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Founder of Aikido (19): Death-Defying Trip to Mongolia

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #48 (May 1982)

We would like to thank Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba for his kind permission to publish these chapter summaries.

On the third of February of 1924 Master Onisaburo, still on bail from the Omoto Affair, boldly left Japan under a plan carried out in deepest secret. The Founder was with his teacher as Onisaburo’s “right hand man.”

The next 130 days, before they were arrested by Chinese authorities and deported back to Japan, took the Founder to the very edge of death. Actually, at the time, a book called A Record of Onisaburo’s Entry into Mongolia was published and was very popular as a blood-curdling adventure thriller.

The real beginnings of it all can be traced to the fact that there were in China and Korea religions which, like Omoto, professed the doctrine of “All Religions have the Same Root.” The groups became closely linked with Oomoto and had been sending invitations to Onisaburo. In response, he had long held a deep desire to cross over to the continent.

A former naval Commander and Omoto believer, Mr. Yutaro Yano, came to visit (Master Onisaburo). At that time Mr. Yano was managing the Sanya Company in the Hoten region of Northeast China. This firm was ostensibly a commercial organization. In fact, however, it was a front operation for the government’s spying agency. Mr. Yano related a story that went roughly like this:

Plans were under way already for establishing a new self-governing nation to be called “Koraikoku” and encompassing the territory of modern Manchuria and Mongolia. Three members of the “Keikoku Kai” had secured the help of certain influential leaders of the three eastern (Chinese) provinces. Koraikoku was to have been created with the cooperation of a group of people working for the restoration of the Ching (Manchu) dynasty and others who hoped to set up independent nations for the (Non-Chinese) border-district peoples. The Japanese government was interested in driving a wedge between Russia, the U.S.A. and Great Britain. It also hoped to disrupt the internal affairs of the central government of China as a means of promoting a solution to its own problems by opening a “new frontier” which would in fact be a new colony.

In a word, they were seeking the cooperation of the Master in setting up a prototype (puppet regime) that in later years was to become Manchukuo (in Japanese “Manshukoku”). All this was supposedly at the request of the Tesshu Okazaki. Why should Okazaki select Onisaburo? Okazaki had visited Mr. Yano at the Sanya Company and had by chance caught a glimpse of some calligraphy by the master.”

It could be useful if another worldly-religious person like this fellow would go forward and lay the groundwork for winning the hearts of the people,” said Okazaki.

I have heard that Onisaburo showed some resistance to such a plan mainly because he himself had hoped to align his efforts with (those on the continent who) leaned toward the idea that “All Religions have the Same Root”.

After consultation with the top leaders of Oomoto, it was decided to utilize the opportunity to start working toward the realization of their great goals of “World Religion” and “world Government”. Of course, the trip was just the kind of great adventure which stirred his character. Luckily, the dictation of his Tales of the Spirit World was almost complete.

His final state of mind upon deciding to leave Japan will be very clear from this quote taken from a hand-written note to Mr. Uchimaru Deguchi by Master Onisaburo. “To spiritually unify the Heaven and the Earth of East Asia and next to unify the entire world is my plan.”

The Founder heard Onisaburo speak about his determination and when he was requested to accompany the Master, he began at once to secretly plan for their departure from Japan in concert with a number of others. The Founder was leaving his wife, Hatsu, and (only surviving) son Kisshomaru (the author), and setting out on a certain-death trip. Even if they succeeded in getting out of Japan, there was a good chance they would never live to come back, but his personal feelings are not really very clear. Probably, though, he gave very little thought to his wife, his child and other personal concerns. I doubt very much that today’s type of husbands and fathers will ever be able to understand this sort of behavior; but behind it was the belief that the teacher comes first.

I suppose he made up his mind that he actually would protect his master with his own body. Just how determined the Founder was in this matter can be glimpsed from the following words of the present “Leader of the Faith”, Naohi Deguchi:

They had been surrounded by a mass of enemy soldiers, arrested, lined up to be shot. Every time the danger of death threatened, Ueshiba Sensei would impetuously try to jump forward. Whenever this happened, my grandfather (Onisaburo) gave him a sharp look or tried to hold him back. He said it was really hard work keeping (Ueshiba) in line. Of course, with Sensei’s ability in budo he could easily have taken on 50 or 100 men, but over there they were on enemy soil and the soldiers were carrying guns!

The Founder himself later said, “Even more than those enemy soldiers, I felt I wanted somehow to get rid of those people who were trying to cheat or use to Master Onisaburo.”

(Translated from Japanese by Stanley A. Pranin and Midori Yamamoto)