Worldwide Propagation of Nichiren Buddhism

by Ryuei Michael McCormick


The best way to begin an overview of Nichiren Shu missionary efforts is with the text of the Monument for Overseas Ministers that is located at Mt. Minobu. 

Text of the Inscription on the Monument for Overseas Ministers at Mt. Minobu that was dedicated on April 26, 1994: 

It was the wish of our Founder, Nichiren Shonin, to have the entire world shine with the light of the Buddha and to save all the people with the teachings of the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma. This monument is dedicated to the illustrious memory of Nichiren Shu ministers who braved the strange lands overseas for the realization of the wish of our Founder for the propagation of the Wonderful Dharma around the world. Looking into history, we can detect the footprints of those who dedicated themselves overseas to the propagation of the Sacred Title of the Wonderful Dharma, "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo," despite overwhelming pains and difficulties. May their footprints never disappear but shine forever brilliantly. 

Nichiren Shu overseas propagation started with Renge Ajari Nichiji Shonin, one of the Six Senior Disciples of Nichiren Shonin, who on October 13, 1294 A.D. (Einin 2), on the thirteenth memorial day of his master, pledged to propagate his teachings overseas before the tomb of our Founder on Mt. Minobu. On New Year's Day in the year 1295 A.D. (Einin 3), Nichiji Shonin left Matsuno in Suruga Province (Shizuoka Prefecture) and commenced the journey of an overseas missionary spreading "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo" throughout the various lands across the sea to fulfill his pledge. 

Following the example of Nichiji Shonin's efforts, overseas missionaries continued, and especially during the modern age the movement gained momentum throughout Asia, Hawaii, North and South America. 

In 1891 (Meiji 24), Rev. Nichiun Watanabe, in commemoration of the 600th memorial year of our Founder, built a temple called Nisshu Kaido on the peninsula of Korea, where in the same year, Rev. Nichimyo Asahi propagated Nichiren Buddhism. Two years later Rev. Asahi established an overseas missionary group (Kaigai Senkyo-kai) in India. He then proceeded to build a temple (Hokke-do) in Shanghai, and Nichiren Shu established regional overseas headquarters throughout Asia beginning with China. 

As for the propagation in Hawaii, Rev. Gyoun Takagi arrived in 1899 (Meiji 32) and two years later (1901, Meiji 34) built a Nichiren Buddhist Temple in Kapapala on the island of Hawaii. In 1913 (Taisho 2), he moved to Honolulu on the island of Oahu to establish the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii. 

As for the propagation in North America, Rev. Nichimyo Asahi, Former Archbishop of Nichiren Shu, started it by dispatching his disciple, Rev. Kanjo Asahi, to establish the Los Angeles Nichiren Buddhist Temple in 1914 (Taisho 3). Currently, there are twelve temples and several propagation centers in the continental U.S.A. and Canada. 

Rev. Emyo Ishimoto pioneered the propagation of Nichiren Buddhism in South America in 1954 (Showa 29), when he established the South American Headquarters in Sao Paulo and temples in Brazil. 

Many other missionaries, struggling in different cultures and facing such extraordinary difficulties as those in World War II, were not discouraged and dedicated their lives to realize the wish of Nichiren Shonin: "May all beings under heaven and within the four seas live in accordance with the Wonderful Dharma." This year, 1994 (Heisei 6), Nichiren Shu decided to build this Monument in commemoration of the Nichiji Shonin's 700th memorial year and we organized a committee for constructing the Monument for Overseas Ministers, consulting the Committee of Overseas Missionaries. With the generous donations from Japan and worldwide, the Monument has been successfully built. 

With this Monument, we hereby wish to recognize all the overseas ministers' efforts and achievements in establishing Nichiren Shu Buddhism throughout Asia, Hawaii, and North and South America. May this Monument give strength to our current and future overseas missionaries. 

April 26, 1994 (Heisei 6) Nichiren Shu 

 

The following is my own article on the propagation of Nichiren Shu in the 19th and 20th centuries:

The text of the Inscription on the Monument for Overseas Ministers provides a great outline of the missionary activities of the Nichiren Shu during the latter half of the 19th century up until the midst of the 20th century. These missionary activities occurred against the backdrop of two significant trends in Japanese history. The first was the immigration of Japanese to Hawaii, the west coast of the United States, and Brazil, following the Meiji Restoration and the opening of Japan to the rest of the world. The second was a growing Japanese imperialism, punctuated by the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, the annexing of Korea in 1910, and culminating in the war in China which began in 1937 and ended in the crushing defeat of 1945 followed by Japan's occupation by the United States of America. These events were to have grave consequences for the missionary efforts of the Nichiren Shu. 

Asahi Nichimyo (1833-1916) was the most important missionary priest of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became the head minister of Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto in 1886. Three years prior to that he had already begun making efforts to spread Nichiren Buddhism in Korea. In 1892 he succeeded in establishing an annex (betsuin) of Myokakuji in Pusan, Korea and in 1893 he established another one in Inchon. He would go on to establish temples in Seoul, Wosan (1908), and the Honkokuji Betsuin in Shanghai, China (1899). As early as 1892 he began to organize the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Association, and by 1897 he was inaugurated as its first president when he resigned as head minister of Myokakuji. In 1902 he became the head minister of Honkokuji in Kyoto. From 1910 to 1913 he served as the 18th Archbishop of Nichiren Shu. In 1914 he sent his disciple, Rev. Kanjo Asahi to Los Angeles to establish the Minobusan Betsuin Nichiren Shu Temple there. The founding of the L.A. temple is also considered to be the beginning of the Nichiren Order of North America (NONA). In 1915 he attended the World Buddhist Conference in San Francisco as a representative of Nichiren Shu. In 1916 he sent Rev. Ryucho Oka to Seattle to serve as its first resident minister. 

Gyoun Takagi (1872-1946) was sent to minister to the needs of the Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, which at that time was a territory of the U.S. Rev. Takagi arrived on Hawaii in 1899, and in 1902 established the first Nichiren Buddhist Temple there at Kapapala. He established the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii in Honolulu in 1912, and by 1917 had dedicated the first temple there. 

Back in the United States, other temples were founded in San Francisco, California; Vancouver, Canada; Sacramento, CA (1930) and Portland, Oregon (1932). In 1933 the headquarters of the Nichiren Order of North America (NONA) was established in Los Angeles with Rev. Junyoku Ikeda serving as its first bishop. Unfortunately, the war between Japan and the United States from 1941 to 1945 intervened in the development of NONA. Especially devastating was the unconstitutional Executive Order 9066 of 1942 sent 120,000 Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans in the U.S. and Hawaii into internment camps for the duration of the war. Afterwards, many Japanese-Americans did not return to their old homes on the west coast but moved to other areas of the United States including the mid-west and the east coast. Fortunately, those who did return to the west coast were able to reopen the Nichiren Shu temples that had already been established. Hawaii, on the other hand, was able to protect and maintain its temples during the war since only a few Japanese had been relocated from there. 

It should also be noted that after the war, the missionary efforts of all the Japanese Buddhist schools throughout Asia came to an end. As Brian Victoria states in his book Zen at War: "The Buddhist missions on the continent and the priests who staffed them were representatives of the Great Empire of Japan. It is hardly surprising to learn that with the end of war in 1945 every single one of these missions on the Asian continent, regardless of sect affiliation, collapsed, never to be revived." (p.65) While dedicated missionaries like Asahi Nichimyo may have been motivated by an idealistic and compassionate wish to share the Dharma as they understood it, their efforts and the efforts of their successors were unfortunately associated with Japanese imperialism. It would take roughly half a century after the end of WWII before the Nichiren Shu would again be able to establish temples in Asia outside of Japan. 

Senchu Murano (1908-2001) was an important overseas minister before and after WWII. His most significant contribution was his translation of the Kumarajiva version of the Lotus Sutra into English. Rev. Murano was the head minister at the Seattle temple from 1933 until 1939 where he received a degree in East Asian Studies at Washington University in 1938. He returned to Japan following his graduation and served in the Japanese army in Burma during the WWII. After the war he served as the minister of Myochoji Temple in Kamakura beginning in 1947. He also taught at Rissho University from 1962-1979. In 1974, he published his English translation of the Lotus Sutra that is still used in Nichiren Shu temples to this day. From 1980-1989 he was the head minister of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii. In 1991 he helped to found the Hokkeji Temple in Belgium, the first Nichiren Shu temple in Europe. Senchu Murano also published an English language Buddhist magazine called the Young East with his friend D.T. Suzuki during the 50's and 60's. He was a great supporter of non-Japanese practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism. In 1993 he took on Senkei Kristoph Pieters as his disciple and entrusted him with the Hokkeji in Belgium. Another important student of Senchu Murano (though not a formal disciple or even a member of the Nichiren Shu) was Bruce Maltz who was instrumental in spreading the truth about Nichiren Buddhism over the internet in the early 90's in order to counteract misinformation spread by the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu. 

Yohaku Arakawa (1905-1996) was another revered Japanese missionary to the United States. From 1930 to 1939 he was the head minister of the Nichiren Shu temple in Vancouver, Canada. In 1939 he was transferred to the Portland temple. In 1942 he and his family were interned at the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho until 1945. Even in the internment camp, Rev. Arakawa taught the Odaimoku and many new people converted to Nichiren Buddhism. Upon release from the camp he returned to Portland with many new members and revitalized it. After a 40 day missionary tour of the U.S. and Canada, Rev. Arakawa became determined to establish a temple in Chicago. In 1951 he succeeded in establishing the Chicago temple. In the same year he also established a temple in Toronto, Canada with the help of Rev. Senzo Ikushima. From 1953 until 1968 he served as the bishop of NONA. From 1986 until his death, Bishop Arakawa taught Nichiren Buddhism in Virginia, though a temple was never established there. 

Nippo Shaku (1910-1991) was another missionary to the United States who established temples and actively taught Odaimoku. He was one of the first Nichiren Shu ministers to attempt to teach Nichiren Buddhism to the general population of the U.S. He came to assist the Los Angeles temple in 1935 and then became the head minister of San Francisco in 1936. In 1954 he established the Salt Lake City temple. Beginning in 1962 he began to teach Nichiren Buddhism in the southwestern U.S. In 1969 he established the American Buddhist Center in San Francisco and also taught at the California Institute of Asian Studies and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from 1969 - 1981. 

Emo Ishimoto (1925-1984) founded the Nichiren Mission of South America in 1954 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He eventually established three other branches of the Mission in Brazil. His son Rev. Eko Ishimoto carries on his work. 

Shingaku Oikawa (1907-1992) was an important leader of the spread of Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world in the late 20th century. He became head minister of Joenji Temple in Shinjuku, Tokyo in 1942, and then became the head minister of Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto in 1970. In 1971 he founded the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation and Promotion Association and became its first president. NOPPA would later translate into English and publish Nichiren's five major writings and other works beginning in 1988. Though the name is similar in English, NOPPA is not related to the NOPA founded by Asahi Nichimyo. In 1976 he started the publication of the English language periodical Nichiren Shu News. In 1980 he founded the San Jose Myokakuji Betsuin and entrusted it to Ryusho Matsuda. In 1987 he was instrumental in the donation of the relics of Nichiji Shonin, the first overseas missionary of Nichiren Buddhism, to Kuonji on Mt. Minobu. 

The final decade of the 20th century became one of the most challenging but also one of the most progressive in the history of Nichiren Buddhism. One of the biggest problems was the aging of the immigrant congregations and the passing away of the Issei and even some Nissei members (first and second generation immigrants). No new waves of Japanese immigration were coming to take their place, and many of the newer generations were assimilating into the mainstream of American culture and religion (or lack thereof) and leaving the temples. Fortunately, some of these began to come back in search of either a genuine spirituality and/or their own cultural roots. At the same time, many former members of the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu were seeking out a more authentic form of Nichiren Buddhism to support them in their practice. In addition, the more outgoing and charismatic Nichiren Shu missionaries from Japan were finally beginning to break through the cultural barriers which limited the temples to only ethnic Japanese and simply by making friends and keeping the temple doors open began to attract non-Japanese members to the temples. During the 1990's new temples and sanghas were being established across the United States, in England, in Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and other places. To support these international missionary efforts the Nichiren Buddhist International Center was inaugurated in 1991 and a headquarters was dedicated in Hayward, California in 2002. Charitable works were also a part of this effort going back to at least the late 70's. In Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, and other places, various groups within the Nichiren Shu began to build orphanages, schools, libraries, and other facilities and to donate medical and educational supplies. Nichiren Shu also began training and ordaining ministers from the United States, Europe, and other countries. By the year 2003, both the London and Portland temples' head ministers were non-Japanese: Rev. Ryuoh Faulconer the disciple of Rev. Ryuken Akahoshi, the former head minister of the Portland temple became the head minister of the Portland Temple; and Rev. Shoryo Tarabini the disciple of Rev. Shokai Kanai, head minister of the Los Angeles temple, became the head minister of the London Temple. In the year 2000, NONA elected John Petry as its lay president. This was the first time that the lay president of NONA was not of Japanese ethnicity. The missionary movement of the Nichiren Shu around the world was beginning to come of age. It was no longer restricted to Japanese immigrants and their descendants, but was now a multicultural and multiethnic religious movement that was beginning to plant real roots in each of the countries where it had been introduced. 

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1999. 2002.


Some articles by Ryuei:
Index of Articles
The Fuji Lineage
Mission to Kyoto
The Kyoto Lineages
Shodaigyo Meditation
The Fuju Fuse Debate
My Letter to Nichiren
The Modern Reformers
Pilgrimage to Mount Minobu
Six Senior Disciples of Nichiren
The Machishu Culture & the Hokke Ikki
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