The Anecdote (Summary)
On April 14, 1880, Umejiro Izutsu and his wife returned to Jiba for the first time, bringing along their daughter Tane. It had been raining hard when they left Osaka the previous morning but the weather cleared up toward noon. They stayed overnight on the way and arrived at the Residence around four o’clock in the afternoon on the following day.
Oyasama told them, patting Tane on the head: “It is very good of you to have come in such a heavy rain.” She added, “You’re from Osaka, aren’t you? You are drawn here by the marvelous God. God is letting the roots of a great tree take firm hold in Osaka. You need not worry about the child’s illness.” Afterward She placed a sheet of sacred paper on the affected area of Tane’s body that had partly but not entirely healed. Tane was very soon completely cured.
The deep emotion that Umejiro felt when he met Oyasama and the marvelous cure kindled in him a passion for the faith and inspired him to spread the teachings and save others with single-hearted devotion.
Ensuring That a Great Tree Takes Firm Root
by Umeo Izutsu, Honbu-in &
Head Minister of Ashitsu Grand Church
Umejiro was born in 1838 in what is now known as Honden, Nishi-ku, Osaka City. The Izutsu family ran a cotton business, and Umejiro was a wise merchant. He was also an influential figure in the local community. It was said that he could not leave people to fend for themselves and willingly worked to solve any trouble for them. He also earnestly devoted himself to the Shugendo faith, serving as a senior practitioner on Mt. Omine.
As a Result of His Daughter’s Swellings
Umejiro started to follow the path in 1879 as a result of his daughter’s illness. Soon after she was born, the whole lower half of her body was covered with wart-like swellings. The swellings formed pus and burst open one by one, like flowers blooming. Umejiro and his wife, who had previously lost their four children one after another, tried all possible medical treatments and offered prayers by burning wood sticks in a Shugendo ritual. Yet Tane’s condition had been worsening.
It was in this situation that a Tenrikyo missionary introduced by a neighbor brought forth a wondrous blessing of a cure. Overjoyed, Umejiro quit practicing Shugendo and started to follow the path earnestly. He would accompany the missionary in visiting those suffering from illnesses to sprinkle the fragrance of the teachings and do salvation work. He gradually began to carry out salvation work alone.
The first person Umejiro helped save was the neighbor, who was in danger of losing his eyesight. He was wondrously cured. Because of this salvation as well as Umejiro’s personality and trustworthiness, many people who were suffering from illnesses came to him, asking for help.
“We Should Not Fall Even One Step Behind”
As Umejiro engaged in salvation work, his desire to meet and thank Oyasama grew stronger day by day. The Izutsus finally made their first visit to the Residence in the following year, 1880.
As noted in the anecdote presented above, it was raining heavily when they left Osaka. Although the neighbor—the first person to have been saved through Umejiro’s efforts—was initially planning to go with them, he ended up choosing not to because of the bad weather. Nevertheless, Umejiro and his wife, thinking that umbrellas and raincoats would ward off the rain, decided to leave for the Residence, with Umejiro carrying on his back Tane, who had just turned one year old. On the way the rain stopped, and they were blessed with fine weather. They reached the Residence the following day. Oyasama patted Tane on the head, saying: “It is very good of you to have come in such a heavy rain.”
If Umejiro and his wife had postponed their return because of the heavy rain, they might not have received Oyasama’s words “God is letting the roots of a great tree take firm hold in Osaka.” Then the path would not have spread as widely as it did. Through this experience, I think that Umejiro firmly settled it in his mind that he should never change his decision in matters of faith on account of human thoughts or worries about the future.
Umejiro was touched by Oyasama’s parental love, which kindled his passion for the faith. He energetically engaged in sprinkling the fragrance of the teachings and doing salvation work in order to let the “roots of a great tree” take firm hold in Osaka. He also returned to the Residence on all possible occasions, thus enabling him to dedicate himself to the faith with the utmost sincerity throughout his life.
By the following year, a lot of followers were gathering at Umejiro’s house, thus providing the momentum to establish a fellowship. After discussion, Umejiro and many followers returned to the Residence to seek Oyasama’s permission for a name for the fellowship. Regarding this return, there is an episode that had a great influence on Umejiro’s faith for the rest of his life.
On the way to the Residence, Umejiro’s party met Shirobei Umetani, who would later become the first head minister of what is now Senba Grand Church. He was also returning to the Residence to receive a name for his fellowship. When they arrived at the Residence and were about to go through the small gate, Umejiro let Shirobei go first because Umejiro was a tall man of approximately 179 centimeters (5 ft. 10 in.) while Shirobei was not so tall.
When Umejiro was granted an audience with Oyasama, he asked for permission for “Meishin” as his fellowship’s name. Yet Shirobei had already asked for and received permission for the same name. Oyasama told Umejiro: “‘Meishin’ has been granted to Mr. Umetani, who came first. I grant you, Mr. Izutsu, ‘Shinmei,’ turning the name around.”
Umejiro had embraced the faith two years earlier than Shirobei. It was said that, when Umejiro went back to his accommodations on that day, he said earnestly to his fellowship members: “We should never fall even one step behind on this path. This is not a matter of whether we embraced the faith earlier or later. This is a matter of whether we are earlier or later in devoting our sincerity to Jiba.”
Bringing Joy to Oyasama
Starting around this time, Oyasama, ever intent on hastening the completion of the Service, urged followers to construct the stone Kanrodai. She asked the Shinmei Fellowship to haul down the quarried stones to the foot of the mountain and the Meishin Fellowship to haul them from the foot of the mountain to the Residence.
Carrying the stones for the Kanrodai must have been considered an extremely important task in those days. Why did Oyasama ask Umejiro’s fellowship to take on part of such a heavy responsibility? I personally think that a clue to answering this question can be found in an article in the Osaka Shinpo newspaper (dated July 17, 1881), which was the first newspaper article about Tenrikyo. It started with the sentence “A weird old lady has appeared recently in the Tanbaichi area of Yamato Province.” Slandering and libeling Tenrikyo, the article said that “its influence has reached far into our towns such as Honden and Kujo.” This was a reference to the Shinmei Fellowship, for which Umejiro had set up a gathering place in Honden and which was active mainly in Honden and Kujo. The article went on to say: “Not only has the number of blind followers exceeded 200, but some fifty of them have traveled to the Tanbaichi area to worship the old lady and guard her day and night. The blind followers are now discussing making a stone structure called the Kanrodai, which is to be some nine meters (30 ft.) in height, and presenting it to the old lady.” Thus, it happened to mention the followers’ sincere efforts to construct the stone Kanrodai.
In a “ledger of donations and expenses for the Kanrodai,” we find that Umejiro’s name is mentioned in the first entry as follows: “May 7, fifty sen by Umejiro Izutsu of 3-chome, Honden-machi Street, Osaka.” Umejiro contributed to the construction before anyone else did as if to express his belief that one “should never fall even one step behind on this path.”
Bringing joy to Oyasama was Umejiro’s true joy. He always adored Oyasama and dedicated his utmost sincerity to Jiba. I think that, recognizing his devotion to bringing joy to Oyasama and responding to Her intention, She gave him the joy of playing a role in hauling the stones for the Kanrodai.
In a Time of Changing Values
Having looked back at Umejiro’s journey on the path, we can understand that everything started with Oyasama’s words “God is letting the roots of a great tree take firm hold in Osaka.” It was from those roots that the Shinmei Fellowship developed, and the groups affiliated to it went on to spread the teachings in all directions. Even though opposed or slandered by people in society, Umejiro always adored Oyasama, dedicated himself to Jiba, and made every effort in missionary work. His determined attitude can truly be likened to “a great tree.”
The present age has been described as a “time of changing values.” As globalization has developed in various areas, information overload and increasing social diversification have undermined our traditional norms and values. As a consequence, it seems that we no longer have a reliable spiritual guide in our life. While feeling that we are not fully satisfied or that something important is missing, we may be swayed by the tendency in current society to think that all is well if the present is well for oneself alone.
At a time like this, we would do well, I think, to practice the sort of faith exemplified by Umejiro, who lost no time in repaying the Parent for the blessings once he became aware of his indebtedness and never allowed his determination to be swayed by opposition or slander by others. We Yoboku, who are entrusted with the mission of world salvation, should never forget to follow the path with unwavering spirit and resolve stemming from the conviction that there is no path other than this.
From Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete—gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie, published by Tenrikyo Doyusha Publishing Company