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Confraternity is a non-standard gloss of ko 講, which were the dominant form of lay religious organization in Japan since at least the 15th century. Glosses of ko in official English-language Tenrikyo publications include:

Ko has been variously translated in religious studies literature as:

  • "confraternities"
  • "lay believers' associations"
  • "religious associations"

The Tenrikyo Resource Wiki (TRW) has chosen to use "confraternity" as the standard term to translate ko, as rendering ko as "fellowships" (the most recent adopted gloss used in English-language Tenrikyo publications) is arguably disadvantageous since “fellowship” is the standard gloss for fukyosho on the mainland U.S and New Zealand.

On TRW “fellowship” will only refer to “fukyosho” and “confraternity” will be our standard gloss for “ko” in order to maintain a differentiation between these two different types of social organization.

The old translation “fraternity” is obviously misrepresentative and will not be used in TRW. “Confraternity” will be used in place of “fraternity.”

History of confraternities in Japan

Confraternities were organized in various ways. The most common was according to members' occupation, gender, or age group. Duncan Williams, a scholar specializing on Japanese religion during the Tokugawa period, has pointed out that there were ko of at least three major categories that organized themselves around:

  1. worship of particular deities (an example would be a Kannon-ko)
  2. style of religious practices (an example would be a Nenbutsu-ko), and
  3. pilgrimage sites, such as a ko dedicated to pilgrimages to Mt. Fuji or Mt. Omine.[1]

Tenrikyo confraternities

A case can be made that Tenrikyo confraternities had characteristics from each of these three categories, for they were religious organizations that:

  1. centered on the worship of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto
  2. concentrated on the practice and performance of the Tenrikyo Service (Tsutome), and
  3. focused on making pilgrimages to Jiba

Tenrikyo scholar Kazuhiro Hatakama has once noted, "Unlike the hoon-ko 報恩講 of Jodo Shinshu or the miyaza 宮座 of local shrines, Tenrikyo's ko were rarely involved in the administration of community matters and, more often than not, they were excluded from the local community."[2]

It is said that Oyasama encouraged her followers to form confraternities in the early 1860s.[3] There is evidence suggesting that there were confraternities in existence no later than 1867 as a “Confraternity of Yabe Village” is mentioned in the Go-shinzen-meikicho, a list of names of people who met with Oyasama between 4/5 and 5/10/1867.[4]

While it was a common practice for confraternities to be named after the village they were located, a shift in favor of names inspired by a particular aspect of the faith such as “Tengen-ko” (“Divine locale confraternity”) or “Shinjin-ko” (“Pure heart confraternity”) could be seen beginning in the mid-1870s.[4]

According to The Life of Oyasama, a confraternity at the Residence (the Shinmei-ko 真明講) was founded in 1878 with Shuji Nakayama, Oyasama's son, as the ko-moto 講元 or confraternity director.[3] According to one account, there was a plan to have the confraternity at the Residence have “ko” in its name while regional confraternities adopt “gumi” (組 “group”) at the end of its name but this practice was not widely applied as confraternities continued to use “ko,” “sha” (社 society), and “kai (会 association)” in addition to gumi in their names.”[4]

By 1881, there were over 20 Tenrikyo confraternities spread throughout the provinces of Yamato (now Nara Prefecture) and Kawachi (eastern Osaka Prefecture) in addition to the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Sakai.[5] Whereas a list of confraternities compiled in March 1882 showed five in Yamato, ten in Kawachi, four in Osaka, and two in Sakai, it is known that by then there were also confraternities in places such as Harima (southwestern Hyogo), Iga (western Mie), Ise (Mie), Omi (Shiga), Settsu (eastern Hyogo/northern Osaka), and Yamashiro (southern Kyoto). [6]

The Shido-kai in Kyoto, founded by Genjiro Fukaya and others in 1884[7], saw explosive growth after 1887 and, by around 1902, had formed roughly 3,500 branch confraternities. Branch confraternities of the Shidokai lineage had the practice of naming its branches with a number (such as “Shidokai Confraternity No. 2”) until April 1911. The last confraternity named in this manner was No. 5,773.[4]

Many confraternities formed in the 1870s and 1880s were precursors of Tenrikyo's first branch churches, which were established beginning in 1888 and 1889.

Confraternities exist even today, although they are much rarer than churches and fellowships.[citation needed]

According to an article from November 1984 article from Michi no tomo, there are still a few confraternities in the mountainous regions of Nara Prefecture that meet monthly, rotating the place where they gathered among homes that have a Tenrikyo shrine altar.[8] The musical instruments of the service would be brought to the home that was its turn (the article mentions just four instruments, the same ones used for the daily services: the wooden clappers, cymbals, gong, and large drum.) Everyone except the singers and people playing the instruments dance the Teodori.[9]

Confraternities ought not to be confused with home shrine altars (often referred to as “kosha” 講社).

Organization in historical confraternities

Confraternities each had a director (komoto), lieutenants (kowaki 講脇), and procurement officers (shusen 周旋 or shusen-gata 周旋方). Remaining members were referred to as heikosha[10] 平講社. In many cases, early confraternities rotated the positions of director and others among members but once these organizations grew in size, the positions related above more or less began to be held by specific individuals.[4]

Monthly membership fees of two sen[11] were common in order to cover confraternity maintenance costs. Followers from Kyoto and Osaka especially were active in negotiating with lodging facilities and tea shops that would accommodate worshipers who traveled on roads that led from these areas to Church Headquarters in Yamato.[4]

Relatively well-known confraternities in Tenrikyo history


  1. Re-presenting Zen: A Study of Soto Zen During the Edo Period. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, p. 84.
  2. Tenri Journal of Religion 30, p. 90.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Life of Oyasama, p. 106.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 『改訂天理教辞典』 Kaitei Tenrikyo jiten, pp. 309–11.
  5. The Life of Oyasama, p. 118.
  6. The Life of Oyasama, pp. 181–182.
  7. See Anecdotes of Oyasama 141
  8. Compare this to the description of how Tengen is said to have conducted its services in Anecdotes of Oyasama 43.
  9. みちのとも編集部 Michi no tomo Henshūbu. "Kō-zutome: ima nao iki-zuku mura no 'kō' — Tahara Bunkyōkai, Uda Bunkyōkai o tazunete." 『みちのとも』 Michi no tomo (November 1984), pp. 40–43.
  10. This is an educated guess. The characters may have been read differently.
  11. A currency subunit worth 1/100 of a yen.