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Myohonji

Official Name Chokozan Myohonji {Pronounced choh-koh-zan myo-hon-gee}
Religious sect Nichiren sect, Buddhism
Founded in 1260
by Yoshimoto Hiki {yo-she-mo-toh he-key}
Founding priest Nichiro (1245-1320)
Main object of worship Statue of Priest Nichiren
Address 15-1, Omachi 1-chome, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0007
Area size 8,700 square meters
Location 800 meters east of Kamakura Station
Time needed to get there 10 minutes from east exit of Kamakura station
Admission Free (Open yard)
Phone number 0467-22-0777
Rest room Available

Historical Overview



The Temple stands peacefully at the foot of a hill as if it has been nesting there for centuries since the ancient days. Way back in the 13th century, however, there was a great tragedy right on this site triggered by the power struggle among the warlord factions. After the death of Yoritomo Minamoto {yo-re-toh-moh me-nah-moh-toh} (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, the Shogun was succeeded by Yoriie {yoh-re-e-eh} Minamoto (1182-1204), Yoritomo's first son. He was only 16 years old, too young to be at the helm of the Shogunate, and the real power went into the hands of Masako Hojo {mah-sah-koh hoh-joe}, his mother, and Tokimasa {toh-key-mah-sah} Hojo (1138-1215), his grandfather.

Yoriie was not happy at all with the manner his mother and grandfather treated. He addicted himself to women-hunting and had several mistresses in his teenage. In 1203, Yoriie fell critically ill for no apparent reason and death seemed imminent. Just in case, Masako and Tokimasa planned to split the Shogunate territorial right into two; one for Yoriie's son named Ichiman {e-che-man} and the other for Yoriie's younger brother Sanetomo {sah-neh-toh-mo} (1192-1219). Yoriie had married Wakasa {wah-kah-sah}, who was a daughter of Yoshikazu Hiki {yoh-she-kah-zoo he-key} (?-1203), head of another warlord family.

Yoriie's first son Ichiman was only 6 years old when Yoriie fell seriously ill. Should Yoriie die, Ichiman was supposed to succeed to the Shogun's position since the first son of the Shogun had been customarily entitled to do so. If Ichiman become the Shogun, Yoshikazu and his family would be enormously powerful as the Shogun's maternal family. That was what the Hojos feared.

The Hikis had had close connection with Yoritomo from his early days. As a matter of fact, Yoshikazu's mother-in-law helped young Yoritomo materially while he was exiled to the Izu {e-zoo} Peninsula, and Yoshikazu's wife raised Yoriie as a wet nurse. Naturally, Yoriie liked the Hikis more than the Hojos.

Hearing Masako and Tokimasa's plan designed for the dual ownership system, Yoshikazu got upset because the first son of the Shogun, Ichiman in this case, should have inherit all of Yoriie's right and property as a rule of the day. At the bed side of sick Yoriie, Yoshikazu told him that Masako and Tokimasa were trying to oust Yoriie. Even further infuriated, Yoriie told Yoshikazu to immediately ruin the Hojo family. At the other side of the bed room, Masako eavesdropped the conversation and the Hojos conspired to take the initiative.

Soon afterwards, Tokimasa invited Yoshikazu to attend a religious ceremony to be held at Tokimasa's residence for a new statue of Yakushi Nyorai {yah-koo-she nyo-rye} or Bhaisajyaguru in Skt. he had made to invocate for Yoriie's recovery from the ailment. Yoshikazu accepted the invitation despite his retainers' advise not to, believing that conspiracy would be least likely to be involved in the religious service.

Yoshikazu was wrong. He went to Tokimasa's residence bringing only several aides with him. As soon as he entered the gate, Tokimasa's men assassinated him in a surprise attack. The bereaved family of Yoshikazu and samurai of the Hiki clan gathered right away at Yoshikazu's residence, where the present Myohonji stands, in preparation for an unavoidable battle. Tokimasa and Masako had expected the coming scenario in advance and had made an ally of other powerful factions. The Hojos and its ally, taking the first move, attacked Hiki's residence. A bitter fighting continued for several hours taking a heavy toll, and the Hikis were defeated in the end. It was in 1203. Some 100 people were slaughtered in this battle including Yoriie's son Ichiman. Witnessing all her family members were killed, Wakasa committed suicide at the site. The Hikis were thus wiped out almost totally.

After the battle, bed-ridden Yoriie was forced to step down as the Shogun and was deported to the Izu Peninsula, where he died (some say he was killed) a year later in 1204. The Shogun's position was succeeded by Sanetomo Yoritomo, the second son of Yoritomo and Yoriie's younger brother. He was only 12 years old.

The Hikis were survived by a infant: Yoshikazu' last son Yoshimoto (1201?-1286), the founder of the Temple. He went up to Kyoto and served Emperor Juntoku {june-tok} (1197-1242). When the emperor was exiled to an island off Niigata Prefecture owing to the unsuccessful attempt of 1221 to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate, Yoshimoto followed him to the island and stayed there for 21 years. Upon the death of the emperor, he came back to Kamakura, where he encountered with Priest Nichiren (1222-1282), who was the founder of the Nichiren sect and making street preachings at a busy corner of Kamakura. He was moved by the Priest's sermon and volunteered to become a disciple, though he was 21 years senior to the Priest. Yoshimoto even helped the Priest draft the famous treatise entitled "Pacifying the State by Establishing Orthodoxy". Because of this treatise, the Priest too was later exiled to the same island. But, as soon as came back to Kamakura, Yoshimoto provided the Priest with his residence as the Priest's lecture hall.

On Priest Nichiren's recommendation, Yoshimoto decided to erect a temple to console the souls of his father, sister and family, which is today's Myohonji. It was completed about 50 years after his family was nearly exterminated. The name Chokozan came from his posthumous name and Myohon from his mother's. This is one of the oldest Nichiren sect temples in Kamakura.


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