Fujii Sensho (藤井宣正)

Sensho FUJII (April 4, 1859 - June 6, 1903) was a Japanese religious figure and explorer. Sensho was used as a model for the main character of the novel 'Yashi no hakage' (In the Shade of Palm Trees) written by Toson SHIMAZAKI.

Career and profile

In 1859, Sensho was born as the second son of Senkai FUJII at Kosai-ji Temple in Motoyoita-mura, Mishima-gun, Echigo Province (the present Motoyoita, Yoita-machi, Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture). He studied at Niigata Prefectural Nagaoka High School, and then at Keio University, and moreover, he went to the Department of Philosophy at Tokyo Imperial University for the first time as a in-country exchange student from Nishi Hongan-ji Temple.

On graduating Tokyo Imperial University, he became a professor at Ryukoku University. He was regarded as an expert of Buddhist Studies at that time, and in 1891, he wrote 'Bukkyo Shoshi' (Brief History of Buddhism), which was the first complete history book on Buddhism in Japan. In 1892, he got married to Mizue, the first daughter of Jakuei INOUE in Iiyama. Mizue was so brilliant that she graduated with top honors in Nihon Eigakko (School of English of Japan) and published a book titled 'Kokoro no Tsuyu' (Tears Shed in Mind) and her parents' home was used as a model for Renge-ji Temple in 'Hakai' (The Broken Commandment) written by Toson SHIMAZAKI. Incidentally, the person who brought these two to marriage was Sumiko IRIE (later, the wife of Hirofumi ITO). And their wedding ceremony in the next year at Tokyo Byakurensha Kaido Hall was said to have been the first one held at a temple in Japan.

In 1897, he was dismissed as professor of Ryukoku University, and then he assumed the position as principal of Saitama Prefectural Urawa High School. In 1900, he was ordered by Hongan-ji Temple to go to London for a survey of religion and politics in Europe, and he came into contact with the latest trends in Buddhist art investigation at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was a substantial leader in the Otani Expedition, which was an academic investigation team organized from 1902 to 1904 by Kozui OTANI, the twenty-second chief priest of the True Pure Land sect Hongan-ji school. The team implemented investigation travel to Central Asia, India and Southeast Asia for three times to trace the propagation route of Buddhism. The team achieved good results, especially from the survey of the Silk Road, and they brought precious relics and old documents back to Japan. Of these activities, the most important one was the full-scale investigation, for the first time by Japanese, of the Ellora Caves and Ajanta Caves, both in India and well-known to the public.

His report, that covered a more than 200-day journey, was lost after it was sent to Japan, so their survey could not get an appropriate evaluation, but the situation of the team was suggested in Sensho's 'Indo Reiketsu Tanken Nikki' (Diary of Holy Cave Investigation in India). After finishing the survey, Sensho, who was born weak, had some intestinal troubles but devoted himself to the study and research there. Having a respite in his illness, he went abroad under orders to do research once again in 1903, and just before reaching London, he passed away in Marseille, France. He died at the age of 45. After his death, he was promoted to Kangaku, the highest academic rank in Hongan-ji Temple.

In 1904, Toson SHIMAZAKI published his novel 'Yashi no hakage' in a magazine 'Myojo,' modeled after Sensho's life. This novel is based on Sensho's picture postcards and his diary written during his journey, and Toson's lamentation over the young Buddhist priest, who sought the unknown and died lonely in a foreign land, overlaps with Toson's own poetic sentiment, which makes readers' empathy with the main character even stronger. Afterwards, Sensho's second daughter Tsurue got married to Tatsuyuki TAKANO.