Nagakatsu Ishii , the founder of the Temple, was the lord of a manor here and a faithful follower of Priest Nichiren (1222-1282), the founder of Nichiren sect Buddhism. When Priest Nichiren came back to Kamakura in 1263 after deportation to the Izu Peninsula, Ishii cordially accommodated him with a hermitage inside Ishii's manor, which was later expanded to a temple called Honkokuji.
However, Honkokuji was relocated to Kyoto in 1345 at the request of Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), who established the Ashikaga Shogunate in Kyoto. It was Priest Nissei (1289-1369), an important Nichiren Sect Buddhist, that reconstructed the Temple at the site where Honkokuji had existed earlier. 'Chosho-ji' was named after Ishii's first name 'Nagakatsu', which can also be called 'Chosho' in Chinese characters. That is the origin of what we see today.
Like Myohoji and Ankokuronji in the vicinity, the Temple also claims that Priest Nichiren's hermitage in Kamakura had existed right here, though various records indicate otherwise.
Five Bronze Statues
Standing in the Temple's courtyard are five magnificent bronze statues. Surrounded by the Four Devas, or gods of four directions, (Shitenno in Japanese), and installed right in the center is a 4-meter-tall statue of Priest Nichiren himself. Made in 1922 by Ko-un Takamura (1852-1934), a famous sculptor in the early 20th century, in commemoration of Priest Nichiren receiving an honorable title 'Rissho Daishi' from the Imperial Court, it shows the Priest's pose delivering his speeches at a busy street corner in Kamakura. It used to stand on top of a hill behind the main hall facing east, to the direction of his home town in Chiba Prefecture. Being exposed to the sea breezes, it was brought down to the present site in 1982.
The Four Devas are believed to serve and protect Taishakuten, or Sakra devanam Indra in Sanskrit, and reside halfway up the Mount Sumeru of the Buddhist universe. Each Deva is given a mission to guard against evil influences at the specific direction allocated as follows:
In the case of the Temple, the Four Devas serve and protect Priest Nichiren,
who are looking at the southeast, and therefore, the four statues here
stand clockwise Zochoten, Komokuten, Tamonten and Jikokuten. All are clad in armors with threatening aspects. Four Devas at Yakushiji in Nara.
Behind the five bronze statues is a magnificent concrete building called Taishaku-do. Legend asserts that at the time Priest Nichiren was attacked by the mobs of other sect Buddhists in 1260, a white monkey approached him and the monkey helped him to evacuate. Priest Nichiren believed that the monkey must have been a divine emissary dispatched by Taishakuten to help him get out. Thus, the statue of Taishakuten is enshrined in this Taishaku-do hall as his guardian deity. In the center of the hall are the statue of Priest Nichiren and a pair of (not one) white monkeys holding the priest's hand in front of a huge Taho-to, or ratna-stupa.
Hokke-do Hall (Picture, below)
A flight of steps on the left-hand side of the courtyard leads to an old structure, nine meters square Hokke-do Hall, a.k.a. Soshido, (hall of the founding priest). Hokke-do denotes a prayer hall for the Lotus Sutra and is dedicated to the memory of the founding priest. Originally, it was built in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) modelling after the Chinese-style architecture and still maintains the original design. As de facto main hall of the Temple, it is an Important Cultural Asset designated by Kanagawa Prefecture. Enthroned on the altar are the statue of Priest Nichiren, behind which are the Odaimoku Tablet, statues of Shaka (Sakyamuni in Skt.) and Taho Nyorai (Prabhutaratna Tathagata in Skt.), as is commonly seen in other Nichiren sect temples. The hall has ancient and valuable assets such as :
All three are ICAs designated either by Kamakura city or Kanagawa Prefecture
February 11 (Holiday: National Foundation Day): Daikoku To-e, or austere discipline.
For 100 days beginning November 1 every year, young Nichiren sect priests who practice asceticism, gather at Nakayama-Hokekyoji in Ichikawa city, Chiba Prefecture, and start to purify themselves by ablution, eating only vegetable food and practicing asceticism day and night. Suffering is considered a way to attain a religious goal. About 150 young Nichiren priests nationwide join this program. In the dead of winter, they get up at 2:30 a.m. and have cold-water ablutions seven times a day before going to bed at 11:00 p.m. With the austere exercises and poor food (only twice a day, usually with rice porridge and miso soup), all of them lose at least 10 kilograms in the end and suffer from vitamin deficiency syndrome. On the final day of February 11, some of them come to the Temple (by train from Chiba to Kamakura, and then walk), and finish the 100-day ascetic purity rite by pouring bone-chilling water upon themselves at 12:30 p.m. They wear only white loincloths. One of the most notable events during winter in Kamakura. Incidentally, Nichiren sect priests are not allowed to officially perform religious services without undergoing this discipline.
Incidentally, Nakayama-Hokekyoji is one of the most important temples for Nichiren sect and it keeps autograph manuscript of the famous treatise entitled Pacifying the State by Establishing Orthodoxy Priest Nichiren wrote in 1260 when he was 39 years old. (Refer to Ankokuronji.)
(Updated August 2010)