Reflecting upon ancestors in the Konko religious tradition


Rev. Masao Kawahatsu photo by J.K. Yamamoto

In the Konko faith, we call ancestors “mitama” in Japanese, which means “divine spirit.”

The Konko founder said, “Because humans are born through the blessings of Kami/God, they must also die with the blessings of Kami. Therefore, if a child’s birth is a happy event, then death is a much happier event since one becomes the divine spirit, mitama.”

One person asked a question to the Konko founder as follows: “Konko-sama, since there are many religions and different teachings, will our souls go in various ways after death?”

The Konko founder imparted, “Those things do not occur. The souls of those who die, having nowhere to go, hover and play like gnats between heaven and earth. They exist and play at the household altars and at the graves where their bodies are buried.”

He also said, “When Konko Daijin’s physical appearance disappears, I will go wherever I am requested.”

So, we believe in the existence of mitama after we die. Mitama does not go to heaven or hell. Rather, mitama stays with us always. The relationship between mitama and us is the same as the relationship of a tree’s branches and roots.

I would like to share my own experience about mitama. My mother passed away 10 years ago in 2000. She lived in Japan. One evening, I was sleeping at home in San Francisco. It was around 1 o’clock in the morning. My mother appeared in my room. I was not sure if it was a dream or real, but I was very happy to see her.

At that very moment, I received a phone call from my older brother who lived in Japan. He said that our mother had just passed away. I realized she came to see me so fast. This experience helped me understand that my mother’s mitama came to unite with me instead of going off to some faraway place. My mother’s death did not make me sad. Her passing filled me with joyfulness.

I would like to share another experience. One day I wished to find a wife and prayed hard to Kami and mitama. Soon thereafter, I had a dream. In my dream, a young lady who was sitting in a Japanese room wore a Chinese wedding dress. I could not see her face because she was looking outside the window. I was introduced to her by her father.

A few months later, an Asian lady came to Konko Church. She came to church to search for a room for her mother’s birthday party. She introduced herself and said her mother was a second-generation (Nisei) Japanese American and her father a Chinese American. Her father had passed away a long time ago, when she was only 8.

When I heard her, I remembered my dream from only a few months earlier. One year later, I married that lady. Her name is Alice. Of course, I never met her father, but I met her father’s mitama in my dream. I believe that mitama is the same as Kami, who tries to help us always, now and forever.

Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and martial arts. He also gives spiritual counseling. He can be reached at or (415) 517-5563.

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