My Mission: The Reconstruction of Tsubaki Grand Shrine
It all began in 1959. In a small town in Ibaraki Prefecture there is a shrine called Aiki Jinja. It stands next to a very old dojo or training gymnasium for the uniquely Japanese martial art of Aikido . Aikido means literally meeting-spirit-way and it deals with how defensive strategies can be developed through perceiving the state of the ki or spirit of the opponent and how consequently even the weaker may subdue the stronger. The head of the dojo was an elderly man called Ueshiba who was head of that particular school of Aikido. He informed us that he had long looked up to the enshrined Kami of our shrine, Sarutahiko OKami as the teacher and the guardian Kami of Aikido. He informed us further that he wished to have Sarutahiko OKami enshrined at Aiki Jinja. Although other Kami were enshrined at Aiki Jinja, he still resolved that Sarutahiko OKami would be installed as the central divinity of Aikido and therefore I made the journey to Iwama with a bunke goshintai, a branch of the sacred worship object to represent the spirit of Sarutahiko OKami. This was to be enshrined in accordance with the Aikido teacher's request and so I performed the ceremony of installation. I was in my thirties by then and went to Iwama on a regular basis for three years to conduct Shinto rituals , to supervise the worship of Sarutahiko OKami and to celebrate the shrine festivals, particularly the Taisai or Great Annual Festival, the principal event in the annual cycle of festivals peculiar to each individual shrine. During this time also I began to think more about the meaning and significance of the worship of Sarutahiko OKami . My understanding was being enlarged at every stage.
During this period too, worshippers began to appear at Tsubaki Grand Shrine in ever increasing numbers and this helped to stabilize our living conditions. I was moving back and forward between the Shrine and Tokyo on a regular basis, and although it was relatively inexpensive to make the journey in those days (one way was ¥10 as compared to ¥10,000 in 1987), I never had enough money for the return journey. I used to perform the ceremony of oharai of purification for individuals, homes, companies or wherever I was asked so that I could pay my way back to the Shrine. I was deeply committed to the completion of my gyo and therefore was somewhat less concerned about money than I was simply about simply making both ends meet.We survived somehow and eventually I was even elected head of the young priests" association of the Prefecture. In a sense this episode was the beginning of the recognition of the growing influence and importance of Sarutahiko OKami and it led on to the great task of the restoration and reconstruction of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, the central task of my life.
By 1965 it had become clear that the Honden or main building within the shrine precinct was in an advanced state of decay. Action had to be taken and it was in reflecting upon what to do and how to do it that quite incidentally I began re-examining the meaning of the children's festival known as Shichi-Go-San, literally Seven-Five-Three, which is celebrated annually on the 15th of November for children who happen to be three, five or seven. I considered first the way the name is written . A common starting point for thinking in Japan is to look at the origins of the meaning of word, or its etymology and also at the different ways it can be written in combination with other words and the differences of meaning that can be generated or that can be implied in it.
If you write the Japanese word for rope, nawa after writing 7-5-3 it can be read shimenawa in Japanese. Shimenawa means the rope that marks off a purified area . They are found at shrine entrances sometimes or on the main buildings or around trees or rocks with white paper streamers tied to them called gohei. Whether the purpose is the ground breaking ceremony for a new building or simply the performance of a special ceremony, the ground thus surrounded by the shimenawa becomes purified. The Kami consequently also becomes a yashiki-gami or household Kami, the guardian of the household. At New Year, a shimenawa is put up at every house for the end of the year oharai or purification. The shimenawa is hung up horizontally - which means that the musubi or knot is horizontal. That is to say, you are in the center with your brothers and sisters and other people linked horizontally - hand in hand around the world.
In this way also I came to understand the importance of the expression, shime-to-naru in Japanese. I realized that the festival of shichi-go-san, 7-5-3 refers to a vertical musubi referring to the transmission of life from the past to the present within which the festival was one celebration of that process. Therefore, Tsubaki Grand Shrine had consisted of a vertical musubi, or binding process, and in fact to develop as I hoped, it
would need a horizontal one as suggested by the Shimenawa. This would mean that we wished the shrine to expand "horizontally" to embrace people hand in hand with each other across Japan and around the world.
In other words, the shrine would have its traditional tate or vertical dimension stretching into history and ancestors as well as a yoko or horizontal dimension through which it could embrace all people. Herein I found the meaning of chowa or harmony as the union of vertical and horizontal musubi which could unite east and west, past, present and future in the life of Daishizen the Great Nature of which we are all a part.
The Tsubaki Grand Shrine as it was at that time (i.e.,. in the 1960s) was as it had been since it had been restored after being raised to the ground by the revolutionary leader Oda Nobinaga (1534-1582) some 400 years ago. It had been restored by the people of the region *lef* by the feudal lord of the region (*Daimyo*) Hijikata. Oda Nobunaga had destroyed all religious groups that did not fit into his political schemes for a unified hegemony over Japan. So you see that the Tsubaki Grand Shrine has show its ability to think and behave independently of the government at more that one crucial time in Japanese history. Indeed, it is because the enshrined Kami Sarutahiko OKami is named in Japanese mythology as head of the earthly Kami that the shrine has been able to command enough respect to survive and be rebuilt on more than one occasion. In my lifetime, yet another such situation had arisen.
It 1965, the building had stood untouched since that earlier reconstruction. The roof was beginning to collapse and there were large areas of rot under the Honden or main worship sanctuary. To reconstruct the Shrine buildings on the same site using the 7-5-3 (shichi-go-san) idea of musubi would require a substantial budget. I got it initially by adding the numbers 7,5, and 3 and came up with ¥15 million. The realistic figure was ¥150,000,000 which would have been nearly US $1 million.
That was a lot of money for a shrine that could barely afford the ¥10 fare for the priest's trip to Tokyo. The breakdown was as follows:
Haiden ¥50 million
Honden ¥50 million
Ridaiden ¥30 million
Naidaiden ¥50 million
(See the Shrine layout on p and the photographs of the buildings on p )
During the period of reconstruction, we encountered many strange and difficult circumstances. People we thought would help us turned out to be friends of dubious value while we were often pleasantly surprized by the unexpected. After one or two false starts and we finally prevailed upon the Shrine lawyer to become president of the group that would oversee the reconstruction. The Ujiko (the committee of representatives of the shrine's parishioners) felt that the target of raising ¥150 million was simply beyond any hope of realization. I went to a local construction company and asked for an outline plan. The company indicated that the project would be in the order of ¥150 million plus, and that therefore a discount of 10% would be possible. The drawings for the reconstruction would cost ¥3 million alone! We did not have the cash to pay for the detailed plans, so I asked for a simple drawing that would serve as a model for our planning. I requested time to think about fund raising for the reconstruction. I discovered that the same company had undertaken repair work at the Toshogu, the famous Shrine in Nikko which enshrines the soul of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa or Edo age who lived from 1542 to 1616. I then went to visit the High Priest of the Grand Shrines of Ise where the principal divinity of Japan, Amaterasu OmiKami, the Sun Goddess is enshrined. The officials there heard me most sympathetically, and offered to co-operate in the work of repair and reconstruction. They had a division for architectural drawing and so I ended up asking the Grand Shrines of Ise, the Kotai Jingu, as we we say in Japanese, for their help in the preparation of the drawings. I was deeply grateful.
Just by chance, around that time, a representative from another construction company called Nishimatsu visited the shrine. They were putting in a tender for a ¥2 billion project in connection with the water supply of Yamashiro, Kyoto, and the representative came to request a Kito a kind of purification and blessing on behalf of his firm's success in obtaining the contract. Whenever I conduct such a ceremony for a construction company, I always first perform misogi to purify myself before commencing the ceremony. I invited him to wait while I went to the waterfall. After doing misogi, I prayed that of the ten competitors entering bid his company would succeed. The man who was a branch manager asked me if his company's bid would be successful. I told him I was only human and that a direct answer to such a question would be impossible. Further, I wasn't sure how deeply he believed in spiritual things like that. But he would not be put off and kept insisting that I give him an answer. Finally I found myself attempting for the first time the ancient ritual of Shinsenho that I learned from my father. It is performed my cutting a piece of Japanese paper into ten pieces and placing them on a tray called a sanbo. I asked him to select a number and he selected the number 7. I told him he would not get the order, but would come seventh. The following day he called me to say that the number 7 had been correct. He was surprised and asked if he could visit me again to seek a divination on three further bids that the company was making.
Again I performed misogi and performed the ritual of Shinsenho. On this occasion the number was 3, and again it proved to be the correct number. They did not get the order, but they came third in the bidding.I had felt that perhaps the first time was accidental. Now it was co-incidental. The branch manager from Yamashiro came again and this time brought with him Osaka branch manager of the company. He could not believe what had happened, but was willing to take a chance one more time for the last of the three contracts for which the company was bidding. Yet again I performed misogi and then the ritual of Shinsenho . On this occasion the number was 1. They would get the contract. I could hardly believe it, but the following day I telephoned to find out what had happened. I was informed that the company had succeeded in its bid and had been awarded the contract! I congratulated them warmly and before they started work, they asked me if Tsubaki Grand Shrine was considering any construction work. I told them of our hopes and plans concerning the Honden, about our lack of capital . The president of the company offered to do the job saying that there was no need to be concerned about payment until we had managed to earn some after the reconstruction was complete. I reported this to my father who immediately rejected the idea out of hand. "There is no way I would consider such an offer" he stoutly declared at first. After long and earnest consideration, he agreed that the Ise Jingu would be asked to take care of the architectural drawings and that Nishimachi would undertake the construction work. The drawings for the new Honden incorporated my concepts of shichi-go-san, the 7-5-3 ideal, and work commenced. The new Honden was completed in 1968. The only concern that repeatedly returned was that of money. Although the president had said he would not demand payment, I wondered if we would ever actually able to pay him.
At this time, a local man of substance called Inokuma from the neighboring village passed away and his successor represented a new generation of possible relationships between ourselves and the house of Inokuma to replace the almost forty years of strife us going back to the days when they caused a lot of trouble in Yamamoto-cho. The Inokuma family was old and prestigious and I felt moved to invite the new generation to become president of the next stage of our fund-raising quest.
The Ujiko-sodai was very much against my proposal as was my father, but I felt that we needed the back up of some influential people if we were ever to expand the shrine's activities and repay the construction company.
I received approval and formally approached Mr. Inokuma who responded immediately by accepting my request. This was the beginnings of many good things. I began my relationship with the Chairman and Founder of
National Panasonic, Konosuke Matsushita whose name is known around the world. I was asked to perform a ceremony of oharai or purification in the Head Office of that great corporation in Osaka. From this time on, the work of construction began to go very smoothly. We received a donation of ¥15 million from a donor in Tokyo, and Mr. Matsushita himself donated ¥34 million in 1966. Eventually, some of the village sceptics who had insisted that the money could not be raised began to go on the rounds collecting what they could whether it was ¥200 or ¥20,000! In those days, a carpenter's daily wage was around ¥1800. The modern equivalent is over ¥10,000. Our supporters went out into the highways and byways and solicited all the help they could get and made quite an effective public campaign as to what Tsubaki Grand Shrine was in the midst of doing.
To express their regrets for not being co-operative from the beginning, the Ujiko members offered to undertake the dismantling of the old Honden to save money. With tears in their eyes, they saw to the demolition of the buildings that had stood there for three centuries and that had been a symbol of spirituality and life to them and their forbears. "Will the new Honden ever rise before our eyes?" they asked plaintively while bringing down the old one.
"Of course", I assured them> "You will have cause to rejoice when you see what the kindness of the Kami will make possible!"
Under these circumstances and with such a beginning, the reconstruction of the Honden took place.The gracious patronage of Mr. Inokuma and the fortuitous meeting with Mr. Matsushita was good en, a sign that providence was smiling on us and that we were destined to succeed in our efforts. Donations began to pour in from all over the country and the foundations of our nationwide network of supporters came into being.
I was surprised at the tremendous response but deeply impressed at what I was seeing taking place before my very eyes. Shinto and shrine life was in the process of a revival and we at Tsubaki Grand Shrine were at the heart of it.
Birth of the Misogi Kai (Association)
This goes back to before the work of the Honden was started, but in a sense runs parallel to that era and of course the misogi association is one of the important spiritual activities of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine as well as one of its most characteristic activities.
Back in 1959 after I had reveiwed the full ritual of misogi with elements of the esoteric that we share with Shingon or True Word Buddhism which was introduced from China by the Japanese saint Kukai ( 774-835) in and which mingled with aspects of Shinto . This was because Kukai himself was a devotee of many of Japan's oldest mountain shrines. The movement known as Shugendo (literally the way of mountain asceticism) was an amalgam of Shinto rituals and Buddhist esoteric practices. Our version of misogi includes both. The Tsubaki form of misogi draws on the ancient heritage of Japanese religion of which our Shrine has for centuries been a jealous guardian. During the era of State Shinto, many ceremonies and rituals were suppressed by government order because they represented natural religion rather than the government manufactured ideology that Shinto has been distorted into becoming to further the ends of national unity at the expense of either genuine spirituality or truth.
The end of the Pacific War meant also the liberation of many groups to restore shrines that had been closed down by government order (and there were many in Mie Prefecture) to revive many practices that had been suppressed especially in mountain shrines where many Buddhist practices had been mixed with Shinto rituals. The revival and growth of our Misogi-Kai (Misogi Association ) is one such story.
I was in the waterfall performing my gyo late one night when I heard a voice from behind. I was very surprised to have been disturbed so late and I was a little bit annoyed that my private discipline and devotions had suffered such an intrusion. It turned out that there were six people who asked if they could join me in misogi. I explained that I did not wish to be interrupted when I was practising misogi myself and especially when this was in the middle of a long period of gyo. Nevertheless they persisted in asking for an appointment and I finally gave in. Their earnestness seemed convincing and I agreed to meet them on the 11th of the month. From then onwards, on the 11th of every month, I have held a misogi gathering at which anyone who wishes to join the association can come and listen to a lecture from around 9:00 pm and thereafter, perform misogi. We had a special misogi to acknowledge the completion of the Honden reconstruction which was ready by the Taisai or Great Festival around the third weekend of February each year. This was in 1968. By this time, news had travelled far and wide that a country shrine called Tsubaki Daijinja, Tsubaki Grand Shrine had completed a reconstruction of its buildings at a cost of ¥150 million, indeed a massive sum in those days. Priests and visitors came from all over Japan to see the shrine. The reconstruction of the shrine seemed to run in tandem with Japan's era of high economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s.
By 1971, the shrine staff had expanded from my father and me to a total of six people and bit by bit, we began to feel relieved as our financial position slowly improved.
Tsubaki Grand Shrine now has over 13,000 supporters nationwide and many other loosely affiliated adherents. We also have support groups in different parts of the country formed into chapters. There are 113 in all, and members of these make regular pilgrimages to the shrine, staying at the Tsubaki Kaikan, our Japanese-style inn /conference hall complex. We may not be one of the largest shrines, although we belong to the top 200. We are one of the nation's oldest and are committed to the worship of Sarutahiko OKami, to the furtherance of misogi and to the enhancement of the life of our people by instructing them and assisting them to follow the way of kannagara, the way of the Kami. That way has taken us from the dark days of war to the brighter days of the shrine's reconstruction. It is now taking us on new pathways that Shinto as we understand it has never trodden before. This brings me to speak of our involvement in the International Association for Religious Freedom, the I.A.R.F.,the interest we have in Japan-U.S. relations and the plan to establish Tsubaki America.