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A Shintô-based Japanese religion, founded in the 19th century.

Ômoto or Ômoto Kyô - also written as Oomoto in Esperanto - was founded by a woman, Deguchi Nao (1836-1918), and - curiously - uses the artificial language Esperanto as its religious idiom. Ômoto has also influenced the spiritual content of the Japanese martial art of Aikido.

Messianic and millennial ladies

As in many other non-European cultures, the impact of modern Western civilization in Japan led in the 19th and 20th centuries to the birth of folk-religious movements, protesting the Westernizing influence. These movements could sometimes make use of imported Christian concepts, but they always put the highest value on what they considered to be native traditions. They are often said to be "nativistic", "messianic" or "millennial", since they frequently express an anticipation of salvation through the appearance of a world-savior and the belief that the current evil state of the world is to be overthrown through the arrival of a supernatural power, thus paving the way for an Utopia on Earth.

An interesting feature of Japan's "new religions" is the high number of women acting as founders and leaders. Deguchi Nao (the founder of Ômoto), Nakayama Miki, and Kitamura Sayo are sometimes referred to as "the trinity of foundresses", not only because these women played an important role for Japan's new religions, but also because they were more dynamic than many of their male contemporaries.

Prolific illiterate writers

The origin of Ômoto (meaning "Great Source") can be traced to the end of the 19th century, when Deguchi Nao, then an unknown and relatively poor Japanese woman, experienced enlightenment on New Year's Day 1892. The god Usitora told her of the great changes that were in store for the world. The poor would be rehabilitated and a new golden age of spirituality would dawn. She recorded her revelations, in "automatic writing", as Ofudesaki (Tip of the Divine Writing Brush). Although illiterate, Nao paradoxically recorded ten thousand 20-page volumes of warnings and prophecies before she passed away in 1918. In this she repeated the amazing feat of Mohammed, who was also illiterate when he wrote down the Koran, following Allah's dictation.

Deguchi Nao's son-in-law Deguchi Ônisaburô (1871-1948) took over leadership after her death and successfully spread Ômoto Kyô's teachings throughout Japan. Over the years a series of female spiritual leaders have been at the head of the movement. Presently the cult is lead by a pharmacist, Deguchi Kurenai, a distant relative of the two founders.

Ômoto Kyô's aim lies in establishing a community based on humanistic and religious principles. Ecological farming is considered as the community's economic foundation. The spiritual base of Ômoto Kyô's teachings is drawn from Kotodama, a Shintoist system of thought based on tones and syllables and Chinkon Kishin, a system of Shintoist meditation and purification exercises.

Suppression and resurrection

Ômoto attracted intellectuals and members of the military, and its teachings spread widely. However, it was suppressed by the Japanese government in 1921 and 1935, following a few "incidents" involving Ômoto-adherent officers. In the postwar era it reemerged and introduced activities focusing on world peace.

The movement has two holy temples in Kameoka and Ayabe, the birth places of Deguchi Nao and Deguchi Ônisaburô. Its headquarters is in Kameoka City, Kyoto prefecture. Ômoto Kyô membership is now reported to be about 200,000. Most members live in Japan, but there are also some Ômoto followers in Brazil and the Philippines. The movement has chosen Esperanto as its language, thereby reflecting its aspirations to become a world religion.

World religion in a world language

To settle on the artificial "international" language Esperanto seems an odd choice to make for a Japan-based movement. Even if Esperanto was intended to become the "world language" by its Polish designer L. L. Zamenhof, the originator apparently had a rather narrow vision of "the World". The grammatical structure and vocabulary of Esperanto are entirely Indo-European-based, reminiscent of French and Italian. Because of its strictly regular and simple grammar, Esperanto may be easier for non-Europeans to learn than most natural Indo-European languages. Still, for a Japanese-speaking person Esperanto is completely foreign. Learning Esperanto would for a Japanese be nearly as demanding as learning natural English of French. It may be that the mere invocation of the words "international language" proved sufficient for the Ômoto followers, in manifesting their international aspirations.

Reference:

Anesaki Masaharu: History of Japanese Religion (Vermont and Tokyo 1983)

www.oomoto.or.jp

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