The Grateful Crane
By the Rev. Izumi Ko’oda
Konko Church of O’otsuru
(From the March 2018 issue)
Right in the Northern Kyushu Heavy Rain
At around 15:00 on July 5th, 2017, an evacuation alarm sounded. Hearing the alarm, I went out to see what was happening. I immediately saw that muddy water was slowly coming into the grounds of our church. Soon, the water was in the church itself. I shouted at my father and wife, “Let’s evacuate! Now!!”
But neither my father nor my wife reacted to my shouting as quickly as I’d expected. So I called out to them once more, “We have to run away!!”
Since my mother was bedridden, I held her in my arms as I tried to evacuate her. By then, however, the muddy water was already up to my lower back. We gave up going outside and decided to go upstairs.
We managed to get upstairs. I spread a mattress on a raised area of a room on the second floor of the house, and laid my mother down. When I looked back, I couldn’t see my father. I tried to go downstairs, but the muddy water was almost touching the ceilings on the first floor. I called my father, “Dad! Dad!!” as loudly as I could. I listened for my father carefully. Then I heard him saying, “Ikigami Konko Daijin, Ikigami Konko Daijin,” in the worship hall of our church.
I realised that my father was praying to our Divine Parent down there. As soon as I knew where my father was and what he was doing, I made up my mind to adopt a clear-cut attitude, saying to myself, “Father decided to pray in the church’s worship hall in this critical situation. Under the same dangerous circumstances, I chose to save the lives of my wife, my mother and myself. Both my father and I have chosen our respective path with our respective unshakable belief.”
In my heart, I silently bid farewell to my father. I also spoke to my mother lying on the mattress, “I won’t be able to save you if the water reaches this room here on the second floor. I am sorry, if it comes to that.” Mother had serious dementia, for which she could no longer converse with people. She was therefore smiling all the time.
My wife and I later moved up to the roof of the house and waited for the rescue crew to arrive. Under the pouring rain, the surface of the muddy water was just below the roof of our church. Sometimes, my wife desperately shouted at me, “I wanna live! I don’t wanna die!!” Hearing her occasional screams, I put my palms together and prayed to our Divine Parent so that my wife would calm down.
Receiving the Arrangements of Kami/Deity
The rescue crew arrived and I explained the situation to them. I was still on the roof of our home. I said to the crew, “Four people are here. The two of them are right here, namely my wife and myself. As for the other two, one is my bedridden mother who is on the second floor, and the other one is my father but I lost sight of him on the first floor.”
Grasping the situation properly, the rescue crew went into a room on the second floor through an open window. Soon, there was a loud voice from inside; “Your father is also here on the second floor, Sir!”
I heard of this later, but my father had headed for the stairs to the second floor, swimming in the muddy water after praying to our Divine Parent. But he had an extreme difficulty in approaching the stairs due to many tatami mats floating near the staircase. My father had to dive and swim under those tatamis to get to the stairs. Mother, who is constantly confined to bed, and father, who dove and swam in the dirty muddy water, were both sent to the hospital after being rescued.
Whenever I reflect upon this particular day, I am deeply horrified. Our neighbours to the west in O’oita Prefecture and Kumamoto Prefecture had several areas that suffered a pair of massive earthquakes in mid April, 2016. On the morning of the day when we had a crazy amount of rain, I was actually thinking of visiting Kumamoto in order to help reconstruction efforts for those damaged areas.
I, however, was unusually slow in acting, and I didn’t really feel like going. I said to myself later, “If I had actually visited Kumamoto on that day, my wife and mother might have died in the flood.”
I thought that my unwillingness to go to Kumamoto on that day was in fact a divine arrangement, through which I was kept in my town, at my church. My presence in our church on that day may have helped my family members survive, and because of this, I cannot but thank our Parent Deity.
Besides, I usually don’t really react to evacuation alarms, so it took me a little while to decide to go outside. If I had gone outside a little earlier than I actually did, I wouldn’t have seen muddy water coming into our church. And my family and I would have been too late in escaping the rain floods.
Additionally speaking, if the muddy water had not reached the height of my lower back when I was trying to go out, holding my mother in my arms, I would have made my way to go out and ended up getting drowned in a muddy stream. At every moment of the day of heavy rain, Kami, our Divine Parent, guided all of us, so that we would survive. I truly appreciated Kami‘s affection in saving us.
Being Happy with What We Are Already Given
I had engaged in damage-relief activities in Kumamoto after it was struck heavily with two massive earthquakes. Making a good use of my experiences in Kumamoto, I engaged in several damage-relief efforts in my hometown, after the flood. What I did first was to distribute aid items. Aid come to the disaster-struck area from all over Japan after a big disaster occurs. A lot of disaster relief aid usually arrive at the damaged area swiftly.
But the problem is, there is almost nobody who is able to receive all those things and distribute them to their local people. Because of this, those relief items keep going around several damage-relief bases in the city much more often than it should, finding no one who actually spreads his arms and gets them. Due to this common problem, I declared, “I undertake this duty; I am going to distribute these goods to people in need.” And I volunteered to work as a distributor.
As I was working as a distributor of aid items, and as I was looking for what my local victims needed then, I noticed that those heavy-rain victims were talking about “what they did not have.” They said to one another, for example, “The heavy rain washed away our dining table and chairs…” “Oh, dear…that’s too bad. But you know what? That crazy rain ruined all the TVs and computers in my house…”
By exchanging the information of what they respectively lost in the flood of rain, they were in fact helping each other become even more gloomy.
Observing these people in our city, I decided to give them a new way to look at things. What I did was to recommend them to “look for what they were still blessed with.” One day, someone in my neighborhood compassionately said to me, “You got everything on your church grounds washed away, didn’t you? I am sorry for you about that.”
I merrily countered him, “Thank you for your words of sympathy, but there is still a tree of pomegranate on the church grounds. And this tree has a lot of fruits on it. We cannot do much under this severe circumstance, but we can still try to invigorate ourselves by ‘looking for what we are still blessed with.’”
I spent several days since I’d begun to encourage my neighbors to look for what they were still blessed with. Then people gradually began to say, “I saw a few morning glories this morning” “My dog is happier than a few days ago” and so forth. To my greatest delight, my neighbors finally started to say, “We survived the flood of heavy rain. We are still alive. We first need to be deeply happy about this.” My joy was multiplied when I saw these people cheer up one another.
Many houses in our city suffered from tens of tons of soil being deposited inside them due to the flood carrying the soil inside. Because many of my neighbors had too much amount of soil in their homes, they just didn’t know what to do with this “uninvited guest.” Since they looked totally at a loss, I continued to convince them, “When a big natural disaster occurs, just like the one we recently suffered, lots of people from all over Japan will definitely come over here and kindly give us a hand. All we need to do is to wait patiently until they arrive. You probably are not aware of this, but your heart is still feeling enormous fear of death due to the muddy stream you saw or were caught in. Because of this, please rest your heart as much as you can. Please do not work hard now.”
Some remained skeptical of my words. But they were finally convinced, saying, “Oh, my!! Izumi, you were right after all !” They were convinced because several days went by, and relief goods arrived to our city, and many volunteers came to us from all over. Those conscientious helpers worked very hard, gradually removing the soil that had invaded from the local houses.
Leaving myself up to Kami/Deity
Now, I would like to introduce you to people who work hard and sincerely as volunteers.
There is a disaster-relief group which I have worked with. On the very next day of the heavy rain in our city, a person from that disaster-relief group visited our town and witnessed the severe situation of our local community. He said to me, “I will come back here tomorrow” and left the town.
The next day, this man and his group came back to us. This time, the man and his comrades were equipped with several trucks, power shovels, and dump trucks. They were obviously ready to help us reconstruct our city. The members of the group were all familiar to me. They smiled to me, saying “Here we’ve come, Izumi.” They said, “You can count on us.”
The people of the group then said, “In principle, we need to report to the local government office in advance when we plan to do some large-scale activities by bringing a set of heavy machinery to an unfamiliar town. But this is your neighbourhood, Mr. Ko’oda, and we don’t really need to ask for your permission when we help you and your neighbors, do we? What can we start with? Just tell us what to do, please.”
I took a pause, giving myself some time to think. In my thoughts, I recalled a teaching of Konko Daijin, the Founder of the Konko Faith: “Put yourself last, and pray to save others first. Then Kami-Sama will take good care of you.” (GII: Tsugawa Haruo, 1-3)
I knew I had to and wanted to follow this teaching. I therefore told them, “Please put my church last. Help my neighbours first, please.” The relief group men replied, “We knew that you were going to say so. We gladlyaccept your request.”
Several members of the disaster-relief group were young men, who had learned how to operate heavy machinery such as power shovels in their disaster-relief work in South Aso (Minami-Aso) that had been seriously damaged in the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake. These young men were the main force behind the town-reconstruction efforts. They talked to my town’s folks one by one, “Hello! We came here to help Mr. Ko’oda.”
They first investigated what each of the 30 damaged houses around our church needed. They then engaged in removing driftwood and soil from the houses. The members of the disaster-relief group worked very hard in the morning, daytime and evening for us, and they soon got muddy faces. They slept in their vehicles at night. They didn’t work in an environment of paradise; they were rather in a tough working environment. Still, they continued to smile and they kept on working hard for our community. My neighbours and I, we were all deeply moved by their dedication and hard work.
These people of the group REALLY did not give a hand to relieve the damage in our church. However, our parent church, some of our neighboring churches and a group called Nankyu’u (Southern Kyushu) Support Team came and helped us. Moreover, many Konko believers across the country also gathered out of their genuine kindness and they all worked hard to get the soil and mud out of our church building. As I wanted to focus upon reconstructing our local community, I said to these kind helpers, “Thank you so much. I fully trust you and your sincere relief activities for our church.” I worked for my neighbourhood, and many Konko ministers and believers were kind enough to help our church restore its normal self.
Sometimes, neighbors kindly asked me, “Is your church all right?” At each time, I replied, “Well, my religion teaches me that I should put myself last and pray to save others first. Then Kami will take good care of me. So I am fine with my church, thank you.” Following this teaching, the reconstruction efforts of our community have progressed over the course of time. I am deeply appreciative of this.
To tell you the truth, I fell unconscious, bleeding from my mouth, and I ended up being carried in an ambulance to a nearby hospital. It happened before it was less than one month since our city was caught in a roaring rain. As soon as our town suffered from the flood of rain, I walked around the community as often as I could. Whenever I saw someone looking quite tired, I talked to them, “Don’t overwork yourself. You must rest your body and heart now.” I frequently advised my neighbours to rest, yet I was the very one who fell down, suffering from a stomach ulcer. I felt embarrassed and disappointed with myself. However, I realized later on that I had not had any symptoms such as heartburn for the last few years. Earlier than that, those symptoms used to bother me. Now, I am healthiest for the last few years. When I was carried to the hospital shortly after bleeding and going unconscious, I must have had my body re-checked and properly maintained by our Kami/Parent Deity, because I was supposed to be fully ready to engage myself in the reconstruction work of our local community from then on.
As I strive for helping our city be reconstructed from the massive rain, I am working with a group named, “The Crane of Gratitude.” In the beginning, volunteers from all over the country helped our community get back its normal self. They worked very hard for us. But from now, we, the locals, gradually need to become the main force to help recover our own city. Not only houses but also many rice fields and farms were heavily damaged because of the rain calamity. It will take a few more years for our town to be restored to its former state. Just as our community is slowly returning to its normality, our Konko church is also gradually being restored to its ordinary state.
Over the course of our efforts to rebuild our city, I have had one question after another. I have been wondering if we have done everything properly. I have this question in particular; “Wasn’t it better for me to restore our church as soon as possible? Because if so, we could have resumed praying together for our community sooner. I could have our church’s Mediation Place ready and available for our fellow neighbors sooner.” Right now, I am not sure what is or was the best thing to do. Because I am not sure, I have many questions in my mind. However, I am trying not to tell myself, “I should do this, I should do that” while I am working with many people to rebuild our local community. My motto is not to plan something beforehand. Instead of doing so, I first pray to our Parent Deity for guidance. I then pay close attention to what unfolds afterwards. Each day, on that very day, I engage myself what lies in front of me in the moment.
A story helped me acquire this sort of mindset, and I would like to tell you this story.
The Only Way to Get Connected with Kami/Deity Is…
One meeting had a lot of renowned, prestigious Konko ministers. During one of several intermissions of that meeting, Rev. Yasuji Horio who was sitting near me said, “I do not really follow the words of my mentor, Rev. Matsutaro Yasutake. I’m not quite sure whether it is good or bad.” He said so in a small, quiet voice, and he sounded somewhat melancholic and lonely. To Rev. Horio, I am just like one of his “grandchildren” spirituality-wise. To such an individual like myself, he said these things. Since I had always believed that Rev. Horio was the very one that Rev. Matsutaro Yasutake of Konko Church of Amagi, one of the biggest, most influential Konko churches in the Kyushu Island, Japan, trusted the most, I initially found the above-quoted remark of Rev. Horio quite strange. Since then, Rev. Horio’s words were constantly on my mind. His remark remained to be my homework of spirituality all the time.
Afterwards, I had chances to meet, talk with and listening to various senior Konko ministers and believers. The more people I met and talked with, the better I seem to have understood what Rev. Horio really meant.
Here is my interpretation of Rev. Horio’s words. When Rev. Horio says “I do not really follow the words of my mentor” and if he also says, “And I have no problem with it,” it will mean that Rev. Horio is a man of self-conceit. But if someone points out to Rev. Horio that not following his mentor is bad, an entire individual of Rev. Yasuji Horio and his faith in our Parent Deity will completely get denied. Rev. Horio, however, said “I’m not quite sure whether it is good or bad.” With these words, Rev. Horio did not take himself to any of these two extremes. It is quite typical of Rev. Horio to say that he is not quite sure whether not really following his mentor is good or bad. This is how I have gradually come to appreciate Rev. Horio’s words.
Excerpts from “Emulating and Learning from Konko Daijin-Collection of Sermons at a Konko Faith Doctrine Workshop- (published by the Konko Norhtern-Kyushu Admin. Office in April, 1983)
My interpretation of Rev. Horio’s words may be tremendously different from the meaning he intended. But I am currently in a situation where I am not quite sure what actions will be approved of by our Parent Deity, yet I am required to make judgments on a daily basis, receiving kind advice from various people. Under these severe circumstances, I have been trying to imitate Rev. Horio, who constantly asked, “Is doing this a good thing or a bad thing?”
By following the footsteps of Rev. Horio, I suppose I am seeing a dim light of path, which will hopefully lead me to get connected with Kami/our Parent Deity. Continuing to see this dim light, I hope to do my best to help our local community get rebuilt from now on too.
Lastly, but not least, because I work and sweat mainly for our community almost all day long, I am not at our church very often. There are many people who work hard to help restore Konko Church of O’otsuru to its normal self. Some of these kind people worked hard for the church during my absence and went home before I returned to the O’otsuru Church. There are people who support our church while being unnoticed by others. There are people who support our church while they want to make their names anonymous. People from all over the Konko community pray for our church and community on a daily basis. When I think of all these kind and sincere people, I must admit that I significantly lack “gratitude,” which the Konko Faith considers the most important. I am deeply sorry about this.
From the day of the flooding rain up to now, I have been allowed to have experiences of “serving people” through the workings of Ikigami Konko Daijin’s Sacred Mediation. Because of these rewarding experiences, I would like to say that I am very fortunate and truly happy, because I have been allowed to practice faith in our Divine Parent for all these years. I am very fortunate and truly happy, because I have been connected with this religion. And I want to say these words with gratitude from the bottom of my heart.