Ijun

Christopher Reichl

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IJUN TIMELINE

1934 (January 3):  Takayasu Rokurō was born in Naha City, Island of Okinawa, as the sixth son.

1943:  Takayasu had a vision of the future bombing of Naha City that took place in October 1944.

1944:  Takayasu evacuated to Taiwan in September in anticipation of warfare; he returned in 1946.

1952:  Takayasu’s father, who had been a member of Okinawan prefectural parliament and a theatre manager, died.

1966:  Takayasu joined Seichō no Ie, and was head of the Okinawan chapter from 1970–1972.

1970:  Takayasu received a mystical revelation of the existence of Kinmanmon, the primary deity of Ryukyu (the former name of Okinawa)

1972: Takayasu underwent a pilgrimage to India and Southeast Asia.

1972-1973:  Ijun was formally founded and the headquarters in Naha City opened. It was first called Ryukyu Shinto Ijun, then Ijun Mitto, and finally Ijun. Later, in 1983, the headquarters was moved to Ginowan City. In Hawaii Ijun was first called Okinawa Original.

1974:  The monthly journal Ijun began publication.

1980:  Legal establishment and formal registration of Ijun under Japan’s Religious Corporations Law took place.

1984:  The Fire Festival was first performed by Takayasu in Hawaii, Big Island

1986: A statue of Kannon, The Goddess of Mercy, thirty-six meters in height, was purchased and placed on top of headquarters in Ginowan City. There was public criticism of the construction, which disturbed existing traditional tombs.

1987: A high–ranking associate of Takayasu absconded with about 300 million yen, causing serious financial difficulty. Takayasu borrowed heavily to continue Ijun. The statue of Kannon was sold and removed.

1988:  Power play as part of ritual observances began.

1989:  The Big Island (i.e. Hawaii Island) branch of Ijun began after a decade of informal practice. Takayasu began a speaking tour.

1989:  Ijun women ritual leaders of the Fire Festival were replaced by men.

1991:  Takayasu undertook a lecture tour of Yokohama, Japan, Honolulu and Hilo in Hawaii, and Los Angeles.

1991:  The Yokohama branch of Ijun opened.

1991:  Publication of Kuon no Kanata (Beyond Eternity: The Spiritual World of Ryukyu) began.

1992:  Ijun activity in Hilo, Hawaii peaked, with eleven power symbol holders leading rituals.

1993: Takayasu Rokurō changed his name to Takayasu Ryūsen (using the standard reading of the characters used to write Ijun龍泉).

1995:  Three deities were added to the Ijun pantheon. In addition to Kinmanmon (first called Kimimanmomu and then Kinmanmomu), Fuu, Karii and Niruya were added.

1995:  Takayasu changed his title from Sōshu to Kushatii. In Hawaii he continued to be called Bishop Takayasu.

2010:  Ijun lost property and formal organization.

2018:  Takayasu celebrated the forty-fifth anniversary of the founding of Ijun, now called Karucha Ijun (Culture Ijun) and an incorporated company.

2018 (September 30):  Takayasu passed away from heart failure at age eighty-four. He was survived by wife (Tsuneko), oldest son (Akira), second son (Tsuneaki), and daughter (Tsuneko).

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

Takayasu Rokurō [Image at right] was the sixth son born in 1934 to mother Kiyo and father Takatoshi in Naha City, which is the main town on the island Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu islands that collectively came under Japanese control in the nineteenth century. In childhood he was taken to a yuta (Ryukyuan traditional healer) who saw significant spiritual acumen in him and predicted he would lead a distinguished life with supernatural abilities. At age fourteen he heard a doctor tell his father that he probably would not live beyond age eighteen due to pulmonary infiltrate. Because of this, and as a result of horrifying incidents in Taiwan to which he had been evacuated during wartime, he developed an intense fear of death, and then neurosis. He had experienced physical pain in Taiwan when Okinawa was subject to naval bombardment in 1945. The fear of death and neurosis was later conquered by his joining and learning the philosophy of Seichō no Ie, which holds that all illness is an illusion (Reichl 2011; Taniguchi 1985). It is said he had a vision of Okinawa being bombed one year before it occurred. He was ultimately viewed as a spiritual healer and living kami (kaminchu). When performing spirit healing within Seichō no Ie, he used Ryukyuan spirits, which lead to criticism. When he was forced to quit Seichō no Ie in 1972, he took many adherents with him to start Ijun. Having experienced spirit calling (kamidaari) in the form of disturbed sleep and vomiting, his revelation of Kinmanmon (who became Ijun’s main deity; see below under Doctrines/Beliefs) cured him. He then formulated Ijun theology and began to publish the monthly journal Ijun in 1974 (Shimamura 1993).

From childhood he acted on the stage, facilitated by his father’s role as manager of a theatre, Taishō Gekijō. His father was also a prefectural-level politician. Takayasu continued to act in theatre productions throughout his life, often in historical re-enactments of events in the Ryukyuan kingdom. In the second half of the 1960s he was a voice actor for a radio drama that portrays Ryukyuan history. His obituary identified him primarily as an actor, and uses his original given name, Rokurō, not the name he took on during his leadership of Ijun, Ryūsen (see Shimamura 1982).

In about 1976 Takayasu was ill with a kidney stone. In a spiritual revelation, a voice told him that somewhere there existed a natural stone with spiritual vibrations that would cure him. As a result, he carried out a long pilgrimage and search but at first rejected every stone he found as being without spiritual power. Then in Chang Hua, Taiwan, at a shrine called Chintō-gū, he approached the deified stone Sekitō-kō, broke into a sweat during prayer and experienced a revelation. Simultaneously, his kidney stone melted away. Ijun adherents know Chinto-gu as a sister shrine to Ijun and visit it in pilgrimages (Reichl 1993).

Ijun grew rapidly in Okinawa prefecture, including on the island of Miyako. However, it probably never had more than about 1,000 adherents. In its heyday, branches were started in Taiwan, Honolulu and Hilo in Hawaii, and in Yokohama, Japan. These branches, called ashagi, sent funds back to the main Ijun temple in Ginowan City in Okinawa (Reichl 2003:42-54).

In 1988, Ijun purchased a statue of Kannon, The Goddess of Mercy, that towered over Ginowan City at a height of thirty-six meters. [Image at right] There was public criticism because the construction disturbed existing traditional Ryukyuan tombs at its base. About this time, c. 1987, a close associate of Takayasu took a large amount of money by fraud, said to be close to 300 million yen (around  2,000,000 dollars at the average exchange rate of 1987), and disappeared, plunging Ijun into a financial crisis and Takayasu into a spiritual one. Heavy borrowing by Takayasu brought Ijun back into activity after a hiatus of two months.

Ijun activity in Hawaii was strong throughout the 1980s and part of the 1990s, and a branch was founded on Hawaii Island in 1989. From the central church in Ginowan City, Kinjo (Kaneshiro in Japanese) Mineko was dispatched to conduct ritual and training of local leaders (she was formerly known as Nerome Mineko). However, a dedicated church was never acquired, so parking was always a problem at the Pepe’ekeo home of Hawaii resident and branch head Yoshiko Miyashiro where ritual was held. Leaders, called “power symbol holders” and appointed by Takayasu, included a Hawaiian couple named Sylvester and Mokihana Kainoa. A conflict between two important members caused the Hilo branch to split into two branches. As time went on, Ijun declined in membership and activity (Reichl 2005).

In Okinawa, there were said to be conflicts between women in leadership roles, which led to adherents stopping attending rituals (Reichl 1993: 324). This and the financial struggles resulting from the fraud by Takayasu’s close associate led to a reorganization in 1989 in which women leaders of ritual were replaced by men. By 1992, “women played clearly distinct and subordinate roles,” differentiated by the color of their robes (yellow instead of white), their position on the altar floor (farthest from the altar) and their subordinate (silent) role (Reichl 1993:312).

By the end of the decade of 2000–2010, the decline in membership both in Okinawa and overseas led to existential threat. Many of the adherents were elderly and not easily replaced by younger people. The group is thought to have dissolved c. 2010 but the exact time and circumstances are not reported. It is likely, however, that women in the organization have continued it informally, in part taking on the traditional female Ryukyuan role as spirit healers (see also Watanabe and Igeta 1991). In 2015, Takayasu founded the company Karucha Ijun (Culture Ijun) to replace the religious group, but little has been researched and written of the activity of this company. The dissolution of Ijun has not yet been studied by scholars in the field.

RITUALS/PRACTICES

Ijun began ritual with a call for silent prayer, called meimoku gasshō. These words are spoken by the ritual leader while participants take a posture of prayer. Bows and claps are used to punctuate major portions of ritual. Two bows are followed by two claps (raihai, ni hakushu) and then by a final half-bow. Ritual is concluded in the same manner.

A feature of the Ijun service is the power card. Each adherent brings one to services and to lectures by Takayasu. Power cards (laminated pieces of cardboard small enough to fit in the palm of the hand and inscribed with the characters for Ijun), sold to members each year and also called power antennas, attract universal power. Reception of the power heals and revitalizes. During a power play, members hold the cards in silence with eyes closed for several minutes, keeping in mind the object of their prayer. What is gained is not the help of a deity but the infusion of universal power. In Ryukyuan theology, mana or impersonal universal power is a basic concept (Sasaki 1984; Saso 1990; Lebra 1966:21). Because the words power play are transliterated English words (pawaa puree), the latter can be interpreted as either “play” or “pray,” and thus carries the semantic sense of both.

The Fire Festival was a central part of ritual at the main church in Ginowan City, and in Hawaii where it was first performed by Takayasu in 1984. In this ritual, participants write their wishes on pieces of wood and paper which are then burned. The smoke carries the contents of these wishes to the gods in the heavens. For this purpose, the main church in Ginowan City has a large brazier and overhead exhaust on the altar. In Hawaii, the Fire Festival was conducted outdoors.

Just as Seichō no Ie is said to be derived from Omoto, it can be said that Ijun is derived from Seichō no Ie. If we consider the characterization of Seichō no Ie’s founder Taniguchi Masaharu  as highly adaptable (McFarland 1967:151) and Seichō no Ie as flexible and “ready to assume almost any configuration that will enable it to flourish” (McFarland 1967:158), then it is likely that the same attitude was present in the leadership and organization of Ijun (see also Norbeck 1970).  At one point, Takayasu changed his given name, cultivated a public relationship with an Okinawan rock star (Ijun 1995:12-13), and added three deities to the Ijun pantheon, at a level where there had been only his supreme creator deity, Kinmanmon. One of the three deities promoted economic success.

Writing about Ryukyuan religion, Lebra has suggested that the “absence of complexity characterizing the belief system has constituted a survival factor” because it has enabled “assimilation of foreign traits (as in the cases of Taoist hearth rites and Buddhist ancestral rites)” (1966:204). It can be argued that Ryukyuans were forced to be flexible and ready to adapt to changing contexts because they were caught between two greater powers, China and Japan, with different religious traditions. Elements of pan-Asian folk religion such as ancestor veneration were incorporated (Havens 1994; Kōmoto 1991; Hori et al. 1972).

However, it should be remembered that “sheer opportunism is rarely the key to the durability of a religious movement” (McFarland 1967:158). Takayasu provided the only new religion that was founded by an Okinawan primarily for Okinawans (i.e., replete with the symbols of Ryukyuan ethnicity such as Amamikyu and Shinerikyu, the traditional Ryukyuan creator deities), but he also added universalist features to make Ijun a world religion, including karma (see Kisala 1994; Hori 1968). Thus, he had both a firm ethnic foundation and a plan for future growth beyond it. The latter was modeled on the features of the successful universalist Seichō no Ie (Reichl 1998/1999:120-38).

LEADERSHIP/ORGANIZATION

Ijun branches, including the branch of Ijun near Hilo, Hawaii, were called ashagi, a place where the Ijun altar is located. The central church in Ginowan City was also called an ashagi. The word is a variant of ashi age, defined as a small out-building in the front garden of a main house, with varied use as guesthouse and storehouse. The meaning may come from the words leg (ashi) and raise (ageru), and mean raised up on legs. Lebra’s (1966:219) glossary lists kami ashagi, “a thatched roof supported by poles or stone pillars and without walls, used as the major site for public rites conducted by the community priestesses.”

In 1989, the monthly journal Ijun listed fourteen ashagi in Okinawa, in addition to one in Yokohama, centers in Ginowan City, and in Hirara City on the island of Miyako. By 1992, the list had come to include twenty-six, with additional ashagi in Taipei, Taiwan, two in Honolulu (Keoni and Kalani’iki Street locations), and two in or near Hilo (Waianuenue Street and Pepe’ekeo), also in Hawaii. Almost all of the ashagi were set up in the homes of members, including those in Hawaii.

Many Japanese religions have demonstrated their vitality and validity by success in creating overseas branches, and Ijun is no exception (see Inoue 1991; Nakamaki and Miyao 1985; Yanagawa 1983). Ijun often included photographs of non-Japanese in Hawaii participating in Ijun prayer in the monthly journal Ijun. Takayasu intended to expand into Brazil, host nation to the largest overseas community in Japan’s diaspora (See Maeyama 1978, 1983; Maeyama and Smith 1983; Nakamaki 1985). Those plans failed to materialize.

Throughout the existence of Ijun, leadership was provided exclusively by Takayasu, called Bishop Takayasu in Hawaii. For a time until he passed away, Miyagi Shigenori was a highly-respected director and spirit healer (kaminchu) who worked closely with Takayasu, called Reverend Miyagi in Hawaii. The oldest son of Takayasu, Akira was groomed to be a next-generation leader, but the group broke up before that could occur.

The leadership and adherents of Ijun were aware of the Ryukyuan tradition of female-centered religion. Until 1989, the most important ritual of the group, the Fire Festival, was led by women. That year Ijun made a decision to replace these leaders of ritual with men, and by 1992 women played clearly distinct and subordinate roles. Takayasu explained that there were two reasons for this. The first is that Japan is a male-dominant society, and unless an organization plays along it will not prosper. This view is bolstered by the second reason, the idea that, since most of the adherents are female, the group will appear to be a women’s club if the ritual leaders are also female. He adds that the demands of childbearing and family would sometimes incapacitate the female leader of ritual. Adherents in Okinawa seemed to agree to another explanation: the quarreling of women during the time that they held leadership roles in ritual. In fact, a quarrel between two senior women in the Hilo ashagi led to a split of that group into two factions in the 1990s. Both factions continued to meet separately at the homes of these two women in Hilo for several years (Reichl 2005). Nonetheless, women are an important part of new religions and social movements in Japan, and they were always an important part of Ijun (Young 1994).

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

One challenge that Ijun has always faced is that of promoting a Ryukyuan ethnic revitalization in the face of a monolithic Japanese national culture that discourages expression of heterogeneous ethnicity. The Ryukyuan languages have largely become extinct and are thought of in Japan as mere dialects. Okinawa Prefecture has many religions from mainland Japan, including numerous sects of Shinto, Buddhism and many new religions. Cultural, social and economic hegemonies of Japan are powerful.

A related challenge is the promotion of a universal religion that also has significant ethnic coloring. The books of Takayasu refer freely to lessons from the Christian Bible, from Buddhist philosophers and religious leaders in antiquity, and from Shinto (Reichl 1993b). The Ijun logo, five dark circles around a lighter central circle, is said to represent the major world religious traditions coming together in Ijun. [Image at right] This recalls the logo of Seichō no Ie. Both Ijun and Seichō no Ie encourage followers to attend other churches as well. At the same time, many Ijun concepts are from Ryukyuan culture, including the sibling creator deities, Amamikyu and Shinerikyu (See Doctrines/Beliefs), and the primary deity Kinmanmon. Although Ijun no longer exists in a formal legal sense, some adherents continue to practice informally. It is unclear to what extent the company Culture Ijun continues religious activity.

Finally, Ijun struggles with issues of gender. The religious Ryukyuan tradition is woman-centered, but Ijun’s founder Takayasu and leadership are male. The grooming of his oldest son Akira to take over leadership of Ijun was contrary to the Ryukyuan centrality of women in religion, and neglected women of ability in the organization who were probably better qualified.

IMAGES
Image #1: Image of Takayasu Rokurō.
Image #2: Ijun’s statue of The Goddess of Mercy over Ginowan City.
Image #3: Ijun logograph on architecture of roof-peak in Ginowan City, central church building.

REFERENCES

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Hori, Ichirō. 1968. Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Midway Reprint.`

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Kisala, Robert. 1994. “Contemporary karma: Interpretations of karma in Tenrikyo and Rissho Koseikai.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21:73-91.

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Reichl, Christopher. 2005 “Transplantation of a Ryukyuan New Religion Overseas: Hawaiian Ijun.” Japanese Religions 30:55-68.

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Reichl, Christopher. 1998/1999. “Ethnic Okinawan Interpretation of Seichō no Ie: The Lineal Descendant Ijun at Home and Overseas.” Japanese Society 3:120-38

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Yanagawa, Keiichi, editor. 1983. Japanese Religions in California: A Report on Research Within and Without the Japanese-American Community. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

Young, Richard. 1994. “Book review. Emily Groszos Ooms, Women and millenarian protest in Meiji Japan: Deguchi Nao and Ōmotokyō.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21:110-13.

Publication Date:
25 June 2019

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