A day in the life of Morihei Ueshiba

May, 1968, early morning. 

The Founder arose every morning before 6:00 am. If he did not take a full bath, he would wash his face in the wash stand filled with boiling water tempered with cold water from the faucet. His toothbrush was made of pig bristles, and he used salt or a white powdered toothpaste to brush with. One of my duties was to collect his dentures and set them out on a small dish for him. I don’t think there are many people in this world that have seen the Founder without his dentures in. After setting out his dentures, my next task was to assist the Founder as he washed his face. With a fresh clean towel tucked into my belt on my right side, I would kneel behind him at the sink to hold the sleeves of his kimono back behind him. This was to insure that his kimono sleeves did not get wet. I kneeled down behind him because I was taller than he was. If I were to stand behind him, he would bump his head on my chest when he stood up after washing.

If the Founder was to take a full bath the next morning, my day started differently. On bath days, I would wake up at 5:00 am. to start the wood fire which heated the water for the bath. The bathhouse consisted of an enclosed, raised wooden platform fitted with a large iron pot that was filled with cold water. A fire was lit from the outside of the bathhouse directly under the pot. As the water heated, the bottom of the pot would become too hot to stand on. The pot had a floating wooden lattice that was used to stand on, or one would wear geta (wooden shoes) into the bath! In Japanese these metal bathtubs were called goemonburo. Originally the word refers to a famous burglar named Goemon Ishikawa who was boiled alive in a metal pot as punishment for his crimes. Even in the 1960’s, goemonburo were common in most households. Today very few still exist. In a freshly made bath, the water is sharp and a little painful. To soften the water, the maid Kikuno would enter the tub first to “massage or knead the water”. This is called yumomi, in Japanese.

The Founder’s step is strong and sure. Most photos are taken from behind as it was impolite to take a picture of the Founder from the front. Photo by Gaku Homma.

After the Founder entered the tub, it was either Kikuno or my job to scrub his body down. The Founder had once been a muscular man, so at his age, his skin hung loosely around him. Without using soap, I would lightly hold his muscle downward and scrub his skin in upward strokes with a hand towel.

March, 1968. The Founder looking directly at the sun as he prays to Amaterasu O Kami. In the right side of the photo, the hokora (small shrine) to Ushitora no Konjin. Photo by Gaku Homma.

p7_thumbAs I tended the fire, it was not allowed for me to sit idly by. As the fire burned I would sweep the pathways in front of the dojo and the shrine with a large bamboo broom. Usually in the middle to the end of March, the pathway to the Shrine would be covered with fallen cherry blossoms. When the blossoms fell, I did not sweep the path in order not to disturb the natural beauty of the scattered blossoms. At all other times, I would make sweep marks with my broom in an orderly pattern.March, 1968. Gaku Homma as a boy on his way to work in the Founder’s rice garden.

Photo by Kikuno Yamamoto.