1882: Shimada Heikichi, the older brother of the founder Shimada Seiichi, was born in Ōgoe Village, Saitama.
1892: Tenshin Ōmikami first appeared to Shimada Heikichi, predicting the birth of his younger brother Shimada Seiichi, who became the founder known as Shodai-sama.
1892: Heikichi began performing miracles, such as curing blindness and “spirit writing” by channeling Tenshin Ōmikami. This became known as the First Advent of God.
1896: Heikichi announced that Tenshin Ōmikami would return to heaven, and, shortly after, Heikichi declared that he could no longer perform miracles.
1896 (February 11): The founder, Seiichi Shimada, was born.
1909-1920: Seiichi moved to Tokyo and established himself as a grain trader.
1923 (February): Seiichi married Ei, who was twenty-one at the time.
1932: Due to declining business, Seiichi was forced to sell his house and the family fell into poverty. He took work as a millet broker.
1935 (January): Seiichi considered suicide, beseeched God for help.
1935 (January 18): A fellow trader, Satō Yasutaka, became possessed by Tenshin Ōmikami and told Seiichi: “I am your guardian god.” He gave Seiichi precise advice on the soybean market, which turns out to be accurate. This became known as the Second Advent of God.
1935 (February 11): Seiichi held the first prayer meeting for Tenshin Ōmikami in his home in Saga-chō, and begian holding monthly prayer meetings.
1935 (Summer): Seiichi and a fellow believer went on a pilgrimage from Mt. Kurama in Kyoto to Mt. Akiha and Mt. Kuno in Shizuoka. He began receiving mysterious abilities, such as reading in the dark.
1937 (November 29): Shimada Heikichi passed away.
1937: The first congregation, the Tokyo congregation, was founded (unofficially), and was known as Tenshin Kai.
1945 (March 10): Seiichi’s home burned down in a Tokyo firebombing. Seiichi evacuated to Saitama with family.
1947-1949: Saitama was flooded by Typhoon Kathleen on September 15, 1947. Seiichi’s house is miraculously left untouched. Seiichi began construction on a new home in Bunkyo Ward (near present-day headquarters) in1948; work was, completed in September 1949. The house included altar room for rituals.
1949: Seiichi resumed monthly prayer meetings in October at his home altar. Believers began visiting and staying with him at his home. The religion becomes known as “Kagomachi no Tenshin-sama,” named after the location of his home in Kagomachi, Bunkyō Ward.
1949 (April): Seiichi married his second wife, Kyoko (who was unaware of his religious beliefs).
1950 (July): Seiichi grew increasingly ill. He was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach/intestines and acute appendicitis. He underwent emergency surgery and recovered miraculously.
1950 (December 25): Seiichi miraculously cured two people suffering from mental illness. News of the miracle spread and more and more believers began visiting his home.
1951 (January 11): Seiichi made a covenant with Tenshin Ōmikami to serve as a religious leader.
1952: Seiichi registered Tenshin Ōmikami Kyō as a religious organization.
1960: Tenshin Ōmikami Kyō’s Head Temple was completed in Tokyo.
1961: Seiichi received divine instruction on healing technique using “divine water” (go-shinsui).
1967: Tenshin Ōmikami Kyō’s affiliated clinic, Yamatoura Clinic (later renamed Tenshin Clinic), opened in Kagomachi, Tokyo.
1975 (September): Restoration was completed on the “Ōgoe Holy Site” of Seiichi’s birthplace.
1976 (April 11): Seiichi’s eldest son, Shimada Haruyuki, succeeded him as head of the religion.
1976 (May 8): The twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration was held at the Nippon Budohkan.
1985 (May 3): Shimada Seiichi passed away at age eighty-nine.
1990: The organization name was changed to Tenshinseikyō.
2001 (April 11): Shimada Kōichirō became Third Master.
2001 (May 12): The fiftieth Anniversary Celebration was held at Tokyo International Forum.
2006 (February 11): The new Main Temple (Honbu Seidō) was completed in Tokyo.
2009 (April): The official group website was launched.
While officially registered as a religious organization in 1952, Tenshinseikyō traces its origin to an event known as the “First Advent of God” during 1895-1896, when their deity, known as the Supreme Ruler Tenshin Ōmikami (天心大御神), appeared to Shimada Heikichi (島田平吉), the older brother of the founder Shimada Seiichi (島田晴一). [Image at right] In January of 1895 Shimada received a message from Tenshin Ōmikami announcing that a younger brother would be born the following year, and he was to be named Seiichi. He also received a schoolbag and shoes of high quality, which he said were gifts from the deity to be used by Seiichi when he was born. Throughout the year prior to Seiichi’s birth, Heikichi did miracle working in the name of Tenshin Ōmikami. Then in 1896, the official founder of the religion, Shimada Seiichi, was born. He is referred to as “Shodai-sama” (初代様, First Master) by followers.
For much of his early adult life Seiichi was not involved in religious activities and showed little interest in religion, but rather was a shrewd-minded and ambitious businessman. Seiichi did not graduate elementary school (a fact that is often stressed by followers), and in 1910 he became an apprentice at a fellow villager’s family’s millet business in Tokyo. He earned a reputation for being trustworthy and reliable, and he also gained recognition for his accurate market predictions. He began playing the market and participating in the drinking, gambling and cavorting of the Tokyo nightlife in the early 1910s.
From 1916-1917 he served in Section 3 of the Fifth Troop of the Azabu Third Infantry Regiment in the Imperial Army. In his memoirs he proudly notes that he was chosen to present his regiment to Crown Prince Hirohito (future Showa Emperor) at the Azabu barracks. After seven months of service he was discharged for being “unfit for military service,” which he claims was the first time that “Article 57” of the Army code was invoked to allow such discharge, though the reasons and circumstances are unclear.
After military discharge, Seiichi opened his own shop, Shimada Shōten, in 1918, which dealt in rice and bran imports, and by 1919 he became a wholesaler for a major rice trading company, Kyōsei Milled Rice. Seiichi eventually opened a branch in Yamagata Prefecture, which later became another important religious community for the future Tenshinseikyō. Also in 1919, he was investigated by police in connection with illegal business dealings conducted by Kyōsei Milled Rice, and in connection with the murder of a fellow rice-broker by a business partner. He was later cleared of involvement in both cases.
Seiichi’s business boomed until the stock market crash of March 1920, and he was further affected by the Great Kanto Earthquake on September 1, 1923. Seiichi lost all of his merchandise and property, and his business was wiped out. After briefly returning to his hometown of Ōgoe with his wife, he returned to Tokyo and used his connections to sell udon noodles from a mobile cart and began a business in buying and selling flour, soy beans, and other goods. During this time Seiichi also contracted typhoid and became severely ill. Meanwhile, his first two children, daughter Atsuko (also called Mitsuko) and daughter Shigeko were born in 1925 and 1928, respectively, and his first son, Haruyuki, was born in 1933.
By the early 1930s, Seiichi was in deeply in debt. On January 15, 1935 he contemplated suicide by jumping from Eitai Bridge in Tokyo. However, he worried about leaving his wife and family behind, and he remembered the stories of miracles surrounding his birth that his parents and brother had told him when he was younger. Desperate, he beseeched Tenshin Ōmikami to give him guidance. Three days later, on January 18, Seiichi ran into his business partner, Satō Yasutaka, who suddenly became “possessed” by a spirit claiming to be Seiichi’s “guardian deity” (保護神, hogo-gami). Through Satō, the deity (later identified by Seiichi as Tenshin Ōmikami) berated Seiichi for poor market choices and gave him practical advice on upcoming business transactions. Following the “possession,” Satō had no memory of the incident. Ultimately, Tenshin Ōmikami’s advice proved accurate and Seiichi made a large profit, and this incident became known as the Second Advent of God (the First Advent being Tenshin Ōmikami’s appearance to Shimada Heikichi).
From then on, Seiichi began to receive messages from Tenshin Ōmikami through Sato, who became a temporary channel for communicating with Tenshin Ōmikami. The divine messages included personal admonitions to be faithful and pious as well as accurate market advice, and Seiichi’s business began to turn around. Seiichi began monthly religious gatherings in his home in mid-1935 and also pursued ascetic training at Mt. Kurama in Kyoto, and Mt. Akiha and Mt. Kuno in Shizuoka to deepen his understanding of this religious experience. He also began receiving mysterious powers such as the ability to read in the dark.
In 1936 Seiichi built a second home in his hometown of Ōgoe, Saitama, which later became an important religious site for his future organization. This same year, on December 3, 1936, his mother passed away. Meanwhile, the first congregation of the new religious organization was unofficially founded in Tokyo in 1937, and was known as Tenshin Kai. The first temple was constructed with contributions from eight members, under the guise of a Buddhist-style altar in Seiichi’s house (as religious organizations were heavily restricted during this period). They also began “prayer-counting sessions,” in which members would fall into a trance and make forecasts for the futures market. In 1938, Seiichi also pursued ascetic training in Mount Kobugahara in Tochigi Prefecture. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the group was not a registered religious organization, and so amidst the increasing wartime surveillance of citizens his followers continued to meet in secret, until evacuations and wartime pressures forced the members to disperse across Japan by 1944.
Alongside his religious pursuits, from the 1930s to the end of World War II, Seiichi was involved in numerous business activities and gained friends and followers in various government ministries and businesses. He was briefly arrested for violations of the Price Control Act in June, 1940, of which he was later absolved. In the summer of 142, Seiichi became involved in establishing the Japan Fabric Control Union; this was disbanded by government order in February 1943 (or 1944?), but was reestablished two months later. He became an executive director for a textiles union, where he worked with major corporations like Kanebo.
In the late 1930s Seiichi and his wife had two more sons, Hiromitsu and Saburō, but his family also suffered a number of losses. His father died on January 10, 1938, and in January 26, 1941, Seiichi lost his wife to typhus. Soon after, his children evacuated to their country home in Ōgoe, Saitama, to seek shelter during the war.
After the end of World War II (around 1946-1947) Seiichi and his family moved back to Fukagawa, Eitai-chō, in Tokyo. Seiichi remarried, and he built a new home in Kagomachi, Bunkyō Ward in 1939, where he resumed his monthly religious meetings this same year. As his previous contacts and members of the Tokyo congregation returned to Tokyo in the early postwar, the religion began to spread through Tokyo, particularly through his business partners, and later through his other business connections in Saitama and Yamagata. Meanwhile, in December 1949 his third daughter Atsuko married Shindō Akira, who later became a head priest for the religion.
During the early postwar period of Seiichi’s Tokyo congregation, the group was informally known as “Kagomachi no Tenshin-sama.” However, by 1951 the growing congregation attracted the attention of police who began surveillance of the organization. In response, Seiichi officially registered the religion as Tenshin Ōmikamikyō in 1952. From the 1960s to the 1970s the religion continued to grow and its activities expanded. In 1960, the Tokyo temple (Image at right) was completed, mostly through donations from members. Following this, in 1961 Seiichi received divine instruction from Tenshin Ōmikami in how to perform a healing method involving injections of “divine water” (go-shinsui) to cure a range of illnesses. In 1967, their healing facility, Yamatoura Clinic, officially opened; it was later renamed Tenshin Clinic.
Seiichi and his religion briefly attracted media attention in the 1970s, including an appearance by Seiichi on a nationwide morning television show on NET TV (presently TV Asahi) on January 7, 1975. The group also began foraying into audiovisual production, including producing a video on the origin of the organization in 1977. Organizationally, in 1976 Seiichi’s eldest son Shimada Haruyuki (島田晴行) succeeded him as the “Second Master” (第二世教主, Dai ni-sei kyōshu or 第二教主様, Dai ni kyōshu-sama). In 1985, Seiichi passed away, and around 1990 the organization changed its name from Tenshin Ōmikamikyō to Tenshinseikyō.
Through the 1980s and 1990s the religion continued to gain members in Tokyo, Saitama, and Yamagata, and their facilities in Tokyo’s Bunkyō Ward were also expanded. Beginning in 1990 they began holding introductory seminars as well as major ceremonies at the convention venue Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture. In 2001, Haruyuki was succeeded by his eldest son Shimada Kōichirō (島田幸一郎), who became the “Third Master” (第三世教主, Dai san-sei kyōshu or 第三教主様, Dai san kyōshu-sama). In 2006, they completed a new temple in Hon-Komagome, Bunkyō Ward, Tokyo.
Members of Tenshinseikyō revere the deity Tenshin Ōmikami, who is seen as the “Living God” who is the “same god of the Bible and all major religions.” The common name used to refer to Tenshin Ōmikami [Image at right] among members is the Japanese generic term for god, kami-sama (神様). Members note they are monotheistic, worship only Tenshin Ōmikami, and do not worship any other gods or intermediaries. Moreover, they do not see their leaders or the founder as being divine, but rather as messengers of Tenshin Ōmikami. They note that Tenshin Ōmikami has descended to Earth through human forms on three occasions, first as Moses, second as Jesus, and third as Heikichi and Seiichi (which is seen as one instance). Tenshinseiky ō is thus seen as being part of the same lineage of all world religions, though it does not posit any particular genealogical progression in terms of religious teachings or revelations. Some members also note that while they believe that Tenshinseikyō is the “right” (tadashii) religion for them, other religions may be “right” for other people, and that ultimately all religions have the same roots. Thus, members generally do not express feelings of competition or animosity with other religious groups or beliefs.
Tenshinseikyō places emphasis on three main beliefs:
● The existence of miracles ( kiseki ) performed by Tenshin Ōmikami;
● “Karmic Legacy”( 因縁, inen), which consists of in , one’s own karma, and en , the karma which comes from others, including one’s ancestors. Together, these two forms of karma shape each individual’s fate (shukumei), and they also connect individuals with their ancestors as well as with other individuals whom they meet during their lifetime. This combination of one’s personal karma and the karma of others is called one’s “karmic legacy”;
● The practice of ancestor veneration (senzo no shiawase wo kami-sama ni inoru, literally “praying to god for your ancestor’s happiness”) is seen as necessary to purify the bad karma (悪因, akuin) of one’s ancestors and thereby positively shape one’s fate and the karma (inen) of one’s descendants. According to their English handbook, “Bad karma inherited from ancestors needs to be removed by God, and only then can you pray for your wishes to be fulfilled. The correct way to pray is to first pray for your ancestors’ bad karma to be removed, to then pray for your own salvation and to finally pray for your descendants’ prosperity.”
Principle teachings include the “Teachings of God” (御心, Mi-gokoro), a collection of phrases passed down from Tenshin Ōmikami to the founder Shimada Seiichi over the course of his religious life and compiled before his death. The teachings consist of forty-seven short phrases that emphasize the virtues of positive thinking, sincerity, hard work, perseverance, self-reflection, gratitude, and forgiveness. Each day of the month is assigned a particular teaching for that day, to be addressed in the daily ritual meetings and reflected on by members, and the teachings are rotated each month. Based on the founder’s experiences as a businessman, many teachings address how to attain success and prosperity, including proper business ethics for dealing with customers, employees, and coworkers. Additional doctrinal texts include the prayers found in their prayer book, Tenshinseikyō Norito, and the book “The Origins” (由来, yurai), [Image at right] a text which documents the life of the founder.
There is no eschatology nor explicit doctrine regarding the spiritual realm or afterlife. After individuals die, their spirits continue to exist in a spiritual realm and their karmic legacy has influence over the living.
Principal rituals consist of worship services held at the regional temples and main headquarters throughout the week, and members are free to attend as many or as few as they wish, with most members attending only on Sundays. The services are offered eight times per day on average to meet the members’ diverse scheduling needs. More-or-less mandatory monthly ceremonies are held on the eleventh of each month, and annual ceremonies celebrating events in the founder’s life and the establishment of the organization are also celebrated.
Typical daily ritual services last for ten to fifteen minutes and are held at their regional temples and headquarters. Before entering the temples, members wash their hands in a basin at the entrance. Once in the hall, members sit on pews that are designed and arranged in a manner similar to a Christian church. The services are officiated by two priests on a raised stage who present offerings to two altars, one in Buddhist design and the other in Shinto design, which represent the members’ ancestors and the deity Tenshin Ōmikami, respectively. Services begin with reading two prayers from a book of prayers which is arranged in the form of a sutra-style fold-out pamphlet. Members clap twice at the beginning and end of each prayer, very loudly and in unison. Following the service, members are free to socialize in the hall.
Consultations are another important element of Tenshinseikyō activities. Priests serve as counsellors and offer advice and ritual services for members. Dedicated consultation rooms in their temples are used for this purpose, and are available by appointment for a fee. In addition to consultations, Tenshinseikyō runs two Tenshin Clinics, one located next to the Tokyo headquarters [Image at right] and one in Nagasaki, which administer a kind of “divine water,” called go-shinsui 御神水), via injection. It is said to possess healing powers, and is available for use by both members and non-members for a fee (members receive a considerable discount).
The injection was a formula revealed to Shimada Seiichi at the request of a medical doctor who was a member of Tenshinseikyō and was vexed by his inability to cure his own wife (see Watanabe and Igeta 1991). The formula originally consisted of boiling water dedicated before the altar to Tenshin Ōmikami, with chondroitin sulfate added. The formula seems to have changed over the years, and according to Watanabe and Igeta (1991), writing in the late 1980s:
At present, the method of preparing goshinsui is for water to be offered before the deity, then placed in bottles which are sealed, and then once again dedicated with prayers before the deity. Together with water, patent medicines and drugs are likewise dedicated before the deity, and it is said that if the deity is asked to breathe its breath into the medicine, the drugs will become a “divine tonic.” Since goshinsui and divine tonics are different from the medicines produced by human beings, they are said to be capable of curing any disease without producing harmful side effects. At the same time, however, it is apparent from numerous experiential tales and sermons by religious leaders that the water will have no effect if the believers do not possess firm faith. ”
The divine water is administered by being injected into the patient with a hypodermic syringe. This is carried out by a licensed physician at their Tokyo Tenshin Clinic and in their Nagasaki Tenshin Clinic. While embracing the use of divine water injections, the physicians are licensed in internal medicine, and they also offer referrals to other hospitals in serious cases such as cancer or terminal illnesses. Patients thus often combine treatments from both the Tenshin Clinics and other (mainstream) medical institutions. The injections are said to cure a wide variety of ailments from physical to mental illnesses. This practice briefly caused controversy in the mid-1960s when the Department of Health investigated their administration of injections without a license. They subsequently applied for and received a license for the Yamatoura Clinic (now Tenshin Clinic) as a result of this incident (see Watanabe and Igeta 1991).
Tenshinseikyō leadership has followed primogeniture in succession, and is currently led by the third leader, Shimada Kōichirō, who is known as the Third Master and is the eldest son of the second leader, Shimada Haruyuki, known as the Second Master. Shimada Haruyuki, in turn, was the eldest son of the founder, Shimada Seiichi, who is referred to as the First Master.
The organization consists of lay members and full-time clergy. While the elder brother of Shimada Seiichi was the first to encounter the revered deity Tenshin Ōmikami and served as a vessel for automatic writing and miracle working for the deity, he is not revered as a founder of the organization.
Organizational structure consists of the current Third Master as the head of the organization operating out of the headquarters in Tokyo, and full-time clergy called Priests (kyōshi) who run the day-to-day rituals and offer consultation for members. At the Tokyo main temple there are at least four priests who alternate officiating the daily services, and priests-in-training serve as assistants. Training for the priesthood requires becoming a full-time employee of the organization and completing several years of training with senior priests. Priests are often second or third-generation members. The priests live in private residences, and there is no cloistered housing. The organization also has other full-time staff who manage the properties, publishing, finances, and audiovisual productions.
Membership is based on individuals paying a membership fee and purchasing the main sacred texts, and thus it is not hereditary. Joining requires the recommendation of a current member. The organization discourages open proselytizing and does not participate in door-to-door or public proselytizing activities. Rather, they encourage word-of-mouth proselytizing among relatives, friends, and coworkers. They also do not permit unaccompanied guests to enter the premises of their temples; instead, interested visitors must make arrangements with staff beforehand or be accompanied by a member. Membership estimates are vague. Watanabe and Igeta (1991) put the number around 40,000, while in 2009 some members suggested that the number was perhaps around 10,000 or fewer nationwide, including around 100 priests, though this is also unclear. In addition to their main temple (honbu seidō) in Tokyo and the holy site of the founder’s family home in Saitama , they currently have three “churches” (kyōkai ) in Shizuoka, Osaka, and Nagasaki, six “worship halls” (reihaidō) in Yamagata, Sendai, Mie, Kagawa, Oita, and Hakodate.
Tenshinseikyō is not well known, and there is little reportage about the organization or its activities. Little research has been done on the organization, and thus far it has not gained much attention from the media or scholars (see the few exceptions of Inoue et al 1996; Watanabe and Igeta 1991). Their most visible public activity to date was the construction of their Tokyo headquarters, which seems to have been met with no resistance or negative reception by local residents. However, there is moderate chatter regarding aggressive proselytizing and expensive membership fees on Japanese-language anti-cult websites, such as on anonymous bulletin board systems (BBS) such as 2ch. Most comments refer to family members who the anonymous BBS contributors feel are paying too much money to the organization; other complaints decry overly zealous proselytizing methods among some members.
The organization’s use of “divine water” (go-shinsui) to cure illnesses briefly caused interest in the group by non-members seeking its cures in the mid-1960s. According to Watanabe and Igeta (1991), the Department of Health issued a warning to the group when they began administering injections to non-members who came to the Tokyo temple for treatment. In response to the Department of Health investigation, the group legally established the Tenshin Clinic. Its divine water was reported to have been tested by scientists at The University of Tokyo (most likely at the request of the Department of Health), only to find that it was merely water; this was taken by members as a sign of the miraculous nature of the water which defies scientific reasoning.
As a relatively small organization that has grown primarily by word-of-mouth, it has expanded only gradually, but some members express worry about the organization becoming too large and losing its close-knit characte. Leaders encourage proselytization through word-of-mouth by asking members to bring friends, coworkers, and family members to meetings. However, some members, particularly younger members who view the organization more like a personal “household religion” (i.e., a religion that is their families’ private tradition), seem somewhat conflicted about having the community grow much larger. As the current number of members is rather small in each district, members expressed a feeling of comfort in knowing everyone in their community and in knowing each other’s extended families due to the multi-generational character of the community. Furthermore, as they generally believe that all religions are aspects of the same ultimate truth and emanate from the same ultimate deity, there is little palpable fervor in terms of gaining new members and promoting the righteousness of their own religion among others, at least among the general membership. As of the early 2010s, they also expressed no plans for overseas expansion and do not actively proselytize among non-Japanese in Japan. Their future growth pattern and plans remain to be seen.
Image #1: A photograph of the iconic bronze door in the Tokyo headquarters. The door resembles the “Stations of the Cross” in that each panel tells one part of the history of Tenshinseikyo. This panel shows the first appearance of Tenshin Ōmikami (天心大御神).
Image #2: A photograph of the main columns in front of the entrance to the main hall of worship at the headquarters in Tokyo.
Image #3: A photograph of an artistic casting of the sun, the symbol of Tenshin Ōmikami (天心大御神) at their headquarters in Tokyo.
Image #4: A photograph of the cover of the sacred text in its English translation.
Image #5: A photograph of the front of the Tenshin Clinic, which is across the street from the Tokyo headquarters.
* This profile is based primarily on the author’s fieldwork in the group along with personal communications with its members, and in part also on the author’s PhD dissertation “Private Religion and Public Morality: Understanding Cultural Secularism in Contemporary Japan” (Yale University, Department of Anthropology, 2013).
Inoue, Nobutaka. Komoto Mitsugi, Tsushima Michihito, Nakamaki Hirochika, and Nishiyama Shigeru. 1996. Shin-sh ūkyō Kyōdan / Jinbutsu Jiten (The Encyclopedia of New Religious Organizations and Major Figures). Tokyo: Kobundo.
Tenshinseikyō Official Website. 2010. Accessed from http://www.tenshin-seikyo.or.jp/en/ on 20 May 2016.
Watanabe, Masako and Igeta Midori. 1991. “Healing in the New Religions: Charisma and `Holy Water’.” Contemporary Papers on Japanese Religion 2. Tokyo: Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University.
24 May 2016