Otani Kozui (大谷光瑞)

Kozui OTANI (December 27, 1876 – October 5, 1948) was a religionist and an explorer of Japan. He was the 22nd Hoshu (high priest) of the Jodo Shinshu Hongan-ji School, from the late Meiji period to the Taisho period. A count. His imina (personal name) was Kozui and his homyo (a name given to a person who enters the Buddhist priesthood) (Jodo Shinshu - the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) was Kyonyo.


He was born as the first-born son of the 21st chief priest Koson (Koson OTANI). His childhood name was Takamaro. He married Kazuko KUJO who was an elder sister of Empress Teimei.

In December 1885, he entered the Buddhist priesthood (tokudo) at the age of fifteen. In the following 1886, he went to Tokyo and entered Gakushuin School Corporation, but dropped out. Later, he entered an English school called Kyoritsu-Gakusha (that was different from Kyoritsu-gakko which was known for its curriculum preparing for entrance exams) which Shinpachi SEKI opened, but still dropped out. He returned to Kyoto and studied under the supervision of Eun MAEDA (later the president of Toyo University and Ryukoku university).

In August 1902 as a part of the activities of the religious organization, he went to India to explore Central Asia and excavate Buddhist remains. On the morning of January 14, 1903 in the suburbs of Rajgir in Bihar Province, he discovered Mt. Ryojusen under the morning sunlight, which was connected with Buddha and was a mountain in a mysterious area. In January 1903, his father Koson died and thus he came back to Japan to succeed the chief priest, but he continued exploration and research activities until 1904. This is so-called the Otani Expedition (the first). After he succeeded to the position of chief priest, he made the exploration continue and conducted three excavations and research projects until 1914.

As a chief priest, he tried hard to modernize his religious organization and sent many missionaries on campaigns during the Japanese-Russo War. He aggressively advanced the foreign mission. When he met Sun Yat-sen in 1913, he was appointed to the supreme adviser of the Republic of China led by Sun Yat-sen.

In 1908, he built Nirakuso which was designed by his friend Chuta ITO in Okamoto Station, at the base of Mt. Rokko in Kobe City (Hyogo Prefecture) (Higashinada Ward), and there, he set up a school for special education for gifted children (currently, the department of science in Konan University), the experiment station for horticulture, the meteorological station, the printing house and so on as well as exhibited the collections from his explorations and arranged them. He made it a center for cultural activities.

In 1914 he resigned the chief priest and retired in Dalian City, in order to sort out the huge amount of debt the OTANI family had and the bribery scandal of his religious organization. He then relinquished Nirakuso and the exploration collections. Today, these collections have been scattered and Nirakuso was also burnt down by fire in 1932.

After his retirement, he continued cultural activities and in 1919, established Kojukai in order to translate the original text of Buddhist scriptures described in Bonji (Siddham script), and in 1921, he opened Sakushin shoin (a school) in Shanghai City to bring up talented people, who would lead the next generation.

During the Pacific War, he served as a councilor in the Fumimaro KONOE Cabinet, and the adviser in the collaborative cabinet of Kuniaki KOISO and Mitsumasa YONAI. However in 1945, he came down with bladder cancer and detained by the Soviet Army during his hospitalization. In 1947 he returned to Japan, and the next year he died in Beppu City.

In his life time, he built the villas in Shanghai City and in Takao City in Taiwan. The present Suma Rikyu Park is one of them, and in 1907, it was bought by the Imperial Household Ministry; Nirakuso in Okamoto was built as the alternative site.

In Beppu where he spent his final years, he agreed with the mayor Tetsuichi WAKI who, in those days, aimed for the construction of a city of international tourism and pleaded the government to enact special legislation ("Act on Construction of Beppu as City of International Tourism and Hot Springs Culture" was enacted in 1950). He advised the mayor and suggested his own private ideas.

As for his critical biographies, there is one by Hisahide SUGIMORI (Chuo Koronsha) and another one by Yo TSUMOTO (Kadokawa Bunko).

His description in fiction
In the novel "Teito Monogatari" (The tale of the Imperial Capital) by Hiroshi ARAMATA, he is supposed to plan killing the war leaders in the USA, the UK and Soviet Union through curses. Surely it is a fiction and different from the facts and in the creed of Jodo Shinshu, incantation and prayer are denied, the descriptions in the novel are contrary to this. In the film version of Teito Monogatari and Teito Taisen, he is changed to the fictional character called Kanamikoho.

[Original Japanese]