"Be sure to honor and respect the ancestors of the Niwano family"
Hoju Vocational College for women, which is affiliated with Rissho Kosei-kai, conducts a series of training programs in Suganuma, Niigata Prefecture. At the program held in 1996, Tomoko Niwano, the eldest daughter of Founder Nikkyo Niwano, spoke about Suganuma, his birthplace. In speaking to the students, she also told the story of her own marriage, which took place in January of 1947. It was at the time when her mother and the six Niwano children were still living far away from Tokyo, staying at Rev. Niwano's parents' house, where they had been safe from the wartime bombing in the capital. The man that Tomoko married was Kenzo Niwano, a son of another prominent Niwano family - the patrilineal "head" Niwano family in the village of Suganuma (as opposed to the branch from which Rev. Niwano's family stemmed). She was then only 16 years old.
"It seemed better for me to get married," Tomoko said modestly, "instead of staying on at my grandparents' house, crowded with so many of my family members." She recalled, "There was a distance of some 200 or 300 meters from where I was living to my future husband's home, and since there was no form of transportation available, I had to trudge through the snow in full traditional bride's kimono."
Rev. Niwano, who was living all alone in Tokyo, where he was totally immersed in religious studies and the early activities of Rissho Kosei-kai, was thus unable to attend her wedding - the first of one of his daughters. The other Niwano family was a very large farming family. Concerned about Tomoko's possible unease in her new family, Rev. Niwano wrote to his beloved daughter, saying in his letter, "Please be sure to honor and respect the ancestors of the Niwano family." (He meant, of course, those of the Niwano family into which she was marrying.)
Later, when she came to Tokyo along with her relatives, Tomoko used to stay at her parents' home for longer periods than any of her siblings. When guests stayed over, and the rooms were all full, it was even the case that Tomoko slept in the same room with her parents. "I called their home 'my family inn,' I remember, and always stayed there," she later said. "Sometimes, half joking, people would say that because of this I seemed to be loved more than my sisters and brothers."
Soon after World War II, when daily necessities were scarce, every time Mrs. Niwano, Tomoko's mother, sewed any new kimono, she also made one for Tomoko. Of course, that may have been because she felt unable to take care of her properly in other ways. Tomoko's youngest sister Yoshiko (Izumida) used to say that because Tomoko married at the age of 16 and had less time with her family than the other children, both parents did their best to spend time with her whenever she came to Tokyo as an adult.
Takao Izumida and Yoshiko were married in the autumn of 1962. "Since I lived with my parents after returning to Tokyo from the wartime evacuation," Yoshiko said, "I was blessed with their special affection, inasmuch as it was then possible for them to do for me what they were unable to do for my elder sister when she was married. When it came time to choose my reception kimono (to change into after the actual wedding ceremony) my father even went to the bridal shop with me to pick out an especially beautiful one, saying, 'This one looks nice.'"
Since the Great Sacred Hall was then almost completed, some of the money Founder Niwano might have spent on her wedding, he instead donated toward its construction expenses.
Yoshiko once recalled, "During the evacuation period I was afraid we might never return to Tokyo, and I longed for my father to direct more of his attention to us, his family. I even began to doubt his affection for us. I remember writing to him, saying, 'I want to go to a university to become a teacher and then I want to devote myself to caring for my mother. He replied, 'On your way back from your next school field trip, visit me here at headquarters in Tokyo.'"
At the Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters, Mrs. Myoko Naganuma, cofounder of Rissho Kosei-kai, welcomed Yoshiko, serving her a festive meal, as well as offering some gifts for her to take back to her family.
On the morning of her wedding, Yoshiko saluted her father very formally in her bridal attire, saying, "You have taken good care of me all these years. I will always be grateful." This is traditional Japanese etiquette from the daughter who is getting married to her father on her wedding day. Rev. Niwano was barely able to hold back his tears. In his autobiography, he wrote of his sentiments on that occasion.
"I still recall the deep emotional feeling I experienced on hearing those words."
The Izumida home was in Zushi, a Tokyo suburb near shore. Guessing the state of mind of Founder Niwano, both of joy in the marriage of his beloved daughter and loneliness at her leaving, someone close to him seems to have recommended that Rev. Niwano and his wife go to a movie one night - something they seldom did. They saw the famous director Yasujiro Ozu's "Autumn Afternoon," a popular movie that year in which a father experienced his daughter marrying and leaving home. The actor playing the father gave an especially masterful portrayal of his complex emotions. Yoshiko heard about this only later, of course.
"Parental affection, transcending time and place, is equally shared among all their children" - that is how Tomoko and Yoshiko feel about it today.
"Do everything honestly, with your whole heart"
Special advisor and former Chief Director Motoyuki Naganuma, who acted as go-between for both President Niwano's daughters Kosho and Ryoko (now Yukako), later reminisced, saying to those around him in Rissho Kosei-kai with a bright smile, "The girls seemed quite pleased, as if to say, 'Look at the man I have chosen.'"
Not just the present President Niwano and his wife, but Founder Niwano, too, was happy saying, "Bridegrooms become sons in deeply religious families." The daughters' new lives were launched with that powerful benediction.
The wedding of Kosho was held on June 22, 1995. By chance, that was the memorial day for the passing of Founder Niwano's mother. The wedding ceremony was performed in the Eijuden Hall on the seventh floor of the Great Sacred Hall, where many years earlier Kosho's parents, Nichiko and Yoshie, had also been wed. On this day - which marks the start of the new history of Rissho Kosei-kai - Kosho, with her husband, Munehiro, said from the platform in the main hall of the Great Sacred Hall to all the members gathered there, "Together the two of us pledge to serve others." She went on to say that their determination was derived from Founder Niwano's words: "All will be well if you seek to do everything honestly, and with your whole heart."
That sentiment had been expressed to them in recognition of the monumental future task of Kosho's becoming the third president of Rissho Kosei-kai.
The present President Niwano also said, on behalf of the two families, "Please lend your support and give encouragement to these two who are now about to take their first step together as one."
The wedding reception was held the next day in the main hall of Horin-kaku Guest Hall, in a relaxed atmosphere. Kosho said to the guests, "Though it might have been better to prepare a message, I simply asked Founder Niwano, 'What shall I say tomorrow?' He said to me, 'Don't worry about it; they're all your relatives."
Shortly before the reception ended, President Niwano stood up and said with a broad smile. "I have been giving a lot of thought to being sure that I said the right thing to the newlyweds today."
In his message of congratulations to the new couple that followed, he said, "So far, my immediate family has consisted of my wife and four daughters - five women and only one man! Now, with a strong new ally, my son-in-law, it's five against two. Together, we can stand up to these women." (Laughter)
"This will be great. When the groom returns home, I'll be able to enjoy drinking sake with him."
Later, the president's remarks took a more serious turn. He concluded, "They are walking the difficult path of inheriting the lamp of the Dharma. Both are still immature. Please give them your guidance - warmly, but firmly."
President Nichiko Niwano's second daughter, Ryoko, married Noriyuki Tanaka in October of 1996. She then became Yukako Tanaka. (That is, Yukako is her new Buddhist name.) When the parents of the two families met for the first time, something like the following occurred. After exchanging salutations, both sets of parents sat Japanese-style on the tatami mats. President Niwano said, "I like this way of sitting best; it is the most relaxing." So saying, he folded the seat cushion in two and sat on it with his legs crossed.
Both parents of the groom had been ardent members of Rissho Kosei-kai from their youth. Later, Noriyuki explained me what had happened in the day when the parents of both the bride and groom met. "My father is a man who never skips sutra chanting, even if it means doing so after he comes home late at night." Reflecting on events connected with their meeting with President Niwano, he said, "He and my mother were very ill-at-ease at that first meeting." With just a few thoughtful words from President Niwano the atmosphere became relaxed. Sake was served and the conversation drifted to the childhoods of the two young people.
The wedding took place on October 10. A book newly published that month, from Kosei Publishing Company, had arrived at the president's room in the Horin-kaku Guest Hall just a couple of days earlier. Rev. Niwano took it home and inscribed it with his writing-brush: "Congratulations to Yukako! October 10, 1996 - Father Nichiko" and he presented it to Yukako.
In that book, commenting on a passage of the eminent 13th-century Buddhist priest Shinran, the author writes about the warm ties between parent and child and their deep sense of unity.
In the evening before the wedding day, Yukako saluted her parents. She later said, "My father bowed his head slightly and said nothing. Maybe he wasn't able to say anything. My mother said, 'Be good to your Tanaka parents and make yourself loved by them.'"
The bride and groom both wore Japanese attire throughout the wedding ceremony. However, for the reception that followed the bride wore a Western-style wedding dress. President Niwano took her arm and led her to the main table - escorting her as the father of the bride - and at the table, passed her on to the bridegroom. Founder Niwano looked on with warm emotion.
This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.
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