Access Map


YakuoMHThe Temple is said to have been founded by Priest Nichizo, one of the Nine Great Disciples of Priest Nichiro (1243-1320), who was one of the Six Great Disciples of Priest Nichiren (1222-1282), the founder of the Nichiren sect. Born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Priest Nichizo took the Buddhist vows at age 7 joining the Nichiren Sect. He also had opportunities to contact Priest Nichiren directly. As a matter of fact, Priest Nichiren instructed him to spread the Nichiren Sect dogma in Kyoto at the deathbed.

The Temple was originally named Baireiji belonging to the Shingon sect, but did not flourish. Seeing it in devastation, Priest Nichizo gave support to the Temple and rebuilt it as a Nichiren sect temple.

Priest Nichizo is known as the promoter of the Nichiren sect Buddhism in Kyoto, Japan's long-time capital, where the Tendai sect was most dominant back at the time. The Tendai group was intent on keeping the Nichiren followers from coming into Kyoto. While Priest Nichizo was in Kyoto for missionary work, the authorities tried to oust him for one reason or another. Despite those persecutions, he finally succeeded in founding the Nichiren sect temple called Myokenji in Kyoto in 1321. Behind the success was his tactic to get credit from the emperor. Through devotional services, he helped Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339), who was then in exile to a small island off the coast of Shimane Prefecture, to get back to Kyoto. Myokenji became the stronghold to spread the Nichiren sect in western Japan.

During the period between 1624 to 1643, the Temple was rebuilt again under the name of Bairyuji. Though it remained the same Nichiren sect, their particular faith provoked controversy. The Nichiren sect had a number of sub-sects and the Temple here was one of the most reclusive and closed to the eyes of outsiders. This sub-sect was called Fuju Fuse {foo-jew foo-seh} group, meaning "Not receiving, not giving." In other words, it took the position that the believers of Nichiren sect should not receive any offerings from other sects, nor should they give any offerings or religious services to outsiders.

It was a doctrinal view advocated originally by Priest Nichiren, and had been honored for quite some time. (Even today, many Nichiren sect temples do not disclose their objects of worship to third parties.) As the years went by, however, most of the Nichiren sect followers began to compromise, and took part in religious services held by non-followers so long as the requests were made from the Shogun or the Court authorities. Nevertheless, a few followers adhered to the Fuju Fuse doctrines. When Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598), a historic hero who unified Japan in 1585, summoned one thousand priests from eight Buddhist sects including the Nichiren in 1595 to hold grand mass requiem for his ancestors at Hokoji, a powerful Tendai sect temple in Kyoto, Priest Nichi-o (1565-1630) of the Nichiren sect, chief priest of Myokakuji in Kyoto and the advocate of Fuju Fuse doctrine, rejected the invitation and did not join the mass. Again in 1599, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616), another hero in the Japan's history and the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, held a similar mass, Priest Nichi-o did not accept the request this time either. As a result, he was exiled to Tsushima Island, 150 kilometers northwest of Fukuoka city, where he was jailed for 13 years. Pardoned, he came back to Myokakuji in 1612, but did not change his faith at all, turning down all requests from the authorities to join the grand mass. At his death of 1630, the authorities ordered to uncover his buried body and sent it to Tsushima as a punishment. At the same time, the government cracked down on the Fuju Fuse sub-sect. Persecutions against them continued. The followers of Fuju Fuse had since gone underground. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), there were two religious groups that were proscribed. The other was Christianity.

The Temple here would have been demolished should it have officially remained Fuju Fuse. However, it changed the name again to the present-day Yakuoji in order to camouflage, and survived. Crack down on Christianity as well as Fuju Fuse was lifted in 1873 shortly after the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868, though all Buddhists had to undergo hardships anew since the new Imperial Government designated Shinto as the state religion, and employed the "Abolish Buddha and destroy Sakyamuni" policy. It was only after World War II that all religious people started enjoying freedom of faith with the new Constitution enforced on May 3, 1947, which expressly guarantees freedom of religion

The word Yakuoji is literally a Bodhisattva called Bhaisajya-raja in Skt., one of the 15 Bodhisattvas serving Sakyamuni in the Lotus Sutra teachings.

Main Hall and statues

Usually the door is open a fraction and one can peer in through the glass window after worshiping. The hall is gorgeously decorated with Buddhist fittings and kept clean. Installed right on the center of the altar is a colorful statue of Priest Nichiren surrounded with other Buddha statues. The temple's information board tells us that it has a Enbu-Dagon (Jambunada-suvarna in Skt.) statue of Nyorai (Tathagata in Skt.). Enbu-Dagon (or Dangon) is translated as gold dust panned out from the river-sand in the Indian forest covered with imaginary trees. The information board does not clarify which Nyorai it is. Literatures say the main object of the Temple is Yakushi Nyorai, or Bhaisajya-guru in Skt., and therefore, this Nyorai might be gold-foiled Yakushi (Bhaisajya-guru in Skt.) statue. Others mention, however, that the statue of Enbu-Dagon Nyorai is that of Shaka.

A photo-book featuring Buddha statues in Kamakura run a Kan'non (Avalokitesvara in Skt.) statue owned by the Temple, which is said to have been fashioned in the late 7th century.

Monument for Tadanaga Tokugawa

YakuoTWRImmediately after entering the gate, you will see a stone monument to your right, which is a tower erected for the repose of Tadanaga Tokugawa (1606-1633), the third son of Second Tokugawa Shogun Hidetada (1578-1632). Tadanaga had an elder brother named Iemitsu (1604-1651). The eldest one had died young. At the time, the post of the Shogun did not necessarily pass on to the eldest son of the Shogun. The two brothers contested with each other for the post. Their parents loved Tadanaga more than Iemitsu, while their grandfather Ieyasu (and his influential mistress) liked Iemitsu. In the end, Iemitsu succeeded to the throne as the Third Tokugawa Shogun in 1623. Tadanaga was given a territory covering today's Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures. He was not happy with the new assignment, which drove him to despair. He was often accused of his selfishness. Too egoistical and selfish Tadanaga was, the Shogunate, or his brother, had to confiscate his territory in 1632 and placed him in confinement. In further despair, he was forced to kill himself the following year. Both born of the most powerful family, one assumed the power that be, while the other had to take his own life. The case is often quoted as a whim of fate.

Meawhile, NHK (Japan's public broadcasting network) broadcast a historical drama entitled "Goh" in 2011, a 45-minute Sunday night special, of which heroine "Goh" (1573-1626) was Tadanaga and Iemitsu's mother.

Tadanaga's wife, granddaughter of heroic Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) who had unified Japan and been the ruler for a brief period before Toyotomi and Tokugawa, had somehow connections with the then chief priest of the Temple, and asked him to erect a monument for the solace of her unlucky husband's soul. The tall Hokyo-into is an ICA designated by Kamakura City.

Third Shogun Iemitsu was the man who adopted the proscription of Christianity, and the anti-Christian edicts were put in force in 1612 and 1614, whereby bitter persecutions against Christians began. In 1637, for example, overtaxed farmers in Nagasaki Prefecture, rose in revolt. Since they were mostly Christians (Catholics) , the Shogunate viewed them as Christian rebellion. The farmers were put under siege in the old Shimabara castle. After eight months siege, all of the 37,000 Christian farmers including women and children were slaughtered. For details, refer to Shimabara Rebellion.

Near Nagasaki Station, you will see the 26 Christian Martyrs Monument, which is for those who were crucified on February 1597. Among them were six foreign Christians (Franciscans and Jesuits) and three young boys. In 1862, these martyrs were canonized by Pope Pius IX.

Another notorious action the Third Shogun initiated was the isolation policy called "Sakoku", closing its doors to all foreigners. It was aimed mainly at exclusion of Christianity.

(Updated August 2013)