This is the place where Priest Nichiren, the founder of the Nichiren Sect, first settled in 1253 at the age of 31 to begin his missionary work in Kamakura, the nation's capital, coming from his home town in Chiba Prefecture.
Priest Nichiren is said to have lived here for more than 20 years making it as a propaganda base and was engaged in street preaching in Kamakura. As he fiercely attacked and criticized other religious sects saying they were heathenish, he often had to suffer persecutions.
Priest Nichiei (1334-1397), a devotee of the Nichiren sect and son of Prince Morinaga (1307-1335, also called Moriyoshi), to whom Kamakuragu Shrine was dedicated (for further details on Prince Morinaga, refer to the shrine), built the Temple anew in 1357, and assumed the post of the fifth chief priest. From then on, the Temple was patronized by the Imperial Family in Kyoto. He also installed cenotaphs for his parents on top of the hill behind the main hall. Ryogon-zan Myoho-ji, the Temple's official title, was named after his childhood and Buddhist names.
In the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Temple was protected by the Tokugawa Shogunate and its affiliated feudal lords. The Eleventh Shogun Ienari Tokugawa (1773-1841) repaired to the Temple, and by his order, the entrance, Hokkedo, and Deva King gate were painted red.
The Temple has a number of precious statues and ancient writings. Unfortunately, most of them are not open to the public and doors of the halls enshrining Buddha statues are usually closed. In general, Nichiren sect Buddhists have a traditional principle of "Not giving, not receiving", or the policy that Nichiren Buddhists should not receive or give offerings from or to other sects Buddhists. In other words, the Sect is a closed circle and stray worshipers rarely have a chance to get closer to and worship the statues. Even art books hardly run pictures of their statues.
As is often common in other Nichiren sect temples, the main objects of worship are sanbo honzon, consisting of a group of statues and the Odaimoku tablet, on which the words "Nam-myo-ho-ren-gek'kyo" are inscribed. Sanbo denotes three elements, and sanbo honzon in this case stands for the tablet, the statue of Priest Nichiren in the center attended by a statue of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit) to its left and Taho Nyorai (Prabhutaratna Tathagata in Skt.) to its right.
In addition, the following wooden statues are enshrined:
The hall, made of zelkova trees, was built by the Hosokawa family, the lord of Kumamoto in Kumamoto Prefecture in the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1868). The Hosokawa is a branch family of the Ashikagas, who established the Ashikaga Shogunate in 1333 and had 16 generations of Shogun during the Muromachi Period (1333-1573). Morihiro Hosokawa (1938-), Prime Minister of Japan from August 1993 through April 1994, was the 18th generation of the Hosokawas.
Flowers are painted on the ceiling and sliding
doors. Beams have ornamental engravings.
The transoms are also beautifully decorated.
The most talented painters and craftsmen
available back at that time in Kumamoto were
brought here to construct and decorate this
(Note. On December 3, 2010, a tornado-like strong winds hit Kamakura and the copper-roof of the main hall was seriously damaged. It may take some time before the roof is repaired. Later, Japan Meteorological Agency declared it was a tornado. The Yomiuri reported the news with a picture showing the damaged roof.)
To the right-hand side of the main hall stands a small square structure, which is the Daigakuden hall. Wooden statues of Shaka Nyorai, Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611), and Inari Myojin (the God of Harvests, popularly called Fox Deity) are enshrined. Kiyomasa Kato, a feudal lord in Kumamoto, built the Kumamoto Castle and was known as a devotee of Nichiren Buddhism, so devout that he was almost divinized. On the other hand, he was also known as the man who clamped down on Christians. The Kato's statue was presented to the Temple by the Hosokawa family. Inari Myojin is a Japanese deity of Shinto and has nothing to do with Buddhism. Enshrining both Buddha statues and Inari in the same hall exhibits a typical syncretism.
A hanging scroll of Kiyomasa Kato at MFA. He dressed in armor and holds a banner, on which seven kanji characters reading Nam-myo-ho-ren-gek'kyo are written.
Nio-mon, or Deva gate (Picture, right)
The path between the main hall and the Daigakuden hall leads to the Nio-mon, or a pair of two fierce-looking, giant guardian Deva Kings. The pair keep guard against demons and enemies of this sacred spot. They originate from the Hindu gods Brahm and Indra.
The Temple is often dabbed as a moss temple with its moss-covered stone steps (roughly 50) leading up to the Hokkedo hall from the Deva gate. In order to preserve this natural beauty, visitors are not allowed to walk on the steps. Instead, there are spare flights parallel to it, from which visitors can observe the moss and walk up to the Hokkedo hall. From late April through May, white flowers of Shaga (fringed iris or Iris japonica) are in full bloom on both sides of the steps. In June, the moss is lively and most beautiful.
Hokkedo Hall (Picture; below)
Hokke means Lotus Sutra and is commonly known as Nichiren sect Buddhism. The existing hall was built circa 1810 by the lord of Mito, a powerful feudal lord in Ibaraki Prefecture, which sent talented priests here, including the 32nd chief priest Nichio and the 33rd chief priest Nichiji. The square building with beautifully sloped roofs is called Hogyo Zukuri in Japanese. Inside the building is a magnificent feretory in which a sedentary statue of Priest Nichiren, the main object of worship at this hall, is enthroned.
The feretory and statue are unveiled only twice a year; on August 27, September 12 and 13. Shortly before Priest Nichiren was persecuted on the evening of August 27, 1260 by the mobs of other sects, says the legend, a white monkey had appeared out of nowhere and he pulled the Priest by the sleeve to get out. By his help, Priest Nichiren was able to get off the danger and sought refuge in the south side of the hills called Nagoe. This monkey is said to have brought ginger to Priest Nichiren in refuge, with which the Priest was able to survive. Ever since, the Temple has been holding memorial services on August 27 and September 12 and 13 (another persecution day) with ginger presenting to worshipers. In the Temple, ginger is thought to be an amulet against evils and served to all participants on these specific occasions.
In front of the Hokkedo hall, there stands a big Japanese sago palm tree, or a cycad, which is said 650 years old and was planted by Priest Nichiren himself.
Ruins of Priest Nichiren's hermitage
Ahead of the sago palm tree and near the bell is another flight of stone steps which bring you up to the ruins of Priest Nichiren's hermitage. This is the site where Priest Nichiren lived for 20 years and commuted to busy corners of the streets in Kamakura for street preaching. There are three Nichiren-Sect temples in this vicinity each claiming that Priest Nichiren first settled in its temple. The other two are Ankokuronji and Choshoji. God knows exactly where he settled.
Cenotaphs for Prince Morinaga and his wife
The narrow path in front of the ruins stretches to the north and south. A further walk to the south, there is the Prince Morinaga's Gorinto or cenotaph on a ridge. His real tomb is placed near Kamakuragu Shrine supervised by the Imperial Household Agency as he was a member of the imperial family.
Going up north, there are several stone towers including that of Lady Minami, mother of Priest Nichiei and wife of Prince Morinaga. Lady Minami is also enshrined at a sub-shrine of Kamakuragu Shrine.
Myoho, the name of the Temple, came from Saddharma of Sanskrit meaning the right doctrine. It is a part of seven invocation letters of Nam-myo-ho-ren-gek'kyo, the words for adoration to the Lotus Sutra always chanted by Nichiren-sect Buddhists.
Note: At the ticket booth, visitors are required to read and follow the Temple's instructions written on a bulletin board. In short, visitors have to behave themselves appropriate to the sacred spot. No tripods are allowed in the Temple's grounds. In a recent visit to the Temple, I found a signpost at the main hall reading "Do not clap hands." There seems to be some visitors who do not tell Buddhism from Shinto.
Be careful that the Temple is different from Myohonji (with an n in the alphabets).
(Updated December 2010)