Tenkai (天海)

Tenkai (1536 to November 13, 1643) was a monk of Tendai Sect in the Azuchi-momoyama period to the early Edo period. He was also called Nankobo Tenkai or Chiraku-in.
Daisojo (a Buddhist priest of the highest order)
His posthumous title was Jigen Daishi. He took an active part in policies of the imperial court and religions in the early Edo bakufu as a strategist for Ieyasu TOKUGAWA.

Origin of Tenkai

It is said that he was derived from the Ashina clan that was a family of the Miura clan, and was born in Mutsu Province.
It is based on 'Toeizan Kaizan Jigen Daishi Engi' which says that 'Born in Takada no sato, Aizu County, Mutsu Province. A family of Moritaka ASHINA.'
At the same time, however, the document says that 'when he was asked about his family, Tenkai said that he forgotten even his family name,' indicating that Tenkai did not tell his origin to his disciples. It also says that 'some said that he was the youngest child of Shogun Yoshizumi ASHIKAGA', suggesting that he was an illegitimate child of Ashikaga Shogun. But both are uncertain, and the first half of Tenkai's life is unknown.

Year of birth of Tenkai

The year of birth of Tenkai is unclear, but it is an indisputable fact that he lived long.

In the diary 'Kosuke Sukune no Hinami-ki' by Kosuke OZUKI, there is an article that Tenkai was a doshi (ceremony leader) of Hokke-kyo Sutra Manbu Kuyo in Yakushido Hall of Nikko Toshogu Shrine on June 4, 1632, and he was 97 years old (age by the traditional Japanese system) at that time. Following this theory, his year of birth is estimated to be 1536, and he died at the age of 104. There are other theories saying that it was year 1510 (Uesugishoshi-shojo), 1530, 1542, or 1554. However, it is said that these were based on unreliable historical documents.

First half of his life

According to a theory, he became a priest with a second name of 'Zuifu', and studied Tendai Sect under Koshun in Kokawa-dera Temple (Utsunomiya City) of Utsunomiya Castle, Shimotsuke Province at the age of 14, then he studied further in Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei and Enjo-ji Temple in Omi Province and Kofuku-ji Temple in Yamato Province. When Mt. Hiei was attacked and burned by Nobunaga ODA in 1571, he was invited to move to Kai Province by Shingen TAKEDA. After that, he moved to Choraku-ji Temple in Kozuke Province (Ota City) and then moved to Kita-in of Muryouju-ji Temple (present Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, later referred to as Kita-in Temple) of Musashi Province in 1588 and called himself Tenkai.

Chief priest of Kita-in Temple

The life of Tenkai had become clear since he came to Kita-in of Muryouju-ji Temple. He also served as a chief priest in Edosaki Fudo-in temple. According to a historical document in Senso-ji Temple, Tenkai and Chugo, a chief priest of Senso-ji Temple, were at the camp of Ieyasu during an attack on Hojo. This suggests that Tenkai moved to Kanto primarily to serve Ieyasu.

Tenkai became a chief priest of Kita-in after Gokai in 1599. Then Tenkai played a role in negotiations with the imperial court as a counselor of Ieyasu. In 1607, he was ordered to serve as the head of Hiei-zan Mountain Tandai, lived in Nankobo and took part in the restoration of Enryaku-ji Temple. However, Tatsuya TUJI wrote that Tenkai was employed by Ieyasu after 1609. He received a priestly rank of gon no sojo (a highest ranking priest, next to a sojo) from the imperial court in this year.

In 1612, he began to reconstruct Kita-in (meaning North Temple) of Muryoju-ji Temple, renamed it to Kita-in (meaning Temple of much happiness) and made it the main temple of Kanto Tendai. In 1613, he was appointed as the chief abbot of Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine by Ieyasu, and he reconstructed the honbo (main priest's residence), Komyo-in Temple.

Latter half of his life

In 1616, Ieyasu, who fell into a critical condition, entrusted his will about the title of god and funeral to Tenkai and so on. He fought over the title of god with Suden, Masazumi HONDA and so on after the death of Ieyasu. Tenkai insisted on enshrining him as 'gongen' (avator) with Sanno Ichijitsu Shinto and Konchiin Suden insisted on deifying him as 'myojin' with Yoshida Shinto. In response to an inquiry from the second shogun, Hidetada TOKUGAWA, Tenkai suggested that myojin was a title of god donated to Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as Hokoku Daimyojin (Great Luminous Deity of Our Bountiful Country) and it was an ill-omened title considering the collap of Toyotomi clan, so the title of god of Ieyasu was determined to be 'Tosho Daigongen', and the body of Ieyasu was moved from Mount Kuno Toshogu Shrine to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Rinno-ji Temple was built.

Tenkai served the second shogun, Hidetada TOKUGAWA, and the third shogun, Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, and he built Kanei-ji Temple in Shinobugaoka in 1624. He was also involved in the city planning of Edo and planned to guard Edo based on yin-yang philosophy and feng shui.

He often requested to give amnesty to criminals of the Shie Incident and so on and asked for pardon for Tadachika OKUBO, Masanori FUKUSHIMA, Tadanaga TOKUGAWA, and so on. It is said that this became a custom for Rinojinomiya to ask amnesty. It is said that he died at the age of 108 in 1643. He was given Jigen Daishi Go from the imperial court five years later.

A poem composed by Tenkai before his death is also known. A poem preached about good persons.

Be patient, do jobs completely, act demurely, eat less and be broad-minded.'

Coarse food, honesty, daily bath and Darani Sutra are good for longevity and you should often let out fart.'

His graveyard is located in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture.

"Kaneiji-ban (Tenkai ban) Daizokyo" that Tenkai began to compile was completed by the support of the bakufu in 1648.


Jigan-do (Otsu City)
- Mausoleum of Tenkai in Sakamoto (Otsu City)
- Mausoleum of Tenkai in Rinno-ji Temple

Anecdotes of Tenkai
Although there are few historical materials about the first half of his life, Tenkai enjoyed rare longevity and became a high priest enough to be given a title Daishi Go (great master). Tenkai was also a resourceful person and he impressed people with his felicitous remarks. Therefore, Tenkai had various anecdotes.

According to a report 'Uesugishoshi-shojo' submitted by the Uesugi family when the Tokugawa bakufu ordered Gaho HAYASHI to compile Zoku Honchotsugan (history book edited by Edo Bakufu), Tenkai watched the Battle of Kawanakajima in Shinano Province from the top of the mountain in 1554. Tenkai saw Shingen TAKEDA fought head-to-head with Kenshin UESUGI at that time, but Shingen later told him 'It was kagemusha (body double)'. However, this historical document has a lot of doubtful statements such as that Tenkai was 45 years old at that time and that Sadayuki USAMI whose existence was questionable was included in the 25 Uesugi commanders.

Tenkai became sick in Nagoya. Doctors went there from Edo, but their torches went off because of the heavy rain in Hakone. Then, it is said that a lot of foxes appeared and set a fox fire to illuminate the road.

One day, he received persimmons from Shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. When he finished eating persimmons, he packed their seeds and put them in his inseide pocket.
Iemitsu asked him what he would do with them, and he answered 'I will take them home and plant.'
Iemitsu made fun of him by saying 'what a useless thing for an old man who is almost 100 years old', then Tenkai replied that 'someone who rules over the whole country should not be so impatient.'
Several years later, Tenkai presented persimmons to Iemitsu.
It is said that when Iemitsu asked where they were from, Tenkai answered 'The seeds of the persimmons that I was given several years ago are in fruit.'

The museum that uses the keep of Osaka-jo Castle stores a body armor that is said to have worn by Tenkai.

Different opinion

A problem of Ashina theory is that it only has ambiguous grounds, and there is no evidence which relates Tenkai and Ashina clan, including personal connections. For example, the crest of the Ashina clan was 'three horizontal lines' in a circle, as they were originally from Miura clan. However, the crest (which can now be seen in Kita-in and Ryodaido in Ueno) used by Tenkai was 'Nihikiryomon' (the family crest of the Ashikaga family) and 'Rinpomon' (seven treasures that Tenrin Seio (notion of the ideal king) owns) and they were clearly different from that of the Ashina clan. Maruninihikiryomon' was the family crest of the Ashikaga family, but was also used by branch families (Shiba, Kira, Imagawa clans and so on) and the Toyama clan that originated from Mino Province. Rinpomon' was a crest that originated from the dharma-wheel (cakra) of Buddhism and was commonly used as decorations of temples and shrines. Samurai families such as the Miyake clan in Settsu Province and Mikawa Province used a crest called Miyake rinpo and the Kano clan and the Tsugaru clan also used it. Family crest is the same as family name and cannot be used regardless of one's origin. At least, it is doubtful that a high priest like Tenkai used family crests (even two types) that are not related to his origin.

Due to his ambiguities of his origin, there are theories written in novels, saying that Tenkai was a child of the 12th shogun, Yoshiharu ASHIKAGA, or that he was the same person as Mitsuhide AKECHI who killed Nobunaga ODA in the Honnoji Incident and committed suicide when he was attacked by natives who heisted lost samurai after the Battle of Yamasaki (it is usually based on a fact that there is a place named 'Akechidaira' in Nikko City where his graveyard exists). If Tenkai and Mitsuhide AKECHI were the same person, his age of death would be 116 and Tenkai was a little too old to be Mitsuhide AKECHI, but it is possible that he might have been close to him. According to the TV program which showed handwriting analysis of letters written by Tenkai and Mitsuhide, Tenkai was a different person from Mitsuhide, but several similar characters were seen and they were estimated to be close relatives, such as a parent and a child. And there are theories that Tenkai was Mitsuharu AKECHI, a cousin of Mitsuhide, or Hidemitsu AKECHI, an adopted son-in-law who was reported to have killed himself in Sakamoto-jo Castle after the Battle of Yamasaki or to have escaped over Lake Biwa on horseback.

There are several theories about Tenkai's age of death, but it was 135 at the maximum, and this leads another theory that both Mitsuhide and Hidemitu played the role of Tenkai.

[Original Japanese]