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Yasuaki Deguchi: The Omoto Religion and Aikido (02)

by Yasuaki Deguchi

Aiki News #98 (1994)

My Grandparents’ Marriage

My grandparents were married on New Year’s Day of the old calendar in 1900. Onisaburo was thirty years old, and Sumi was eighteen. The Omoto sect was still in its infancy, and Onisaburo’s position within it was as yet insecure. Although he was chairman, the religion’s founder Nao went over Onisaburo’s head to dominate the sect. Most of the leading believers were Nao’s devotees, who revered her as “Ogamisama” (Great deity). In this way, the Omoto sect resembled a microcosm of the Imperial system, in which the Emperor is revered as a direct descendant of the deities.

Nao’s ascetic approach was an example of the yamato damashii [Japanese spirit] and became a model for the believers’ religious lives. In contrast, Onisaburo’s lifestyle was liberal, to put it mildly, and some would even go so far as to call it loose and indulgent. To many of the believers he personified evil, a person from whose bad example they should leam.

Given her character, it was natural that Nao did not approve of Onisaburo’s behavior. He had been chosen as Sumi’s husband by order of the Fudesaki, Nao’s automatic writings penned while possessed by a deity. Even Nao could not oppose the commands of the Fudesaki.

Since this was the case, Onisaburo’s activities were constantly scrutinized by Omoto’s leading believers, making a normal married life impossible. He was often away from home on missionary work. In later years Sumi recalled, “In those days, many of the leaders of the Omoto sect were not men of understanding. They claimed that Onisaburo was possessed by evil. They were critical of all he did and hindered his missionary work. When he was at home, they shouted that he was a beast in human form and made it impossible for him to remain in the house. We were both deeply troubled by such ridiculous and ill-natured antagonism.”

One day, perhaps in 1903, Onisaburo and Sumi went to Mt. Shichi, near their home, to cut firewood. They set out for the mountain at sunrise, Onisaburo pulling a cart, and Sumi carrying Naohi, their two-year-old first daughter, on her back. They stopped the cart at the foot of the mountain and laid Naohi on a straw mat behind it. They placed a cloth diaper to shield Naohi and the cart from the rays of the sun, and climbed up the mountain to cut firewood. Onisaburo was skillful at fishing and mowing as well. They said it was a great relief to work together, well away from the critical eyes of the leading Omoto believers.

When the sun rose high over the mountain, Onisaburo climbed down into a ravine and drew water from a brook. Beside the cart behind which Naohi lay, the two of them ate the simple lunch that Sumi had prepared. Even in her later years, Sumi never forgot this happy time, and said, “If we could have been allowed to live in peace together like that how happy our lives would have been.”

In 1906, Onisaburo entered Koten-kokyujo, a training institute for Shinto priests, in Kyoto. One year later he graduated and took posts at Kenkun Shrine and at the Mitake sect. Because of these postings, he lived apart from Sumi and their children.

In the spring of 1908, Onisaburo left the Mitake sect and returned to Ayabe, where he began to earnestly rebuild the Omoto sect. He was so busy with his efforts to spread the religion that he was seldom home, and consequently his married life was never normal.

In 1919, Onisaburo purchased the site where the castle of Mitsuhide Akechi [a military commander, 1528-1582] once stood, and began to clear it to build a farm. Onisaburo lived in Kameoka, while Sumi lived in Ayabe. They continued to live separately and Onisaburo wrote a poem about their lives in those days:

My wife weaves gold brocade at
Tsuruyama [Ayabe],
And I propagate Omoto in Kameyama
(Kameoka).

Onisaburo was imprisoned for one hundred and twenty-six days after the First Omoto Incident in 1921, for ninety-eight days in 1924 during his journey to Mongolia, and for 2,435 days following the Second Omoto Incident in 1935. Thus, the couple rarely lived together in their forty-two years of marriage.

Upon his release from prison, Onisaburo was put under strict police guard, and could do nothing, even had he wanted to live an active life. But, for the first time in their lives, he and Sumi could live in peace as a normal married couple, if only for a short time, in two rooms on the second floor of a house

Living Free From Worldly Cares

My grandfather lived in comfort at Yuhikaku, devoting his time to writing and calligraphy, poetry, reading, and playing with his grandchildren. Omoto believers regularly paid secret visits, causing his lawyers and others close to him to fear the repeal of his release on bail. Still, he met willingly with believers and provided them with predictions, warnings, and advice about their lives and the world.

On August 23,1942, the Deguchi family gathered at Kumano Yakata to celebrate Onisaburo’s seventy-first birthday. Iwata Nakano, Uncle Michimaru’s father and a master of the Noh stage, happened to come to Kameoka from Tokyo, and he performed a Noh dance. Since I was just a child, I could not understand why they celebrated his birthday so elaborately despite the war. Now I understand that my grandfather had by then passed through the most difficult period of his life, even though there was a war on.

In the film, Remembrances of Onisaburo Deguchi (produced by Hachiman Shoten), my grandfather is shown scattering coins before children. He enjoyed scattering things this way, such as in the mochimaki ceremony where rice cakes are scattered from the roof to celebrate the raising of the frame of a new house. I think he fancied himself to be like Hanasaka Jiisan (an old man in a Japanese folk tale who made flowers blossom on dead cherry trees by scattering ashes). He gathered his thirteen grandchildren in front of the altar of the Kumano Yakata and tossed the coins before them. Standing with my grandmother, he smiled as he watched the children scamper to gather them up. Of course, this sort of thing was not very good from an educational point of view, but I think he was observing the children’s characters, which were betrayed by the way they picked up the coins.

I have fond memories of New Year’s Day back then. The Deguchi family, with my grandmother taking a leading role, played hanafuda [a Japanese card game] while sitting around the kotatsu [a heated table] in a six-mat room on the first floor of the Yuhikaku. My grandmother learned hanafuda in her childhood because her eldest sister, Yone, had married a gambler named Shikazo Otsuki. I was only allowed to watch the game, but how I longed to play!

Of course, Sumi was the one to initiate the game. As far as I can remember, the players included her sons-in-law, my uncles Michimaru and Uchimaru, my father, and a draper named Okada, an Omoto believer who regularly visited the Deguchi household. Okada was a little slow, a trait about which we often teased him, and we felt at ease in his presence. Except for Okada, I think my father and uncles played with Sumi mostly out of a sense of duty to their mother-in-law. My father, especially, disliked playing, so it must have been difficult for him to tolerate it but somehow he managed.

The game they played was called bakappana, a rather trivial sort of game. At the start of the game, my grandmother passed out equal small sums of money to each player, and they played for the money. That’s all there was to it but for me it was all very fascinating, and I enjoyed looking at the beautiful pictures drawn on the playing cards. While all the other children were outside flying kites and playing kick-the-can, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the room, even when I was told to go play outside. As far as I can remember, New Year’s Day was the only time they played hanafuda.

While essentially it was only a friendly game, once it was played for money the game became a form of gambling. My grandfather Onisaburo never participated. He detested gambling, although in his youth he had at one time entertained fantasies of becoming a kyokaku (a chivalrous man-about-town who made his living by gambling). He disliked gambling because he thought it was unproductive and a waste of time. Once he said,

“….For me time is very important so I have no time to play go [a Japanese game of strategy]. What a few hours is to an average person is like a few years to me. I have been given a mission (keirin) by God. I am afraid that even a few hours of frivolous enjoyment may make me regret that I have missed important opportunities and disappointed God. It is painful to imagine. Of course, there have been times when I have occasionally relaxed.

For this reason, I would like to be able to do as I please. While I am grateful to be shown around various notable places, I truly feel more pleasure viewing wonderful scenery like the cherry blossoms of Mt. Yoshino or the Yaba Valley through my mind’s eye than in actually going there.”

Occasionally my grandfather dropped in on my mother. Only two rice fields separated Yuhikaku from our house, so it was only a few minutes walk, even for him. One day when he was visiting, he had me stand before a window in our house, and said to me over my shoulder, “Yasuaki, what you see before you will eventually become the center of Kameoka, with a wide main street lined with large shops.”

I remember these words because they seemed so absurd at the time. In those days there was nothing but rice fields, and I couldn’t imagine that what he said would ever come true. But today Highway 9 runs right through those same fields, supermarkets and other businesses flourish, and a first-class residential district stretches up the side of the mountain.

Parenthetically, the father or grandfather of the current president of the well-known Yamada Construction Company was a farmer. He used to stand gazing out over the rice fields near the road east of Kagoike. When asked why, he replied, “Wani-san [a nickname for Onisaburo] told me that Kameoka’s development will be centered here, so I am thinking about which rice field I had better buy first.”

During the Edo Period the place where he was standing was an execution ground, known as Kubikiri (cutting off the head) Jizo. Nearby there was a stream called Terakawa, a name derived from the fact that executioners would wash their bloodied hands there. “Te arai” (eventually corrupted to tera) in Japanese means to wash the hands, and “kawa” means river, thus the name Terakawa. The area was so desolate and forlorn that local superstitions told of will-o’-the-wisps and other ghostly hauntings. Thus, it was a fitting place for games to test one’s courage. Now, however, the area is better known as the crossing point of Highway 9 from Kyoto to Fukuchiyama and a local road. Rumor has it that the president of Yamada Construction Company purchased the fields around that area a few at a time and made his company prosperous. Perhaps there were others who heard Onisaburo’s prediction, but it seems that only the president, who was not even an Omoto believer, took it to heart and profited as a result.

My grandfather’s mere presence enlivened the atmosphere at the farm. Upon his release from prison on bail, the first building that he constructed was a storehouse in the southwestern part of Kumano Yakata. Everyone on the farm participated in laying the foundation. It was my first experience with such work, and I enjoyed heaving on the rope-and-pulley to the rhythm of a work song.

The building’s lot was a rice field in the shape of a treasure ship, and the storehouse was built where the mast would be. My grandmother wrote a poem on a shikishi (square commemorative card):

My building lot shaped like a treasure ship,
The ship drops anchor in a sea of mist.

Apparently another verse was composed, telling of the ship weighing anchor and setting sail, but unfortunately the shikishi on which it was written has been lost.

I have some vivid memories of that storehouse. I was asked by the Mainichi News to write a biography of Nao Deguchi, as well as accounts of the early years of Onisaburo and Sumi. These were published by the Mainichi in a novel, Mother of the Earth. I returned to Kameoka from Nagoya with my family, and leaving our four children in the main building, my wife and I shut ourselves in the storehouse for four years while I devoted myself to writing the novel. For me that storehouse represents the birthplace of Mother of the Earth.

3000 Years and 50 Years

The first day of January, 1943 was destined to become a special day for Onisaburo.

After three thousand years, the waiting was over in the 14th year of Meiji (1891).

After fifty years of spiritual preparations on Earth, the first year of realization of the divine plan will commence in the 18th year of Showa (1943).

New Year’s Day of Shawa 18 will be the day when the fifty years of preparation for the divine plan [shikumi] will be finished. Beginning in Showa 18, the divine plan which had been postponed for three thousand years will at last commence,

[from the Fudesaki]

Nao’s Fudesaki contained phrases such as, “the divine plan of three thousand years ago,” “the divine plan of more than three thousand years ago,” and “the divine plan of three thousand and fifty years ago.”

This divine plan may be understood as God’s scheme to lead this world to an ideal state. Ushitora no Konjin, the Deity of the Northeast, had been in confinement for three thousand years, but in 1891 the confinement ended and this deity possessed Nao and finally reappeared to rebuild this world. “The divine plan of three thousand and fifty years ago” means that at the end of three thousand years there are fifty years of preparation for the divine plan. Fifty years after 1892 was 1942, and on August 7 of that year, my grandfather was freed from prison on bail.

He composed a verse at that time, “The ideal world, which we have awaited for so long, has begun from the day of my release.”

But even more difficulties lay ahead, for 1943 was the Year of the Sheep in the Chinese zodiac, and Onisaburo warned people, using various metaphors, of impending hardships. In 1918 he had issued an edited compilation of Nao’s Fudesaki [Onisaburo’s Shinyu, in which he modified Nao’s Fudesaki to make it more understandable, includes such modifications as changing the hiragana syllabary to Japanese characters to make it more readable]. In it he wrote, “A time will come when animals snatch food from one another. Hungry sheep and monkeys will fight savagely for food…” He predicted that the time for the fulfillment of his prophecy had come, adding, ‘This is the Year of the Sheep. We shall be plagued by continuing drought and famine. As sheep live only on the ground and eat only grass, so people of the lower classes will suffer famine. Next year (1944) is the Year of the Monkey. As monkeys live in trees, so hardship will strike the middle class, and their hearts will be troubled. Following that is the Year of the Bird (1945), when the upper classes will suffer hardships. Cruel, tragic war will come upon us, and as illness always accompanies war, epidemic will sweep the land in the Year of the Bird. The worst, then, will come three years from now.”

He expressed similar sentiments in verse:

The sheep eats grass from the earth. The monkey eats nuts from the tree. And the bird flies in the sky.
Even the tree-dwelling monkey will go hungry.
In the Year of the Monkey, the wing of the bird will waste away and the bird will plunge to the Earth.
What a pity to see the bird-ships (airplanes) roaring across the sky day and night!

Had the police known that Onisaburo was saying such things, they would not have left him alone. I think he nonetheless felt compelled to write such poems. “Leave Tokyo, lest you suffer in air raids…. Osaka will become a burned out wasteland. There is no hope for Hiroshima and Nagasaki” Onisaburo continued his predictions.

He told a believer from Nemuro, Hokkaido that Japan would lose the Kuriles, while he told still another that Japan would lose Formosa [Taiwan].

I am frightened by my predictions,
Be they of good fortune or bad.

Even from his prison cell Onisaburo spoke of his prophecies to those who came to visit him. The more freedom he had, the more his predictions became realities.

Omoto believers who heard his words spread his predictions by word of mouth far and wide, even abroad to Taiwan, Korea, and China.

On the Farm

Everyone in the Deguchi family engaged in farming, and family members of all ages planted and harvested rice, threshed barley, and so on. My grandfather supervised the work and his mere presence encouraged us to work diligently. Dry weather continued that year [1943] so we had to work through the night drawing water from rivers and wells. At midnight my grandfather would visit those working the night-shift to thank them for their efforts and offer them refreshments. Sometimes he invited them to supper and they would talk.

I always felt happy when, on my way home from school, I spied my grandfather hoeing the fields on the east side of the Yakata farm. Usually he worked with a towel wrapped around his forehead or around his cheeks, and wore a kimono or shirt and Japanese underwear.

I always associate my grandfather in those days with a dog named Shiro, meaning “white,” which was of the Akita breed. The dog was given to my grandfather by an Omoto believer named Obayashi who lived in Kameoka. Since I was a child the dog seemed as large as a calf, and at first when it came my way I often fled in terror because I thought it was chasing me. I’m sure he just wanted to play, but I was frightened. I pleaded with my grandfather to tie him on a leash, but he only laughed and refused to do so. But eventually Shiro and I became friends. He often accompanied my grandfather on walks.

On one occasion, a large crane was presented as a gift by a believer. It was kept in a cage in the southwest comer of my grandfather’s room. Then, as now, cranes were quite rare so I liked to go see it whenever I went to Kumano Yakata. At some point, however, it disappeared. The Deguchi family servants always complained that the crane ate too much, so perhaps someone had given it away.

The house in which Mr. Kyotaro Deguchi now lives was at that time a stable for domestic animals and livestock. The number of animals kept there always varied, but usually there were a few cows and some horses, as many as three at one point. I often enjoyed saddling a horse that was taller than me and riding around the farm. I was supposed to groom the horse when I was finished, but sometimes I forgot and was scolded.

One night someone stole one of the horses. People guessed from the hoof prints that it had been taken in the direction of the Kuwayama Shrine, and some young men who worked on the farm pursued the thief on bicycles. I wanted to tag along, but my mother would not allow me to, much to my chagrin.

Apparently they caught the thief near the border of Kyoto and Osaka Prefectures, but by then the horse had already been sold and slaughtered. The young men delivered the thief to the Kameoka police station and the next day a police officer called on my grandfather. He tried to return the money the thief had received from selling the horse, but my grandfather would not accept it and said, “Please give him the money. He stole the horse because he had no money, and when he is released from jail he will commit the same crime again if he still has no money.” I was proud when I heard him say that.

Beneath the Cherry Blossoms at the Imperial Palace Garden in Kyoto

I entered Doshisha Middle School in the spring of 1943. The previous year I had failed the entrance exam to Sonobe Middle School, so I had been enrolled in an advanced preparatory course at Kameoka Primary School. Many years later, however, I learned that my entrance to Doshisha took place under slightly unusual circumstances.

Most of the people at that time were very frightened of the special government secret police, known as the Tokko. But one young officer named Matsuo Dogin was different. He was an assistant investigator assigned to Sumi, and for some reason he could not help but take a liking to her. I’ve heard that he did various favors to please her, such as giving her brown sugar, which she liked, or going to Kameoka to check on and report to her the situation of the rest of the Deguchi family.

Early one summer while he was investigating Sumi he asked, “Nidai-san [lit., the second successor], who do you think should bear responsibility?” She answered with a serious look, raising her thumb in reference to the Emperor, “He should. He must be awakened. He must reform himself.” This surprised Officer Dogin, for “he” referred to the Emperor, which made her statement the confession that the secret police had been trying to torture, threaten, and wheedle out of her. The good-natured grandmother had trusted Officer Dogin and, in an unguarded moment, expressed her true thoughts, resulting in a seriously damning confession spoken by no less than the Second Spiritual Leader [Kyoshu] of the Omoto. She had finally slipped up.

Dogin entered her words in the record. My grandmother realized the seriousness of her situation and pleaded with him to disregard her statement, insisting that she alone should take the blame for her words and face criminal prosecution. Dogin tore the document into pieces. Later, he used to bring my grandmother’s favorite inaka goshi, a kind of inexpensive sweets, to place on the family altar every year on the anniversary of her death.

Another incident involved Officer Dogin and my father, Uchimaru. Once when Dogin returned to visit his hometown of Yawatahama in Shikoku, he happened to learn that my father’s name before he had left school to enter the Omoto-kyo had been Isao Saga, and that both of them had attended Yawatahama Commercial High School. Even though Dogin had never met my father, he felt a strong bond with him because at the high school dormitory he had once used a desk that my father had left, and a washbowl on which my father’s name was written.

Upon his return, the first thing in the morning, Dogin applied for the job of escorting my father from the Marutamachi prosecutor’s office in Kyoto to the police station. Along the way they stopped to rest on a bench in the public garden of the Imperial Palace, and there Dogin introduced himself as my father’s junior. Unconsciously they began to move their hands, still connected by handcuffs, to the time of their alma mater’s song, and before they knew it they were singing as well. My father, it seems, began to weep beneath the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Apparently when Dogin visited the farm, my grandfather told him, “Yasuaki failed the entrance examination for Sonobe Middle School, and no school will accept him except perhaps for Doshisha, which is a Christian school. When he passes the entrance examination, please see that he is dealt with impartially and permitted to enroll.”

Dogin immediately called on Mr. Toraji Makino, the president of Doshisha at the time. It is not certain that what he said had any influence, but in the end I was allowed to enroll at Doshisha Middle School.

I knew nothing of these happenings for a long time, but I discovered them in Saigo no Tokko (The Last of the Secret Police) written by Officer Dogin in his later years. I was touched to know that my grandfather was so concerned about me.

[to be continued]

Yasuaki Deguchi Profile

Born August 15, 1930; grandson of Omoto leader Onisaburo Deguchi. In 1952 he entered Waseda University, where he stayed five years, completing half his course. Afterwards he worked in a variety of positions. In 1953, using the pen name Ryu Nogami, Deguchi won the second Oruyomimono, Best New Detective Story Writer’s award for his debut novel, Kyoto (Outlaw). He now uses the pen name Ryu Towada. He is an executive of the Aizenkai, and a chairman of the Reikai Monogatari Kankokai (Institute for the Publication of the Reikai Monogatari). Author of Daichi no Haha (Great Mother) 12 volumes, Kami no Katsutetsugaku (The Theology of God), Yogen to Shinwa (Prediction and Mythology), Deguchi Onisaburo no Nyumo Hiwa (Onisaburo’s Adventures in Mongolia), and others.