by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No. 9

The Kita-in Buddhist Temple in Semba and High Priest Tenkai

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the Kita-in Buddhist Temple in Semba(Map E-4) and High Priest Tenkai, the highest of the priests. This is number nine in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The Muryojuji Temple, Predecessor of the Kita-in Temple
The Kita-in Temple can boast a long and glorious history. It was founded in 830 as the Muryojuji Temple by Jikaku Daishi after an imperial order from Empeor Junna. In 1205, it was destroyed by fire. However, Emperor Fushimi had High Priest Sonkai restore it in 1296. Five years later, Emperor Gufushimi decided that it should become the head temple of the 580 temples in Eastern Japan belonging to the Tendai sect of Buddhism. However, the Muryojuji Temple was burned again due to the fall of Kawagoe Castle in 1537.
The Birth of Zuifu, Who Later Became Tenkai
It was High Priest Tenkai, the highest of the priests, who later restored the burned Muryojuji Temple. I wonder what personal history he had. Generally, it is said that he was born in 1536 in Takada, Mutsu (currently Aizu-Takada-machi, Fukushima Prefecture) and lived to the age of 108. However, it seems that he did not make his family name, origin or birthday clear even to his disciples. So, the first half of his life is mysterious. But it is sure that he lived for a very long time. They say that he became a priest at the age of 11 and was named Zuifu. He studied Tendai Esoteric Buddhism at Mt. Hiei in Kyoto.
Zuifu Comes to the Kita-in Temple
Zuifu lived in the Age of Civil Wars. In 1588, six years after ODA Nobunaga put an end to his own life, Zuifu became a priest at the Kita-in Temple, one of the subsidiaries of the Muryojuji Temple. Two years later, TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi destroyed the Hojo Family in Odawara and gave TOKUGAWA Ieyasu the eight provinces of the Kanto Region.
For his part, Zuifu became a pupil of Gokai, the 26th master at the Kita-in Temple, and changed his name to Tenkai in 1590.
TOKUGAWA Ieyasu entered Edo Castle on August 1 of the same year. Tenkai was invited to the castle on October 1, two months later, and met Ieyasu for the first time. If Tenkai was born in 1536, Ieyasu would have been 49 and Tenkai 55.
Ieyasu Comes to Kawagoe
Since Tenkai's master passed away in 1599, one year prior to the Battle of Sekigahara, Tenkai became the 27th master of the Kita-in Temple.
Ieyasu, who established his Shogunate at Edo in 1603, visited Kawagoe very often, till his death in 1616, in order to hunt with falcons, sometimes bringing his son, Hidetada, the 2nd Shogun. (They visited Kawagoe in 1591, 1605, 1607, 1601, 1612, 1613 and 1615.)
What was happening in Japanese history? In 1614, there was a battle between Ieyasu and the Toyotomi Family at Osaka Castle and the next year the family was destroyed by Ieyasu along with the fall of the castle.
In Kawagoe, Tenkai became High Priest in 1611. Accordingly, the Kita-in Temple was authorized by the Shogunate and a Buddhist cathedral with statues of the Buddha of Medicine and Healing was constructed in 1614.
A statue of High Priest Tenkai
A statue of High Priest Tenkai
by courtesy of the Kita-in Temple
Ieyasu and Tenkai
Considering only the above-mentioned historical facts, we can assume that Ieyasu and Tenkai were deeply connected. The reason Ieyasu and Hidetada visited Kawagoe so often might have been the falconry. However, I imagine that they wanted to gain wisdom from Tenkai in their struggle to find solutions to conquering the country. They say that Tenkai was "wirepuller in black." I feel that Ieyasu accepted Tenkai's advice without exception, put it to practice and succeeded during the time that religion had a great influence on politics.
In April 1616, Ieyasu passed away and in July of the same year, Tenkai became Supreme High Priest.
Have you walked from the Kita-in Temple through the Honmaru Goten, the remains of Kawagoe Castle? This road may be the same road that Ieyasu and Hidetata took by horse or palanquin. The town of Kawagoe is filled with the smell of history.
The Kita-in Temple
The Kita-in Temple
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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