Shunkan (俊寛)

Shunkan (1143 - April 17, 1179) was a priest of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan, who lived during the latter Heian period. He was from the Murakami-Genji (Minamoto clan) and was born to Kanga, who was the Hoin (the highest rank in the hierarchy of Buddhist priests) of the Ki-dera Temple (an inge [a branch temple for supporting services of the main temple] of the Ninna-ji Temple). He is also referred to as Shunkan Sozu with sozu (a rank among Buddhist priests) added to his name.

Shunkan was a close adviser to Emperor Goshirakawa and was the shigyo (the head of Buddhist priests who conducts various duties in temples) of Hossho-ji Temple. In 1177, he participated in a plot planned by FUJIWARA no Narichika and Saiko to overthrow the Taira clan, for which a secret meeting was held at Shunkan's mountain villa in Shishigatani (however, according to "Gukansho" (Jottings of a Fool), the secret meeting was held at a mountain villa of Joken, son of Shinzei). However, the plot was revealed due to betrayal, resulting in the deportation of Shunkan to the Kikaiga-shima Island (Satsuma Province) along with FUJIWARA no Naritsune and TAIRA no Yasuyori (the Shishigatani plot).

According to "Genpei Seisui ki" (Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and the Taira clans), Narichika kyo (minister) used two tenjo warawa (noble child of the court), Matsu no mae and Tsuru no mae, to make Shunkan take part in the Shishigatani plot. Matsu no mae was beautiful but was lacking in affection, while Tsuru no mae was not beautiful, but was full of affection. When Narichika kyo made the two accompany Shunkan for drinking, Shunkan fell for Tsuru no mae and made her pregnant, from which a girl was born. Completely losing his heart to Tsuru no mae, Shunkan is said to have agreed to participate in the rebellion.

According to "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike), after being deported to the Kikaiga-shima Island, Shunkan and the two others spent days longing for home, and Naritsune and Yasuyori came up with an idea to make one thousand stupas and release them in the sea, but Shunkan did not participate in this act. Eventually, one of the stupas drifted to Itsukushima Island in the Aki Province.

Impressed by this act, TAIRA no Kiyomori granted a pardon to pray for a smooth delivery for Taira no Tokuko, the empress of Emperor Takakura.

Although a ship arrived at the Kikaiga-shima Island in the following year, 1178, only Naritsune and Yasuyori had been granted a pardon, with Shunkan left alone on the island for the reason that he was the main plotter of the meeting. Shunkan was in despair and was overcome with sorrow.

In the following year, 1179, Ario, who was a jido (page) of Shunkan, visited the Kikaiga-shima Island and was reunited with Shunkan, whose appearance had completely changed. Receiving a letter from his daughter from Ario, Shunkan decided to die, which he did by starving himself to death. Ario brought back the ashes of Shunkan's bones from Kikaiga-shima Island to Kyo, the Capital.

Works related to Shunkan
Zeami "Shunkan" (Noh program)
Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU "{Heike nyogo no shima}" (The Heike and the Island of Women)
Ryunosuke AKUTAGAWA "Shunkan" (a work of fiction)
Kan KIKUCHI "Shunkan" (a work of fiction)

[Original Japanese]