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KONKŌKYŌ is a modern Japanese religion founded in 1859. In 1984 it boasted some 469,153 members. The founder of Konkōkyō, known by the honorary title Konkō Daijin (18141883), was born Kandori Genshichi to a peasant family in Ōtani village, Bitchū province (present-day Okayama prefecture). Adopted at the age of twelve, he became head of the Kawate (later renamed Akazawa) family at twenty-three and took the name Akazawa Bunji. Under his direction, his family began to cultivate cotton in addition to the traditional rice crop, thereby raising their living standard above the norm of the local cultivating class. However, while Akazawa's diligence and initiative brought material benefit, he also experienced profound grief. Four of his children died of sickness, and in 1855 he himself became very ill.

As a young man, Akazawa was deeply religious and participated in the multifaceted religious life of rural Japan. While his village was principally affiliated with the Tendai school of Buddhism, it was also deeply influenced by the cult of sacred mountains, Shugendō. Shugendō ascetics (yamabushi ) were prominent in village religion as healers, an activity from which they derived significant income. In addition, priests of local Shintō shrines sponsored pilgrimages to the Ise Grand Shrines. Akazawa assisted traveling Ise priests (oshi ) in distributing Ise talismans and almanacs in the village. He also joined village confraternities (kō) in pilgrimage to a circuit of eighty-eight temples on Shikoku island. He scrupulously observed horoscopic and geomantic prescriptions in planning any significant activity, such as travel or construction.

Teaching and Scripture

Akazawa's illness of 1855 was diagnosed as resulting from an offense against Konjin, who, according to local folk notions, was a malevolent deity ruling the northeast. It was believed that to offend Konjin was to precipitate his wrath in the form of possession or sickness. Akazawa's cure, thought to have been realized through earnest prayers to Konjin, marked the beginning of a complete reorientation of his life, culminating in a new understanding of humanity's relation to the deity Konjin and in the founding of Konkōkyō. Akazawa began to serve Konjin in 1858 and devoted increasing amounts of time to religion. Followers came to seek his advice and to have him mediate (toritsugu ) Konjin's will to them. He received instructions (shirase ) from the deity about agriculture, construction, sickness, and a host of other matters. From Konjin, Akazawa received a series of honorary titles marking his spiritual progress, and the deity revealed a corresponding set of titles of his own. Through Akazawa's spiritual development and earnest prayer the deity gradually manifested its true nature and desire for humanity's salvation.

While Akazawa originally conceived of Konjin as an evil being, he realized that the deity did not willfully cause suffering, and that the being he originally knew as Konjin was in fact the one, true God of the universe (Tenchi Kane no Kami), the source of all being. Akazawa's final title, Ikigami Konkō Daijin, reflects the concept that humanity and deity are originally united and indivisible.

In 1859 Akazawa, now called Konkō Daijin, gave up agriculture to devote himself fully to the service of Tenchi Kane no Kami (Great Living Deity Konkō); Konkōkyō dates its founding from that event. Two years later, Konkō Daijin began to record his consultations with followers, most of whom came from Okayama and Hiroshima. As the number of believers increased, the group encountered suppression and persecution from domain officials and yamabushi. Many followers believed they were healed by Konkō Daijin's mediation (toritsugi ), but as such healings detracted from the yamabushi' s prayer healings, and hence from their income, Konkō Daijin incurred considerable enmity from these powerful religious practitioners. In order to continue toritsugi and avert further persecution, Konkō Daijin took a license from the Shirakawa house of Shintō. Although this gave the organization limited recognition as a variety of Shintō, Tenchi Kane no Kami was not an authorized Shintō deity, nor did toritsugi bear any relation to the usual practices of the Shintō priesthood.

Konkōkyō's central doctrine is rooted in the concept of reciprocity between humanity and God. Both are said to be fulfilled through humanity's self-cultivation. The task of the religious life is to awaken to God's eternal love and to realize that everyone is endowed with life and sustained by Tenchi Kane no Kami and that all things in the universe derive from him. Because all people are believed to be the children of God, human equality is a fundamental tenet. Faith and spiritual strength, rather than healing rites or medication, are the keys to physical health. Konkō Daijin denied fatalistic ideas of horoscopy and geomancy and derided food taboos and pollution notions regarding women. The record of Konkō Daijin's shirase and toritsugi, as well as accounts of the lives and conversions of early followers, are collected in Konkōkyō's scripture, Konkōkyō Kyōten.

Relation to ShintŌ

Konkōkyō's relation to Shintō is a complex and much debated issue among the ministry. Konkō Daijin's certification by the Shirakawa was acquired more in order to protect the group than as an expression of its faith. Between 1870 and 1884, during the Meiji government's campaign to promote Shintō (called the taikyō senpu undō ), Konkō Daijin's son Hagio became a kyōdōshoku ("national evangelist") and his main disciple, Satō Norio, became a vigorous activist for the movement. It was Satō who was most influential in aligning the group's doctrine with State Shintō. In spite of the direct and repeated protests of Konkō Daijin, who denied that Konkōkyō was a variety of Shintō and refused to meet with local Shintō officials, Satō and other early leaders sought, and eventually gained, recognition for Konkōkyō as one of the thirteen sects of Shintō. The group accepted this designation, no doubt partially owing to their fear of suppression.

Since the early 1980s, however, the group has rejected Shintō rites and vestments, and many ministers repent the part Konkōkyō played in prewar Shintō. They see Shintō as having contributed to militarism and nationalism, traits they wholeheartedly reject. Yet a change of such magnitude, requiring a rejection of much of the group's history, is difficult for many to accept, even when carried out in the name of a return to the true spirit of the founder's teaching. At present, the group is in the midst of a true religious revolution, and the outcome seems sure to bring in a new order.

See Also

New Religious Movements, article on New Religious Movements in Japan; Shugendō.


Articles of high scholarly merit often appear in Konkōkyōgaku (Konkō-machi), a journal published by Konkōkyō. In addition to this basic source, the following works may be profitably consulted.

Holtom, D. C. "Konkō KyōA Modern Japanese Monotheism." Journal of Religion 13 (July 1933): 279300. General description and discussion of the group in terms of mono-theism.

Konkō Churches of America. Konkō Daijin: A Biography. San Francisco, 1981. A shortened translation of the official biography of the founder.

Konkōkyō kyōten. Konkō-machi, 1983. A revised version of the sacred scriptures of the group plus much valuable information on the founder's life and those of early disciples.

The Sacred Scriptures of Konkōkyō. Konkō-machi, 1973. An abridged version of sacred texts.

Schneider, Delwin B. Konkōkyō, a Japanese Religion: A Study in the Continuities of Native Faiths. Tokyō, 1962. The only book-length study in a Western language, the book concentrates on the theology of the group.

Helen Hardacre (1987)

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