The Origins of Misogi-kyo
Misogi-kyo was one of the thirteen religious groups designated "Sect Shinto" (shuha shinto) by the Meiji government. It has never been a large movement (in 1995 it reportedly had a membership of 99,180), but, like the better-known Kurozumi-kyo, with which it shares several features, its early history and teachings vividly illustrate the religious world of late Tokugawa Japan. The group has its origins in the activities and teachings of Inoue Masakane (1790-1849), son of a samurai employed in the domain of Tatebayashi (in today's Gunma Prefecture). When Inoue was eighteen, he practiced Zen under the guidance of Tetsuyu Zenni, an Obaku nun in the lineage of Shoto Mokuan (1611-1648). A year later, he set off on a journey to seek the guidance of various Shinto, Confucian, and Buddhist teachers, and eventually completed a stint in the Chinese medicine school of Nagata Tokuhon (1513-1630). By the age of twenty-five, Inoue began training under the Kyoto physiognomist Mizuno Nanboku. He underwent a strict regimen, carrying out menial work for his teacher and restricting himself to simple food and dress. It was reportedly during this time that Inoue learned to regulate his breath by concentrating it below his navel.
After mastering the disciplines of the Nanboku school, the young man (now twenty-eight) moved to Edo and began practicing divination (under the name Shueki). The following year he added finger-pressure therapy (shiatsu ryoho) to his growing repertoire of physical and spiritual skills.
From about this time Inoue started to formulate his own system of therapeutic arts. He began to attract a small following, supporting himself in the meantime by practicing medicine (under the name Toen). But his search was not yet over. At the age of forty-four he happened to hear some Shinto teachings from an old woman in the Tatebayashi domainal residence in Edo; he is said to have been profoundly moved and subsequently had a "divine dream" (shinmu) that inspired him to take up the "way of the gods." The next year (1834) he returned to Kyoto and enrolled in the Shirakawa (Hakke) school of Shinto, where he was initiated into ritual ablution (misogi) and, reportedly, breath-control practices. When he was forty-seven, Inoue received approval from the Jingikan to carry out Shinto worship rituals, and, two years later, he was permitted to supervise miko ceremonial duties. In 1840, he became shrine priest of the Umeda Shinmei Shrine in Musashi (under the name Shikibu).
Once he obtained this official status, Inoue began to propagate in earnest the purification rituals that were to become the central practices of Misogi-kyo. But by 1841, his teaching activities had aroused the suspicions of the Superintendent of Temples and Shrines (Jisha bugyo), and he was imprisoned along with his wife, Onari. The Shirakawa house appealed to the Superintendent to remove the charges, but with little success--though Inoue was transferred to the custody of the Umeda community. The following year, he wrote a summary of his teachings and presented it to the authorities, presumably in order to exonerate himself. But the office of the Superintendent continued to view Inoue and his teachings as a potential threat to the public order, and exiled him to Miyakejima. He is said to have occupied himself there by healing the ill, praying for rain, building shrines, supervising silkworm cultivation, and building reservoirs. He died in exile at the age of sixty.