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The Shinbashira 真柱 (also spelled “Shimbashira”) is the administrative and spiritual leader of the Tenrikyo faith. The office has been held by four people in Tenrikyo’s history. The fourth and current holder of the office is Zenji Nakayama.

Shinbashira (literally, “central pillar”) is an architectural term referring to the central pillar of a pagoda.[1]

History of the office

First Shinbashira

According to Tenrikyo texts, Oyasama designated her grandson Shinnosuke Nakayama the first Shinbashira while he was still in his mother’s womb.[2] Shinnosuke was originally born as the third son of Sojiro and Haru Kajimoto and was later adopted as the male heir of the Nakayama family.

When Oyasama’s following became involved in a national effort to gain government permission to practice their faith, Shinnosuke was initially left out of the process due to his young age. According to The Life of Oyasama, Umejiro Izutsu collapsed during a heated meeting, which prompted followers to approach Oyasama about the matter. She then allegedly said:

“Sah, sah, indeed the Shinbashira is thin at present. But when flesh is added to him, no one knows how great he will become.”[3]

It is said that this made followers realize that any effort to establish a church without Shinnosuke at the helm would not be acceptable to God.

Soon after, between March and April 1885, Shinnosuke and nine others approached the Patriarch of Shinto to become certified religious instructors (kyodoshoku 教導職). When Tenrikyo became a subsect of the Shinto Honkyoku in 1886, Shinnosuke became its head (kaicho).[citation needed]

The head position of the Shinbashira would later formally be known as kancho 管長 until the end of World War II.[4] Nevertheless, Shinnosuke Nakayama was regularly referred to as the Shinbashira in the Osashizu[5] and is presently regarded by the Tenrikyo faithful as the first holder of the office.

Second Shinbashira

Shozen Nakayama was ten years old when his father Shinnosuke passed away for rebirth on December 31, 1914.[5] As Shozen was too young to carry out the official responsibilities of the office, his uncle Tamezo Yamazawa held a position known as kancho shokumu sekkosha 管長職務摂行者 and assumed the Shinbashira’s duties in his place until he came of age in 1925.[6]

Third Shinbashira

Zenye Nakayama became the third Shinbashira after the passing of his father Shozen in 1967.[5]

Fourth Shinbashira

Zenji Nakayama became the fourth Shinbashira in April 26, 1998, not long after the celebration of the 200th birthday of Oyasama.[7] His Inauguration Service was held on October 25, 1998.[8] Zenye Nakayama thereafter became known as the zen-Shinbashira or former Shinbashira.

Shinbashiras through history: Table

Numerical order Name b/d dates Photo Term Served Term Length
1 Shinnosuke Nakayama June 19, 1866 (lunar 5/7/1866)–December 31, 1914 Profile - Shinnosuke Nakayama.jpg 1886–December 31, 1914 28 years
2 Shozen Nakayama April 23, 1905–November 14, 1967 Shozen Nakayama.jpg January 21, 1915–November 14, 1967 52 years
*was not actually Shinbashira but merely carried out second Shinbashira Shozen's official duties until 1925 Tamezo Yamazawa lunar 1/12/1857–July 20, 1936 Profile - Tamezo Yamazawa.jpg December 31, 1914–April 23, 1925 11 years
3 Zenye Nakayama July 7, 1932–June 24, 2014 Zenye Nakayama.jpg November 14, 1967–April 26, 1998 30 years
4 Zenji Nakayama January 16, 1959– Zenji Nakayama.jpg April 26, 1998–Present

Process of selecting the Shinbashira

The current process of selecting the Shinbashira is described in The Constitution of Tenrikyo (Tenrikyo kyoki) as follows:

"The Shinbashira shall bear the family name of Nakayama. The successor to the Shinbashira shall be designated, based on the lineage of Oyasama, at a meeting of Honbu-in (Church Headquarters executive staff members). The lineage record shall be preserved by the Director-in-Chief of Religious Affairs[9]

Duties of the Shinbashira

The Constitution of Tenrikyo designates the Shinbashira’s current official duties as follows:

  • Presiding over the Kagura Service, Teodori, and other rites (Article 10)
  • Appointing the Tsutome-ninju (Service performers) and Toritsugi (ministers that deliver the Besseki Lectures) (Article 11)
  • Bestowing the sacrament of the Sazuke to followers (Article 12)
  • Granting divine sanction for church affairs (Article 13)
  • Sanctifying the medo or symbols of worship for Tenri-O-no-Mikoto and Oyasama for a church upon request and permitting their enshrinement (Article 14)
  • Sanctifying the kanzane or symbol of worship for a home altar (Article 15)
  • Holding final authority regarding all rites and doctrine (Article 16)
  • Authorizing proposed amendments to The Constitution of Tenrikyo after consultation with Honbu-in (Article 17)
  • Issuing an Instruction (Yutatsu) during seasonable periods (Article 18)
  • Appointing the following officers of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters: Honbu-in (headquarters executive officers), Honbu-fujin (headquarters female officials), Honbu-jun'in (headquarters senior officers), Honbu-tsumein (headquarters attendant officials), and Honbu-seinen (headquarters male officials) (Article 19)
  • Appointing the Director-in-Chief of Religious Affairs upon consultation with Honbu-in (Articles 20)
  • Appointing the Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs on the recommendation of Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Recommendation Committee (Article 21)
  • Making the final decision on appointment and dismissal of Sewa-nin (church counselors) and Shuri-nin (diocese counselors) (Article 22)
  • Making the final decision on application for the establishment and of any another matters concerning churches, appointment/dismissal of head ministers, bishops of mission headquarters overseas, executive board staff, Assembly members, and diocese superintendents (Article 23)
  • Designating a proxy to perform all or part of his functions when the necessity arises (Article 24)

Shinbashira/Shin no hashira as mentioned in the Ofudesaki

In the Ofudesaki, the term “Shinbashira” is used interchangeably with “Shin no hashira.” According to the Ofudesaki chushaku (Annotations to the Ofudesaki), “Shin no hashira” can have the three following meanings[10]:

  1. When used in the context of the Service, it refers to the Kanrodai.
  2. When used to refer to a person, it refers to the person who is central to the Tenrikyo faith.
  3. When used in the context of spiritual matters, it refers to a central ideal.

Whereas Shinbashira/Shin no hashira is translated as “central pillar” in most instances, notably, it is merely “Shinbashira” in Ofudesaki 3:56, reflecting that this may be the only case where Shinbashira/Shin no hashira unambiguously refers to a person holding the central position of leadership in the faith.

Appearances of “Shinbashira/Shin no hashira” in the Ofudesaki

Appearances of “hashira” in the Ofudesaki

External links


  1. Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System: Shinbashira
  2. The Life of Oyasama, p. 53.
  3. The Life of Oyasama, p. 201.
  4. 青地晨 Aochi Shin. 『天理教 百三十年目の信仰革命』 Tenrikyo: hyakusanju-nenme no shinko kakumei, pp. 225–226; 250.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 A Glossary of Tenrikyo Terms, p. 389.
  6. 『改訂 天理教辞典』 Kaitei Tenrikyo jiten, p. 456.
  7. Tenrikyo (newsletter) New No. 346 (May 26, 1998), p. 1.
  8. Tenrikyo (newsletter) New No. 352 (November 26, 1998), p. 1.
  9. Article 9 of The Constitution of Tenrikyo, third edition (2003) , p. 2).
  10. 『おふでさき注釈』 Ofudesaki chushaku, p. 32.