|THE FOUNDER'S CHILDHOOD
The Founder of the Konko Faith was born on September 29, 1814, in a small village called Urami (present-day Konko Town, Okayama Prefecture, Japan). Given the name Genshichi, he was the second son of Kandori Juhei and Shimo. Genshichi was not a weak child, but he suffered many illnesses during his childhood. However, he managed to regain his health each time due to the care and devotion of his parents.
Genshichi's parents were farmers by trade and had an average family size of five sons and three daughters. Genshichi's father, Juhei, was hard-working, honest, and most of all, very religious. He would visit various shrines and temples, often carrying Genshichi on his back, to pray for his son's health. This early religious influence made a lasting impression upon Genshichi. For example, he often made model shrines and temples and playfully imitated his father by praying to them. His mother, Shimo, was an affectionate and wise mother who insisted on raising all eight of her children by adamantly refusing to commit infanticide, despite the hard economic conditions she encountered. As Genshichi was the second son and thus not expected to take over the family lineage or farm, relatives arranged for him to be adopted in the fall of 1825, when he was eleven.
Kawate Kumejiro and Iwa were a childless couple who farmed in the neighboring village of Otani. Kumejiro was already fifty-four years old, and Iwa was thirty-four. Deciding to adopt at the same time Genshichi's relatives began searching for a family, they met, and finalized arrangements in November 1825. Genshichi was welcomed into the overjoyed Kawate family, and he was renamed Kawate Bunjiro (Bunji for short). Although he was now officially adopted, Bunji continued to have a warm relationship with his natural parents.
The Kawates were good parents and paid close attention to Bunji's upbringing. When Bunji asked to be allowed to visit shrines and temples on holidays, the Kawates agreed. They were even able to provide him with two years of education. This was very unusual for a farmer's child, especially in a time when Japan did not have a system of compulsory education. His education was made possible because Bunji's father, although a farmer, had won the trust and confidence of the village headman, Ono Mitsuemon.
Mitsuemon was an intellectual who had studied at the prestigious Academic Institute of the Tokugawa Government. He was an authority in mathematics, astronomy, survey, and yin-yang studies, among many other subjects as well. Although his term was only for two years, Bunji not only learned enough to read and write, but gained considerable knowledge in the areas of historical facts and proverbs. This valuable education enabled him to write his memoirs and the teachings of his faith later on in his life. Mitsuemon also instructed Bunji in other fields, such as science and history. After Mitsuemon's death, Bunji visited his former teacher's grave whenever he went to visit shrines and temples. This act demonstrates the appreciation, influence, and deep relationship that had developed between Bunji and Mitsuemon.
Although Bunji was not in good health during his early years, he was an assiduous worker. While other village boys would carry six bundles of pine branches for a tile-maker as a way to earn income, Bunji would haul eight bundles. He would use this extra money to pay for his expenses to visit shrines and temples. However, Bunji was not faultless as a youth. Once, when he was twelve-years-old, a group of village boys asked him to join them in a gambling game. When he declined, saying that he did not have any money, the others insisted that he join them and lent him money. He ended up losing all of the money he borrowed, and had to ask his parents to repay the loss. Bunji was severely scolded by his parents and deeply regretted his actions. He never had anything to do with gambling again.
In 1831, Bunji's mother, thought to be unable to have children, gave birth to a son they named Tsurutaro. However, Tsurutaro died of an illness at the age of five. To compound this tragedy, Bunji's father Kumejiro who was now the age of sixty-six, contracted a disease and a few weeks later followed his son in death.
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