Insights into the Anecdotes: Zenzo Miyata (1855–1907), Anecdote 165 “Buy Dearly”

The Anecdote (Summary)

In the summer of 1885 Zenzo Miyata was so moved by a talk at the Shinmei Fellowship that he became a Tenrikyo follower. Led by Seijiro Imagawa, he returned to Jiba soon thereafter and was granted an audience with Oyasama. Zenzo was then thirty-one years old and ran a hosiery shop on Shiomachi Street in Senba, Osaka.

Oyasama taught Zenzo with painstaking care. Since he was a newcomer who had not experienced a wondrous cure himself, he listened to the teachings very casually in the beginning while smoking his pipe. After a little while, however, he put down his pipe and slid forward into a deep bow without realizing it. Among the words being spoken on that occasion, he retained only the following: “Merchants should buy dearly and sell cheaply.” He could not understand the meaning of this instruction at all. He thought, “If I should do business in such a manner, it would cost me my livelihood. She may be well informed on farming, but She knows little about business.” So saying to himself, he went home.

Later, when Zenzo entered his house, he was struck with a sudden attack of vomiting and diarrhea. A doctor was sent for immediately but was unable to remedy his condition. Umejiro Izutsu, head of the Shinmei Fellowship, was asked by Imagawa to come. Izutsu asked Zenzo, “Didn’t you complain of something on your first return to Jiba?” Zenzo then replied that he could not agree with what Oyasama had told him. Then Izutsu explained, “What God means is that the ideal of business is to buy dearly, thus pleasing wholesale dealers, to sell cheaply, thus pleasing customers, and to be satisfied with a small profit.” Upon hearing this, Zenzo could fully understand the meaning of Oyasama’s words. He deeply apologized for harboring dissatisfaction in his mind. Soon the vomiting and diarrhea stopped and he was marvelously cured.

The Path to the Joyous Life Explained by Analogy to Business

by Koichiro Miyata, Head Minister of Ikeda Grand Church

In 1855—some two years after Kokan, the youngest daughter of Oyasama, sprinkled the fragrance of the teachings in the town of Naniwa (now part of Osaka City) for the first time—Zenzo was born as the third son of Zenshichi and his wife, Fusa. Zenshichi ran a cotton business in an area commonly called “Magari,” located just south of the east end of Honmachi Bridge (now a section of Chuo Ward, Osaka City, known as Honmachibashi).

Worrying about the Future

Zenshichi and Fusa passed away when Zenzo was at the ages of five and thirteen respectively. He and his brothers were individually apprenticed. He worked hard to learn commerce in those difficult circumstances.

Later, the young men became independent from their masters, and Zenzo opened a hosiery shop on Sakaisuji—the main street of Senba, a center of commerce—in cooperation with his brothers. Zenzo married Sato. They were blessed with their first son, Sazo, who later served as the catalyst for Zenzo’s resolution to work single-heartedly for the path.

One day Zenzo felt a strange sensation in his stomach, which he blamed on his irregular lifestyle, which included entertaining his customers and socializing with his business associates. He consulted a number of prestigious doctors, who all gave up on him. Sato did not have any particular faith but, with desperate hope, made an earnest prayer to Nitten-sama, a solar deity, from her simple faith in Nichirin, which refers to the sun. His condition improved gradually day by day until eventually he recovered completely. It was at the beginning of 1885.

That year, cholera was prevalent in Osaka, and many people passed away. Zenzo—who had suffered a serious illness toward the end of the previous year and had been given up on by prestigious doctors—worried about the future wondering what would happen to his family if he died from cholera. One day he unintentionally expressed his concern to a dyer who had dealings with him. The dyer said to him, “Why don’t you come to a fellowship service?”—referring to a service performed by fellowship members assembled at the house of one of them. That night, Zenzo attended the service for the first time and listened to sermons.

The next day Zenzo said to the dyer, “I would like to listen again to a talk by the lecturer who was the second to speak at yesterday’s service.” The speaker was Seijiro Imagawa, who lived nearby. On that day he listened to a talk by Seijiro and was convinced that Tenri-O-no-Mikoto is the Moon and the Sun, “God of Origin,” and the Parent of all humankind. After Zenzo told Sato what he had learned from Seijiro, she recalled that during her husband’s serious illness at the end of the previous year, she had offered “hatsuho no mizu,” water to be used at the very beginning of the day, every morning to a solar deity to pray for his recovery and had him take medicine prepared with the water and that he had recovered from his illness. She now believed that his recovery was due to the grace of the solar deity and that the Sun must be the solar deity. Zenzo and Sato resolved to follow the path and immediately had God enshrined in their home.

Drastic Change from “Money Supremacy”

As we read in the anecdote appearing at the beginning of this chapter, Zenzo soon made his first pilgrimage to Jiba and directly received Oyasama’s words “Merchants should buy dearly and sell cheaply.” He could not understand the words and was struck with severe vomiting and diarrhea as soon as he came home to his house on Shiomachi Street (near an intersection now called “Nagahoribashi” on Sakaisuji Street).

On that occasion, Umejiro Izutsu, head of the Shinmei Fellowship (later the first head minister of what is now Ashitsu Grand Church), came to help save him. He said to Zenzo, in effect: “You are taking Oyasama’s words literally. It is like food. If you bolt down your food without chewing it, you are, naturally, likely to suffer from indigestion and perhaps even vomiting and diarrhea.” He went on to say, “What God said does not mean to buy at unreasonably high prices and sell below cost. Rather, it means that the true path of business is to sell and buy in a way that can bring joy to both you and others.”

He had previously only understood faith conceptually. His faith was about listening to the teachings without putting them into practice. Through this illness, however, he began to feel truly grateful for God’s blessings. This, in turn, opened his eyes to the “true path of business.”

He had been buffeted about by life’s storms since his childhood and had grown up as a live-in apprentice, so he was painfully aware of the preciousness of money. His lifetime desire was to become a “respected Osaka merchant.” Ever since he established his shop, he had purchased fabric for tabi socks from wholesalers in cash and paid seamstresses in cash each time orders were completed. His business policy had been “cash payment only.” The downside, however, was that there was no doubt that some wholesalers resorted to selling fabric at lower prices than they wanted while some seamstresses settled for lower wages because of their desire for cash. After he received Oyasama’s words, however, Zenzo changed his business practices. Although his cash-only payment policy remained, he stopped demanding lower prices for fabric and raised the seamstresses’ wages to the same level as other shops. He started to “buy dearly.”

Until he moved into what was then Ashitsu Branch Church in 1899, Zenzo tried to run his business in a way that brought joy to others, always keeping in mind what Oyasama had taught him on business. It is said that this helped his business keep on growing.

Let me share a story from his time as a merchant. In those days the bottom of tabi socks was the same color as the rest of the socks, which were usually black or navy. One day, however, Zenzo thought that making the bottom white might delight his customers, and he produced what we might call “two-tone socks,” which became hot-selling products.

There is another similar story. People used to put on tabi socks, usually tying straps attached to the top of the instep. Although there were some tabi that had clasp-like fasteners made of ivory, those tabi were not commonly used because ivory was expensive. So Zenzo made clasps using thin brass and created a new product whose back was cut apart and fastened together with thin brass clasps. The instep became neat and the tabi were easier to put on and take off. As a result, the new product brought joy to users and gained popularity.

Working with Seijiro to Spread the Teachings

In 1886 Zenzo’s first son, Sazo, lost his eyesight after contracting a disease of unknown cause, and his daughter Kana had a convulsion. Yet they were both blessed with a swift recovery. Through his children’s illnesses, Zenzo furthered his spiritual growth, and each time he was granted an audience with Oyasama he was deeply moved by Her boundless parental love. He dedicated and contributed his full measure of sincerity to the Residence.

Gradually his desire to quit his job and go out to spread the teachings became stronger. However, when he considered the future of his family and his employees, he could not make up his mind. After Oyasama withdrew from physical life, Zenzo requested a Divine Direction through the Honseki, Izo Iburi, regarding his wish to go out to spread the teachings and was told, “You should postpone it if you have some concerns in your heart” (Osashizu, June 15, 1888). The direction meant that there was no need to rush into it although he should always keep missionary work in mind as he lived his daily life. He decided that he would keep his business until his first son became twenty years old and that thereafter he would work exclusively for the path even if no family member went along with him. In the meantime, he visited his business partners and acquaintances almost every night to sprinkle the fragrance of the teachings in addition to thoroughly dedicating and contributing his sincerity to the Residence.

Nevertheless, Zenzo could not go to distant places since being away from his shop for days would be out of the question. Instead, he asked Seijiro, whom he had known ever since he embraced the faith, to perform the work of the path on his behalf as well when traveling far for missionary work. Zenzo not only paid Seijiro’s travel expenses but also looked after his family while he was away. The two—who knew how each other felt—“worked hand in hand” to spread the teachings. In 1899 the “promised time” was approaching. Zenzo made arrangements for his business by establishing a company with his head family before he and his family moved into Ashitsu Branch Church.

Between Work and Faith

The anecdote appearing at the beginning of this chapter offers universal pointers for those of us living in this day and age on how to put the teachings into practice. Oyasama’s words “Merchants should buy dearly and sell cheaply” would not go down well with business people. In fact, Zenzo thought at first: “If I should do business in such a manner, it would cost me my livelihood. She may be well informed on farming, but She knows little about business.” After a while, however, he suffered an illness, and Umejiro explained to him what Oyasama meant. This seems to have helped him understand the true meaning of what She said.

Business is an activity where people give and receive things provided by God the Parent. It is indispensable to try to bring joy to others in giving and receiving God the Parent’s gifts, putting ourselves aside temporarily. Therein is a spirit of “mutual help.”

I believe that Oyasama’s words explained the path to the Joyous Life by analogy to business. Zenzo faithfully followed Oyasama’s words throughout his life as he dedicated himself fully to bringing joy to others, always placing others ahead of himself. Even when he was living between work and faith, he never wavered in his practice of the faith. He always prioritized bringing joy to others and tried to help save others while working in society. He did his best to carry out the work of the path in each circumstance. This, I believe, is an important attitude that those of us who are Yoboku living in this day and age should learn from him.

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

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