Words often fail to describe Onisaburo Deguchi the "Great Monster" (1871-1948), who left indelible milestones in the modern spiritual history of Japan.

He is generally known as chairman of Omoto ("Great Origin" or "Original Root"), a religious organization founded by himself and his mother-in-law, Nao Deguchi (1836-1918). The spiritual giant did his utmost to spread the true teachings of the Great Original Deity of the universe (Creator). However, his passion incurred two persecutions (in 1921 and 1935) by the authories as they saw Omoto as incompatible with their aim to build a centralized state by deifying the Imperial Family.

A born prophet, Onisaburo predicted many things accurately. For example, in his 1921 anthology of 31-syllable Japanese poems, he detailed the outbreak of the Pacific War (1941), the former Soviet Union's occupation of the Kuril Islands, the aerial bombings of major Japanese cities by the United States, the loss of the former Japanese territory of Taiwan, and more. Commenting on Japan's defeat, Onisaburo stressed that it was part of the country's noble mission to establish world peace via disarmament (See Article 9 of Japan's "Peace Constitution").

The "world remodeler," as Onisaburo jokingly called himself, was far from being an armchair preacher, but a dynamo who never sat still. A classic example would be his seemingly reckless - yet carefully planned at a deeper level - expedition in Mongolia while released on parole in 1924. His surprising move eventually improved Omoto's reputation, which was often the butt of groundless derision. Moreover, Onisaburo received a hero's welcome, and the press hailed his audacity.

The kind of Shinto (literally the "Way of Kami") Onisaburo upheld was universal and all-embracing - a sharp contrast to State Shinto, the nationalistic official cult of Japan. His cosmic mentality made him one of the first persons to advocate the oneness of all good religions (bankyo dokon). Under Onisaburo's leadership, Omoto gradually transformed from a somewhat nationalistic insular religion to a cosmopolitan faith; it adopted Esperanto as an international language, inaugurated the Federation of World Religions in 1925 and promoted global interfaith activities with Dao Yuan of China, the Bahai faith of Iran, Cao Dai of Vietnam, the Weisse Fahne of Germany, the Universal White Brotherhood of Bulgaria and many others.

Personality-wise, "Oni-san" (Onisaburo's nickname) was an arresting enigma. He was warm, interesting and easy to please. Egalitarian-minded, he treated everyone equally, whether they be a VIP or a beggar. The witty talker had such a great sense of humor that the presiding judge referred to him as a "repartee maniac." His charisma certainly played a major role in winning Omoto adherents at home and abroad.

Underneath his character charm lies the immensity of the cosmos of Onisaburo and the profundity of his teachings, culminating in his unprecedented work, The Reikai Monogatari ("Tales of the Spirit World"). He also perfected the studies of kototama (or kotodama), a belief that a sacred power or spirit dwells in the words of the traditional Japanese language. Now that many new religions in Japan trace their origins back to Onisaburo's teachings, he is the de facto parent of these Omoto offshoots.

As an artist, Onisaburo left an expansive body of works in diverse fields including literature, 31-syllable Japanese poetry, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramic pottery, drama, and cinematography. The recent attention centered on some 3,000 rakuyaki (free-style) teabowls he handmade. Painted with vivid colors reminiscent of French impressionist paintings, they won international acclaim during the Onisaburo Duguchi art exhibit that toured over 10 cities in Europe and North America from 1972 to 1975. In fact, some ceramists praise his iridescent pottery as priceless.

Onisaburo is a living inscrutability even to this day. No one has ever completely depicted what he is, and perhaps never will. Little wonder the kami once called him Oh-bakemono ("Great Monster").

See Onisaburo in motion (The Aizen-en)

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