Tenrikyo Hokkaido Diocese sent a delegation led by Diocese Superintendent Fumio Fujita to visit Sakhalin Island between September 1 and 4. Comprised of 27 members, the delegation visited some of the 50-plus sites where Tenrikyo churches had been established during the first half of the 1900s, when southern Sakhalin was administered by Japan under the name Karafuto.
On September 1, the delegation boarded a vessel called Eins Soya, which left the port of Wakka-nai around 10:00 a.m. bound for Korsakov, the former port town of Otomari. The delegation’s two main objectives for visiting Sakhalin were to perform a memorial service for followers who had passed away on the island and gather information on the former Tenrikyo mission in Karafuto by retracing the footsteps of the missionaries who spread the teachings there. While on board the vessel, Rev. Fujita and other delegation members reexamined old photographs, maps, and documents to confirm the former locations of the Karafuto Diocese Building and Tenrikyo churches they would be visiting.
The vessel arrived in the port of Korsakov around 5:30 p.m. local time, having covered the distance of 159 kilometers (99 miles) in five and a half hours. Boarding a bus, the delegation visited the site where Kuwaen Branch Church used to be located when the city was still known as Otomari. They found a post office standing at the address. Delegation Member Tetsusuke Shindo, head minister of Kuwaen Branch Church–which was relocated to Hokkaido when the Japanese were repatriated at the end of World War II–lived in Otomari until he was in the second grade. “The buildings and streets have changed completely,” he said, “but I’m really excited to come back to my hometown for the first time in over 60 years.”
On the 2nd, the delegation went to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the former city of Toyohara. Many missionaries used to be based in Toyohara, where they actively engaged in missionary work, and some of them even traveled to distant cities and villages on the island in their efforts to save others. In the morning, Rev. Fujita and several staff members from Hokkaido Diocese visited a municipal office in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where they met with Vice Mayor Dmitry Sangadeev and other government officials. Rev. Fujita presented them with a Russian edition of the illustrated pamphlet “Guide to Oyasato, the Home of the Parent” and a DVD entitled “Teachings of the Joyous Life” with Russian narration. He then gave a brief presentation on the Tenrikyo teachings and explained the purposes for the delegation’s visit to Sakhalin. Shaking hands with Rev. Fujita, Vice Mayor Sangadeev said: “This is the first time that I have heard about the teachings of the Joyous Life. In the past, I have had meetings with Japanese government officials and had visitors from local governments, but this is my first meeting with members of a religious organization. I hope your group will continue visiting Sakhalin so that we can establish friendly relations from now on.”
After the meeting with the vice mayor, the delegation went to the address where the island’s first Tenrikyo church, Karafuto Branch Church, used to be located. Then they visited Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Museum, which was built during the period when southern Sakhalin was administered by Japan. In the afternoon, the group visited a cemetery to perform a memorial ceremony at a common gravesite for Japanese nationals. Wearing a kyofuku robe, Rev. Fujita read a prayer in which he recalled the predecessors’ dedication to expanding the path in Karafuto and pledged that all members of the delegation would exert their utmost efforts to spread the teachings to the world. He then offered a bouquet of flowers at the monument marking the gravesite, and the entire delegation sang the Eight Verses of the Yorozuyo. In the late afternoon, the group went to the address where the Karafuto Diocese Building had been located, before returning to their hotel. Some members then put on their happi coats and walked through the city singing the Songs for the Service, thus spreading the name of God, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, just as their predecessors had done more than 60 years ago.
On the 3rd, the delegation headed for Kholmsk, the town formerly known as Maoka, which is located 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. On the way, they stopped at Pyatirechye, the village where Kiyosaka Branch Church was originally established. The members tried to find the exact location of the church, but the area was overgrown with thick bushes and grass. Next, they stopped near Kholmsk Pass, formerly called Kumazasa Pass, where they found a Japanese pillbox that had been used in a battle toward the end of World War II. Since the brother of one of the delegation members had died in the vicinity, as had many other followers, the group offered a bouquet of flowers at the pillbox and prayed in silence. In Kholmsk, they visited a monument dedicated to the Japanese who lost their lives there. After finding the location where Maoka Branch Church once stood, they set out to return to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, stopping along the way at a village called Yablochnyi, formerly known as Randomari, to visit the site where Kitamaoka Branch Church had been located.
On the 4th, the group boarded Eins Soya at the port of Korsakov and returned to Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan. “Through this visit to Sakhalin,” said Rev. Fujita, “we were able to learn a little about the hardships that our predecessors underwent and their passion for missionary work. I believe that we need to continue visiting Sakhalin to conduct research that will give us a better picture of the history of the Tenrikyo mission in Karafuto.”