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Founder of Aikido (24): Omoto Affair, Prelude and Repercussions

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #53 (March 1983)

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

In November 1919, Master Onisaburo bought 43,000 square meters of land in the town where he was born, Kameoka. As a result, Ayabe became the ceremonial and sacred center while Kameoka City became the administrative hub. Since it was dangerous if Omoto too blatantly revealed its tendency to bring together religion and politics. Deguchi most likely had anticipated the governmental suppression which came to be known as “the Omoto Affair” and which was the direct result of the religion’s vigorous proselytizing activities.

They had missionaries all through the country but Omoto’s strong point was its publishing activities in Kameoka. In August of 1920 they bought up the Taisho Nichinichi Shimbun newspaper in Osaka, and thus moved their missionary efforts into the public realm.

This large scale “assault” spread Omoto throughout the country in almost no time, but the growing power of the religion seemed to invite a backlash of resistance. Newspapers and magazines began to carry articles exposing the “dangerous ideas” of Omoto and the police and Ministry of Internal Affairs began to pay special attention to Omoto that resulted in a warning being issued.

What they considered dangerous in the Omoto credo was bound up with the social situation prevailing during that period but we might say in short that Master Onisaburo’s goal of social revolution, his own rather mysterious character, his ideas of chinkon kishin and a general lack of factual information contributed to the suspicions. Then when the well-known Wasaburo Asano joined the faith with his sharp opinions and radical tone things deteriorated rapidly.

Some problematic points were their “Imperial Way-ism” which combined religion and politics, their theory of a “Taisho restoration,” and Mr. Asano’s prediction of a war between America and Japan, all of which carried a strong element of social agitation. These excesses of Mr. Asano brought about a lot of criticism inside the Omoto organization and in the end the authorities made their decision to crush the new religion before the Asano deviations could be corrected from within.

On February 11, 1920 armed police attacked the Omoto headquarters and searched 20 or more buildings in Kyoto, Ayabe, Kameoka and Yutsugi on suspicion of lese majesty and newspaper law violations. They confiscated documents and Onisaburo Deguchi was arrested, as were other top executives. The official charges were rather trumped up, especially in light of the fact that Omoto professed to “Respect God, Honor the Emperor and love the nation”. Even so, their effect, on public opinion was great. A preconceived notion of Omoto as a perverted religion was firmly instilled in many people and to this day some people still hold this unfounded opinion. Anyway, Deguchi was sentenced to five years in prison while Asano received 10 months. Legal procedures stretched out over six years until they were finally pardoned in 1926.

These events effectively crowned Omoto with a bad name, and its shrines and other buildings were destroyed. Great numbers of the followers and about half of the leaders, including Asano turned against the religion but the founder, never wavering, waited intently at Ayabe for Onisaburo’s release. Moreover, from the point of view of the founder’s personal life, this period was one of the worse and most tragic. Between 1920 and 1922, on top of the recent loss of his father, both his eldest son, three-year-old Takemori and also his second boy, one-year-old Kuniharu, died of disease. Then his mother passed away at the age of 71. These years can be seen as a period of terrible testing unmatched by any other time in his life.

Even so a few things helped to alleviate this hardship. One was the completely undreamed of release of the Master Onisaburo on June 17th of 1921 and another was the birth of this writer ten days later on June 27th. Coming immediately after the death of his second son, the birth of a boy brought the founder great joy. Master Onisaburo was also overjoyed and took up his brush and wrote the name “Kisshomaru” and gave it to the founder. “This was the childhood name of the famous warrior Minamoto Yorimitsu. If you choose it, it is certain that this boy will succeed you and also become a fine budo man.” The founder accepted it and registered it as my legal name.

After his release Onisaburo was determined to do something about the internal problems of Omoto so he set about on a broad reshuffling of personnel.

This series of major changes within the organization brought the founder an official role as “Head of Agricultural Affairs.” This Office of Agricultural Affairs was in a position to regulate everything pertaining to the physical aspects of life at Omoto, food, clothing, and housing, and was also responsible for correcting the terrible state of economic affairs. This was to be achieved by a sort of “boot straps” effort at making the organization self-supporting. The founder applied himself single-mindedly to clearing new field land, since Omoto adhered to a strict vegetarianism, and supplying enough vegetables to meet their needs was a persistent problem. Here the experiences of the founder during the opening of Shirataki village were put to good use. The soil in the area they worked was not so suitable but the founder and the others worked it very hard. Once the land had been cleared it was a simple matter to plant but since this produce would be placed before the Shinto deities on the altar they could not use human waste for fertilizer. In place of this regular fertilizer they used a soup made from rice polish received from a merchant acquaintance in Ayabe. Every morning the founder and the farm group got up at 3:00 am to go to town for a load of the polish. Morihei Sensei would take the load, pulling the cart from the front and though the others may have liked to have absented themselves, how could they! He was a man who personified responsibility and purposefulness. Eventually, their plot produced a fine harvest and the kitchen at Omoto was greatly helped.

After his release from prison, the Master started to publish his eighty-one volume “Tales of the Spirit World (Reikai Monogatari),” an unprecedented work that expresses his view of the universe, of the world and of life. The entire opus was written out stenographically as the Master dictated orally. His stories seemed to gush but as if from a spring and he dictated without referring to a single book. Of course, his accumulated knowledge was the base but almost the entire book was a product of his own imagination and is worthy of admiration. The founder; who always listened to the Master’s oral dictation, said, “I was able to understand everything about gods from all over the world,” by listening to Master Onisaburo’s stories.

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