Politics and Doctrine of Nichiren Buddhism#002【ミステリーな日蓮 〈番外編〉「日蓮と政治」英訳版】

Politics and Doctrine of Nichiren Buddhism#002



Hiroto Ema


Chapter 1

Political position of Nichiren sect


1.Rank of Nichiren and his disciples

Nichiren(1222-82) was born in Kataumi of Awa country Tōjō Gō Nagasa county (Now Chiba Prefecture). The center of this area was Tōjō no Mikuriya, a territory Minamoto no Yoritomo(1147-99),the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, donated to Ise Grand Shrine as a monument of victory over the Taira clan. The birth of Nichiren is unknown except for the fact that he called himself “the son of Sendara (a class of untouchables)”. But we cannot accept this word of Nichiren to the letter, for self-humbling names such as Sendara have been used as a metaphor like “store the gold in a muckheap” and limited to occasions in which one expresses the delight of having Supreme Lotus Sutra in spite of being a mean person.


In an era when the social rank was fixed, the ability of reading and writing must have related to one’s birth. In those days, there were illiterates even among landlords and lieges(1). Common people who were attached their farmland and sometimes traded also didn’t have such ability. Yutaka Takagi deduces that Nichiren was born in a house of an officer of manor, and points out that he had a nurse when he was infant(2). Indeed, the fact that Nichiren had interest in fishery and maritime affairs, was used to using servants and coins, and loved renowned horses and swords, suggests that he belonged to the class of landlords or lieges. So, it must be because this fact was known to his disciples that Nichiren had never mentioned to his birth in any letters.


On the other hand, the disciples of Nichiren also came from ancient and honorable families. For example, Nisshō (1221–1323) was a member of Ito clan, which belonged to Fujiwara tribe, and a grandson of Kudou Suketsune. Besides, Nichirō(1245–1320) belonged to Hiraga clan, which descended from Seiwa Genji clan. And it should be noted that Nisshō built Jisso temple on the site of Suketsune’s residence to keep his tomb there, and Nichirō built Hondo temple on the site of Hiraga clan’s residence(3). Takagi argues that Nikkō(1246–1333) descended from Ōya clan(4). In an era when the doctrine of Buddhism was used to defense the state, and mastering it was the supreme culture, a priest must have been required to have special knowledge.


Then, to which social class did supporters of Nichiren belong? To answer this question, I would like to take the letters written by him as an example. The only seven supporters who were known to receive his letters written with Chinese characters were Ikegami Munenaka(1213-83), Toki Jōnin(1216–99), Ōta Jōmyō(1222–83), Soya Kyōshin(1224-91), Hakiri Sanenaga(1222–97), Daigaku Saburō, and Myōichi-ama(5). On the other hand, Nanjō Tokimitsu(1259–1332), who was an Eastern warrior and a private officer of Hōjō clan, and Shijō Kingo(1230–1300), who was also a warrior, didn’t receive a letter written with Chinese characters from him. The seven persons listed above whom Nichiren sent letters of Chinese characters were able to read classical Chinese writings, so their knowledge shows that they descended from aristocratic families.


By the way, Nikkō, a disciple of Nichiren, wrote about the funeral of his master(6). According to it, the mourners, from nearest to the coffin to farthest, were Gen’nai Saburō, Daigaku Saburō, Tomita Shirōtarō, Daigaku Ryō, Nanjō Tokimitsu, Ōta Jōmyō, Toki Jōnin, Shijō Kingo, Ikegami Munenaka, Sirōjirō, and Jirōsaburō. Nikkō described Gen’nai Saburō, the first among the mourners, as “a valet of the Shogun palace”, and Jirōsaburō, the last, as “an inhabitant of Kamakura”, so it seems that the order accorded with their social rank. The fact that a valet of the Shogun palace attended the funeral implies the relationship between Nichiren and the Shogun family(7). Perhaps, Gen’nai Saburō was a courier from the Shogun.


Daigaku Saburō, the next to Gen’nai Saburō, seems to have been Hiki Yoshimoto, a grandson of Hikino-ama, who had supported Minamoto no Yoritomo as his nurse, and later succeeded to the family. Then Nanjō clan seems to have been a private officer of Hōjō clan and Ōta Jōmyō would be a grandson of Miyoshi Yasunobu (1140-1221), the first secretary of the courthouse of the shogunate. There is no contradiction in the order of mourners. Toki Jōnin is said to have been a private officer of Chiba clan and an official from the rank of aristocrats, and Ikegami Munenaka is said to have descended from Fujiwara tribe and an official responsible for architecture and construction matters. The rank of Shijō Kingo, who served Nagoe Mitsutoki and his son Chikatoki as a chief retainer, was relatively low. Nagoe Mitsutoki, with entourages of powerful clans and members of the supreme decision-making body such as Chiba clan and Miura clan, leaded a coup backing up the former shogun Fujiwara no Yoritsune (1218-56) and competed with Hōjō Tokiyori (1227-63) over the position of regent. And Nagoe Chikatoki, the first son of Mitsutoki, served Koreyasu (1264-1326), the seventh shogun of the Kamakura shogunate, as a retainer, and Yorimoto attended Chikatoki when he went to the Shogun palace. The fact that Yorimoto was in relatively low rank among the mourners was suggestive when thinking the social rank of the disciples of Nichiren, along with the existence of Gen’nai Saburō.


Furthermore, when Niciren was pardoned the transportation and went back from Sado Island to Kamakura, the monks of Zenkō temple plotted to behead him, but, Nichiren later told proudly, a number of warriors from the governor of Echigo country (Hōjō Sanetoki) were dispatched to escort him, so the monks could do nothing against him(8).


Managed with such protection by the disciples, the sect led by Nichiren would later have more than one hundred disciples in Mt.Minobu and be economically stable enough to build a huge auditorium for the monks which had more than 900 square meters(9). The asset of Nichiren consisted of five horses, twenty-two thousand copper coins, sixteen kosode kimonos, and so on(10), which is comparable with that of an influential officer. Furthermore, the sect, as with the case of the regent government, was supported by the officers and the law bureaucrats, and took in their sons as disciple. So it is not difficult to imagine that those in power recognized such a sect as a kind of political power, and turned their attention to its movement.


As for the birth, it is important that Nichiren repeatedly emphasized the honor of being born in Tōjō no Mikuriya and expressed his affinity for Minamoto no Yoritomo(11). As discussed above, many of his disciples descended from ancient and honorable families. The fact that Hiki clan, Miyoshi clan, Itō (Kudō) clan, Hiraga clan, and Nichiren himself presented the Mandara Gohozon to  Chiba Munetane (1265-94), the 9th master of the house, when he was infant(12), suggests an extraordinary relationship with Chiba clan. The disciples of Nichiren missioned mainly their families(13). The scope of mission by Nisshō, Nichirō, and Nikkō cannot be divided from their respective relatives. Also, the mission by Nichiren must have expanded from his family members too.



(1) Masaharu Kawai points out “In those days(the mid Kamakura era), some of Jitōs and Gokenins, who composed the samurai society, were illiterate, thus had not acquired classical culture yet”.(Chuusei bukesyakai no kenkyuu. Yoshikawa Kōbun Kan, 1973, pp. 90)

(2) Yutaka Takagi “Awa ni kaetta Nichiren.” Kanazawa Bunko Kenkyuu 176, 1970.

(3) “Tamazawa Tekagami Sōkō.” Nichirensyū Syūgaku Zensyo 19, Sankibō Bussyorin, pp. 262-; “Gosyo Ryakuchu.” Nichirensyū Syūgaku Zensyo 18, pp. 165-

(4) Yutaka Takagi. Nichiren to sono montei, Kōbundō, 1965, pp. 198.

(5) Takagi, op. cit., pp. 143, 149.

(6) Nikkō.”Nichiren senge ki.” Kamakura Ibun, 14722

(7) “Daizu gosyo: An Offering of Soybeans.” Syōwa Teihon Nichiren syōnin ibun, ed. Rissyō University, pp. 1809. It is said to have been an answer to the Shogun palace, thus starts from a very modest sentences, “It is a great pleasure of mine to be given fifty bushel (about 180 liter) of beans.” A support done with fifty bushel of beans so much exceeded those used in the supports of other disciples, and the end of the letter was also modest.

(8) “Shuju onfurumai gosho: The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra.” ed. Rissyō University, op. cit., pp. 978.

(9) “Soya dono gohenji: King Rinda.” ed. Rissyō University, op. cit., pp. 1664. Eisyū Miyazaki quoted Nihon kenchiku shi (Syūichi Amanuma) and Zusetsu Nihon bijyutu shi (Yutaka Tazawa, Minoru Ōoka), and pointed out that the area of the stronghold house built in Minobu in 1274, which had twelve pillars, was 30 tsubo (about 100 square meters), which equals to

60 tatami mats. Nichiren to sono deshi, Heirakuji Shoten, 1997, pp. 129. According to this fact, the area of the huge auditorium for the monks which completed in 1281 was 273 tsubo (900 square meters), that is, 546 tatami mats. Nichiren said that the value of the building would be one thousand Kans if built in Kamakura. (“Jibiki gosho: Leveling the Land.” ed. Rissyō University, op. cit., pp. 1895). By the way, in those days, one could buy fifty bushel of rice with a Kan of coins.

(10) Nikkō, op. cit., 14723.

(11) “Shōnin gonan ji: On Persecutions Befalling the Sage.” ed. Rissyō University, op. cit., pp. 1672;  “Niiama gozen gohenji: Reply to Niiama.” pp. 868; “Yagenta dono gohenji: The Swords of Good and Evil.” pp. 807; “Kangyō Hachiman shō: On Reprimanding Hachiman.” pp. 1848.

(12) Akira Nakao. Nichiren shinsekibun to jiin bunsyo, Yoshikawa kōbun kan, 2002, pp. 50.

(13) Yutaka Takagi points out that because the power of a parent was so enormous in those days, it was natural that the belief of the head of a house was communicated its members, and this communication of belief was intensified through family connections. (Takagi, op. cit., pp. 233)


May 1st 2020

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ミステリーな日蓮 〈番外編〉「日蓮と政治」#002




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