My name is Ichiro Yokoyama, and I am a representative of Tenrikyo. I am delighted and honored to have this opportunity to attend this year’s interreligious meeting for peace.
Tenrikyo was founded in 1838 by Miki Nakayama, whom we call Oyasama. In those days, Japan was undergoing a transition from a samurai-dominated society to a modern society. In that period of social upheaval, farmers, who accounted for eighty percent of the population, lived difficult lives. Oyasama taught that all human beings, whether they are in high social classes or on the bottom rungs of society, are equally the children of God the Parent, whom we call Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, and that all people throughout the world are, therefore, brothers and sisters. She taught that living in accordance with the intention of God the Parent, the Creator, entails helping one another and working together to achieve a life of joy and harmony in this world.
Increases in the number of followers, mainly farmers, resulted in organizational elements emerging in Tenrikyo. This led to interference by the authorities and opposition from other religious groups.
Oyasama, for Her part, regarded even those who opposed Her as Her own beloved children. Far from denouncing them, She embraced everyone as She continued to work for the salvation of all humankind. Based on Oyasama’s teachings, Tenrikyo is devoid of negative sentiment toward other religions and is working toward the peace and happiness of the whole world.
Unlike many other countries, Japan is surrounded by oceans and does not border any country on land. Japanese people are more or less mono-ethnic and speak one and the same language. There has not been a violent internal conflict of the kind that would have devastated its land. Even the Battle of Sekigahara—which is described as the most crucial fighting in determining the national destiny—involved only about 100,000 men altogether and lasted just two or three days.
On the other hand, Japan has a great diversity in terms of food, clothing, and shelter. You will find not only Japanese elements but also elements from other parts of the East and from the West, and they coexist. In terms of religion, as well, Japan is diverse with a variety of religions such as Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, and others being present. According to the statistics compiled by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology—which registers religious corporations—the total number of followers of all religions in Japan amounts to 199 million, which is about 80 million more than the country’s population, which is 120 million.
Theoretically, this would mean that each adult in Japan belongs to two religions. This may be a simplistic way of interpreting the data but seems to indicate an open-minded attitude to religious diversity. In fact, there are many people who visit a Shinto shrine over New Year’s, get married in a Christian ceremony, and receive a Buddhist funeral. Perhaps for reasons such as these, there is little or no significant antagonism among religions in Japan. Although there may be some interreligious competition in trying to gain followers, most religions seem to take coexistence and co-prosperity for granted.
From these observations, one might say that, in terms of religious affiliation, most Japanese people are more or less free rather than bound or attached to a specific religion. From the perspective of the countries where most of their populations belong to a particular religion, Japanese people may seem to lack genuine religious faith. Yet this might account for the absence of any major religious conflict in Japan.
Tenrikyo manages Tenri Yorozu-sodansho Foundation Hospital, which has 1,001 approved beds. I serve as the chair of the board of directors of the foundation. Our hospital, one of the well-known hospitals in Japan, is fairly highly regarded there. It has some 1,700 employees, including 230 doctors and 700 nurses, who are working hard to help save people who are suffering from illnesses and other problems. One of the characteristics of our hospital is that, in addition to the employees I have just mentioned, about a hundred Tenrikyo ministers are entrusted by the hospital with providing spiritual care for patients. Every day, about thirty of them come to the hospital and visit patients in the wards. It goes without saying that their care is not imposed on patients; they only respond to requests made by patients. Most patients who have worries and anxieties relating to their illnesses seem willing to seek guidance from and confide their worries to these ministers, with the exception of those who, for religious reasons, do not wish to receive care from our ministers. Eighty percent of our inpatients are non-Tenrikyo people. Our ministers make it their motto to “smile and be kind” to all patients as they work to provide loving spiritual care.
Also in response to patients’ requests, these ministers offer a Tenrikyo prayer called “the Sazuke” (or the Divine Grant), which involves stroking the afflicted part of the patient’s body. I think all religious people appreciate the importance of prayer, which is instrumental in helping patients recover from their illnesses. There is no discrimination or distinction in this regard between Tenrikyo followers and followers of other religions in our hospital. This, I think, is another reflection of how people of other religions are not excluded.
This planet has great religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, as well as many others. I think that it is natural that different regions with different climates, natural features, languages, and customs saw the beginnings of religions that reflect the needs of those regions. A human lifetime is short in comparison to geological time, and people have many worries and distresses. The birth of many religions was related to a fundamental human desire to be freed from such worries and distresses.
I believe that religions exist in order to save and deliver people from their distresses and afflictions. People are seeking spiritual salvation through religions. Religions must not do anything that would hinder people’s progress toward salvation—or toward the Joyous Life in our terminology. Religions are to save people and offer prayers for them to be happy. It would be a great tragedy for the human race if religions became antagonistic to one another. Paradise is neither in the next world nor so far away as to be beyond our reach. The goal of human existence is to build a joyous and bright life in this world through mutual help. If we are to achieve this, it is necessary for religions, which are many, to promote dialogue and contribute to reducing conflict and antagonism and achieving world peace and humankind’s happiness.
It is splendid that this interreligious meeting has taken place every year with positive results. This year, once again, I sincerely pray that this meeting will be a tremendous success and make a significant contribution to world peace and humanity’s well-being.
Thank you very much for listening.