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In the mid-11th century, there was a powerful samurai clan in northern Honshu led by Yoritoki Abe {ah-beh} (?-1057) with a base fortress at Koromo-gawa near Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture. They grew stronger even to the extent that they ignored or acted against the orders from the Imperial Court in Kyoto. The Court dispatched an army to bring them under its control but to no avail. To better deal with the Abe, the Court appointed Yoriyoshi Minamoto (988-1075) to be commander of the army and instructed to crack down on them. Yoriyoshi was the ancestor of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, and had been extending its influences in eastern Japan. He had to wage a bitter and long battle together with his son Yoshiie Minamoto (1039-1106) against the Abes. Finally in 1067, they were able to win victory with the help of Kiyohara faction, another leading clan in northern Honshu. The warfare had taken nine years before the peace was restored.

In 1084, another strife broke out among the Kiyohara faction. Yoshiie sided with a clan headed by Kiyohira Fujiwara (1058-1128), one of the Kiyohara faction. (Note: Kiyohira is totally different from Kiyohara). The alliance was strong enough to quell the strife. The Fujiwaras finally succeeded in ruling northern Honshu and secured peace in 1087. Also contributing greatly to the winning battle was Yoshimitsu Minamoto (1045-1127), Yoshiie's younger brother.

A woodblock print of Koromo-gawa battle at MFA.

TaihoMHAfter this three-year battle, the Fujiwaras established a great city in Hiraizumi that was said to match the imperial capital Kyoto in opulence and was dubbed as Kyoto of the North. Blessed with nearby gold mines, they were rich, and constructed a gorgeous temple complex. The Golden-Hue Pavilion in Chusonji, the mausoleum of Fujiwara lords, is most famous today among many valuable structures in Hiraizumi, and draws 1.5 to 2 million visitors a year. So rich with gold, Marco Polo (1254-1324), a Venetian traveler, introduced Japan (Zipangu) as an island of gold. Nevertheless, the glorious Fujiwara clan was doomed to be destroyed later by Yoritomo Minamoto.

Unlike the case of the prior nine-year disturbance, the Imperial Court translated the three-year battle as a domestic strife within the Kiyohara clan and did not give any rewards to the winning warriors. Many who fought risking their lives were not happy at all. Then, there came the hero Yoshiie Minamoto (1039-1106). He generously rewarded the fellow faction members with his personal assets. Those who were rewarded were deeply moved by his generosity and helped tighten the union of the Minamoto clan, while spawning antipathy against the Court and its associates like the Taira clan, most powerful back then. As a matter of fact, at the time when Yoritomo Minamoto, Yoshiie's descendant in the fourth generation, rose up against the Taira clan in 1183, a host of samurai clans in northern Japan, still feeling indebted to Yoshiie, entered into an alliance with Yoritomo recalling Yoshiie's deed to their mind, and many others jumped on the bandwagon.

The Temple stands at the site where Yoshiie's younger brother Yoshimitsu used to live, and in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), his direct descent Hideyoshi Satake (1151-1225) resided. Hence, the district was called the Satake Estate and the Satakes continued to live here generation after generation even after the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).

Entering the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Satakes was transferred to Akita Prefecture as a feudal lord (daimyo) of Akita, where the Satake played a pivotal role in developing the Prefecture. In the castle museum near Akita Station of East Japan Railway, a complete lineage of the Satakes is on display. As if to demonstrate a good strain of the family, all of their given names start with Yoshi.

Hideyoshi Satake was an influential retainer of Yoritomo Minamoto, and his ancestor erected a temple of the Shingon sect with the name of Tafukuji in 1399 on its estate. As years went by, however, Tafukuji went obsolete. In 1444, Priest Nisshutsu (1381-1459) of the Nichiren Sect reconstructed the Temple and named it Ichijo-in Taihoji, converting the denomination to the Nichiren Sect. "Ichijo-in" was Priest Nisshutsu's Buddhist title. Incidentally, Nisshutsu is the founding priest of Hongakuji and the Temple at one time served as a sub-temple of Myohonji.

The Satake Estate stretched westward over today's Yagumo Shrine, and the Shrine is sacred also to the memory of the Satakes. Hence, Yagumo Shrine is often referred to as Satake Ten'no. (For details, see Yagumo Shrine). When Yagumo Shrine holds the annual festival in July, portable shrines march in a procession through the street of Omachi district, and never fail to drop in at the Satake's graves in the Temple to pay tribute to their memory.

Main Hall

As is common in Nichiren sect temples, Sanbo-honzon are enshrined in this hall as the main objects of worship. Sanbo originally means three elements, or the Lord Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood, and in the case of Nichiren sect temples, a tablet is placed in the center. It is a slab on which seven invocation letters, or Nam-myo-ho-ren-gek'kyo, (called Odaimoku) meaning adoration to the Lotus Sutra, are inscribed with a brush in Chinese characters. Surrounding the tablet are usually the statues of Shaka (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit) trinity and that of Priest Nichiren in front. Unfortunately, occasional visitors are not able to make them out under the dim natural light.

Also enshrined in the hall are the following statues:

Annual Observance

On February 22, the Temple performs ascetic purity rite, a similar to the one held at Choshoji. Priests pour cold water upon themselves at 12:30 p.m. They wear only white loincloths

(1) Bushido: There is a notable folk tale with respect to Yoshiie Minamoto hinting bushido (samurai code), or what a samurai should be like. At the end of the nine-year battle, Sadato Abe (1019-1062), then the chief of the Abe clan and son of Yoritoki Abe, was driven into a corner in the battleground by Yoshiie. Sadato's death and defeat of the Abes were imminent. Putting him at the point of the sword, Yoshiie read for Sadato last two lines of a tanka poet he composed so that Sadato might finish up adding the first three lines. A tanka is a poem having 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic sequence. What Yoshiie read was:

Ho-ko-ro-bi-ni-ke-ri ,

which can roughly be translated as "Your palace of garment has come apart at the seams." Koromo is literally a garment and here the term implies both the name of the battleground (Koromo-gawa) and a garment.

Sadato responded right away with the following first three lines:


which meant, "With a long elapse of time, the thread fell into disorder and unable to tolerate any longer."

Moved with his quick and sensible response, Yoshiie let him go.

This episode is told with admiration and the two men are often quoted as role models of samurai. Being an expert in the art of fencing is not enough to be a real samurai. For a good samurai, he should be a master in the arts of pen and sword alike. For your reference, the Encarta Encyclopedia defines bushido as follows:
Code of ethics observed by the warrior noblemen, or samurai, of feudal Japan. Like the rules of chivalry that prevailed in medieval Europe, Bushido was based on such virtues as rectitude, endurance, frugality, courage, politeness, veracity, and, especially, loyalty to ruler and country. Only through the exercise of these virtues could a knight maintain his honor, and one who had forfeited honor was compelled to commit suicide by harakiri. Fully developed by the late 12th century, Bushido became a written code in the 16th century. When feudalism was abolished about mid-19th century, the code was abandoned, but its influence, mainly on the army, persisted.

(2) Koromo-gawa also reminds us Japanese of the tragic hero Yoshitsune Minamoto (1159-1189), younger brother of Yoritomo Minamoto by different mother. As his father was killed during the battle with the Taira clan in the 1150s, he was first sent to a temple called Kurama-dera in Kyoto and then to Hiraizumi at the age of 15 to be under the care of the Fujiwara clan. With the courtesies and hospitality extended to him, Yoshitsune lived there for nearly six years. Hearing the news that Yoritomo rose up against the Tairas in 1180, he left Hiraizumi to join the Yoritomo's troops and met his half-brother Yoritomo for the first time at the base camp in Shizuoka. Thereafter, he rendered distinguished services in the ensuing battles, and led the Minamoto to the overwhelming victory over the Taira. However, his tragedy started right after the victory. He received high-ranking official titles from the Imperial Court in Kyoto without getting Yoritomo's prior approval, which made Yoritomo upset. Not only did Yoritomo decline Yoshitsune to enter Kamakura, but he even ordered to kill his brother. Yoshitsune turned fugitive and resorted to the protection of the Fujiwara in Hiraizumi again. The chief of the Fujiwara who fostered young Yoshitsune had already passed away, and the new head was not helpful any longer. In addition, military power of the Fujiwara was no match for Yoritomo's. Besieged with Yoritomo's troops, Yoshitsune had no alternatives. He was forced to kill himself. Koromo-gawa (MFA) is known as the place of his suicide. For details on Yoshitsune, refer to Manpukuji.

(3) Yasaburo Toriumi appearing in Goryo Jinja is younger bother of Sadato Abe.

(Updated August 2010)