Insights into the Anecdotes: Risaburo Yamamoto (1850–1895), Anecdote 33: “The Bridge Between Countries”

The Anecdote (Summary)

 

Risaburo Yamamoto of Kashiwara Village, Kawachi Province (now part of Osaka Prefecture), injured his chest in a village sumo wrestling match in the autumn of 1870 at the age of twenty-one. For the next three years he was sick in bed. His condition became steadily worse until he was on the verge of death.

During the summer of 1873, his family heard of God the Parent. Rihachi, Risaburo’s father, returned to Jiba in place of his son. Oyasama said: “This Residence is the Residence where humankind was first created. This is the birthplace of human beings. No matter how serious, any sickness will be cured. Bring your son here at once. I have been eagerly waiting for your coming.”

Rihachi conveyed these encouraging words to his son. Thereupon Risaburo began to say, “I want to go and worship the God in Yamato.” The family members tried to dissuade him. In response to his earnest pleas, however, a stretcher was prepared. When it became dark, he was quietly carried out of the gate.

On the way, when they came to a big bridge over the Tatsuta River, Risaburo stopped breathing, and so they turned back. But when they reached home, he miraculously started to breathe again. Because he pleaded, “I don’t care if I die,” they again departed for Yamato.

The group finally reached Jiba. Risaburo, who was on the verge of death, was brought before Oyasama. She said: “You need not worry. You shall be saved for sure if you decide to dedicate your whole life to serve this Residence.” Continuing, She gave him the following words: “The bridge between countries; a rough log bridge. Without a bridge, a river cannot be crossed. Will you dedicate your life, or not? Arakitoryo, arakitoryo!”[1]

Risaburo received God’s blessing and regained his health on the sixth day. After staying a month he returned to Kashiwara. The villagers were struck with admiration when they saw his vigorous health.

 

 

 “Divine Guidance” Realized on the Verge of Death

by Toshihiko Yamamoto, Honbu-in

 

This anecdote took place in 1873, when Risaburo was granted an audience with Oyasama for the first time.

The path started spreading in Kawachi Province around that time. Risaburo lived in Kashiwara Village (now a section of Osaka Prefecture known as Kashiwara City), located approximately thirty kilometers (19 mi.) west of the Residence. After receiving the fragrance of the teachings from a sawyer who had come to the village from Yamato Province, Risaburo was carried to the Residence although he was on the verge of death.

The pilgrimage undertaken at the risk of his life defies our imagination. I would like to start by explaining the background to the anecdote.

 

He Suffered a Desperate Illness

In those days Kawachi Province was famous as a cotton-growing region, and Risaburo was a wealthy cotton farmer. He also served as the controller of the cotton industry in the entire Kawachi region. It was said that he could make the price of cotton fluctuate by simply moving his eyes.

Risaburo was so capable and reliable that his father, Rihachi, had turned the management of the house over to him, rather than his two elder brothers. He was also broad-minded and open-hearted. In addition, he was one of the best sumo wrestlers in the village, his wrestling name being “Yatsugane,” which is the name of a magnificent mountain. It also seems that his big-heartedness and compassion endeared him to the villagers.

In 1870, when Risaburo was twenty-one years old, he injured his chest in a village sumo match. Apparently, a broken rib had punctured his lung, resulting in a chest infection, and consequently he suffered from lung tuberculosis.

After that, he was a completely changed person and began to lose weight rapidly. In the end, he was quarantined in a stable since his disease was considered to be contagious.

For the next three years he lived in the filthy stable, whose floor was covered in straw. Feeling very sorry for his son, Rihachi had various doctors examine his son, and he visited shrines and temples to offer prayers. Eventually, however, Risaburo’s condition deteriorated to the point where he could not even drink water. We are told that the villagers said, “His chances of recovery are about the same as getting flowers to bloom from roasted beans.” That is how hopeless Risaburo’s condition appeared.

 

“Three Mysterious Happenings” Coincided

In around the summer of 1873, three years after Risaburo developed the illness, a series of mysterious happenings took place. One day Rihachi visited a temple in Hyotanyama (now a section of the city of Higashi-Osaka), a temple that had a reputation for healing illness, and asked a diviner at the temple to predict his son’s future. The diviner pronounced, “A god has appeared in the southeast and is waiting for you eagerly.”

Around the same time, Risaburo had a strange dream in which he went out to the paddy field at the back of his house and faced east toward Yamato Province. The sky in that direction was turning red. As he observed it, a feeling of great peace came over him, the pain in his chest disappeared, and his illness was cured.

Also, around that time, a man who had come from Furu Village in Yamato Province to work at a sawmill called “Tou” in Kashiwara Village dropped by the Yamamotos’ house. He mentioned, “A wondrous god who saves people from any illness has appeared at Shoyashiki Village in Yamato.”

These three happenings coincided. I imagine that they must have brought new hope to Risaburo, who probably felt, “My illness will be cured”—although he might have only half believed it at first. Upon his earnest request, Rihachi visited the Residence in place of his son. Since the Yamamotos were one of the richest farming families in Kawachi, Rihachi would surely have had a servant go in his place, had the circumstances been ordinary. Yet he visited the Residence himself. Here we can see the parental love of Rihachi, who set out on his journey with a desperate hope that his son would be saved.

Arriving at the Residence, Rihachi was granted an audience with Oyasama, who said: “No matter how serious, any sickness will be cured. Bring your son here at once. I have been eagerly waiting for your coming.”

Rihachi returned home and told his son what Oyasama had said. At that moment, Risaburo’s hope may have turned into conviction. He insisted, “I want to go and worship the God in Yamato.”

 

“I Don’t Care If I Die”  

As we read in the anecdote, Risaburo was carried to Yamato on a stretcher. At first, however, the family members including Rihachi strongly opposed the journey. All of them agreed that he would never make it to Yamato because he had been confined to bed for three years. Furthermore, given how things worked in those days in rural Japanese society, they felt sure that, if they let Risaburo die during this journey, they would be condemned by the villagers, who would assume, “The family must have said good riddance to him.”

Nevertheless, Risaburo repeated his earnest plea. Eventually, they secretly left for Yamato after dark. When the party came to a big bridge over the Tatsuta River after having traveled one-third of the distance to the Residence, Risaburo stopped breathing. They hurriedly returned to Kashiwara Village, whereupon he resumed breathing.

Contemporary medical science cannot explain what happened at that time. Personally, I feel the hastening of God in it. I think that God did not desire the family to take him to the Residence secretly without being seen by anyone other than close family members and that, instead, God intended for those around them to settle their minds firmly and see him off.

In fact, when they decided to depart for the Residence once again in response to the ardent pleas of Risaburo, who said, “I don’t care if I die,” all family members and relatives gathered at the Yamamotos’ house. Convinced that this would be their final farewell, they exchanged farewell water cups and saw him off at the banks of the Yamato River late at night.

On the way, Risaburo stopped breathing every few kilometers and each time was nursed back to life. Although everybody thought many times, “This is the end,” Risaburo repeated his plea “Please take me to God even if I die.”

Thus, the party arrived at the Residence on the second morning after their departure. Oyasama was standing in front of the South Gatehouse, smiling. She said to Risaburo: “You need not worry. You shall be saved for sure if you decide to dedicate your whole life to serve this Residence.”

It is said that, having been fearless of death and eager to see the “mysterious living God,” Risaburo was truly touched by Her words, and he resolved to dedicate his whole life to serving at the Residence.

Risaburo remained firmly committed to implementing Oysama’s words for the rest of his life. His resolution has been passed down in the Yamamoto family generation after generation. My father would often tell me: “We must not leave Jiba. We members of the Yamamoto family are to dedicate our whole lives to serving at the Residence.”

 

Trusting and Relying Completely

Whenever I read the anecdote appearing at the beginning of this chapter, I consider how we should accept a serious illness if we suffer from one. I think that Risaburo’s attitude in the anecdote gives us pointers.

First of all, a simple question comes to mind. Why did Risaburo desire to return to Jiba despite knowing little about the faith of the path? As I mentioned earlier, the motivation must have come from the three “happenings” that told him that there was a God in the direction of east who would save him. What Oyasama said to Rihachi when he visited the Residence in place of his son—“I have been eagerly waiting for your coming”—must have made it clear that the series of happenings represented the “guidance” of God the Parent.

Risaburo insisted on visiting Jiba—even saying along the way, “I don’t care if I die”—because he was, I believe, all but convinced that he would definitely be saved if he went there. As he maintained his resolve not to let go of the “rope of salvation” on the way to the Residence, he must have felt that he was “being drawn” by some invisible force. Therefore, despite the extreme situation where his breath stopped every few kilometers, the delight of coming nearer to Oyasama one step after another gave him great emotional support and enabled him to reach the Residence eventually.

I think that the anecdote tells us how important it is for us to have complete trust in and reliance on God the Parent, especially when we suffer from an illness.

From Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete—gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie, published by Tenrikyo Doyusha Publishing Company


  1. Arakitoryo literally means “the master wood cutter”; it has the meaning of “pioneer missionary.”
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