Suden (崇伝)

Suden (1569 - February 28, 1633) was a priest of the Rinzai Sect and a politician serving the Tokugawa shogunate from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period. His father was Hidekazu ISSHIKI, who was a vassal of the Ashikaga Shogunal family. He was also known as Ishin Suden or Konchiin Suden. He was called a 'Prime Minister in Black Robes' (a Buddhist priest who rendered political service as if he were a prime minister).


Suden was born in Kyoto in 1569. After his father's death, Suden studied Buddhism under Genpo Reisan at Nanzen-ji Temple, then inherited Buddhist doctrines from Tokurin SEISHUKU, the chief priest of Konchiin Subtemple of Nanzen-ji Temple, and thereafter further studied Buddhism at Sanboin Subtemple of Daigo-ji Temple. Having served as chief priest of Fukugon-ji, Zenko-ji and Kencho-ji Temples, Suden became the 270th chief priest of Nanzen-ji Temple in 1605.

In 1608, Suden was invited to Sunpu by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who located the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in Edo by superseding the Toyotomi government, and served as a diplomatic secretary in place of last Jotai SAISHO. After a while, he came to have involvement in shogunal administration. Engaged in administration concerning Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine affairs together with Genkitsu KANSHITSU and Katsushige ITAKURA, he was involved in projects, including the prohibition of the Christian religion, as well as the establishment of Jiin shohatto (the Acts for the Buddhist Temples), Buke shohatto (the Acts for the Military Houses) where the basic policies of the bakufu were laid out, and Kinchu narabini kuge shohatto (a set of regulations that applied to the emperor and the Kyoto nobles). He was also involved in the Incident of Hoko-ji Temple Bell which triggered the Siege of Osaka, a battle against Toyotomi family).

After the death of Ieyasu in 1616, he had a dispute with Tenkai concerning the shingo (literally, "shrine name"), which is the title given to a Shinto shrine. Suden insisted on deifying Ieyasu under the name of Myojin (a gracious god) while Tenkai insisted on deifying him under the name of Gongen (meaning the incarnation of a god), which was adopted eventually.

In 1618, Suden raised Konchin Temple (Minato-ku Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) in Edo. In the following year, 1619, he assumed the position of Soroku (highest-ranking priest of the Gozan, the leader of the Zen sect). Thereafter, the position of soroku of Konchiin Subtemple was succeeded by the priests who inherited the Buddhist doctrines directly from Suden. Suden administered the affairs of the bakufu, moving between Nanzen-ji Temple (Konchiin Subtemple) and Konchiin Temple in Edo, and both he and Tenkai were called Prime Minister in Black Robes. In addition, Suden strived for the reconstruction and restoration of Nanzen-ji Temple and Kencho-ji Temple, and also undertook literary activities, such as the collection and publication of ancient books.

Suden intended to punish Soho TAKUAN, Sohaku GYOKUSHITSU and Sogan KOGETSU, who presented written objection to the tough measures taken by the bakufu with the Shie Incident in 1627, by exiling them to a distant island. However, through the intervention of Tenkai and Munenori YAGYU, Takuan and Gyokushitu were exiled to Kaminoyama in Dewa Province and Tanagura in Mutsu Province, respectively, and Kogetsu was subjected to no punishment.

On February 28, 1633, Suden passed away at the age of 64.

He left behind the following literary works: "Honko Kokushi Nikki" (journal; the term "Honko Kokushi" is a portion of his posthumous title); "Honko Kokushi Goroku" (collection of sayings); "Ikoku Nikki" (journal concerning diplomatic affairs).

It is said that people gave him the nickname, 'Daiyokuzan Kikonin Senjo-ji Akukokushii,' which implicates his greediness, powerfulness, obtrusiveness and unpopularity, because he was very powerful and used political techniques that seem somewhat strong in the Incident of Hoko-ji Temple Bell and so forth.

[Original Japanese]