KUROZUMIKYŌ is a popular charismatic religion founded in Japan in the early nineteenth century (the late Edo period) by Kurozumi Munetada (1780–1850). Kurozumi began to spread his teachings in 1814, and in the 1840s a formal religious body called Kurozumikyō was established. After the Meiji restoration the group was persecuted for a time, but in 1872 it received formal recognition from the government.
Its teachings include a belief in Amaterasu Ōmikami, the sun goddess and supreme deity of the universe. Another major tenet is that since all people are emanations of the kami (deities), they may themselves become kami through certain spiritual practices. Further, it is taught that when a person becomes one with the kami (ikitōshi ) that person will achieve life without end. All are exhorted to "live cheerfully" and to obey the kami. At the time of its founding, the religion included a strong element of magic, including rituals for curing illnesses. Later, it came to stress the virtues of popular morality: frugality, diligence, filial piety, and harmony. The purpose of spiritual practices was to cultivate these virtues. The teachings of Kurozumikyō are characterized by a combination of popular morality and syncretic Shintō; believers seek immediate benefits in this world for the sake of popular salvation.
These beliefs, implying as they do that happiness may be garnered not by changing the realities of life but by changing one's spiritual attitude, tended to perpetuate a passive acceptance of the harsh realities of life. This is significant, given that most of the movement's followers were common people of subordinate status within the feudal order. On the other hand, they were also taught that all people have a kind of spiritual potentiality whereby life and death, poverty and wealth may be affected by pious practices. Furthermore, the idea of the spiritual independence and equality of all people was a part of Kurozumikyō's teachings. In this sense, the religion might be seen as the first step in the spiritual modernization of the late Edo period.
Kurozumi Munetada's proselytization was confined to the Okayama area, but thanks to the vigorous activities of his major disciples, the religion later extended from the Shikoku and Chugoku districts as far as the central Kyoto area. Akagi Tadaharu (1816–1867) in particular spread the teachings in Kyoto, and even converted aristocrats like Kujō Naotada, the imperial regent. Tadaharu, deeply influenced by the movement to restore direct imperial rule, envisioned a utopia in which all would be equal under the emperor. But his activities were so extreme that he was expelled from the religious organization.
In the 1880s Kurozumikyō grew dramatically and at one point boasted a membership of six or seven hundred thousand. In 1885, Munetada Shrine was established as its headquarters at Ōmoto in Okayama City. But as government control of religion tightened, the popular salvation aspect of Kurozumikyō gradually waned and the nationalistic component came to the fore.
After World War II, Kurozumikyō became chiefly a provincial religion based in western Japan. By the late 1970s its membership stood at around four hundred thousand. In 1974 a large kami hall (Shintōzan) was built in Okayama, and the organization's headquarters was moved there. The present and sixth-generation head is Kurozumi Muneharu. Three large religious festivals are held each year: the founder's festival on the first Saturday in April, a purification festival on July 30, and the winter solstice festival. Kuni no hikari and Keisei zasshi, two magazines published by the group before the war, were followed by a third, Nisshin, published after the war.
Hirota Masaki. Bunmei-kaika to minshu-ishiki. Tokyo, 1980.
Murakami Shigeyoshi. Kindai minshu shukyoshi no kenkyu. Kyoto, 1963.
Murakami Shigeyoshi and Yasamaru Yoshio. Minshu shukyo no shiso. Tokyo, 1971.
Hardacre, Helen. Kurozumikyō and the New Religions of Japan. Princeton, 1986.
Kurozumi, Tadaaki, and Willis Stoesz. Kurozumi Munetada: Founder of Kurozumikyō. Lanham, Md., 1994.
Stoesz, Willis. Kurozumi Shinto : An American Dialogue. Chambersburg, Pa., 1989.
Hirota Masaki (1987)
Translated from Japanese by Suzanne Gay