Kakure Nenbutsu (隠れ念仏)

Kakure Nenbutsu (Hidden Buddhist Invocation) refers to the individuals or groups of people who secretly practiced or believed in the Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) (Ikko Sect), which was banned by powerful rulers.

The Jodo Shinshu Sect was suppressed in the former Satsuma and Hitoyoshi domains of southern Kyushu for over 300 years, but remnants of these religious practices can still be observed.

Additionally, there were secret religions such as Kayakabe-kyo Religion that syncretized with Shintoism, but this generally refers to the Hongan religious group and those who protected the main teachings of the Jodo Shinshu Sect. It is believed to be different from Kakushi Nenbutsu (secret Buddhist invocation) of the Tohoku (northeastern Japan) region.

The Start of Oppression

The Jodo Shinshu Sect was first banned by the Hitoyoshi domain in or around 1555. The Satsuma domain started to ban the sect in 1597. The reason is believed that they were told of the status of Kaga Ikko ikki Revolt (an uprising by followers of the Ikko Sect in Kaga) and Ishiyama War, and they feared the Ikko Sect. Thus the ban was in place for more than 300 years.

The Burning of Buddhist Tools

They confiscated Buddhist monuments and tools from the believers of the Jodo Shinshu Sect and disposed of them by burning. There is a historic spot left in Yanase, Sagara Village, Kuma District, Kumamoto Prefecture, where the Buddhist monuments and tools were burned.

Torture and Execution

A form of torture called 'Ishidaki' (Cradling Rock) was performed in the Satsuma domain. They forced the victim to sit upright with legs folded atop a triangular woodcut, and shake his body back and forth after placing 30-kilogram flat stones 30 centimeters wide, a meter long and 10 centimeters thick onto his lap, piled up one by one. Once there were five stones, the bones of the leg would break, which sometimes led to death. This torture was performed on Ikko Sect believers as well as Christians and those who had killed their masters.

Additionally, there was a civil punishment where they threw the believer into a waterfall and poked him with bamboo, whereby the person would be held underwater until he drowned.

The 'Yoneyama no kubizuka' (burial mound for heads in Mt. Yone) remains in Kawaramachi Town, Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture. It has been said to be the kubizuka of a person called Densuke, who had organized the Ko (monk and believer gathering) of the Jodo Shinshu sect. Densuke was on his way to submit shinokin (money for admission fee) to Hongan-ji Temple in Kyoto from his district but was betrayed and caught; he was beheaded, and his head was displayed at the prison gate. Washichiro AKIYAMA, who was the favored disciple of Densuke, stole the head and buried it on his land, and this is now said to be his kubizuka.

The End of Suppression

Haibutsu Kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism) was performed in Satsuma in 1868. It was extreme to the extent that buildings designated as temples were destroyed or transformed into Shinto shrines. The banning of the Jodo Shinshu Sect was abolished in 1876, but since the Seinan War started the actual lifting of the ban came later. It was the same in the former Hitoyoshi domain.

After the actual lifting of the ban on the Jodo Shinshu Sect, Hongan-ji School of Jodo Shinshu Sect propagated rapidly and Kagoshima Prefecture became filled with followers of Jodo Shinshu Sect as a result. However, there were various aspects of discord within the network, chiefly between the temples managed by the head temple, which was formed after the ban was lifted, and Kakure Nenbutsu.

The Network of Ko

The Jodo Shinshu Sect had maintained a systematic network called 'Ko' since the time of Rennyo. There was a system of Ko that supported the 'Kakure Nenbutsu' belief, which had been practiced in the underground for 300 years. Ko was systemized as the leader called 'Banyaku' (the role of a guard) without respect for the social class, and was connected to the head temple of Hongan-ji Temple through 'Toritsugiyaku' (the role of a negotiator).

Kakure Nenbutsu-do Cave

The believers of the Jodo Shinshu Sect performed gatherings called Hoza in caves within the mountain with this kind of Ko organization. After World War II, this cave became known as Kakure Nenbutsu-do. Additionally, there were activities called Nukemairi (escape and worship) that involved traveling across the domain border to visit the Jodo Shinshu Sect's temple of the domain, where the religious practices were allowed and performed. There is Satsuma Beya (the room of Satsuma) left in Genko-ji Temple of Hongan-ji School, the Jodo Shinshu sect in Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture. It was a place of hiding, away from view by society, for the followers of the Ikko Sect who had escaped from Satsuma.

The Camouflage of Religious Practices

It is known that Christians camouflaged their religious practices such as with the 'Maria' (Virgin Mary) Kannon, but Kakure Nenbutsu also protected their religion with various forms of camouflage. The wooden standing statue of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha), portrait of Saint Shinran, and the Six-Name Title (Namu Amidabutsu (a single, sincere call upon the name of Amida)), which were the evidence of the believer of Jodo Shinshu sect, were supposed to be protected while hidden. Among the various forms of camouflage, there were Kasabotoke (Umbrella Buddha) (the hanging scroll with the portrait of Shinran was stored within a container shaped as an umbrella) and Manaita Hotoke (cutting-board Buddha) (the hanging scroll with the principle image was stored within a thin wooden box shaped like a cutting board).

There were hidden Buddhist altars created in the Kawabe region that looked like chests of drawers (stored in Kagoshima Betsu-in, Higashi Hongan-ji Temple). They referred to caves as gama (toads) in Kagoshima, and it is said that the characteristic of 'Kakushi butsudan' (hidden Buddhist altar) is strongly left within the gama-shaped Kawabe Butsudan.

Furthermore, there were disciples who cut their ties with the head temple during periods of suppression, such as the Kayakabe-kyo Religion, and went on the independent path by fusing with Shinto and Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts).

Escape and Disperse

The followers of the Ikko Sect of southern Kyushu didn't resist, acting in a manner similar to the 'Ikki' (uprising) performed by followers of Hokuriku (northern Japan). Instead, they abandoned the land and escaped in groups as 'Chosan' or 'Kakeochi' (escape and disappear). Chosan occurred in various areas just to escape the difficulties of life, but in Satsuma it had the purpose of saving the Nenbutsu belief by escaping to the neighboring domain, which permitted the Nenbutsu worship. There was an incident in 1798 in which 2800 men and women escaped to the estate of the adjacent Obi domain from the estate of the Satsuma domain. It has been said that the Obi domain, which lacked labor strength, was secretly involved in this.
The Obi domain dealt with escaping farmers by forming the bugyo (magistrate) positions of 'Kakeochi Gyoko' and 'Chosan Gyoko.'

The Remains of Kakure Nenbutsu

Kazuo INAMORI, who was born in Kagoshima Prefecture and is a chairperson emeritus of Kyocera, described the Kakure Nenbutsu religious practices he experienced when he was a child in his autobiography, 'Ikikata' (The Way of Living).