This will be my first article in a series about my travels. I lived in Japan for one year and took every opportunity I could to travel and visit historical sites. In December 2014, while living in Japan, I went with a friend and her family to Minobu-san, the headquarters of Nichiren-shu (a Buddhist organization) and the place where Japanese Buddhist saint Nichiren spent his last years teaching. I hope you enjoy the article!
Minobu-san refers to Minobu Mountain and the Kuonji-Temple located at its base. Kuonji-Temple (called Minobu-san) is the grand head temple for the Nichiren Shu Buddhist Order. On December 30, 2014 I had the privilege of being able to join a Japanese friend and her family on a trip to the temple
The temple was founded in 1281 by Nichiren (1222-1282) who is one of the most interesting and certainly the most controversial figure in the history of Japanese Buddhism.
Today Minobu-san is home to the Kuonji Temple, Founder's Hall (a memorial temple to Nichiren), a newly built white colored temple which enshrines most of Nichiren's ashes and is generally not open to the public, a red pagoda and several buildings (lecture halls, administrative building, pilgrimage complex etc.)
At the top of Minobu Mountain is a temple dedicated to the parents of Nichiren. I was told that it was his habit to climb to the summit every day and pray for his parents. He planted four trees at the temple entrance, which still grow to this day! The temple is also home to a gray colored tower that housed his ashes until the new tomb was built. Although his home has long since disappeared, the area where it stood has a stone fence built around it.
Although I am not a Nichiren Buddhist, I find Nichiren to be a fascinating figure and have deep respect for him. In all, I visited four temples related to his life, teaching, persecution and death and I will be writing about those visits.
Nichiren taught that the Lotus Sutra was the highest teaching of the Buddha and that one could be saved by chanting the mantra: Namu Myoho Renge Kyo (praise to the lotus teaching). Because he also criticized the religious and government leaders of his day for what he understood as corruption and false teachings, he was exiled twice and nearly beheaded on one occasion.
Nichiren retired to Minobu in 1274 where he established a small home for himself.There he wrote numerous letters to his followers and taught students. When he died in modern day Tokyo in 1282, he was cremated and his ashes were returned and entombed in a stupa (Buddhist tower) near his home in Minobu.
Today there are roughly 20 million Nichiren Buddhists worldwide belonging to organizations such as Nichiren Shu, Soka Gakkai International, Nichiren Shoshu and Nipponzan Myohoji, among others. Kuonji is the head temple of Nichiren Shu which has about 3 million members.
I joined a Japanese friend and her family on a visit to Minobu on December 30, 2014. It was an amazing experience. Having study the life and teachings of Nichiren and read many of his letters, I have developed not only interest in Nichiren, but a respect for him and his 'always victorious spirit' as I call it. Being able to chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo at his tomb and meditate underneath the beautifully painted Japanese dragon on the ceiling of Kuonji, was surreal.
Being able to see the site where his house had been located was also particularly moving. Climbing the steps on the top of Minobu mountain past the trees he planted to the temple built in honor of his parents was another amazing moment.
Having been to Japan three times, including living there for a year, I have traveled through Tokyo and to Kamakura, Osaka and Kyoto. I have visited many famous shrines and temples, taken part in Shinto rituals and a tea ceremony. Of all my experiences in Japan, this simple and humble visit to Minobu-san stands out as one of the most cherished. I hope to return to Japan in 2022 to take part in Nichiren Shu's commemoration of the 800th anniversary of Nichiren's birth.
I did not have much cash on me, but I did buy a few omamori at Minobu. Omamori are religious charms that are sold at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. I collect them and purchased many while living in Japan. The black charm featuring a dragon -a depiction of the one painted on the ceiling of Kuonji -is a charm for victory. I was told that I should keep it one me so I could have the power to overcome obstacles and reach my goals. I actually keep it in my humble Buddhist meditation altar. I do not keep it on me out of fear that it may become damaged or lost.
I also picked up a small green charm that has a picture on Nichiren on it. It is designed to be kept in the wallet to ward off misfortunes.
I also bought a small green and gold talisman that was meant to be a charm you put on your juzu (Buddhist prayer beads). Instead I turned it into a pendant.
Robert C. Piemme is an undergraduate student (international relations) and avid gardener, hiker and writer.