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Third Shinbashira Zenye Nakayama passes away for rebirth


On the morning of June 25, I was informed the third and former Shinbashira Zenye Nakayama passed away for rebirth the previous evening. He was 81 years old. The Tenri jiho weekly newspaper (June 29 edition) reported the time of his passing at 7:55 p.m. on June 24. I heard he passed away peacefully without any previous hint that his physical condition was critical.

Whereas Tenrikyo Church Headquarters’ Directors-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs and Religious Affairs expressed deep sorrow at the third Shinbashira’s passing in the aforementioned newspaper, since I knew he had been ill and confined to a wheelchair for some time, I found little trouble accepting the news. Rather than being sad, I was moved and awed that his passing occurred after the services commemorating Hawaii Dendocho’s 60th anniversary took place on May 17 and America Dendocho’s 80th anniversary on June 14. If the third Shinbashira had passed away even a month or two earlier, it would have severely dampened the mood before these celebrations.

In no way did I know the third Shinbashira personally but I do have fond memories attending the asa-zutome (“Morning Service”) activity during the Children’s Pilgrimage when the third Shinbashira would make his entrance while singing “How do you do? Konnichi wa.” He exuded an indescribable charisma as people craned their necks in the direction he was walking from. He was like a rock star, albeit a rock star in a kimono and hakama. He also allegedly enjoyed attending sumo matches, usually the first day of the bi-monthly tournaments.

Several years after he handed over the position of Shinbashira to Zenji Nakayama in 1998, I remember seeing him once in a while as he took strolls in the Main Sanctuary precincts. He would be dressed in an unassuming manner with a cap on his head. I do not know for sure if he deliberately chose to dress that way in an attempt to move about incognito but that there would always be a seinen (HQ male official) escort following a few feet behind gave him away to anyone who was attentive enough.

In the June Monthly Service Prayer on the 26th, the current Shinbashira mentioned that maintaining the congregation’s current pace toward the 130th Anniversary of Oyasama mounted to the best way to honor the memory of the late third Shinbashira. At the end of his sermon at the Monthly Service, Headquarters Executive Official Motoyoshi Tomimatsu’s voice wavered as he touched on the passing of the third Shinbashira. He said that the late third Shinbashira made it his lifelong mission to encourage the enrichment of the inner substance of local churches and emphasized the importance of conforming to the teachings instead of molding the teachings to serve and suit our convenience. He encouraged everyone listening to honor him by continuing to strive to progress in these areas.1

The Mitama-utsushi2 ceremony took place on the night of June 27. A “Hassonogi” (ceremony seeing off the departed) took place at noon on the 28th.

The Kokubetsu-shiki (memorial ceremony) is scheduled to take place at noon on July 6.

Third Shinbashira Zenye Nakayama, short personal history3

  • Born July 7, Showa 7 (1932) as the eldest son of second Shinbashira Shozen Nakayama
  • Appointed as successor designate to the Shinbashira on October 26, 1949
  • Graduated from Tenri High School in 1951
  • Appointed as the third president of the Young Men’s Association on January 27, 1953
  • Founded the Tenrikyo Music Institute (“Onken”) the same year
  • Graduated from Keio University in 1955
  • Married Masa Tosa on February 7, 1958. They had three sons and three daughters
  • Began his tenure as Shinbashira after the second Shinbashira’s passing on November 14, 1967. The Shinbashira Inauguration Service was held on October 25, 1968
  • He presided over three anniversaries of Oyasama (90th, Centennial, 110th). For the 90th Anniversary, he advocated the enrichment of church substance and advancing the construction of Oyasato, the Parental Home. For the Centennial Anniversary, he emphasized missionary work and announced the construction of the West and East Worship Halls to actualize the “four-fronted mirror Residence” as well as the remodeling of the Inner Sanctuary4
  • Stepped down as Shinbashira in 1998, the year of Oyasama’s 200th Birthday Celebration, handing the office over to his son Zenji
  • During his lifetime, he made 34 official trips to visit churches outside Japan and over 2,000 domestically


  1. These are a rough translations of what I heard secondhand in the case of the Service prayer and what I remember from a live broadcast in the case of the sermon. I plan to update this post when the June Service prayer and sermon are officially published.
  2. Mitama-utsushi: Ritual transference of a late person’s memory in a memorial tablet.
  3. Source: Tenri jiho No. 4385 (June 29, 2014), p. 1
  4. See 2003 Spring Service Sermon for more details.


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