The Protestant Missions — October 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

The Tango Obaa San, or Old Lady of Tango!


Gion Festival In Kyoto!

In, a small town in the province of Tango on the shores of the Japan Sea lived a woman whose story is here condensed from an account written by Rev. J. H. DeForest. She belonged to a family of some local importance, one of whose members had died in the year 1854. By the old calendar, which divided the years among cycles named after various animals, that was the year of the tiger, and when the next year of the same designation came around, the head of the family died. Superstitious as the Japanese are, the family and friends could not fail to be deeply impressed with the coincidence; and the two tombstones, both inscribed with the tiger year, made them regard it as one fatal to the household. In 1878 the dreaded season came again. At New Year’s the family talked together of the terror that they could not but feel. “Whose turn will it be to die this year?” was the question they asked one another. Finally the widow of the man who had last died offered to take upon herself the wrath of the deities in order that the younger members of the household might be spared. To prepare herself for death she decided to make a pilgrimage to the great shrine at Ise, visiting other noted temples on the way. She set out attended by a single servant. On reaching Osaka she went to the house of her brother-in-law. This man and his wife had recently become Christians, and that night this widow for the first time heard about their religion.

She tarried over another night that she might hear more of what they had to say. That they had torn down their idol-shelves, that they dared openly to profess a faith that she had been taught to dread, and that they seemed to be so full of joy in their new religion, led the old lady to say on the third day : ” The weather is raw, the roads are bad. If the servant wants to continue on his pilgrimage to Ise, all right ; I will stay here till his return and learn more about this religion.”

She heard for a week, and gave a dollar to the church; two weeks, and she bought several dozen copies of the Scriptures and other books to take back home as presents; another week, and besides another dollar to the church, she gave one to the girls’ school; still another week, and it was arranged that, since she felt hardly able to face the questions that would meet her at home, the relatives with whom she was sta3ring should return with her. They did so, and though they were called before the police, they were allowed to continue telling the people of the town about Christianity. It was also arranged that one of the students of the Doshisha should spend his summer vacation there at the old lady’s expense. Until the end of her life, about twenty years later, she was well known in the churches as the Tango Obaa San, or Old Lady of Tango. She built a church in her village and paid a large proportion of the expenses of the evangelists that laboured there.

Rev. C. T. Blanchet of the American Episcopal Missions, wrote in 1879: “The people are actually getting ready for Christianity faster than we can carry it to them.” From towns far in the interior the missionaries of different societies were receiving invitations to come and preach the Gospel.

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