Insights into the Anecdotes: Hidenobu Nakano (1852–1923), Anecdote 174 “If You Let Go Your Strength”

The Anecdote (Summary)
Hidenobu Nakano used to serve as a mounted warrior for the Koizumi feudal clan in Yamato Province. He was proficient in jujitsu and kendo fencing. One day he returned to Jiba and was granted an audience with Oyasama.

Oyasama said: “Nakano, you are known as a strong man in the country. Now try to free your hands.” She took hold of both his wrists. Nakano at first exerted only a little strength and tried to free his hands, but She would not let go. So he became serious about it, and with a shout, tried with all his might to pull both hands free. Yet the elderly Oyasama remained steady with perfect composure.

Nakano, who was still in the prime of life, tried, with his face flushing, again and again with all his might to pull his hands free, shouting each time, “Ya! Ya!” But Oyasama retained an awe-inspiring calm and continued to smile pleasantly. He could do nothing.

Not only that, the most astonishing thing was that the more he exerted his strength, the more strongly his own wrists were gripped. Finally, they started to feel as if they were being ripped apart. Powerful as he was, Nakano could not bear the pain any longer. “I am overwhelmed. Please release my hands,” Nakano conceded to Oyasama.

Then, She said: “You need not apologize at all. If you let go of your strength, God will also let go of God’s strength. If you exert strength, God will also exert strength. This applies not only now but always,” and She quietly released his hands.

Bushido1 Bore the Brunt of Persecution and Interference

by Yoshiyuki Nakano, Honbu-in

Hidenobu was born as the first son of Hideoki and his wife, Hisae, on August 4, 1852, in Koizumi Village, Soeshimo County, Yamato Province (a section of what is now known as the town of Koizumi, Yamato-Koriyama City), some seven kilometers west of the Residence. It so happens that Oharu, the third daughter of Oyasama, married into the Kajimoto family in Ichinomoto Village in the same year. Later this marriage was instrumental in drawing Hidenobu to the path.

Through Opening a Dojo

The Nakano family had belonged to the feudal warrior class, and its members had excelled in Japanese archery and equestrian skills. One of their ancestors was a retainer of Katsumoto Katagiri, a feudatory of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and worked at Ibaraki Castle in Settsu Province (part of what is now Osaka Prefecture). After Katsumoto passed away, the Nakano family moved to Koizumi Village and worked for one of Katsumoto’s nephews—the head of the Koizumi feudal clan in Yamato Province. It is said that the Nakanos served as Japanese archery and equestrian instructors for several generations thereafter.

Since Hidenobu was born into such a family, he was proficient in jujitsu, kendo, and equestrian skills. After completing his education, he worked for the prefectural police in Nara and Osaka, serving as a jujitsu and kendo instructor. In 1881, when he was around thirty years old, he opened a dojo (training hall) in Osaka and subsequently established three branches. Three years later he started to visit various regions to provide people with kendo instruction.

In the autumn of 1885 he returned home to Koizumi Village after completing a kendo instruction trip, which lasted over a year. Soon he was requested by the headman (kocho) of Ichinomoto Village to open a dojo there. Also, the chief of Ichinomoto Branch Police Station, who was a friend of Hidenobu’s, asked him to give lessons to the station’s police officers. The opening of the dojo would lead him to encounter the path.

One day in December of the same year, Matsujiro—the second son of Oharu Kajimoto in Ichinomoto Village and an elder brother of Shinnosuke Nakayama, the first Shinbashira—visited the dojo. On that occasion, he asked Hidenobu to give lessons in jujitsu and kendo to Shinnosuke, who was twenty years old. Shinnosuke thus started to go to the dojo. Some time later, he said to Hidenobu: “It is good to practice here. Yet there are a lot of young men at the Residence, so I would like you to give lessons there.” Thus, Hidenobu started to come to the Residence. After he visited the Residence several times, Shinnosuke said to him, “I would like you to meet Oyasama.” It was February 10, 1886, by the lunar calendar.

Convinced of “God’s Strength”

Thus, as we read in the anecdote appearing at the beginning of the chapter, Hidenobu was granted an audience with Oyasama for the first time and engaged in a contest of strength with Her. Just one month before this anecdote, police officers from Ichinomoto Branch Police Station rushed into the Residence and took away those present including Oyasama. This was Oyasama’s “final hardship.” That winter was the coldest in thirty years, and Oyasama was detained at the advanced age of eighty-nine. Anecdote 185, entitled “You Do Not Know Where I Work,” tells us, “Oyasama would stay in bed for most of the day ever since She returned from Ichinomoto Branch Police Station.” I wonder if it was Shinnosuke’s concern about Oyasama’s safety that motivated him to ask Hidenobu, who had considerable influence with Ichinomoto Branch Police Station, to give lessons at the Residence.

Hidenobu, who did not yet know much about the teachings, seemed to be astonished at what happened during his audience with Oyasama. He was thirty-five years old at that time, approximately 160 centimeters in height, 73 kilograms in weight, and 36 centimeters in arm circumference. His hair reached his shoulders and his beard was long enough to be braided easily. It was said that his outward appearance was so powerful that people found him almost intimidating. Yet, to his astonishment, he could not pull his hands free from Oyasama’s grips even with all his might. He wrote in his memoir: “Until now I have served in the police and given officers lessons in kendo, so I felt that I was on the side opposed to Tenrikyo. Yet after I was unable to push or pull at all, . . . my assumption that Oyasama’s behavior resulted from spirit possession was replaced by the conviction that it comes undoubtedly from God’s strength.”

Thereafter, Hidenobu frequented Oyasama’s Residence and often chased away violent intruders who broke into the Residence. He also frequently accompanied Her disciples on their mission trips to various regions as a guard, making use of his skills in martial arts and his connections in the police. One day, the chief of Ichinomoto Branch Police Station asked him: “Lately you have been frequenting Tenrikyo. Do you have any inside stories?” Hidenobu advised the chief: “Tenrikyo is the path of true sincerity. Chief, I do not think it is a good idea to keep interfering with Tenrikyo.” Then, the chief replied: “Is that so? Then, we will stop interfering.” Hidenobu sometimes brought police officers who were his martial arts students to the Residence for his instruction there.

In 1900 when Tenri Seminary was opened, he started to give lessons in kendo and jujitsu to students. This was the beginning of “Tenri Judo.” Hidenobu always adored Oyasama after his first audience with Her. In his later years, he served as a guard for the tomb of Oyasama on Toyoda Hill before his life came to an end.

What Was Shown in the Contest of Strength

Regarding the anecdote we are considering, there is more to the story. According to Hidenobu’s memoir, after the contest of strength Oyasama asked him about swords: “Which is stronger, a Masamune sword or a new sword?” He replied: “New swords are produced in large quantities, so they often break or bend. Masamune’s swords are strong because swordsmiths put their heart and soul into forging them.” Then, Oyasama said: “Is that so? Yet it is not entirely accurate. Masamune’s swords are strong because they were not only made involving various people but were forged again and again.” As Hidenobu was having difficulty understanding the true meaning of Her remark, Oyasama said, “Think seriously about it,” and let him go.

Some days later Hidenobu asked Oyasama about the meaning of Her remark. She said: “You may think that no one in the world is stronger than you are. Yet despite your strength you cannot even govern Japan. This path is one that encompasses all people throughout the world. This is not a tiny path. The meaning of the instruction I gave you was that you should fully listen to the teachings of the path from various people, firmly settle in your mind what you have learned, and become a person who follows the path.”

In those days, the path was spreading in all directions, and many people came to gather at the Residence. Most of them were ordinary people such as farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. The Meiji government had already abolished the feudal domain system and introduced the prefectural system so that the samurai, the feudal warrior class, no longer existed. However, there still remained a warrior class consciousness, the samurai being thought of as a symbol of power. Hidenobu’s father was a warrior of the Koizumi feudal clan in Yamato Province, and Hidenobu himself led his life as a master of kendo, the way of the sword. I imagine that he might have had some sense of belonging to the privileged class. I think that Oyasama saw this state of his mind and taught him carefully. I also think that, by defeating him in the contest of strength, Oyasama desired to show that there is no class distinction in front of God and that all people in the world are beloved children of God. Because Oyasama’s words moved him, he lived his life with a humble mind and was willing to bear the brunt of society’s opposition and harassment directed at the path. This was the Bushido that Hidenobu practiced in the latter half of his life.

What then can those of us living in this day and age learn from Hidenobu’s anecdote? When Oyasama conducted a contest of strength with Hidenobu, She said: “If you let go of your strength, God will also let go of God’s strength. If you exert strength, God will also exert strength. This applies not only now but always.” This can be understood as saying that the more earnestly we follow the path leaning on God, the more vividly God will show us blessings.

I do not believe that the phrase “God will also exert strength” refers to any special manifestation of God’s strength. I am a fifth-generation follower, counting from Hidenobu. My generation is the first where the first son is carrying on the family name—a fact that some might consider “ordinary” but that I feel is a tremendous blessing that has only been possible because Oyasama grasped Hidenobu’s wrists on the day of origin of our family’s faith and because the successive generations of the family have followed the path believing Her words “This applies not only now but always.”

I worked at Tenri Seminary for many years. During the period I saw a number of cases where the words “God will also exert strength” came true. Most of the cases involved God’s blessings and workings related to restoring people to “health” or “safety.” We often forget to appreciate “health” and “safety” in our daily lives as we take them for granted as “ordinary,” and we tend to realize how precious they are particularly in out-of-the-ordinary situations. We would do well to live our lives keeping in mind that what we see as “ordinary” in our daily lives is only possible because Oyasama continues to work for us every single day without rest in keeping with the words “God will also exert strength.”

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

1. Literally, “the way of the warrior.”

Share this article:

Comments are closed.