Mokichi Okada, (Meishu-sama) the founder of Sekai Kyusei Kyo (World Messianity), was born in the Hashiba district of Asakusa on December 23, 1882, when modern Japan was still in its infancy. The nation was wracked by all manner of contradictions, and the people were groping for a way to build an ideal state and for the means by which to reach this goal.
Interestingly, December twenty third is the day following the traditional observance of the winter solstice in Japan. Of all the days of the year, the sunny daylight hours are shortest on that of the winter solstice. But beginning on the next day, once more the period during which the sun shines grows longer little by little.
It is as if this were the very first day on which life moves toward the light. For this reason, throughout the world, east and west alike, the light of the sun has been worshiped at the time of the winter solstice as the source of all forms of life. In many faiths this day has been celebrated as the time when light is resurrected, or reborn.
This can be seen even in the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, which is observed on a day that once was important in Roman celebrations of the winter solstice. But the founder of Sekai Kyusei Kyo actually was born on this hallowed first day following the solstice, which symbolizes the dawn of a new year. Herein lies one difference from Christianity, which, lacking concrete knowledge of the exact date of Jesus' birth, borrowed an already established religious holiday to honor his birth. The fact that the exact date of Mokichi Okada's birth is a matter of historical record adds even more to the sense of mystery surrounding his birth on the first day of the renewal of the solar year.
The Hashiba district, where Okada was born, lies on the eastern edge of Asakusa. In ancient times it was called Ishihama no sho. Being a strategic place, it became a battlefield whenever warfare broke out. When the late twelfth century shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo raised troops and prepared to enter the town of Kamakura, he built a floating bridge over the river by linking many boats together, and it is said that modern day Hashiba (literally, "Bridge Place") is where this bridge was constructed. In a similar manner, floating bridges and narrow wooden footbridges were repeatedly built, washed away, and rebuilt, and Hashiba still remains as a place name associated with such structures.
In the late nineteenth century, around the beginning of the Meiji era, boats known as "Hashiba ferryboats" plied the banks of the river, passing through the thickets of reeds that grew along the shore. These ferryboats, coming and going tranquilly over the water, were a valuable means of communication. In those days the jetties of the villas of feudal lords still dotted the shores, and interspersed among them were cargo landings for the common people. At that time the government leader Sanetomi Sanjo had a villa there called the Gull viewing villa. It stood near the modern day bridge Shirahigebashi, and as the villa's name suggests, on the nearby river one might see the gulls that wintered there.
In 1877, when the short lived Satsuma Rebellion against the new government was cause of great concern, Emperor Meiji made an imperial visit to Sanetomi's mansion to see him on his sickbed. On the best land along the river and on the adjoining streets one might find both the magnificent houses of the wealthy and grand commercial establishments, but when one stepped into the narrow alleyways there were numerous poor houses, where the common people pinched and scraped from day to day. Under the eaves jutting out over the street from either side, laundry hung to dry. Around the communal wells women carrying babies on their backs prattled and gossiped about such matters as which family had fled during the night or how, with the rising price of rice, they would be forced to pawn one thing or another. All the while, with the sleeves of their cheap kimono pulled back, they would be busily washing clothes. Such was the character of Hashiba.
Yet even in such a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Tokyo one might in season find aesthetic consolation. As spring approached and the waters of the Sumida River began to warm, tiny whitebait ascended the stream. During the summer magnificent flowers rippled in the cool breezes across the lotus fields, which grew on every side as if to engulf the tiny houses. This, too, was Hashiba, where Mokichi Okada was born among the rich and the poor.
Hashiba district, Asakusa, 1880s
Sumida River among cherry trees in full bloom, 1881 - print by Hiroshige