by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.20

Renkeiji Temple in Renjaku-cho, whose bell solemnly tells us the time at three o'clock every day

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 Renkeiji Buddhist Temple(Map C-4)in Renjaku-cho, whose bell solemnly tells us the time at three o'clock every day. This is number twenty in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The Age of Warring States
The religious sect belonging to the Renkeiji Temple is the Jodo (Pure Land) sect, which was started by a priest called Honen (1133-1212). They say the temple was founded by a Buddhist nun called Renkeini. She was the mother of DAIDOJI Masashige who was Lord of Kawagoe Castle. What kind of time did they spend together?
The period about a century after the War of Onin (1467-1477) is known as the Age of Warring States. Kyoto fell into a state of disrepair due to the 11 years of battles and the old authorities were collapsing. Peasant uprisings in different districts occurred very often. In the Kanto region, HOJO Soun gained power at the end of 15th century. His son, Ujitsuna, and his grandson, Ujiyasu, became powerful enough to rule most of the Kanto region.
Kawagoe Castle and the "Kawagoe Night Battle"
Kawagoe Castle was founded under the orders of OHGIGAYATSU-UESUGI Mochitomo in 1457 by OHTA Do-shin and his son, Do-kan, as a defense against ASHIKAGA Shigeuji of Koga (now in Ibaraki Prefecture). However, in 1537 HOJO Ujitsuna captured the Kawagoe Castle fortress and occupied it. The Uesugi clan tried to recapture the castle in April 1546 when UESUGI Norimasa, ASHIKAGA Haruuji, UESUGI Tomosada and their 80,000 solders marched on the castle. But HOJO Tsunashige, Lord of Kawagoe Castle, carried out a night attack and successfully defeated the Uesugi clan. This battle is known as the "Kawagoe Night Battle," one of the three big night battles in Japanese history. They say a great number of people were killed and injured in the battle.
The Buddhist Nun Renkeini
One of the women watching the warfare activities during the period of these battles was a Buddhist nun called Renkeini. It is not clear when she was born or what kind of life she had, but it is sure that she married DAIDOJI Morimasa and had a child named Masashige in 1533. Her husband, Morimasa, was appointed Lord of Kawagoe Castle as reward for his outstanding service in the Kawagoe Night Battle. Upon Morimasa's death, his son, Masashige, succeeded him and became Lord of Kawagoe Castle.
Three years after the battle, Renkeini built a small temple in Hirakata Village (now Hirakata in Ageo City, Saitama Prefecture), which was in her own district, in the hope that the teachings of Buddha would spread among the people and come to support them. She invited a priest called Kanyo, her nephew, to the temple. This was the beginning of the Renkeiji Temple. The temple was moved to the current location in Kawagoe by 1566 at the latest. Renkeini passed away on August 12, 1567 and was buried by her son, Masashige, at the temple.
The memorial gravestone for Renkeini
The memorial gravestone for Renkeini
Odawara Castle Attacked by TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi
In 1582, AKECHI Mitsuhide attacked ODA Nobunaga while he was in Hon-noji Temple and Nobunaga put an end to his own life. The same year, HASHIBA (later TOYOTOMI) Hideyoshi, one of Nobunaga's subordinates, brought down AKECHI Mitsuhide and proceeded to conquer the Kanto region. In April 1590, Hideyoshi surrounded Odawara Castle containing Lord Hojo and by July of the same year the Hojo clan in Odawara were destroyed. This battle also affected the Kawagoe district and Kawagoe Castle, retained by Lord Daidoji, fell to Hideyoshi. The Renkeiji Temple also faced critical danger but escaped the threat because Hideyoshi issued a decree protecting the temple from damage. The document issued by Hideyoshi is kept by the temple to this day.
The Tokugawa Family and the Renkeiji Temple
In 1600, the Battle of Sekigahara took place and TOKUGAWA Ieyasu gained victory. From generation to generation, the Tokugawa family believed in the Jodo sect. in 1602, Ieyasu issued a decree to set up 18 colleges for the Jodo sect in the Kanto region including the Renkeiji Temple and the Zojoji Temple in Edo. Ieyasu allowed the Renkeiji Temple to use the Tokugawa family crest. Therefore, in flourished as a Buddhist college under the protection of the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo Period. They say that even Kawagoe lords passed in front of the temple bowing in silence, lowering their banners and the points of their spears.
The main hall of the Renkeiji Temple
The main hall of the Renkeiji Temple
Memorial Gravestone of Renkeini
The memorial gravestone of Renkeini who passed away in 1567, exists at the Renkeiji Temple. Currently, it is municipal cultural property. My ancestors also rest near her. Once when I was visiting the grave of my ancestors, the bell produced in 1695 was ringing. It took me back to the Age of Warring States and to the age of Edo. This bell escaped the Great Fire of Kawagoe that occurred in 1893. Crossing over 300 years it still brings us the sound of Edo.
The bell of the Renkeiji Temple produced 1695
The bell of the Renkeiji Temple produced in 1695
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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Illustration of Kawagoe