Establishing a Temple on Vacant Land
Have you ever heard of a Hokkeko beliver who built a temple before building his own
house? The temple is called Hosenji in Aibetsu-cho, Kamigawa-gun, Hokkaido. In a book called
History of Hosenji, it states: “Some Hokkeko believers with deep faith from Owari province came to
Hokkaido as pioneers through the federal government’s land development project. These men built
a temple before building their own houses. I regard this temple as the essence of their faith” (p.10).
This was written by Reverend Jiryu Sasaki, who served at Hosenji Temple for seven years.
In the early years of the Meiji period (1887-1896), there was only one temple in Hokkaido,
and it was located in Hakodate-shi. When the government sought pioneers, in order to develop land
in Hokkaid, Sisaburo Ito, a devout Hokkeko believer, and his family responded by migrating to
Hokkeko. Some other Hokkeko families also moved to Hokkaido at the same time. One of them,
Kiza’emon Sorihashi, suggested that they build a Nichiren Shoshu temple there. “We did not come
this far only to develop the land. We are here to propagate the Law in this northern country. We
must build our temple as soon as possible” (History of Hosenji, p. 66). He spoke passionately about
this to his group.
It must have been a tough decision to make because, in reality, the only supplies they had
were pots, kettles, kitchen knives, cutting boards, and sickles. Quite frankly, making the wilderness
habitable itself already was difficult.
Kiza’emon and his brother Zou’emon decided to ask more Hokkeko members to join the
pioneer project; obviously they needed more bodies to fulfill this aspiration. As a result, the families
of Gi’u’emon and Gisaburo Takayanagi and Sotojiro Kimata moved to Hokkaido.
These people did not come just to build a temple but to exert their lives for the propagation
of the Law in Hokkaido. Gisaburo, a carpenter, gave instructions to the others, and he selected the
right trees to cut for the building. There was a big forest and so many trees from which to choose,
but the only tool with which they could cut the tree was a sickle. They also had to dry the wood in
order to assemble the pieces. Even before they started building anything, the preparatory process
took a long time.
Today, our temples are provided by the Head Temple, and we, the chief priests, are
appointed by the High priest. In contrast, Hokkeko believers of Hosenji Temple built the temple
themselves, and they notified the Head temple of completion of the building to request chief priest’s
appointment. From these precedents, we can learn how to act autonomously instead of depending
on others for the actualization of kosen-rufu. After 100 years full of hardships, the ceremony of the
completion of Hosenji Temple was graciously conducted by High Priest Nikken Shonin on November
At the same time, I was serving as a chief priest of a temple about 40 minutes away from
Hosenji. I know how cold Hokkaido’s winter can be. I have experienced a temperature of -29.2 F, but
I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must have been to build a temple without electricity or
water during the Meiji period. We must follow the spirit of unity among these believers in such
What is most significant about these men? It is their single-mindedness toward the
actualization of kosen-rufu, their courage and perseverance not matter what came their way withut
begrudging their lives. High Ptiest Nichinyo Shonin states:
We can save anyone’s life with our shakubuku. It is just that we are not taking the actions.
We may think, “Not hime; not her.” Are you assuming that someone does not need your
shakubuku? It is not shakubuku if you decided that a person is not going to practice just
because he or she does not listen to you. (Dainichiren, March 2014)
When you look at a person, what success rate do you think you need before you go ahead
and talk to someone about the practice—30 persent?;10 percent? When you do this, you
are relying on your assumptions. Here, I have started a project that already was expected to
have a 100 percent chance of failure. Shortly after the Second World War, in Showa 27
(1952), the government enacted the “electric power development expedition law” to
promote water power, in order to restore the livelihood of people after the damage and
economic instability caused by the war. The Electric Power Development Corporation was
established to build Miboro Dam in Gifu prefecture.
The residents of Shokawa Village expressed their strong opposition to this project. Of course
they would. Their homes, which they inherited from their ancestors, who had lived there for
centuries, would go under water and be destroyed. The first president of the Electric Power
Development Corporation, Tatsunoke Takasaki went to the community and spoke to the residents,
one by one, to convenience them to give up their village for the dam project.
Takasaki did not rely on his employee for this. He personally spoke nearly 200 people. It took
him seven years to reach out to every single one of them. Perhaps it was his passion, perhaps it was
his personality, I am not sure, but all of the residents eventually agreed to the dam project. At end,
the protesters invited Takasaki formerly the enemy of the villagers to dispersal ceremony, and they
Takasaki accompanied the villagers on their walk through the village that would shortly be
under water. In this stroll, he saw a 450 year-old cherry tree and said with a sigh, “I want to save this
one.” And, in fact, he did. He hired a cherry tree expert, Shintaro Sasabe, to transplant the tree from
village to the town in which the villagers were located. Although Sasabe warned that the tree would
never cherries after the transplant, he said “but at least the villagers will know that your intentions
are good. Maybe then it’s worth the try.” Unexpectedlly, then plant experts came to offer support.
The construction company contracted to work on this project offered to help transplant the
tree. Knowing that this plant would end up as a 100 percent failure did not stop people from making
the effort to relocate this cherry tree. The transplant of the “Shokawa Cherry” took 40 days. As
expected, the Shokawa Cherry did not bloom in spring. However, right after the Golden Week in
May, a bus guide found some flowers buds on the branches.
Imagine how happy the news made the villagers. It has been more than 50 years since then,
and the Shokawa Cherry still blossoms fully today. Though these people kept working on something
predicted to be a 100 percent failure, they made the impossible possible. We must strive to
shakubuku others, even when it seems hopeless. Since we are the followers of the Bodhisattvas of
the Earth, it is our job to do shakubuku, no matter how possible it may seem.
Note that a person’s life condition changes constantly. For example, someone’s accident,
illness, or layoff makes the seemingly happy, peaceful life of a family change suddenly even when it
feel hopeless, we must try to make the impossible possible. Our forerunners struggled for kosen-
rufu despite constant persecution by the authorities. We can do our part when we think of the
Owari Hokkeko belivers’ devotion.
Shakubuku by Following Our Forerunners’ Examples
During the infamous Kanazawa Persecution, Hokkeko believers were punished for practicing
Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Since they were tortured until converted, it was literally the practice of
never begrudging one’s life. So the believers would make a hole in the wall to enshrine the
Gohonzon, and they whispered the Daimoku in the wee hours when the rest of the neighborhood
Senboku Kubo, a Kanazawa Hokkeko believer, left a will for his children and grandchildren,
which included the statement: “As I chant through the crack of the closet door, I pray that we will be
able to chant the Daimoku aloud as a family and our voices will vibrate throughout the house.” This
sentence speaks volumes about the religious oppression committed by the government during his
time. We can feel Kubo’s strong desire to chant Daimoku aloud—without hesitation.
How painful it must have been to be prevented from chanting Daimoku freely. In contrast,
today, nobody would stop us from chanting aloud. We do not get arrested for doing Shakubuku. We
will not be punished for chanting Daimoku for hours. We cannot take our fortunate situation for
granted. We must conduct shakubuku without begrudging our lives, as our persecuted ancestors did
during the Edo period.
A passage in the Gosho, “On Prayer,” read: “The prayers of the votary of the Lotus Sutra will
never be unanswered” (Gosho, p.630). Our prayers will come true. What do we pray for? Our
underlying prayer must be the actualization of kosen-rufu and the achievement of the chapter foal
for each year. For example, if you pray for overcoming your illness, express the desire to conquer it
and become healthy, so that you will be able to work hard for shakubuku. If you want to rid yourself
of financial distress, don’t just pray to accumulate money or get rich. You should pray for better
financial situation, so that you will have time and money to visit many people and do shakubuku.
It is vital that you make shakubuku a major priority in your prayers. When you practice and
propagate the correct Law, the Gohonzon will protect you, and your prayers will be realized. The
High Priest states:
Whether you can achieve shakubuku or not depends upon the depth of your faith. If
shakubuku is not going well, the cause is in your faith. It may be a lack of Shodai, lack of
action, blatant laziness, or an erroneous perception taking hold of you. Or maybe you are
not courageous enough, or you are living in a comfortable bubble allowing you only to
repeat the daily routine without doing shakubuku. Reflect on yourself, identify what you
need to improve, and correct it. Then you can do shakubuku. (Dainichiren, November 2011)
Take this guidance to heart, keep chanting the Daimoku, and condition yourself to have the
power to abandon excuses for not doing shakubuku. Then achieve the goal as a chapter by uniting in
the spirit of itai doshin (many body, one in mind). I would like to conclude my lecture by sincerely
praying for your health and prosperity.