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Soga vendetta story

JissojiGateThe Temple stands at the site where one of the heroes of the famous vendetta, or the Soga Brothers Story, used to live. There was a lord of manor called Suketsune Kudo (?-1193) living on the Izu Peninsula. It was the era the nation was unified and ruled by the Taira clan. Near the manor was another lord of manor called Sukechika Ito (?-1182). Both were cousins.

(Ito, as an affiliate of the Tairas, was monitoring Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the son of Taira's arch-rival and the founder of Kamakura Shogunate, who was then in exile to Izu. Yoritomo fell in love with Sukechika's daughter and gave birth to a child. In fear of the Taira's reaction, Sukechika killed the baby and also tried to murder Yoritomo as well. Yoritomo ran away and took refuge in Tokimasa Hojo's resident, who later became Yoritomo's father-in-law. )

Back at the time, Kudo was ordered from the Taira clan to be stationed in Kyoto, the capital of Japan, to serve for the Taira military government. While in Kyoto, Sukechika Ito robbed Kudo of his territory by force. Upset with Sukechika's behavior, Suketsune Kudo planned to revenge on him. In 1176 when Sukeyasu Kawazu (?-1176), Sukechika Ito's son, was practicing a grand hunting in Izu, Suketsune Kudo's men assassinated him as instructed by Suketsune. Sukeyasu Kawazu had two sons, Sukenari Soga (1172-1193) and Tokimune Soga (1174-1193). (Since their mother remarried Sukenobu Soga, their surname had been changed to Soga). The brothers pledged themselves that some day in the future they would retaliate for their father. They were only four and two years old at the time they resolved the revenge, so goes the story.

In the meantime, the Minamoto clan enhanced its military power over the Taira, and Yoritomo finally took control of Japan in 1185 with its headquarters placing in Kamakura. Suketsune Kudo was a good retainer of Yoritomo and Yoritomo favored him. He even served as a drum player when Lady Shizuka, the tragic mistress of Yoshitsune Minamoto, had a historic dance in front of Yoritomo in 1186 at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Chances for the revenge seemed slim for Sukenari and Tokimune brothers and more than a dozen years passed without any attempts at all. At long last, however, the brothers found a rare opportunity in May 1193 on the occasion that Yoritomo Minamoto held a grand hunting at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The brothers slipped among the hunters and stayed at their camp overnight. At midnight, a storm started to rage. Taking advantage of the confusion, the brothers attacked the lodge where Suketsune Kudo was staying and murdered him with swords. Sukenari was 22 years old and Tokimune 20. Eighteen years had passed since they first pledged the revenge. However, Sukenari, the elder brother, was killed by Kudo's men on the spot, and Tokimune, the younger one, was also caught and later executed.

A woodblock print showing Yoritomo's hunting party near Mt. Fuji at MFA.

This story is said to be one of the three great vendetta in Japanese history, and the saga was dramatized in Noh and kabuki plays. Those kabuki plays related to Soga Brothers were referred to as Soga numbers and at some point of the Edo Period (1603-1868), they were among the most popular plays.

A woodblock print of Soga Brothers at MFA, which has at least 44 items related to the Brothers.

As noted earlier, the present site of the Temple is where Suketsune Kudo lived about 800 years ago. Founding priest Nissho (1236-1323) was his grandson, and the head of the six great disciples of Priest Nichiren, who founded Nichiren sect Buddhism. To console the soul of his grandfather, Priest Nissho erected the Temple. In the backyard is the cemetery and his tomb is placed on an upper clearing.

Enshrined in the main hall of the Temple are a set of objects of worship, which consists of the tablet inscribed with the formulary statement Nam-myo-ho-ren-gek'kyo in the center surrounded by statues of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit) and Priest Nichiren himself etc., as are common at the Nichiren sect temples.

Priest Nissho lived to be 103 years old. On March 26, his anniversary of death, the Temple holds mass requiem every year and treat worshipers with red-and-white dumplings.


The Kudo family was later appointed the lord of manor in the southeast part of Kyushu, or today's Miyazaki Prefecture. Four centuries later, their descendant Mancio Ito (1569-1612) visited Europe as the chief of a four-member Catholic (Jesuit) mission to Europe. The first visit to Europe ever made by Japanese. The group of four, all 13-year-old boys, set sail from Nagasaki on February 20, 1582, led by Jesuit priests. By way of Macao, Malacca, Goa, Cape Town, St. Helena, they landed on Lisbon two and a half months later. Staying in Portugal and Spain for some time, they finally had the honor to meet with Pope Gregory XIII on March 23, 1585 in Rome just before the Pope's demise.The mission was well accepted everywhere. When they came back to Nagasaki eight years later in 1590, however, a drastic change was in progress. The Tokugawa Shogunate had begun to persecute Christians in fear that they might destroy the feudal system. The mission members had to endure all kinds of hardships. Mancio died of illness at age 43. One of the mission Julian Nakaura (1569-1632) was executed in the cruelest manner imaginable because he never ever changed his faith. His body tightly fastened with ropes, hung upside down, with the head dipping into filth. In addition, the executioners cut off his ears for slow bleeding. He needed a whole day to die.

(Updated April 2013)