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Shijo Kingo–Part 1

The Mentor-Disciple Relationship and the Journey of Kosen-rufu

Brandon Hill

Nichiren Daishonin persevered in his efforts to spread the Mystic Law, overcoming a succession of persecutions in order to establish a teaching that could lead all people to absolute happiness. There are numerous examples of the drama of the oneness of mentor and disciple that unfolded between Nichiren and his disciples. This series shows how his disciples took action and overcame their various hardships based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.

Shijo Kingo persevered in faith no matter the adversity he encountered. He took faith soon after Nichiren Daishonin began propagating his teachings and played a central role among Nichiren’s disciples, as evidenced by the more than 30 letters addressed to him and his wife, Nichigen-nyo.

Of Nichiren’s disciples, many people feel an affinity for Kingo, perhaps because of his down-to-earth nature and relatability. Despite his many flaws, he sincerely put his mentor’s detailed instructions into action. Controlling his temper, being cautious when going out drinking, respecting women and treasuring those whose support is vital to his survival—such advice applies to our lives today.

Because he followed his mentor’s guidance with dedication and discipline, Kingo endured various difficulties and, in the end, won the trust of his lord and those in society. Speaking of his example, SGI President Ikeda states, “Those who continue to uphold their beliefs through adversity are truly admirable; they are people of the highest caliber” (Learning From the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 267).

Over the next installments examining Shijo Kingo’s life, we will learn about “faith for over-coming obstacles”[1] and the importance of the oneness of mentor and disciple.

Father and Son Share the Trait of Loyalty

The exact dates of Shijo Kingo’s birth and death are unverified. When he accompanied Nichiren Daishonin at the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, some say he was 27 years old, while others believe he was 42 or 43.

His formal name and title is Shijo Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo Yorimoto[2]—Shijo, being his surname, and Yorimoto, his given name. His title, Kingo, indicates his position in the high government office of the Guards of the Left Gate, responsible for protecting the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. His other title, Saemon-no-jo, denotes his post as first lieutenant—the third highest rank among four. Not only did he excel in martial arts, he was also well-versed in medicine.

Aside from official settings, people of his station were addressed by their surnames and rank, rather than their given name. Thus, he was most commonly addressed as Shijo Saemon-no-jo or Shijo Kingo.

Both Kingo and his father were samurai who served the Ema family, an offshoot of the ruling Hojo clan. Although coming from a prestigious family, the lord whom Kingo’s father served was suspected of plotting against his superiors and confined to his estate in Izu Province. Still, Kingo’s father remained loyal to Lord Ema.

Evidence of this is found in a letter sent on Kingo’s behalf to his lord, Ema Mitsutoki: “When your father incurred the wrath of the authorities, his hundreds of retainers all shifted their allegiance; among them, my late father Yorikazu alone remained faithful to the end, accompanying him into exile to the province of Izu” (“The Letter of Petition from Yorimoto,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 811).

Kingo succeeded his father in serving the Ema clan. Nichiren’s writings reveal that, just like his father, Kingo was an extremely loyal samurai.

In 1272, Lord Ema came under suspicion for participating in a rebellion during a disturbance within the ruling Hojo clan. Upon hearing this, Kingo immediately traveled over the treacherous Hakone Pass from Izu Province to Kamakura, to join seven others who pledged to give their lives should their lord be put to death. Although Ema was the lord and Kingo his retainer, they were bound by a strong bond of trust.

Nichiren Encourages Kingo’s Family During Crucial Moments

Although Shijo Kingo was an early practitioner of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, most of the extant writings between the two are dated after 1271, giving us an understanding of the various events in Kingo’s life subsequent to that period. One probable reason for this is that both Kingo and Nichiren lived in Kamakura, so it is likely that they met in person without having to exchange letters.

However, some letters to Kingo exist from the time that Nichiren still resided in Kamakura. Many of these letters surround important events in Kingo’s life. For example, Nichiren sent a letter after Kingo’s mother passed in 1271, writing:

Those who have become the disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren—especially your deceased mother … are votaries of the Lotus Sutra … No doubt she is now in the presence of Shakyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, and the Buddhas of the ten directions. Perhaps they are saying, “So this is the mother of Shijo Kingo!” and, with one accord, patting her on the head and praising her joyfully. And she is probably saying to Shakyamuni Buddha, “What a splendid son I have.” (“The Origin of the Service for Deceased Ancestors,” WND-1, 191)

Here, Nichiren praises the faith of Kingo’s mother when she was alive, while affirming that because of her strong faith she will definitely enter the path of Buddhahood and enable her family members to also advance on that same path.

In another letter from 1271, Nichiren expresses great joy in hearing that Kingo’s wife, Nichigen-nyo, gave birth to a daughter. He writes, “The fulfillment of your wish is now complete, just like the tide at the high watermark or the blossoming of flowers in a spring meadow” (“The Birth of Tsukimaro,” WND-1, 188). He congratulates the couple, stating that having a daughter is like enjoying a spring flower, and gives her the name Tsukimaro.

Such letters show how, with each new develop-ment, Nichiren encouraged Kingo and his family to arouse ever-stronger faith and establish enduring happiness in their lives.

September 12, 1271: The Tatsunokuchi Persecution

September 12, 1271, was the day of the Tatsuno-kuchi Persecution. On this day, Shijo Kingo witnessed Nichiren Daishonin’s indomitable faith in the face of the most harrowing persecution. This event established the indestructible bond between mentor and disciple.

Hei-no-saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna, who wielded enormous influence as deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs, brought a force of several hundred armed troops to surround Nichiren’s thatched hut at Matsubagayatsu in Kamakura to arrest him.

This arrest was brought about by the schemes of Ryokan, the chief priest of Gokuraku-ji, a True Word Precepts temple, after losing to Nichiren in a challenge to bring about rain during a period of drought. Ryokan plotted with leading clerics of other Buddhist schools to defame Nichiren, convincing Yoritsuna to arrest him.

The Immovable Resolve of Mentor and Disciple

Hei-no-saemon arrested Nichiren Daishonin with hundreds of armed soldiers in tow as if he were guilty of trying to overthrow the government. In fact, Hei-no-saemon was planning to secretly execute Nichiren that evening without having any kind of trial.

That night, Nichiren was placed on a horse as soldiers led him to the outskirts of the city. When he approached Goryo Shrine at Yuigahama beach, he dispatched a messenger named Kumao to summon Shijo Kingo who lived nearby. Perhaps he wanted Kingo to witness what was about to happen so that he could later give an accurate testimony.

A stunned and barefooted Kingo rushed to his side. Nichiren solemnly explained the significance of the persecution he was undergoing, stating:

Tonight, I will be beheaded. This is some-thing I have wished for many years … But until now, I have never given up my life for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. In this life, I was born to become a humble priest, unable to adequately discharge my filial duty to my parents or fully repay the debt of gratitude I owe to my country … Now is the time when I will offer my head to the Lotus Sutra and share the blessings therefrom with my deceased parents, and with my disciples and lay supporters. (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 767)

Kingo tightly held the reins of the horse carrying Nichiren and accompanied him to the execution grounds, resolved to die by his mentor’s side.

Nichiren sought to share with his disciple the great benefit of striving for the happiness of the people. For his part, Kingo was determined to fight alongside his mentor with the same conviction.

In the years to follow, Nichiren repeatedly praised Kingo for not hesitating to give his life for the sake of the Law and exhibiting courageous faith at the crucial moment.

For instance, he writes:

You held on to the reins of my horse, accompanying me barefoot and shedding tears of grief. You were even prepared to give your life had I in fact been executed. In what lifetime could I possibly forget it? (“The Place of the Cluster of Blessings,” WND-1, 1069)

If you should fall into hell for some grave offense, no matter how Shakyamuni Buddha might urge me to become a Buddha, I would refuse; I would rather go to hell with you. (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 850)

Since you thus proved yourself to be the foremost ally of the Lotus Sutra in all of Jambudvipa, no doubt the heavenly gods Brahma and Shakra have found it difficult to forsake you … You will surely become a Buddha. (“The Receipt of New Fiefs,” WND-1, 946)

“What Greater Joy Could There Be?”

Sometime between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., Nichiren Daishonin arrived at the beach at Tatsunokuchi. The soldiers drew their swords and took their positions for the execution.

The stouthearted Shijo Kingo, unable to contain himself, cried out, “These are your last moments!” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 767).

Nichiren calmly admonished Kingo, replying: “You don’t understand! What greater joy could there be? Don’t you remember what you have promised?” (WND-1, 767).

Then, at that moment, a brilliant orb like a bright moon appeared from the direction of Enoshima Island and shot across the sky. It blinded the executioner, who fell on his face, while other soldiers trembled with fear. Nichiren’s vow to weather any persecution for the sake of the Lotus Sutra and lead all to enlightenment had moved the protective functions to come to his aid.

Amid the tumult, the soldiers were over-whelmed by Nichiren’s resolute demeanor. He even called out to them: “Why do you shrink from this vile prisoner? Come closer! Come closer!” (WND-1, 767). But they were rendered powerless, unable to carry out the execution.

Eventually, they escorted him to the residence of Homma Rokuro Saemon-no-jo Shigetsura in Echi (in present-day Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture). Upon their arrival, the Daishonin treated the warriors to sake. When it was time for them to leave, some bowed while others pressed their palms together to express their respect to him. Though he was being held for allegedly committing a heavy offense, the soldiers vowed to discard their faith in the Pure Land teachings one after the other (see WND-1, 768).

Kingo, who witnessed the events, also left Echi. He must have recalled this longest of days repeatedly in his mind, engraving in his heart Nichiren’s triumphant state of life amid the most extreme persecution. He undoubtedly deepened his conviction that, so long as he remained unswayed in faith, there is no hardship that he cannot surmount and no difficulty that he cannot defeat. He must have engraved in his life the resolve to advance along the path of mentor and disciple throughout his life.

Adapted from the September 2019 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. Faith for overcoming obstacles is one of the five eternal guidelines of the Soka Gakkai. The others are: faith for a harmonious family; faith for achieving happiness; faith for health and long life; and faith for absolute victory. ↩︎
  2. Shijo Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo Yorimoto: In addition to the explanation given in the main text, Saburo was a popular nickname, meaning “third son.” Nakatsukasa indicates that his father held an official post at the Ministry of Central Affairs. This ministry, along with the Guards of the Left Gate, were part of the official structure of the Imperial Court in Kyoto. ↩︎

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