2. Past Attempts to Embrace Universalism in Japan
The Impact of Imaoka’s Encounter with Nishida Tenkō
Inspired by Tenkō’s emphasis on religion as a practice (jissen) rather than a belief system, Imaoka decided that he could no longer preach about what he had not personally experienced. He had worked as a minister for three years but resigned from his position at the church in Kobe.10 Tenkō recommended that Imaoka learn the Okada method of “quiet sitting.”11 Such were the circumstances that led Imaoka to return to Tokyo in 1910 with the idea of furthering his research in the direction of a nondenominational approach to religion.Years later, Tenkō published his experiences in a book titled Zange no seikatsu (A life of repentance).8 Yet, thanks to Tenkō, what I had originally been taught by Professor Ebina, by Professor Anesaki, and by Professor Ryōsen about the perspective of free religion (jiyū shūkyō) was not only confirmed, I was also shown something altogether different, something that couldn’t bear comparison with what I had seen so far in the religious world.9
3. Imaoka and Nishida’s Posture during and after the Pacific War
During the war, the term “national polity” (kokutai) often served as a euphemism for the emperor, although this term’s usage implied significantly different nuances depending on which group used it and how it understood the concept of nation and of its identity. What can be ascertained is that Imaoka and Tenkō adopted a rather conservative position regarding the emperor. Yet, being men of action rather than philosophers, they worked behind the scenes for progressive causes, introducing people and facilitating events they considered important. It is worth noting that, in the postwar period, Japanese history was largely rewritten by historians with Marxist sympathies, who tended to obliterate such emperor-friendly contributions. This may explain the emergence of two distinct types of pacifist discourse (socialist and conservative), which thoroughly ignored each other. Such lack of unity certainly has impaired the ability of mainstream Japanese intellectuals to successfully process war memory and apologize to other Asian countries.Kanamori’s explanation was overflowing with earnestness. Overcoming the political parties’ mindset, he was able to unify the spirit (seishin) of the Diet members, who almost all approved him. Fundamentally, it is the national polity (kokutai) in a good sense, going beyond common interpretations. I was not only happy that these things were actually explained, I was simultaneously struck by the inexplicable feeling (fushigi) that this perfectly matched the first article of our Prayer for Light.27
3.1. Link to Developments in Postwar Japan
In another passage, Imaoka explains that in naming his organization Kiitsu Kyōkai, his intentions were to encourage “Eastern and Western civilizations to return to oneness” (tōzai bunmei no kiitsu) and to promote “cooperation between the various religions” (shoshūkyō no teikei).44And, together with like-minded people in Japan and in different foreign countries, we believed that “religion does not consist of religious organizations or doctrines: it is nothing else than the realization and the manifestation of the independent, creative, and incomparably sacred (shinsei muhi) human nature (ningensei) shared by everyone.” Thus, insofar as even education, culture, politics, and economy are expressions of the sacred human nature, I reached the conclusion that everything is Free Religion (to avoid adhering to the word “religion,” one could also simply speak of “the human way”).43
3.2. Participation of Japanese Religious Groups in International Organizations
3.3. Toward New Conceptual Frameworks
Conflicts of Interest
- Kawase, Takaya. 2012. Antiwar and Peace Movements among Japanese Buddhists after the Second World War. Translated by Micah Auerback. In Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia. Edited by Vladimir Tikhonov and Torkel Brekke. New York: Routledge, pp. 209–26.
- Nishida, Tenkō. 1921. Zange no Seikatsu 懺悔の生活 (A Life of Repentance). Tokyo: Shunjūsha (numerous reprints). (Selections have been translated as Nishida 1972).
- Mason, Joseph Warren Teets. 1928. The Creative East. New York: Dutton.
- Mason, Joseph Warren Teets. 1939. The Spirit of Shinto Mythology. Tokyo: Fuzanbō.
- Mason, Joseph Warren Teets. 1935. The Meaning of Shinto: The Primæval Foundation of Creative Spirit in Modern Japan. New York: Dutton. (Reprint as The Meaning of Shinto. 2002. San Francisco: Tenchi Press).
- Mohr, Michel. 2014. Review of Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia. Journal of Asian Studies 73: 519–22.
References and Notes
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Japan’s official withdrawal from the League of Nations was proclaimed on 27 March 1933, marking one of the turning points that set Japan on a course toward isolation and, eventually, on the path of war.
Here “Meiji” will be used as a broad marker including both the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishō (1912–1926) eras.
Unitarians in Japan worked closely with the labor movement. Imaoka was appointed to replace Suzuki Bunji (1885–1946), who decided to focus on his work with the Yūaikai (Friendly Society). This association was meant to circumvent the ban on labor unions and, eventually, became the largest labor union in Japan. See (Mohr 2014a, p. 134). The Unitarian movement in Japan was also deeply involved in pacifism, as indicated by Clay MacCauley’s strong support of the American Peace Society of Japan. MacCauley (1843–1925) even served as acting president of this organization in 1919. (Ibid., p. 138). MacCauley was the central pillar of the Unitarian mission in Japan. Although not a Unitarian, Sidney Lewis Gulick (1860–1945) also played an important role in supporting Suzuki’s travel abroad and peace efforts. See (Taylor 1984).
Hyōgo Kyōkai (Kumiai-ha). See (Imaoka 1981, p. 652).
Imaoka mentions that he met Nishida Tenkō through the Ryōsen-kai, an association dedicated to commemorating the life and work of Tsunashima Ryōsen (1873–1907). Imaoka then had several opportunities to learn directly from Tenkō (he called him “Tenkō-san”) about his personal realization. To avoid confusing him with another famous Nishida (Nishida Kitarō), hereafter, I will follow Imaoka in calling him “Tenkō” instead of using his family name.
Selections have been translated as (Nishida  1972). An early review of this book can be found in two publications by Hoashi Riichirō (1881–1963): (Hoashi 1922, 1923). Hoashi was one of the leading Japanese Unitarians, and he kept working in the same direction after the war. In these two publications Hoashi discusses the ideas of Tolstoy, as well as Gandhi’s formulation of ahiṃsā. A group picture with Hoashi is included in (Akashi 1995, p. 234). Note that there are two Japanese readings for the term translated as repentance. The zange reading tends to be favored in Christianity, whereas sange is the older reading from Buddhism. In printed and online publications the current Ittōen movement tends to use sange.
Details of this crucial event are narrated by Imaoka himself in his 1910 article “Yo wa ikan ni shite bokushoku o shirizokishi ya” (How did I resign from the ministry?). See (Imaoka 1910). Regarding Tenkō’s influence, see also (Imaoka 1981, pp. 278–79, 360, 436–37), and many other passages in the same publication.
(Imaoka 1981, p. 360). This refers to the quiet sitting method (Okadashiki seizahō) taught by Okada Torajirō (1872–1920).
For a critical account of the background of this association, in particular its resemblance to the government-sponsored Sankyō Kaidō (Gathering of the three religions) held in 1912, see (Isomae 2002).
Regarding the socialist sympathizers, see (Ōtani 2012).
Mason seems to have been introduced to Shinto while in Europe through his acquaintance with the Japanese diplomats Suematsu Kenshō (1855–1920) and Hayashi Gonsuke (1860–1939). He came to Japan in 1931 and may have met Imaoka through the Harvard Club. The date of Mason’s arrival relies on (Imaoka 1981, p. 385). His papers are kept at Columbia University. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/archives/eastasian/mason/ldpd.6601952.001b.html.
According to Yamamoto Yukitaka, his initial meeting with Imaoka and Mason took place in 1937, when his father, Yamamoto Yukiteru, was still the head of Tsubaki Grand Shrine (IARF 2001, p. 113). The amazing fact about Yamamoto Yukiteru is that he was a pacifist, whose convictions were tolerated during wartime because the Imperial Police used his shrine for rituals. He is described as “one of the first conscientious objectors in Mie prefecture” (Ibid., p. 124), footnote. His son, Yamamoto Yukitaka, could not avoid conscription, however. For the unusual history of this shrine, see (Yamamoto 1997).
(Ibid., p. 124).
For a detailed account of Tenkō’s trips to Manchuria, even in the midst of the war in 1943, see (Miyata 2008, pp. 195–253).
See Chapter 5, “Manshū kara sekai e no shisen” (From Manchuria to glancing at the whole world), (Miyata 2008). On the other hand, Miyata’s position as director of the Ittōen Museum (Kōsōin) suggests that he would be inclined to present Tenkō in a favorable light. Tenkō’s travels abroad had started earlier with, for instance, four months spent in Hawai‘i between 16 August and 4 December 1924 (Ibid., pp. 184–89).
The utopian community created in 1904 by Nishida Tenkō included both those who led a communal life without personal possessions in their “village” located outside Kyoto, and the larger community of followers and supporters. During my visit in June 2013, the current Ittōen director (Tōban), Nishida Tenkō’s grandson Nishida Takeshi, told me that the members are aging and that there are about sixty-five people currently living in the commune.
The name of this theater troupe, Suwaraji, comes from the Japanese pronunciation for the Sanskrit sva-raj (svarāja, literally “self-ruling”), a concept used by Gandhi to emphasize the need not to resort to violence to acquire true independence. It is also a pun suggesting the humble posture of someone walking barefoot (suashi) with straw sandals (waraji) and the choice to remain active without sitting down (suwaraji). (Miyata 2008, p. 211).
Interview of Nishida Takeshi, 26 June 2013.
This troupe had its hour of glory when it performed at the United Nations headquarters in June 1957. (Miyata 2008, p. 335). The current list of plays gives an idea of their rather harmless orientation, targeting elementary and middle school students: http://www.swa-raj.com/gallery/ (accessed on 11 March 2017) (In Japanese).
The language quoted here follows the version of this statement transcribed by Nishida Tenkō in his writing, maybe quoted from memory. (Nishida 2013, p. 55). It refers to a statement made on 1 July 1946.
The “Prayer for Light” (Kōmyō Kigan), formulated in (Nishida 2013, pp. 48–50).
(Nishida 2013, p. 55). This is a free translation of this long passage transcribed from Tenkō’s oral delivery. The first article of the prayer begins with the sentence “the light of nonduality entirely fills the universe, like sunshine” (funi no kōmyō wa uchū ni henman suru yōkō no gotoshi). (Ibid., p. 48).
This concept can also be translated as humbleness, but the English word does not adequately convey the practical connotation of the term, which implies “adopting an attitude of total humility” by sitting in the lowest possible position. In the case of Tenkō, he demonstrated this attitude by repairing the base boards (soles) of other people’s wooden clogs (geta no haire), a task traditionally done by outcasts. He seems to have realized the importance of geza during his Zen training with various teachers at Nanzenji and Kenninji. Interview of Nishida Takeshi, 26 June 2013.
The only work in English regarding Imaoka is (Williams and Imaoka 1984), aside from brief mentions in periodicals, especially those published by Risshō Kōseikai. Williams has in preparation a new monograph focusing on Imaoka and his thought.
Tenkō’s definition of what constitutes a “Japanese” person is interesting: “any person having come to this country is Japanese” (kono kuni ni kita hito wa nihonjin). Interview of Nishida Takeshi, 26 June 2013.
Expression credited to Tsurumi Shunsuke (b. 1922). See (Yoshida 1991, p. 134).
This expedition (Taiwan shuppei, known in Taiwan as Mudanshe shijian) served as a trial balloon for sending the Japanese army abroad. See (Mōri 1996). It was followed by the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), and the annexation of Korea (Kankoku gappei) in 1910.
This is acknowledged as Imaoka’s proposal in the proceedings: “at the general meeting held in November 1930, Rev. N. Imaoka, a member of the Executive Committee made a proposal to hold a National Religious Conference for International Peace.” (Japan National Committee 1931, p. 4). Nobuichirō was Imaoka’s original first name, but he later chose to read it Shin’ichirō.
See (Kyoto Conference 1970).
See Religions for Peace, “History,” http://www.rfp.org/vision-history/history/ (accessed on 11 March 2017).
(Ōtani 2012, p. 8). The abbreviation Sōhyō stands for Nihon Rōdō Kumiai Sōhyō Gikai, the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan, a labor federation founded in 1950.
Regarding the mood prevalent during that period, see (Dorman 2012).
Tenkō shared with Imaoka this fascination with “oneness” (or “the one”), which he often identified as “light” (hikari). This seems to suggest a connection with the Zen kōan involving the question “if everything returns to the one, where does the one return?” It was included in the Recorded Sayings of Zhaozhou and later in The Transmission of the Flame, CDL 10, T 51 no. 2076, 278a02. Constitutes also case 45 in The Emerald Cliff Record, BYL, T 48 no. 2003, 181c17. See (Green 1998, p. 222).
Anesaki died one year later but saw the emergence of these organizations.
This was also a way for Imaoka to honor Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and the Free Religious Association created in 1867, to which Emerson lent his name and support. Part of the ambiguity of this term in Japanese is that the expression Jiyū also serves to translate the adjective “liberal.” For instance, already in 1891 the School of Liberal Theology created by the Unitarians in Japan was called Jiyū Shingakkō.
The renaming of this organization also resulted from an initiative taken by Imaoka. It was first suggested in 1952 to delete the word “Christianity,” but the motion was rejected. Eventually, the renaming took place in 1969. (IARF 2001, p. 115). The new name is interesting in itself, and may have been the result either of divergent opinions or of a slight misunderstanding between Japanese and English speakers. The Japanese term Jiyū Shūkyō unambiguously means “free religion,” whereas the English name of the organization became International Association for Religious Freedom. There is thus a huge gap between the Japanese equivalent “Kokusai Jiyū Shūkyō Renmei,” still implying “free religion,” and the English name of the organization, where “religious freedom” has a completely different connotation. It may also have been a mischievous trick achieved by Imaoka without the knowledge of his foreign counterparts.
(Imaoka 1981), foreword (unpaginated).
Ibid., p. 499.
See the fascinating picture of the 1920 meeting in Boston, included as Figure 9 in (Mohr 2014, p. 173). It includes two Unitarian representatives from Japan, MacCauley and Uchigasaki, as well as Yogānanda (1893–1952) from India.
Nishida Takeshi remarked that in recent years the IARF has become too dependent on Japan. Interview, 26 June 2013.
The role of Imaoka as bridge-builder is acknowledged in the biography of the Risshō Kōseikai founder, in (Nezu 2000, p. 89). This passage discloses how in 1978 Imaoka introduced the Unitarian Dana McLean Greeley (1908–1986) to Niwano Nikkyō, and how this resulted in a decisive collaboration between the two organizations. Greeley was the last president of the American Unitarian Association (AUA) and was instrumental in engineering the transition to the new Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the result of a merger with the Universalists.
Strictly speaking, Ittōen is not a religious organization, though the insights of its founder, Tenkō, were of a deeply religious nature. His grandson mentioned the secularization (sezokuka) of the organization after Tenkō’s demise in 1968. Interview of Nishida Takeshi, 26 June 2013. Today Ittōen’s legal status is that of an incorporated foundation (zaidan hōjin).
http://www.relnet.co.jp/jlc/ (accessed on 11 March 2017).
The Tendai denomination has been organizing its own event, called Hieizan Shūkyō Samitto (the Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei, according to the official translation) since 1987. See http://www.tendai.or.jp/summit/ (accessed on 11 March 2017).
Both the Kiitsu Kyōkai and the Nihon Jiyū Shūkyō Renmei have all but vanished with the death of their founder, Imaoka, in 1988.
A tentative name for such an academic endeavor could be Transreligious Research Association (TRA) (Tsūshūkyō kenkyūkai).
It has been pointed out that one of the driving forces for many youths joining Asahara and his infamous Aum cult was precisely their disillusion with established Japanese traditions. See (Reader 2000).
For instance, see (Ukai 2015), who shows how fast temple are being shut down, especially in rural areas.
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