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The Ji Sect is an offshoot of the Jodo Sect, or the Pure Land Buddhism, and has faith in Amida Nyorai that is thought to lead the devout to the Western Pure Land (Sukhavati in Skt.). It was founded by Priest Ippen-Chishin (1239-1289) in the latter half of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). The Temple being the headquarters of 420-odd Ji Sect temples covering 350,000 followers, it seems proper to elaborate on the founding priest to begin with.

ugyoGateUnlike other religious leaders who emerged in the Kamakura Period, Priest Ippen was not much engaged in Enryakuji at Mt. Hiei, Shiga Prefecture, a mecca for the Japanese Buddhists back at the time. Most characteristic of his missionary challenge is in his manner of preaching. Having no specific base temple, he travelled all over the country emphasizing the importance of reciting the name of Amida Nyorai, or nam-ahmy-dah-boo'ts, for salvation. As a result, he was called "a wayfaring order." By design, he was as poor as a church mouse, whereby he was also known as "a priest of abandonment." Forsaking one's family and desisting from all kinds of lust are essential to be in pure Ji Sect orders. He permitted his wayfaring disciples in company to carry only 12 personal belongings with them: A rice bowl, a chopstick case, winter clothes, a surplice, summer clothes made of flux, a handkerchief, an obi sash, paper clothes made of washi (a must for the poor), a string of beads (a Buddhist rosary), a robe for priest, simple footwear and a cowl. No other items were allowed to carry. They always had to face with all kinds of hardships such as starvation and sickness while travelling in mendicancy, and must have seemed like a group of beggars. Poor materially indeed, but very rich spiritually, they were.

In sharp contrast to other sects, his teachings were easy to understand for the uneducated or illiterate commoners, easier than the Jodo Shin Sect. Priest Shinran (1173-1262), the founder of the Jodo Shin, said that the deeper the faith in Amida Nyorai, the greater the chances of salvation. Priest Ippen did not refer to the depth of faith, only advocating to chant the Nenbutsu phrase. No scholastic doctrine or elaborate practices were necessary. All they needed to do was trust the promise and repeat the chant to remind the Amida Buddha. People in those days were suffering from various perils and distress or afflicted with incurable illness. They were obsessed with the thought of eschatology or the Armageddon coming closer, and believed the life after death exists and wishing rebirth in the Paradise. In addition, Priest Ippen admitted every class of people without discrimination at all, be it the poor, the sick including those who were suffering from lepers, the aged or women. It was no wonder his teachings attracted a great number of followers.

Priest Ippen was born into a rich and powerful family in Ehime Prefecture. As early as at age 10, he lost his mother. Upon her death, he made up his mind to take Buddhist vows. What he selected then was a temple in Fukuoka Prefecture, where he studied the Pure Land Buddhism under Priest Shotatsu (1203-1279), who was a disciple of Priest Honen (1133-1212), the founder of the Jodo Sect. As his father died a dozen years later, however, he came back to Ehime and returned to secular life for the ensuing eight years, during which he married and had two children. In 1271 at age 32, he resolved again to take orders parting company with his family. After visiting Zenkoji in Nagano Prefecture and Kumano Shrines (Kumano Hongu, Kumano Nachi, Kumano Hayatama) in Wakayama Prefecture, he started the itinerant venture and remained so for the remainder of his life.

One of the key features of his mission is to distribute the followers a slip of paper, or Nenbutsu charms, on which the six kanji characters of nam-ahmy-dah-boo'ts were printed together with the words denoting that meant it is a sure thing for 600,000 followers to go to the Pure Land Paradise. (In case of the Ji Sect, the Nenbutsu was specifically called myogo {m'yo-go}). Not only was it a ticket to paradise of talismanic quality given to those who chanted the Nenbutsu, but also it served as the main object of worship for the wayfarers. Most of samurai back then were of the thought that they would never get salvation or would never be admitted into the Paradise because they fought and killed people. So were fishermen and hunters who killed living creatures. All Buddhist precepts strictly forbade destruction of life. Nevertheless, even those samurai and butchers could go to the Paradise as long as they believe in Amitabha and chant the Nenbutsu, according to the Priest

IpenShoninPriest Ippen distributed nearly 250,000 charms in his lifetime roaming across the country from Iwate down to Kagoshima Prefectures. Another feature he began in 1279 was to address the dancing Nenbutsu. Uttering Nenbutsu and dancing at the same time threw them into ecstasies. They always danced in a clockwise direction and this is said to be the origin of today's popular folk dance played in the Bon festival, or the Buddhist All Souls' Day observed in mid-July or mid-August throughout Japan.

As his creed suggested, he had no intention to pass his teachings on to successors though he had excellent disciples. When he realized his death was imminent, he burned all documents and materials except for sutras, saying "Leave my body as it is and let beasts eat it." He died in Kobe (near today's Kobe Port) in 1289 while itinerant in western Japan. His disciples cordially cremated the Priest's remains and set up a tombstone at what is present-day Shinkoji. (Incidentally, a great earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 on Richter scale hit the Kobe area on January 17, 1995, killing 6,000 people, and the tombstone collapsed. Found inside the stone were ashes like grains of rice, which is believed to be Priest Ippen's). Seven adherents who were at the Priest's deathbed threw themselves into the water. Priest Shinkyo (1237-1319), Priest Ippen's most reliable disciple, was also determined to die of fasting. However, a local and powerful feudal lord nearby strongly persuaded him into continuing the distribution of the charms instead of Priest Ippen and urged him to save people in distress.

Encouraged by his persuasion, Priest Shinkyo, now the de facto successor to Priest Ippen, began his mission as a wayfaring order, mostly in the regions where Priest Ippen did not cover, i.e. Shiga, Ishikawa, Fukui, Yamanashi, Nagano, Toyama, Niigata Prefectures and Tokyo, though he did not roam so much as his great master had been partly because the Kamakura Shogunate started cracking down on mendicant priests. Rather than being itinerant travelling all over the country like Priest Ippen, he focused on establishing seminaries to spread its teachings in more effective way. Virtually, he opened more than 100 training institutes and seminaries. In 1281, he constructed Muryokoji in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture located some 20 kilometers north northwest of the Temple, where he took the seat of the chief priest. It was conveniently situated for wayfarers to travel from Nagano to Tokyo areas.

Entering the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), the Temple flourished getting support from the Shogunate, Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of the Muromachi Shogunate, in particular, as well as the Imperial Court. For example, Mochiuji Ashikaga (1398-1439) (see Kamakura History and Who's Who) became a disciple of the 13th Yugyo Shonin Sonmei (The term Yugyo Shonin will be explained later) and helped build the main hall of the Temple. Emperor Gokogon (1338-1374) gave the Temple a tablet with the official name of the Temple inscribed by himself, which signified that the Temple was officially authorized by the Emperor. Priest Sonkan (1349-1400), a member of the Imperial Family, used to reside here as the 12th Yugyo Shonin. It was a solid evidence of the authorization that the Chujakumon gate (picture; below, left) of the Temple made circa 1855, the oldest wooden structure in the Temple grounds, has the Imperial Family's insignia (chrysanthemum) on its rooftiles.

Unfortunately, the Temple was unable, as were the cases in most temples and shrines in Kamakura, to stay out of the civil strifes that occurred in the mid to late Muromachi Period. The attempt by Vice-Governor in Kamakura to take over the Governor's post in 1411 triggered a civil war involving the Shogun in Kyoto (see Kamakura History for details), and this area turned fierce battleground. The strife was called the Zenshu Revolt naming after the Vice-Governor's Buddhist title Zenshu Uesugi (?-1417). Among many victims was Ujisada Uesugi (1374-1416), a member of the Uesugi family and the founder of Kaizoji, who had to take his own life right here. The Temple's structures were totally razed. Buddha statues barely escaped ruin and took shelter in a temple of Shizuoka Prefecture and Yugyo Shonin had to seek refuge at temples in Shiga, Ishikawa or Gifu Prefectures. Peace was not restored easily. In 1512, another civil war erupted between the Miura faction in the Miura Peninsula and the Hojo in Odawara (Note. Not the Hojo in the Kamakura Period. See Ryuhoji), westernmost of Kanagawa Prefecture. For almost a century, the Temple was caught up in the battles.

It was only in 1607 that the Temple's structures were restored to some extent. Under the patronage of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Temple began to revive again. The Tokugawa family greatly appreciated the past deed of the eight Ji Sect priests, who had cordially held funeral rites for Yoshisada Nitta (1302-1338) (See Kamakura History, Who's Who, or Kuhonji for details on Nitta) and buried him courteously on the occasion that he was killed by the troops of Takauji Ashikaga in northern Fukui Prefecture in 1338. Nitta was the ancestor of the Tokugawa family.

YugyoChujakuMeanwhile, the term Yugyo of Yugyoji denotes being itinerant and wayfaring for missionary work. Priest Ippen was the patriarch of the Sect and his successors were given the title of Yugyo Shonin. (Shonin is the Japanese counterpart of the Christian saint). Priest Shinkyo was naturally the second Yugyo Shonin and the third was handed to Priest Chitoku (1260-1320). With respect to who should assume the fourth Yugyo Shonin post, there occurred a factional dispute. Priest Chitoku nominated Priest Donkai (1265-1327), the founder of the Temple, while the chief priest of Muryokoji objected to the proposed candidate. Back in those days, the Ji Sect had been taking hold among Samurai and feudal lords. One of them was Kagehira Matano (his date of birth and death unknown), who served the Ninth Kamakura Shogun Morikuni (1301-1333), and was a follower of the Ji Sect with the Buddhist title "Myo-a" as a disciple of Priest Shinkyo. He happened to be an elder brother of Priest Donkai. As a matter of fact, Priest Donkai had changed the cult to the Ji Sect in 1295 at age 31 following his brother's recommendation. Unable to reside in Muryokoji, Priest Donkai built a new Ji Sect temple in Fujisawa getting financial aids from his rich brother. That was the origin of the Temple we see today.

From then onward, however, the two temples had been at odds for a long period of time. Priest Donkai assumed the post of the fourth Yugyo Shonin and discontinued to be a wayfarer. Soon after the Temple was erected in 1325, he transferred the Shonin's title to Priest Ankoku (1279-1337) and resided in the Temple thereafter as the chief priest, that was called Fujisawa Shonin. Ever since, a rule has been honored that upon Fujisawa Shonin's death, Yugyo Shonin retires appointing new one and takes the post of Fujisawa Shonin as the chief priest of the Temple. It was only in early Meiji Period (1868-1912) that the Temple and Muryokoji were reconciled with each other, and the Temple was appointed as the headquarters of the entire Ji Sect. At the same time, today's Yugyo Shonin (73th) holds the post of Fujisawa Shonin (55th).

The Temple is conveniently located near the old Tokaido Highroad, which branches here to the road for Enoshima Jinja Shrine, and the location helped the Temple flourish with many visitors. Today's prosperity of Fujisawa city with a population of 350,000 much owes to the Temple. In fact, the Temple's official name Totakusan's "Totaku" can also read Fujisawa. Hence the name of Fujisawa city.

Main Hall (Picture; below, right)

The main hall was often ruined by a series of battles, fires and earthquakes. After the fire in 1513 destroyed all of the structures, the Temple had been unable to recover for nearly 100 years. The present-day hall was last built in 1937. Fortunately, it survived World War II. The copper-roofed building houses a statue of Amida Nyorai as the main object of worship, flanked by the statues of Priest Ippen and Yugyo Shonin such as Priest Shinkyo, Priest Donkai, etc.

The Amida statue, 185 centimeters tall, is said to have been carved by Priest Jikaku (794-864), a.k.a. En'nin, a great Tendai Sect priest. As the Temple had no main hall during the 100-year period, the Amida statue sought refuge in a temple in Shizuoka as noted above.

Picture Scrolls of Priest Ippen

What is making Priest Ippen more famous than anything else today would probably be the pictorial biography of the Priest. There are two versions: Ippen Shonin Hijiri-e {he-gee-re-eh}, or Picture Scrolls of Itinerant Priest Ippen, and Ippen Shonin Ekotobaden, or Illustrated Biography of Priest Ippen. Both are printed on silk in full color, with pictures and texts appearing alternately. Most are the scenes where a group of 20 or so adherents are wayfaring or making preaches led by Priest Ippen in temples, shrines, Samurai's residences or such places as people are likely to flock.

The Hijiri-e was made up of 12 volumes, each covering 4 scenes on roughly 38-centimeter wide, 10-meter long silk scrolls, and produced in 1299 at the tenth anniversary of Priest Ippen's death by Priest Shokai (1261-1323), who was Priest Ippen's younger brother and a capable disciple. After Priest Ippen's death, Priest Shokai went to Kyoto and erected Kangikoji at Rokujo street. It later developed into the Rokujo school of the Ji Sect. The painter's name is En-i {en-e} but nothing is known of his background. Graphology tells us the text part was written by four calligraphers. Their backgrounds are not known either. The original scrolls except for the Volume 7 are preserved by Kangikoji and are naturally ICAs. The Vol. 7 is owned by the Tokyo National Museum, and at e-Museum. Most impressive to me is the scene in which Priest Ippen and his 20 or so followers are trying to get into Kamakura and encountered Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), the Eight Hojo Regent, on horseback. (Note: The words Tokimune and "Ji Sect "have exactly the same Chinese characters and sometimes are very confusing even to Japanese).

It is the scene near Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in 1282, and the party, which must have looked like a group of seedy beggars to Tokimune, was denied to enter Kamakura. Priest Ippen had thought that missionary work in Kamakura, then the nation's capital, would be critically important for his success in spreading the Ji Sect tenet since many Buddhist leaders like Priest Nichiren (1222-1282), the founder of the Nichiren Sect, Priest Eisai (1141-1215) , the founder of the Rinzai Zen, and Priest Ryochu (1199-1287), the founder of Komyoji, had established strongholds in Kamakura.

YugyoMHAlthough the Regent kept the group from entering Kamakura, Priest Ippen did not give up. The party went to Katase {kah-tah-seh} adjacent to the western part of Kamakura and near Enoshima Jinja, where they performed the dancing Nenbutsu. The challenge turned out to be a great success, much more than they had anticipated. Even a disciple of Priest Gangyo (?-1295), the founding priest of An'yo-in, embraced Priest Ippen and his teachings. The party stayed here nearly four months, the longest ever, attracting a great number of followers. It can be said that Katase was the place where the real dancing Nenbutsu started.

Like other religious leaders, Priest Ippen reportedly achieved various miracles. Foremost among them were auspicious purple clouds appearing over the party while they were engaged in missionary work, and they witnessed the clouds came into view right here at Katase. The auspicious cloud is called "Shi-un" {she-ng} in Japanese and you may see many structures named with the term "Shi-un." The Amida Buddha is believed to come down to the dying believers and lead them to the Paradise aboard the purple clouds, and therefore, the clouds were believed to be auspicious.

The latter scrolls, Ekotobaden, was created circa 1305, several years later than the first one, by Priest Soshun (his date of birth and death are unknown) and has 10 volumes. It is divided into two parts: The first four volumes are for Priest Ippen. They are, if anything, simplified versions of the Hijiri-e, and the other six are for Priest Shinkyo. It was produced to compete with the Hijiri-e and seems to demonstrate that the mainstream or the authenticity of the Ji Sect is in Shinkyo school as Priest Shinkyo being the real successor of Priest Ippen. The original version had been kept at the Temple until 1911, when fire broke out and burnt it down. Fortunately, more than 20 copies had been distributed shortly after the original one was made out, and some of them have been preserved at other temples.

Both series of scrolls depict many scenes so realistically and vividly that we can learn pretty clearly how people were living, what their life-style was like or what the structures looked like back in the 13th century.

Cenotaph for Friends and Foes (Picture; below)

Near the east entrance of the Temple facing the old Tokaido Highroad (now National Route 1) stands a 28 by 22-centimeter and 125 centimeter-tall stone cenotaph. It was installed in 1418 by Priest Taiku (1374-1438), the 14th Yugyo Shonin, for the solace of those who lost their lives during the Zenshu Revolt. The battle was waged between the Uesugi and Ashikaga factions and many were killed or wounded. The Temple took good care of those causalities with no discrimination, irrespective of the sides they belonged to, the Uesugi or the Ashikaga, and later they dedicated this cenotaph to all the war dead. In other words, it was for all of the victims, including even steeds. Indeed, they paid respect to all living creatures and the tradition has been honored generation after generation. In today's temple ground, you will see a big cenotaph for dogs and cats at the east side of the Main Hall, and a pond called "Hojo-ike" at the west corner of the Temple, into which captive animals are released. The signboard near the pond reads it is for fishes and shellfishes.

The underlying concept represents the Ji Sect's humanitarian spirits. Thus, it was called "Cenotaph for Friends and Foes." Engraved on the cenotaph are words meaning "May god lead those men and beast that were killed under the tortures of hell to the Pure Land Paradise without discrimination." It asks the worshipers to chant Nenbutsu ten time at a breath. The cenotaph is a Historic Relics designated by the National Government.

TekimikataPriest Taiku may remind noh and kabuki fans of Sanemori Saito (?-1183), a distinguished samurai in the late Heian Period (794-1185). Saito fought at first for the sake of the Minamoto Clan, or Yoshitomo Minamoto (1123-1160) to be precise, who was father of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate. With Yoshitomo's defeat, Saito changed the side and stood by the Taira Clan, the arch-rival of the Minamoto. At the battle of 1183 in Shinohara, Ishikawa Prefecture, where Saito fought against Yoshinaka Minamoto (1154-1184), Saito was near 70 years old and his hair had turned gray. In order to camouflage his old age or to make himself look young and brave, he had his gray hair dyed black. To his deep regret, however, he was beaten despite his frantic fighting. Two and a half centuries later, Priest Taiku held religious services at Shinohara near the battleground to propitiate the souls of the war victims. Among the participants was an old samurai, who was not recognizable to anyone but Priest Taiku. The Priest asked the samurai who he was. In a private interview, he identified himself as Sanemori Saito and begged the Priest to hold a requiem mass for him with Nenbutsu chanting. The Priest cordially accepted his request and conducted the Buddhist mass specifically for him in Ji Sect fashion. Saito thanked him sincerely and disappeared in satisfaction. He must finally gone to the Pure Land Paradise. That's the outline of noh and kabuki play of Sanemori.
A hanging scroll of Sanemori at MFA.

Tale of Lady Terute and Mitsushige Oguri

Those who love Japanese Joruri (ballad drama) may be familiar with the tale. There are several variations. The standard one reads like this: In the Zenshu Revolt of 1416, a castle in Ibaraki Prefecture was attacked by the troops of Kamakura Governor. The castle lord named Mitsushige Oguri somehow managed to escape with his son Sukeshige accompanied by ten retainers. On their retreating way to Aichi Prefecture, their fief, they stopped by the home of a powerful family named Yokoyama, located in the neighborhood of the Temple. The Yokoyama seemed hospitable and apparently welcomed the Oguri group. Contrary to their expectations, the Yokoyama family was a robber gang in the area. To them, the Oguri group looked like a good sucker. Yokoyama, the boss of the gang, conspired to murder them with poison at the welcome dinner party. Lady Terute was a waitress serving Yokoyama and she knew what her boss had in mind. At the dinner table, she whispered to Mitsushige Oguri and his son what her boss was doing and told them never to drink sake (Japanese rice wine) because it would be poisoned. All of Oguri's retainers did not know the trick and were poisoned. With her advise, the Oguris narrowly escaped the death.
A woodblock print of Lady Terute and Oguri at MFA.

It was the 14th Yugyo Shonin Taiku who, the day after, gave a hand to the Oguris in trouble, and helped them out. Later, the Oguris reinstated the old family status and Sukeshige Oguri proposed marriage to Lady Terute to whom he owed his life. They married and enjoyed happy lives. After Sukeshige's death, Lady Terute took Buddhist vows with the nun name Chosho-ni (ni denotes a nun in Japanese) and spent her remaining years in comfort at Chosho-in of the Temple, attending to the graves of Oguri's retainers who were poisoned by Yokoyama and were buried here. (The tale was arranged for the kabuki version and has been played in the Main Hall every October since 1996 by local actors and actresses. )

The Chosho-in sub-temple stands on the right-hand side behind the Main Hall, and the graves are situated at the backyard of the sub-temple. At my first visit to the Temple, I was unable to locate them since a religious service was being held. Next time, I asked a young man (who looked like a resident of the sub-temple and was cleaning a motorbike in the courtyard) where the graves were. He was kind to show me them.

Chosho-in is also referred to as Oguri-do and was constructed in 1990 to commemorate Priest Ippen's 700th anniversary of birth. It enshrines a 52.5 centimeters tall Amida statue, which is thought to be chiseled in the late Heian Period guessing from its carving fashion, or the Jocho style. Jocho (?-1057) is one of the most famous Buddha statue sculptors in the mid-Heian Period and carved the world-famous Amida statue of Uji Byodo-in in Uji city, Kyoto.

Homotsukan, or Treasure House

Open only on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Temple owns nearly 2,500 pieces of treasures. Most famous are: The 50 by 94 centimeters portrait of Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) and Priest Ikko (1239-1287), the founder of the Ikko School of the Ji Sect, both printed multi-color on silk (rare because picture scrolls are usually painted on paper), and are presently kept at the Kamakura Museum as ICAs. Emperor Godaigo's portrait is so well known that all literatures referring to him hardly fail to carry it. He is wearing a typical surplice worn by Buddhist priests with a crown on his head. In his right hand, he holds a five-pronged pestle and a five-pronged ritual bell in his left.

Priest Ikko's portrait represents a role model of the Ji Sect adherents, dressed poorly with bare feet and clasping his hands in veneration. He is also known to have died standing.

Another important documents kept by the Temple are the necrology for the Ji Sect adherents, the oldest one of its kind in Japan. It is also an ICA and made of two volumes, one for priests and the other for nuns. Initiated by Priest Ippen and the second Yugyo Shonin Shinkyo, entries have been made generation after generation by Yugyo Shonin. The devout were registered on the necrology at the time of death to confirm their passage to the Pure Land Paradise. During the 20-year period from Priest Ippen to Priest Shinkyo, 240 devotees were recorded dead mostly out of fasting. Those whose deed later proved to be unfaithful had the letter "No" on top of the names to disqualify and there were four such followers. The fact that this important necrology had been kept by the Temple (Priest Donkai received it from Priest Shinkyo) may be one reason why the Temple secured the position as the headquarters of the entire Ji Sect in the Meiji Period.

A 92 centimeters tall sedentary statue of Priest Donkai, carved in 1588, is also kept at the Temple.

Treasures are displayed on the second floor. On view are: copies of Ippen Ekotobaden, portraits of Priest Ippen, hanging scrolls of various Buddha and Buddha-related pictures, brush-written sutras etc. .

Annual Observances

The Temple performs usual rituals as observed at major Buddhist temples such as Shodo-e, Nehan-e, Sakyamuni's Birthday Festival (see Annual Observances). Listed below are those that are unique and can be observed at no other sect temples:

January 11: Ofudakiri
A ritual to make the first Nenbutsu charms of the year. It takes place at sho (small)-shoin hall of the Temple with a limited number of Buddhists including the chief priest. The charms are wood-block printed. The Temple starts distributing those charms the next day or on January 12, and no charms, talismans or any of this kind are dispensed before this day.

February 27: Anniversary of Priest Shinkyo's Death

The second Yugyo Shonin founded Muryokoji where he passed away at age 82 and his ashes were buried at the temple's graveyard. Though the Temple did not necessarily go well with Muryokoji for quite some time until recently, priests of the Temple have been paying a visit to his grave before this day, and a memorial service for him is held every year. The Priest was a good tanka (31 syllables poem) poet and closely associated with famous tanka poets in Kyoto while the Priest was roaming there. He even made a tanka anthology.

April 21-24: Anniversary of Priest Donkai's Death
The founding priest of the Temple was unable to stay at Muryokoji notwithstanding his position as the fourth Yugyo Shonin. As a countermeasure, he founded the Temple in 1325 backed by his rich brother.

September 15: Susuki Nenbutsu-e
A requiem rite for the souls of the dead that are carried out in Ji Sect fashion. At the time the Second Yugyo Shonin Shinkyo was on wayfaring in the early 14th century, he heard people in the Tokyo area were suffering from an epidemic and they believed the epidemic was brought by the malevolent spirits of Masakado Taira (903?-940), a powerful leader of samurai clans in eastern Japan in the 10th century, to whom Kanda Jinja Shrine (generally known as Kanda Myojin) in Tokyo was consecrated. Hearing the news, Priest Shinkyo conducted a susuki Nenbutsu-e service to soothe the revengeful spirits of Masakado. The epidemic was immediately subdued. Meanwhile, what Priest Taiku did for Sanemori Saito as mentioned earlier was also a susuki Nenbutsu-e.

Today, the service is practiced as an annual observance in the Temple's main hall for the those who died without any surviving relatives. It starts at 1:00 p.m. placing a large vase in the center, in which branches of susuki (eulalia or Miscanthus sinensis), pine, and bamboo are arranged. (Hence, susuki Nenbutsu-e). Chief Priest sits in the center flanked by three priests to his left and right each, and presides the service, chanting Nenbutsu phrases.

Referring to Kanda Myojin Shrine, Masakado Taira was so powerful that he once subjugated eastern Japan and declared he would be a new emperor of Japan, which lasted only several months, though. Right after he was finally killed, his head was gibbeted and brought to the site where today's Kanda Myojin stands. As a national hero, he was greatly revered by the people in eastern Japan and motivated to found the Shrine. The annual festival held in mid-June is among the three greatest ones in Japan and nearly 200 mikoshi, or portable shrines, parade the streets in Tokyo. Even today, Tokyoites are afraid of the possible revenge exacted by the spirit of Masakado. Right in the heart of the Ohtemachi district in Tokyo, Japan's business center equivalent to the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, there is the corporate head-office of Mitsui & Co., Japan's largest trading company. Adjacent to the huge building is a small enclosure, in which a mini-shrine dedicated to Masakado, or Masakado's Head Mound, is placed. Legend has it that Masakado's head at one time flew over here and people erected the Mound to soothe his revengeful spirit. The company must have wanted to demolish it to accommodate more space and more rooms in this tiny but valuable spot where the land price is exorbitantly expensive. And yet, the super-modern company in modern society rather chose to reserve it for fear of the wrath of Masakado's spirit. Fear of curse by evil spirits is as pronounced even today as had been centuries ago.
A woodblock print of Masakado Taira (Kabuki actor) at MFA.

September 21-24: Anniversary of Priest Ippen's Death
To pay homage to the great priest, all Ji Sect temples have been holding the memorial service across the country as one of the most important annual observances. It was on this day that Priest Shokai made the Hijiri-e as a means to propitiate Priest Ippen's soul on his 10th anniversary of death.

November 18 to 28: Betsuji Nenbutsu-e
Betsuji Nenbutsu is a religious service focusing on Nenbutsu chanting conducted at a specific time, and was first introduced by the Jodo Sect, but the one practiced by the Ji Sect is quite unique and has been honored for more than 700 years since Priest Ippen first implemented. The basic aim of the service is to atone for the sins the devout committed during the past year and make themselves clean and pure (shojo in Japanese, and the namesake of Shojo-koji, the official name of the Temple) both in mind and body prior to the new year. At the same time, it is to make them realize the passage into the Paradise.

The service is held in the main hall and the rituals in the first nine days are performed for the priests themselves in the closed-door session starting with renga (linked verses). Ji Sect Priests are known excellent in composing tanka or 5-7-5-7-7-syllable verse. Renga is played by two or more persons and the Ji Sect produced a good number of renga poets during the Muromachi Period. In the renga party, the starter reads the first three lines (5-7-5 syllable) and the next finish tanka adding the last two lines (7-7). In this manner, tanka are read one by one continuously.

Betsuji Nenbutsu-e climaxes at the night of November 27th and on the morning of 28th. The lights in the hall are put out gradually until it gets pitch-dark that implies the end of the world with no Buddha teachings or the age of Armageddon in Christian term. Only Nenbutsu chanting can be heard nevertheless. (The hall is divided into two compartments by hanging scrolls, on which six letters or Myogo were written by successive Yugyo Shonin, and the incumbent Yugyo Shonin sits on the other side of the partition, chanting Nenbutsu in a low voice). It tells that Nenbutsu and Amida Buddha's teachings will never ever die out under any circumstances. Next, two priests strike flints and ignite the candles with its sparks bringing back lights again in the dark hall. The priests have to ignite with just one stroke. The ritual is so important that If failed in igniting, he has to leave the Temple immediately. The darkness, light and Nenbutsu, with which the devout learn the importance of the teachings. As the lights are put on again one by one, the chanting Nenbutsu get louder and louder. Intonation of the chanting is unique and quite different from those of other Jodo Sect priests.


Noh Playwrights Kan-ami and Ze-ami
Kan-ami (1333-1384) and his son Ze-ami (1363-1443) are distinguished pioneers and playwrights of noh play, and yet few people know the fact that they were the devout of the Ji Sect. Priest Ippen gave his successor Priest Shinkyo the Buddhist title Ta-amidabutsu. Thereby, he was called Ta-a {tah-ah} Shinkyo. (Ta-a is a specific title given only to Yugyo Shonin. Example: Ta-a Shinkyo, Ta-a Chitoku, Ta-a Donkai.) Likewise, his followers were allowed to use the name Amidabutsu with a prefix like Jo-amidabutsu, Saku-amidabutsu, Yu-amidabutsu, etc. and those were called Jo-a, Saku-a, Yu-a, for short. According to the Ji Sect authorities, Kan-ami and Ze-ami should have read Kan-amidabutsu and Ze-amidabutsu. The famous Noh mask maker Zo-ami is also a Ji Sect adherent as its name indicates.

Wasan and Shomyo
A Japanese-English Dictionary translate wasan {wah-san} as Buddhist hymns. To be more specific, it is a poem of four or more 7-5 syllable verses in praise of Buddha, Bodhisattva or great priests, and all are written by Japanese priests in Japanese, not in Chinese like the Buddhist scriptures. Wasan was first composed by Jodo Sect priests and was further developed by Priest Ippen with his followers. Betsugan Wasan written by him is most famous. Wasan are like hymns since they are recited in a singsong fashion, which is called shomyo. Unlike other sect shomyo, the Ji Sect adherents included many female devotees, and therefore their shomyo sounds like a mixed chorus having a beautiful harmony. Throughout Priest Ippen's 16-year wayfaring, the group introduced wasan with shomyo everywhere they went. The conductor, which was called chosho, was always Priest Shinkyo.

Jinso, or military priests
Jinso denotes the priests, mostly from the Ji Sect, who followed the army in battles and went to the front, not to take part in the battles, but to rescue the wounded, to say Nenbutsu prayer to the dying soldiers so that they might go to the Pure Land Paradise, to perform funeral services and propitiate the souls of the dead. Being itinerant naturally fits in with their services. They also brought back something the dead soldiers carried with to the bereaved family as keepsakes and conveyed messages or told how bravely they had fought. Those jinso saw what actually happened at the front line and were the real eyewitnesses of the cruel battles. Their experiences greatly contributed, like today's war correspondents, to compiling Japan's old battle chronicles.

Bronze Statue of Priest Ippen
Bronze statues of the Priest in life-size can often be seen in the courtyard of the major Ji Sect temples. The prototype of the statue measuring 159 centimeters tall and made in the latter half of the 13th century is kept at Muryokoji. This is the model of Priest Ippen's statues that stand in other temples such as the one at the Temple, Kosokuji at Juniso, Kamakura, etc. A closer look will reveal that he has a rosary in his hands, wearing a simple, short kimono with a kesa or Buddhist surplice, and clasping his hands in veneration. His mouth is slightly open because he is chanting Nenbutsu. This represents his typical figure as a wayfarer on a mission. Stooping down, he might look as if he were a beggar to today's people who are rich materially. However, the more we know about him, the more likely we are moved by his spiritual greatness.

Nara National Museum and Hijiri-e
Nara National Museum closely examined Hijiri-e with scientific method recently. The last scene of Hijiri-e depicts the moment of Priest Ippen's death lying in the supine position. The Museum found that the original sketch showed him lying on his side just like the Lord Buddha. The news was released in November 2002.

(Updated: April 2014)