In this continuation of our interview, Yasuaki Deguchi, grandson of Omoto leader Onisaburo Deguchi, describes his grandfather’s disturbing prophecy concerning the return of the Dragon King of Lake Towada. He also explains how he came to write his grandmother Sumi’s biography, The Mother of the Earth.
AJ: Sensei, please tell us about your career.
Well, I don’t think there is anything particularly extraordinary about my past, although I suppose you could say the Omoto incidents made things hard for me as a child.
When I was at Waseda University I was enrolled in the Russian literature department, but I hated school and hardly ever went to class. Instead, I formed an amateur theater company and became fascinated with staging plays. After about five years in school I still hadn’t managed to graduate. When the Jinrui Aizen Shim-bun newspaper set up a Tokyo bureau, I jumped at the opportunity to get a job.
I had married while still a student, and before I knew it my wife and I had four sons. With a new child born every year, it wasn’t long before I could no longer provide for them on my meager salary. To make ends meet I opened a rental book shop called Samma Books in a shopping district near the Meguro Community Center. Unfortunately, right about that time there was a boom in sales of television sets, probably triggered by the televised wedding of the Crown Prince (the current Heisei emperor). With people watching so much more television, the book rental business started to go downhill. I decided to divide up the space, using half for the book shop and half for a coffee shop called “Michikusa.”
People from the neighborhood advised me against opening the coffee shop there. That neighborhood, it seemed, was home to gangs of hooligans, who would start hanging around any new place they found, trying to eat for free, bothering other customers, and generally making nuisances of themselves. Because of that, they told me, coffee shops in that neighborhood always went out of business. I did notice there wasn’t single other one in the whole district. Street fighting among gang members was not at all uncommon in that part of town.
Still, 1 had to have money to feed my family, so I didn’t have much choice. I went ahead and opened the coffee shop. As predicted the place was immediately occupied by undesirables. Looking back on it now it was quite a nightmare, what with them always causing trouble and having to call the police and so on. I did manage to resist paying any so-called “protection money,” though. And actually, as time passed, I began developing a sort of familiar rapport with some of the gang members. Some of them even began taking me into their confidence, revealing to me their various worries and personal problems!
I operated Michikusa for about four years. It was a fantastic way to learn about people and society in ways that one normally wouldn’t.
Among the patrons was a man known as “the Burglar Poet,” so named because he composed poems and also published a best-selling book, Diary of a Burglar (Dorobo Nikki). When I met him he had already been convicted sixteen times, but he still didn’t seem able to reform. I used to send him food and other little comforts in jail. Once he even showed up at my place when he found himself on the national wanted list and had nowhere to hide, and I convinced him to turn himself in. Come to think of it, I seem to remember that story being published in some weekly magazine.
During that time I made a habit of going to the public bathhouse as soon as it opened in the late afternoon, to take advantage of the fresh water and avoid the crowds. Several other bathers had the same custom and so we got to know one another. Many of them, it turned out, were in the junk business, collecting and selling old and recyclable items to a wholesale dealer in the neighborhood. They would finish their work for the day early and head off to get the first bath. They’d come out squeaky clean and change into their leisure suits, then head out for an evening of drinking and swaggering about, proudly proclaiming themselves to be “gentlemen of the evening.” Like the gang members, they, too, had quite a few interesting stories to tell.
In 1961 I sold the coffee shop and moved to Nagoya. A girls’ school there called Sugiyama Jogaku Gakuen (Sugiyama Girls’ School) happened to be starting a four-year college program and they were looking for someone to be responsible for training students in cafeteria food preparation. I got an introduction from an acquaintance and applied for the job. The training kitchen was also responsible for preparing the food served in the school’s cafeteria. There was nothing to do when the students were on vacation, so I often had free time, especially during the long summer holiday.
In the summer of 1963, I read in a magazine called All Yomimono that entries were being accepted for the Second Mystery Novelist Newcomer Awards. I entered a work called Kyoto (Outlaw), which I had written under the pseudonym, Ryu Nogami. Much to my surprise, I won! Actually, the judges had been unable to decide between me and another contestant, so they made an exception and gave the award to both of us. The other contestant, it turned out, was Kyotaro Nishimura. Soon thereafter he went on to win the Edogawa Rampo Award as well, and is now acknowledged as one of Japan’s foremost mystery writers.
I had distanced myself somewhat from the Omoto order and it may have seemed to others that I was living and doing as I pleased somewhat according to selfish whim. There were, however, a few things weighing on my mind. One of them had to do with circumstances surrounding my birth.
On September 22, 1928, on his way home from missionary work in Karafuto, Hokkaido, and Tohoku, Onisaburo stopped for the night on the shore of Lake Towada (between Aomori and Akita prefectures). Later that night, the earth began to tremble and tempestuous winds whipped across the lake. The Dragon King of Lake Towada appeared and told Onisaburo, “Long I have waited, hidden at the bottom of the lake, waiting for my time to be reborn; and reborn I now shall be, in a child of yours, heir to the merciful work of Maitreya-Bodhisattva.” And having made this divine promise the Dragon King ascended into the heavens and was gone. That’s how the story goes, anyway.
I was born on August 15, 1930, soon after which Onisaburo wrote in detail about the event at Lake Towada in the Omoto bulletin Tsukikagami (Moon Minor) in a piece titled, Nansobo Densetsu (Tale of Returning to Earth in the Form of a Monk). In a postscript he added, “Unfortunately, details pertaining to how it will be accomplished and when the nansobo will be born belong to that which, by divine will, cannot yet be revealed.”
Omoto believers who heard this rather mysterious story were keen to know in whom the Dragon King of Lake Towada was to be reborn, and a rumor spread to the effect that when I was born Onisaburo had pointed at me and said, “It is he.”
As if to support this, in March 1935, Onisaburo wrote in Tamakagami, “Those who have read my account of those mysterious events at Lake Towada know that the deity of the lake made a divine promise and then ascended into the heavens. He said, ‘I go to be reborn into Omoto.’ Originally this was to be one of my own children, but, unable to do that, he was reborn in Yasuaki, child of my third daughter, Yaeno. Yasuaki was named by combining the character ‘wa’ from Lake Towada (also read yasu) and the character ‘aki,’ which is made up of the characters for sun and moon and as such represents the deity (kami). The karma of souls is strange indeed!”
Now, let me tell you, it is most distressing to have it said, before you are born, that in your previous life you were a dragon king! While 1 personally do not believe it to be true, it is an indelible fact that Onisaburo publicly stated that I am a reincarnation of the Dragon King. The Omoto order has intentionally concealed those documents, but the story is common knowledge among older believers. Among them are a few who still seem to be expecting me to realize Onisaburo’s prophecy by doing something remarkable, something befitting of a reincarnated Dragon King servant of Maitreya!
Onisaburo’s reputation as a prophet grew, but I had only to look at his predictions about me to find his powers somewhat suspect. After all, I had no particular talent or abilities; I had dropped out of university; in fact, the only thing I seemed to have “accomplished” was making a batch of children with my wife! We had four boys, as I mentioned, and seven years later, a daughter. Hardly able to feed even my own family, I felt myself a far cry from doing the world-saving work of Maitreya! So whenever people started talking of Onisaburo’s powers as a prophet, I wanted to disappear.
Discontent smoldered in my heart as I wondered, “Is this all I’m going to be able to make of my life?” Though I did not even believe Onisaburo’s prophecy, I could not escape its spell. I tried to divert myself by drinking and staying up late playing mahjong and frequenting pachinko parlors, but my mood was such that none of it was any fun.
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