Prophet Motive

Prophet Motive: Deguchi Onisaburo, Oomoto, and the Rise of New Religions in Imperial Japan

Nancy K. Stalker
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Prophet Motive
    Book Description:

    From the 1910s to the mid-1930s, the flamboyant and gifted spiritualist Deguchi Onisaburô (1871–1948) transformed his mother-in-law’s small, rural religious following into a massive movement, eclectic in content and international in scope. Through a potent blend of traditional folk beliefs and practices like divination, exorcism, and millenarianism, an ambitious political agenda, and skillful use of new forms of visual and mass media, he attracted millions to Oomoto, his Shintoist new religion. Despite its condemnation as a heterodox sect by state authorities and the mainstream media, Oomoto quickly became the fastest-growing religion in Japan of the time. In telling the story of Onisaburô and Oomoto, Nancy Stalker not only gives us the first full account in English of the rise of a heterodox movement in imperial Japan, but also provides new perspectives on the importance of "charismatic entrepreneurship" in the success of new religions around the world. She makes the case that these religions often respond to global developments and tensions (imperialism, urbanization, consumerism, the diffusion of mass media) in similar ways. They require entrepreneurial marketing and management skills alongside their spiritual authority if their groups are to survive encroachments by the state and achieve national/international stature. Their drive to realize and extend their religious view of the world ideally stems from a "prophet" rather than "profit" motive, but their activity nevertheless relies on success in the modern capitalist, commercial world. Unlike many studies of Japanese religion during this period, Prophet Motive works to dispel the notion that prewar Shinto was monolithically supportive of state initiatives and ideology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6404-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    The Tsukinamisai ritual of the Japanese new religion Oomoto (the Great Source) is a monthly rite offering the fruits of earth and sea to the gods and providing purification and affirmation of the religious community. To open the ritual, several women in pure white kimonos play a simple tune on theiryakumo koto, a two-stringed instrument based on a design used in the courts of the early emperors. The slow, repetitive music creates a hypnotic, otherworldly atmosphere as a large group of men, dressed in the traditional garb of Shinto priests—white kimonos, sky-bluehakamatrousers, and small blackeboshi...

  5. Chapter One Deguchi Onisaburō: Early Life to Oomoto Leadership
    (pp. 20-44)

    In a 1993 special edition of the popular journalRekishi tokuhon(History Reader) entitledTwo Hundred People Who Overcame Japanese History (Nihonshi o koeta jinbutsu 200 nin),Deguchi Onisaburō joined an exclusive list of Japanese luminaries from the legendary Princess Himiko to notable emperors, warlords, and artists from prehistoric times through the Shōwa period.¹ Many religious figures from premodern Japan, such as Kūkai, Saigyō, and Nichiren, are noted, but in the modern era only Onisaburō and Ōtani Kōzui (1876–1948), chief abbot of Nishi Honganji Temple, commended by the Emperor Meiji for his support during the Russo-Japanese War, are listed,...

  6. Chapter Two Neo-Nativism: Oomoto Views on Mythology, Governance, and Agrarianism
    (pp. 45-75)

    According to an apocryphal tale circulated by Onisaburō’s grandson, Deguchi Yasuaki, in the summer of 1864, when imperial loyalist forces led by troops from Chōshū domain stormed the emperor’s palace in Kyoto in efforts to restore imperial power, a sumo wrestler by the name of Asahigata Kametarō saved the life of Emperor Kōmei.¹ As bullets flew into the interior of the palace, chaos reigned, and effete courtiers dashed around in confusion. Following traditional proscriptions against touching the emperor’s body, none were willing to physically lead his royal majesty to safety. Asahigata decided to violate the taboo. Cradling Kōmei respectfully in...

  7. Chapter Three Taishō Spiritualism
    (pp. 76-107)

    In May 1921, the journalAbnormal Psychology (Hentai shinri)devoted an entire issue to discrediting Oomoto and its spiritualist practices, particularly the spirit possession technique known aschinkon kishin(pacifying the soul and returning to the divine), described below in this chapter. The special issue was edited by Nakamura Kokyō, a psychologist whose personal mission was to debunk spiritualist phenomena through psychological and medical explanations. His preface literally labeled Oomoto a “nail that sticks up,” justifying the hammer of the state suppression earlier that year.¹

    Nakamura’s perspective did not necessarily reflect popular opinion. He was hired by the police and...

  8. Chapter Four Exhibitionist Tendencies: Visual Technologies of Proselytization
    (pp. 108-141)

    In the early 1990s, the world famous architect I. M. Pei began designing a private art museum in the Shiga Mountains near Kyoto. Pei drew upon a classic Chinese tale he remembered from boyhood about a fisherman wandering into a hidden paradise. The Miho Museum, an architectural masterpiece blending Eastern and Western motifs and rivaling the beauty of the rare and precious objects within, was commissioned by Shinji Shūmeikai, a new religion established in 1970. At least four Japanese new religions own and operate private art museums; three of these, including the Miho, are within the Oomoto lineage.¹ Although it...

  9. Chapter Five Paradoxical Internationalism? Oomoto in the World
    (pp. 142-169)

    In June 1924 Onisaburō stood facing a Chinese firing squad on the Mongolian border. Accompanied by a band of his followers, including Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of the martial art aikido, Onisaburō was leading a “spiritual army” into Mongolia to begin the spiritual unification of the world under the auspices of the powerful warlord Chang Tso-lin. It was a project that he envisioned would take him, like the great Genghis Khan, across the central Asia plains to Jerusalem.¹ He carried with him a set of Noh costumes that he intended to use in a performance ofThe Queen Mother of...

  10. Chapter Six A Patriotic Turn and the Second Suppression
    (pp. 170-190)

    In February 1931 during the Oomoto Setsubun Festival, an annual rite that both commemorated the initiation of Nao’sOfudesakiand reflected an older tradition of banishing demons at winter’s end in preparation for the spring planting, Onisaburō prophesied that the year would bring war. The prediction was based on his reading of the numbers 1931 asikusa no hajime, or the beginning of war. A different calendrical calculation, based on the reign of the mythical Emperor Jimmu, placed the year at 2591, which Onisaburō readjigoku no hajime, or the beginning of hell.¹ Onisaburō interpreted thesekotodama-derived omens as the...

  11. Conclusion: State, Religion, and Tradition in Imperial Japan
    (pp. 191-196)

    The remarkable rise of Oomoto and the role Onisaburō played in promoting the sect provide us with new perspectives on modern Japanese history and religion. They require a reexamination of assumptions about the relationships among Shinto, religion, and national identity in prewar Japan, for it is clear that Oomoto represented a significant segment of the population, which rejected the bureaucratic state’s definitions of and limits on these concepts. By noting similarities between Oomoto’s development and the activities of other new religions abroad, we can insert the historical study of Japanese new religions into larger discourses about religion and modernity, rather...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 197-234)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 235-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-266)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-270)