be in jeopardy. For instance, deprive us of food and we die. Both the spiritual and the physical are absolutely necessary. But we must decide which shall be the higher and which shall be the lower, and we must judge our behaviour accordingly. In this matter, God ordained it good to make the spiritual function to come first and the physical function to be subordinated to it, and evil is simply to reverse this order of things.
- The principles of the universe are also the basic rules for the microcosm, the human being. But mankind is still immature and infringes these laws.
( Oomoto Ryakugi)
As to the manner in which these two cosmic principles impinge upon our daily lives, Onisaburo was even more explicit. Very much in line with the teachings of Spiritualism, he assumed the presence in every human being of a higher self (sei shugojin) and a lower self (fuku shugojin), each under the influence of spirit entities of a higher or of a debased degree, depending upon which the man chooses to entertain by the sort of thoughts and feelings he allows himself.
- Good spirits and evil spirits are lurking inside every human being. Man harmonizes with various heavenly groups through the good spirits that compose his higher self. Also he is influenced in accordance with the law of correspondence by hellish groups through evil spirits that compose his lower self. Such spirits reside in the medial sphere between heaven and hell.
- Evil spirits first invade man’s memory, then his ideas. But they themselves do not recognize that they coexist with the man in the human body, and they believe that the memory and the ideas of the man are their own. If, by any chance, the evil spirits should become aware of the true situation or happen to talk with the man, they will then set about ruining not only the spirit of the man, his belief and love, but also his body, and try to lead his soul to hell.
- Man sustains the life of the flesh by the agency of these lower spirits or the lower self, and he gets out of his evil state by the agency of the higher spirits or his higher self. Man possesses free will in the way he controls the proper ordering of the function of these spirits.
( Reikai Monogatari)
The co-founder contended that a heart of love is essential to virtue and true goodness. According to him, good works without love are liable to become aspects of evil, conducive to fanaticism and hypocrisy. As to any distinction between sacred and profane love, he constantly maintained that the “love” of which he spoke had nothing to do with love in any personal sense, by which we presume he meant that right relationships would evolve naturally if the heart be filled with the love of goodness and truth, and are quite different from relations based upon personal inclination.
To exemplify the futility of good works without a heart of true love, he created one of his most unforgettable characters, the religious busybody, Taka Hime. She pops up over and over in the later volumes of Stories from the Spiritual World. Finally she dies and goes to Purgatory where she continues her determined but misguided efforts to convert the shades.
She is last heard of returning to earth to possess the body of the Princess Chigusa in the legendary Kingdom of Toruman, somewhere in India. In this guise, with the best of intentions, she wreaks havoc throughout the kingdom.
- There are two kinds of love. One is divine love, which is generative power for all of creation and the source of energy in the lives of men. Divine love is in existence in order to generate true life, and life itself depends upon divine love.
- In the world of spirit, loving God does not mean love in any personal sense, but loving the goodness emanating from God. Loving the goodness of God means doing good because of the love in our hearts. So, goodness without love goes direct to Hell and becomes evil. In other words, even the goodness of Paradise, in Hell may become an aspect of evil. . .
- The other kind of love is the love called jin. It is not love for neighbors in a personal sense. Jin is the love of divine truth and it means to love the revelations or the word of God. Aspiring towards the truth and acting for the truth are the same thing as loving divine truth. . .
- For example, Hatsuwaka Hime has a perfect character. She is filled with the two kinds of love – love of goodness and love of truth. She is an incarnation of Holy God. Contrary to her, Taka Hime speaks of love, goodness, belief, and truth, but her heart is closed to God and open to Hell. So the goodness of which she speaks becomes hypocrisy — a hypocrisy that may be misconstrued as real virtue and goodness by people who do not truly know God. . . Taka Hime can seldom see the light of God. But she is led by a strong self-love — the bad side of love — and cannot see God’s face. Her thoughts are wrapped in gloom as she moans : “We cannot stand by and ignore this world, full of darkness and falsehood. Therefore it is my duty to bring true light into the world and to help people who are victims of this dark age. Here below we find no paradise or heaven. The whole world has changed into one dark sphere. Accordingly, I, who have received my vocation from God, must dedicate myself to bringing about the new age.”
- This kind of thinking keeps her in a state of irritation. There is no peace in her heart. She is driven by fanaticism and concern for her own self-advancement as she devotes herself to saving souls in the world.
- But why has she not observed that the light of heaven gracefully brightens all from the beginning of creation, and hosts of angels belonging to the various spheres are rejoicing in their own bright existences ?
Onisaburo then speaks of the love of God for his Creation :
- At this point, you must pay close attention. The Ofudesaki by the foundress of Oomoto says : “. . .Because this world is filled with dark clouds, souls known of God appear for the sake of the reign of the dawning epoch, laboring in behalf of the plan for the glorious new age.”
- This means that the whole world is not dark, as Taka Hime maintains. The words indicate God’s will, His intention to establish a paradise on this earth, no matter into what a hellish state it may have fallen — a paradise where no one need descend into Hell again.
- In other words, whether in this world or the world of spirit, He plans to crush Hell itself and not to leave any trace of devilishness in all that he has created. This revelation comes from the heart of God — a heart of divine love.
The Style of the Reikai Monogatari
When Onisaburo first began his dictation of the Reikai Monogatari, he showed concern for the style in which it should be written. In the preface to the second volume he wrote : “This* book is a summary of my week-long ascetic exercises and experiences on Mount Takakuma and also of another occasion when I struggled against hunger for a week. In the first experience I journeyed through the mysterious regions of the spirit, oblivious to both weather and time. Here I will try as far as possible to set down my experiences in a way they can be understood by other people.” (The author’s italics)
In his Stories from the Spiritual World, it would always seem to be Onisaburo’s own voice speaking rather than that of a supernal being. The distinction, however, is more apparent than real. No mere mortal can dictate eighty-one volumes of prophecies, profound philosophical and psychological observations, and divine insights from the top of his own head, and we are right to suspect the almost continuous presence of a divine voice during the dictation. So when Onisaburo asserts that he is merely setting down his personal experiences, he is vastly oversimplifying the matter. Instead, he has taken advantage of the blandishments of narrative writing and dramatic presentation to educate, to elevate, and to spiritualize the reader.
As regards style of writing, it is interesting to point out the contrast between the style that Deity employed when addressing the prophets of old, and the style of Onisaburo’s Reikai Monogatari. The older style is apocalyptic, dire, and totally devoid of humor. The heavenly voices were content to warn earthlings that they must repent or perish. The tone was august and minatory, a stern parent admonishing unruly offspring.
In contrast, Onisaburo set out to entertain as well as to instruct. His message is no less urgent, his intention no less admonitory, but his approach is different. There are flashes of humor, diverting episodes with emphasis on the amusing detail instead of a scolding of children there is rather the cajoling of comrades.
This shift in tactics by the divine voices speaking to mankind — from the autocratic voices that spoke through the prophets of old to the, more democratic voices that spoke through Onisaburo may be more significant than it at first appears. Once again, Oomoto seems to have acted as prototype for a world to come. For with the appearance on the planet of increasing numbers of intellectually mature human beings, it becomes more and more difficult to scare people into heaven. The intelligent man of today simply turns away when told that he is a hopeless sinner, forever dependent on a seemingly arbitrary act of divine grace for his salvation. However dire the human predicament may have become, voices of doom from the beyond no longer command the attention they once did.
Onisaburo wrote :
- Man is divine by his very nature.
- When man’s unity with God is attained, man commands an illimitable power and authority.
and mankind moved out of the role of helpless supplicant for divine favors into the new role of administrator and custodian of divine affairs on earth. Of course, man depends upon God for his spiritual advancement and for his very life, but God in turn needs men of purity and courage for the reconstruction of His world. Mankind has grown up.
If men no longer respond to threats of hellfire or Armageddon, they can still be persuaded to act as co-workers in the great enterprise of building the New Age. As the divine agencies move ever closer to mankind in this great cooperative undertaking, man achieves a new dignity and a new status. The voices that spoke through Onisaburo seemed abundantly aware of the change.
- Oomoto, as a religion, came into being in 1892 when the great spirit, Ushitora no Konjin, began using Nao Deguchi as medium for his communications. The group that formed around Nao remained a local organization centered at Ayabe, northwest of Kyoto, until the arrival of Kisaburo Ueda, who married Nao’s youngest daughter, Sumiko, and took the name of Onisaburo Deguchi.
- After Nao’s death, Onisaburo began to extend Oomoto’s membership and influence throughout Japan at an astonishing rate. In so doing, he came in sharp conflict with the Imperial government by his call for reconstruction and reform in society.
- The First Oomoto Incident began on 12 February 1921 when the government ordered police to enter and search the Oomoto precincts at Ayabe and arrest Onisaburo, Asano, and Yoshida on charges of high treason and violation of the rights of the press. Soon to follow were drastic curtailment of the sect’s activities and the destruction by government order of Oomoto sanctuaries.
- The first trial ended 5 October 1921 with a verdict of guilty. Oomoto at once appealed the conviction. Out on bail, Onisaburo made use of his enforced leisure to begin his massive work Reikai Monogatari (Stories from the Spiritual World) which together with Nao Deguchi’s Ofudesaki would constitute the sacred scriptures of Oomoto.
- Needless to say, the “Incident” caused great changes to take place within the organization and constituency of Oomoto.
Taisho Junen Setsu
Various stages of Oomoto’s development have been characterized by an emphasis on some central idea as it emerged from the Scriptures and was interpreted by the followers. This prevailing idea has acted as a magnet and drawn to Oomoto many thinkers who found the idea congenial. Philosophers, professors, social reformers and other intellectuals have often been associated with Oomoto. A number of them have arrogated to themselves positions of leadership in the religion, been repulsed, and eventually left Oomoto to form religions or movements of their own. This defection has been particularly noticeable at times when a shift within Oomoto from one central idea to another has taken place. Onisaburo referred to such a time of exodus as a “purification”, and a major one took place during the first Oomoto persecution.
Oomoto refers to the rise and fall of this particular faction within the religion as Taisho Junen Setsu (the theory concerning a certain decade during the Taisho era). The leader of the movement was Wasaburo Asano, a person of strong influence in the organization, director of the newspaper Taisho Nichi Nichi, active in missionary work and in administration. He joined Oomoto in 1916, attracted by the practice of chinkon-kishin,
Oomoto’s adaptation of old Shinto meditation, a linking with the divine that is often accompanied by phenomena such as shaking, healing and divination. Asano’s fascination with the world of the psychic and the occult led him eventually to devote his life to its scientific investigation. But in these early stages at Oomoto he was driven by a naive enthusiasm to prove to the world the accuracy and the usefulness of prophecy in anticipating actual events.
We would like to say here that to try to link prophecy with literal truth is an extremely risky undertaking. Occasionally a prophecy will be accurate in every physical detail, but far more often its vocabulary is highly symbolic, and all sorts of absurd nonsense will result from trying to pin the prophecy down and squeeze “facts” from it. This is especially true in regard to predicted times. Almost any psychic or medium will tell you that “timing” is by far the trickiest and most unreliable part of a prophecy. Unfortunately, an error in predicting the exact time will play havoc with a psychic’s reputation. People will immediately assume that he or she is a poor psychic.
That may, of course, be true. But more often the error in time will be the result of conditions in that shadowy domain where coming events reside as potentialities. Those potential events are quite different from each other in the extent to which they have “jelled”. Some events are all ready to manifest in our physical world and their “times” are set. Were you to predict, for instance, that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, you would be dealing with such a future event. When a medium predicts an event that is relatively jelled and gives it a time, he is on comparatively safer ground. Some other event, however, may be extremely fluid, perhaps one of a set of contingent events all jockeying for precedence. Such an event exists, yes — in its own way. And some medium, somewhere, may even catch sight of it. But its chances of materializing in any predictable form and especially at a predictable time may be remote indeed.
Therefore, the naive believer who is determined to put his faith in prophecy cannot understand what shaky ground he is on when he decides to accept certain predictions as “true”. If he is religious, he will argue that if God in His revelations doesn’t know what He is talking about, then who does ? Dogmatic assumptions then follow from extremely arbitrary evidence. And so we have the phenomenon occurring any place in the world of groups of believers selling all their property and getting up on their rooftops at sunrise because the world is supposed to come to an end at 10 : 30 that morning.
Something of the sort happened to Wasaburo Asano and the group that gathered around him within Oomoto. Asano himself was no medium. He was a scholar and an intellectual with a dangerous tendency to mix credulity and enthusiasm. It was also a time at Oomoto when predictions were flying thick and fast.
Three different disasters were mixed up in these predictions. One was the ultimate disaster to the world and humanity that would occur if human beings did not purify their hearts and prepare the New Age. Another set of predictions concerned both Nao’s and Onisaburo’s troubled visions of the disaster that would overtake Japan at the conclusion of the approaching world conflict. A third set of predictions involved the persecution that Oomoto was to undergo at the hands of the government. Just when any one of these events was to take place had not been at all clear, but indications were that something was supposed to happen in 1921.
The one prediction that more than any other started everyone off in the wrong direction was written by Onisaburo himself. During Nao’s later years, Onisaburo began writing his own Ofudesaki, much in the style of Nao’s own work. One prediction from Onisaburo’s Ofudesaki appeared in the publication, Shinrei-kai, July, 1917 issue.
- “As a warning to you, Henjo Nyoshi (Onisaburo) will be taken away for a certain time. . . Five years before and five years after the 5th year of Taisho (1916) will be the decade of the final stages of the catastrophe. . .”
In retrospect it is easy to see that the above prediction was referring to the ten years preceding the beginning of Oomoto’s persecution by the government, which did truly begin in 1921, the last year of the decade outlined in the prediction, and “Henjo Nyoshi” was indeed taken away to prison.
Before the event, Onisaburo himself was in some confusion as to the catastrophe that would occur in 1921, and for a while supposed it might be referring to Japan’s tribulations to come at the end of World War II, already presaged in several visions. Feeling himself on shaky ground, however, he confessed that he was not sure what was to happen in 1921.
Wasaburo Asano did not share Onisaburo’s caution in these matters and he assumed, beyond any doubt, that 1921 was to be the catastrophic end of the whole era, the dread apocalypse that would reduce the world’s population to three percent before the reconstruction could begin that would lead mankind into the New Age.
Along with this certainty, Asano also advocated the return of Japan to a sort of family system with the Emperor at its head. All private property and holdings should be abolished and all revenues paid into the national treasury. Taxation would disappear. The people would carry on industry as a sort of community system. According to Asano, under this system, materialism and greed would disappear from society.
To such an extent would ideal conditions of harmony and virtue prevail in Japanese society that other nations of the world would want something of the sort themselves, and similar systems would spring up everywhere, eventually uniting the world in a loose federation.
Asano, however, did not emphasize this utopian aspect of his doctrine. His was the personality of a true doom monger and he went about preaching the imminence of the cataclysm. The great reconstruction, so emphasized in Nao’s writings, was at hand. But first — apocalypse. Apocalypse in 1921!
Reconstruction of the world had been the central idea at Oomoto for a long time and there were many followers who had come to Oomoto because of their fascination with the concept. According to Asano, their day was at hand, and they rallied strongly to the call. The Asano faction within Oomoto spread as the hopes and beliefs of these aspirants seemed on the point of becoming reality. A feeling of inevitability swept over them. The angelic hosts were going to intervene, bring the old era of materialism, oppression and greed to a disastrous end, and prepare the world for a new age.
So once again Oomoto hotheads brushed Onisaburo aside and seemed about to take over the religion. Onisaburo had also advocated an ideal society, but he did not try to set the time of its advent. He also warned Asano and others that things were not likely to develop quite as they supposed, but they turned a completely deaf ear as they girded themselves for the cataclysm. Further wrangling would obviously avail him nothing and Onisaburo withdrew, leaving the Asano faction to their preparations and their certainties.
The government struck on February 12 of 1921 plunging Oomoto into its first “incident”. The authorities took Onisaburo, Asano and Yoshida off to prison and charged them with high treason and violations of the rights of the press. The prophecies were indeed fulfilled, but to the total discomfiture of Asano and his followers. Instead of riding triumphantly in the vanguard of the new order, the Asano faction found themselves the victims of persecution, their leader in prison, accused of plotting against the government.
This was bitter medicine indeed for Wasaburo Asano who had never doubted for a moment his loyalty to the Emperor and the Imperial system. One of the items in his indictment involved an article he had written entitled The World of Takaama-hara. During the preliminary hearings, one of the judges pointed out that the basic idea of the article was a denigrating of the Emperor. This was a great shock for Asano who felt that he had implied no such thing, but the court charged him with high treason just the same.
When he emerged from prison, Asano wrote a number of articles admitting the mistakes in his interpretation of the reconstruction, but stoutly defending his loyalty to the Emperor and the Imperial system. Abandoning his preoccupation with reconstruction, he turned his attention to spiritualism and its scientific validation. Onisaburo gave a lukewarm endorsement to Asano’s new enterprise, but it was only a matter of time before Asano left Oomoto for Tokyo. Asano died in 1937 but even today Oomoto receives the spiritualist publication from Asano’s organization.
One of the most decisive upshots of the First Oomoto Incident was the discrediting of the old line certain followers took toward the reconstruction in particular, and in general their opposition to the ideas of Onisaburo, such opposition based on what they took to be their defense of Nao Deguchi and a return to a pure interpretation of her Ofudesaki. A certain Dr. Kishi was particularly vehement in his attacks on Onisaburo and his “new ideas”, himself advocating a return to the original scriptures.
- “Just perfect and purify yourselves and absorb the Ofudesaki. By no means should you continue to take in ideas from a wide variety of sources.
When Onisaburo started publishing his Stories from the Spiritual World, Dr. Kishi was so outraged that he left Oomoto.
This was also the time when Masaharu Taniguchi left Oomoto to found the religion Seicho no Ie, Taniguchi had also advocated theories about worldwide destruction and the reconstruction to follow. When these particular concepts became such an embarrassment, Taniguchi left Oomoto for Tokyo to found his own religion along quite different lines.
The old guard was crumbling, events conspiring to sweep them away in a general exodus, leaving the way clear for Onisaburo and his new ideas. These ideas were not long in coming, for the dust from the First Incident had hardly begun to settle when Onisaburo began dictation on the Reikai Monogatari in October of 1921.
The first Oomoto Incident: February 12, 1921 ~ May 17, 1927
On February 12, 1921, Oomoto Co-Founder Onisaburo Deguchi and several other Oomoto followers were arrested on suspicion of lese majesty and violation of the Newspaper Law. After spending 126 days in jail pending trial, Onisaburo was released on bail; he began dictating “Tales from the Spirit World” in the autumn of the same year. Though the Osaka court convicted, the judgment was later overturned by the Supreme Court, which determined, “There is a serious defect in the previous ruling.” The government appealed and the case was again retried. During the proceedings, the Emperor Taisho passed away leading to an amnesty.
The Second Oomoto Incident: December 8, 1935 ~ October 17, 1945
The Second Oomoto Incident illustrates a kind of religious oppression unparalleled in recent Japanese history. Under the influence of the military, the Japanese government confiscated the lands upon which Oomoto’s spiritual centers were located and destroyed every other facility. More than 3,000 Oomoto followers were arrested, 16 of whom died from torture and other suffering endured while imprisoned. Before the end of the Second World War, those charged were found innocent of violation of Japan’s Act for the Maintenance of Public Order. After the war ended, the charges of lese majesty were also dropped.
Oomoto suffered tremendous damage from this incident. Onisaburo, however, refused to demand reparations from the government explaining: “Now that the war has been lost, any compensation money from the government would basically be ‘blood taxes’ taken from the defeated people,” he said. Because Oomoto was oppressed in this way throughout the war, it is said that Oomoto is the only Japanese religious organization that lent no support or cooperation to Japan’s war efforts.
On December 30, 1945 the following statement appeared in the Osaka Asahi newspaper, taken from a press interview with Onisaburo at Yoshioka Onsen in Tottori prefecture:
I was under arrest since before the China Incident until the end of the Second World War. Beginning with our headquarters in Ayabe, over 4000 of Oomoto’s local chapters across the country were demolished. However, since our followers have continued to believe in the Oomoto doctrine, already — without any reconstruction — our organization is rebuilt.
I wish only for the peaceful unification of the universe. Within Oomoto many prophecies were made predicting the current state of Japan, and this is why we were suppressed.
Later, the beliefs of Shinto will probably change. There is much talk of Shinto as the national religion, but the interpretation commonly followed up to now was mistaken. Nothing differs in God even with Democracy. A mistake was forced on Japan: the real existence of the Divine was forgotten, and instead the people were forced to idolize a shrine convenient to the government’s own circumstances. The hardship that Japan has to endure because of its war defeat is only beginning, and will increase year by year — Japanese society will not recover until 1950, the Year of the Tiger.
Now Japan has completely lost all of its arms, and this brings a precious mission, as a pioneer for world peace. True world peace will be realized when the armaments of the whole world have been abolished, and this era is now drawing near.
[Onisaburo Deguchi, “The Yoshioka Interview”]
Oomoto as a Model
There is a teaching within Oomoto that states that Oomoto itself serves as a model, a miniature version of Japan and the world. “Because Oomoto in Ayabe is a place that aspires to become the great origin of the world, because everything that is within Oomoto is within the world, everything that happens within Oomoto will become a model for the world” (21st day of the 11th lunar month, 1917, Oomoto Divine Revelations)
In 1935, at the time of the Second Oomoto Incident, both of Oomoto’s Spiritual Centers at Ayabe and Kameoka were completely destroyed, as were all other Oomoto facilities across the country. The most sacred site in Kameoka, Gekkyu-den (The Lunar Palace), was blown up with dynamite. Ten years later, when Japan was faced with war defeat, the Japanese countryside looked exactly like Ayabe and Kameoka had looked ten years earlier. The American Army occupied the country, and all of Japan was under its rule. As a fulfillment of the oracle, the seized and destroyed sacred lands of Oomoto had become a “model” for Japan.
The Second Oomoto Incident was instigated in the early morning of December 8, 1935, when several hundred armed police began their mass arrest of Oomoto followers. At the same time, armed police also made a surprise raid on the local Oomoto chapter at Lake Shinji, in Matsue, Shimane prefecture, where Co-Founder Onisaburo Deguchi was staying. The Pacific War (World War II) began six years later with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, also in the early morning of December 8.
The Second Oomoto Incident came to an end on September 8, 1945, when, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment, it was announced that Oomoto was innocent. World War II was officially concluded six years later with the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, also on September 8.
Onisaburo, Sumiko and others were detained pending trial for six years and eight months (from October 12, 1935 until July of 1942). The Allied Forces also occupied Japan for six years and eight months (from September of 1945 until the end of April, 1952).
Closer inspection reveals corresponding dates for more events; there are too many of these parallel historical facts for them to be dismissed as mere coincidences. Within Oomoto’s history, examples like the ones above are too numerous to mention here.
The notion of Oomoto as a “model” also indicates Oomoto’s function as a pioneer. One aspect of this is that the activities that Oomoto promotes will later spread throughout Japan and the rest of the world.
Oomoto became an active supporter of interreligious cooperation in the late Taisho period (the early 1920s). Today, various kinds of exchanges between religions often take place, but in the 1920s this was a very new movement, and Oomoto was at the forefront. Oomoto was also at the vanguard of the movement opposing atomic and hydrogen bombs.
Another example of this facet of the ‘Oomoto as model’ phenomenon is how, under Naohi Deguchi much progress was made in emphasizing the great value of traditional Japanese culture. Now that fifty years have passed since the end of the war, a tremendous interest in traditional Japanese culture has developed amongst the general population of Japan and many people in foreign countries.
History of Oomoto