Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben (公弁法親王)

Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben (September 16, 1669 - June 6, 1716) was a Buddhist monk of the Tendai Sect in the Edo period. He was Imperial Prince Takanomiya Hidenori, the sixth son and of the Emperor Gosai. After becoming a monk, his title became Cloistered Imperial Prince by Imperial proclamation.

In addition to becoming Monzeki (head priest of a temple who is a member of the Imperial Family) of Bishamon-do Temple, he successively served as the head priest of Mt. Nikko (Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Rinno-ji Temple) and Mt. Toei (Kanei-ji Temple). His court rank was Ippon (first rank of Imperial prince) Jusangu (the honorable rank after the three empresses). His go (pen names) were Shurei and Gendo. After he retired he called himself Daimyoin.

He learned calligraphy from Tsunenobu KANO and was known as a distinguished calligrapher.

Background

He was born in 1669 as the sixth son of Emperor Gosai. His mother was Rokujo no Tsubone (a daughter of Chishu, a monk of the Tendai Sect). She was also an adopted daughter of Dainagon (chief councilor) Sadanori ROKUJO.

In 1674, he became a disciple of Kokai (monk), the head priest of Izumo-ji Temple on Mt. Goho (Monzeki of Bishamon-do Temple) and vowed to follow the religious precepts.

In 1678, he entered into the priesthood seven days after he was given the title of Imperial Prince by Imperial proclamation and his title became Cloistered Imperial Prince.

In 1682, he was conferred the court rank of Nihon (the second court rank for an Imperial Prince).

In 1690, he was appointed as the Monzeki of Rinno-ji Temple and went to the Kanto region.

In 1692, he became Isshin-ajari (a special class of teaching priest) and received Kanjo (a ceremony to be the successor) at Mt. Toei.

In 1693, the court rank of Ippon was conferred upon him. He was appointed as Tendai-zasu (head priest of the Tendai sect). He was permitted to use gissha (an ox-drawn carriage) when entering the Imperial Palace.

In 1707, he became Jusangu.

In 1715, he resigned from all positions and entered into a secluded life at Bishamon-do Temple.

In 1716, he passed away. He was buried at Bishamon-do Temple.

Achievements

He strived to systemize the doctrine of the Tendai Sect, compile a book of discussion and construct a learning dormitory. The "Daishu Nihaku-dai" (two hundred problems of Tendai), which was compiled at the order of Koben, is still used today, and is seen as a precious and fundamental piece of religious literature. He suppressed the Tachikawa School of the Shingon Sect on the grounds that it was a false creed.

In order to make Mt. Nikko prosperous, he encouraged the development of industry in nearby villages.

During 1688 and 1704, he constructed Oshitsuen (御漆園, a lacquer tree field) at Mt. Nikko for the purpose of industrial development and promoted the planting of lacquer trees. Thanks to his efforts, lacquer ware production techniques, such as Nikko carving, Momiji-nuri (lacquer ware with maple leaf patterns) and Nikko Shunkei-nuri (Shunkei-nuri (a technique of applying transparent urushi lacquer over wood grain so the natural wood pattern shows through and was reportedly invented by a 14c lacquer master named Shunkei) ware produced in Nikko), were established and lacquer ware production was commercialized.

In 1698, he constructed a Buddha hall for the great Buddha Statue of Ueno which had been stood without a roof.

In the same year, he brought the method of ascetic practice in the Tachikawa School of the Shingon Sect to light, and ordered it to burn and destroy ritual instruments.

In response to a petition submitted by Ryoo DOKAKU, in 1703 he reconstructed kangakuryo (learning dormitory) on Mt. Toei, which had been destroyed by fire, as a Kangakukoin (a learning school) operated by bakufu (the Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

In 1711, he selected the Nikko Hakkei (eight most scenic spots in Nikko).

In 1714, he ordered Chishu of Gano-in Temple to compile a book of discussion and published "Daishu Nihaku-dai."

Episode Related to Genroku Ako Incident

According to "Tokugawa Jikki" (The official records of the Edo bakufu), Koben urged Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, then shogun, to order the Ako Roshi (lordless samurai of Ako clan) to commit seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) when the Genroku Ako Incident occurred in 1703.

As Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben was close to Tsunayoshi because his maternal aunt was a lady-in-waiting of Nobuko TAKATSUKASA, Tsunayoshi's legal wife, Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben was in a position to be consulted by Tsunayoshi even though he was far younger than Tsunayoshi.

After the Incident, Tsunayoshi was worried about the punishment to be imposed on the Ako Roshi because there was a conflict of opinion among the officials in the bakufu. When Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben paid a New Year's visit to Tsunayoshi on March 17, 1703, Tsunayoshi mentioned, while chatting, that he was worried about the punishment against the Ako Roshi. Though Tsunayoshi had already decided to order seppuku, he couldn't stop feeling that he wanted to save the lives of the Roshi. However, pardoning them would mean admitting his decision, in ordering only Takuminokami ASANO to commit seppuku, was unfair and if he did so in his position as shogun it could damage his authority. Under such circumstances, it seems that Tsunayoshi expected Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben to appeal for mercy and wanted to use such appeal as the reason for pardoning them. In that event, Tsunayoshi would be able to save the lives of the Roshi under the pretext of the Imperial family's request, without damaging his authority as shogun.

Though he was sympathetic to the Roshi's raid and had composed on February 20 of the same year a waka poem which praised the Roshi, at the time Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben gave non-committal responses to Tsunayoshi's remarks, and the issue was not directly addressed.

On March 20, Tsunayoshi inevitably informed the domains to which the Roshi were put of his decision and the Roshi committed seppuku on the same day.

When asked the reason why he didn't appeal for mercy, Cloistered Imperial Prince Koben said 'Since they achieved their aim, it is better for them to bequeath the lesson of their honor by committing seppuku rather than to live on polluted by the dirt of vulgarity.'
According to "Horibe Kanamaru Oboe-gaki" (a notebook of Kanamaru HORIBE), Yahe HORIBE (which Kanamaru HORIBE commonly called) tried, after the incident, to appeal to the bakufu through Rinnojinomiya (Koben) for the purpose of restoring their reputation. On these grounds some people assert that Rinno-ji Temple tried to avoid becoming involved in the conflict between the officials of the bakufu.

Other Episodes

When he was the chief priest of Kanei-ji Temple, he deplored that bush warblers in Ueno forest started to sing belatedly and their notes were not sweet. He then instructed Kenzan OGATA to send for 3,500 "early singing bush warblers" with sweet notes from Kyoto and let them free in Negishi no Sato Town. Thanks to this, bush warblers' notes in Negishi became sweeter and the area became a famous place called "Hatsune no Sato," a place where bush warblers start to sing first in Edo. The name of the place called Uguisudani (warblers' village) derives from the above episode.

As the land owned by Jindai-ji Temple, a branch temple of Kanei-ji Temple, was not suitable for rice farming because it was so infertile, kosakunin (tenant farmers) used to cultivate buckwheat and deliver it to the temple. When soba (buckwheat noodles) was served on the occasion of his visit to Jindai-ji Temple, Koben was pleased with it very much and thereafter he often took up soba as a topic of conversation in the shogun's residence. As a result, Jindai-ji soba became very famous and it became well-known across the nation as 'soba suitable as a present' because a lot of domains and families sent for Jindai-ji soba.

Around Negishi area, there are several long-established products, such as 'Sasanoyuki no tofu' (soybean curd of Sasanoyuki Tofu restaurant) and 'Chikuryuan no kogome daifuku' (Chikuryuan's soft rice cake including crashed rice stuffed with sweetened bean jam) which had associations with Koben.