To-ji Choja (東寺長者)
To-ji Choja is the chief abbot of To-ji Temple (Kyoogokoku-ji Temple), and acts as its manager and Kami (director). To-ji Choja is the highest-ranking authority of the Shingon sect. To-ji Choja is simply called Choja as an official name, but Choja is often called To-ji Choja because Choja is confused with uji no choja (the head of the clan). The first To-ji Choja was Jichie (also pronounced Jitsue).
Jichie was appointed as the first To-ji Choja in 836, according to the goyuigo (will) of Kukai, who established the Shingon sect. However, the Shingon sect and To-ji Temple now consider Kukai as the first To-ji betto (head priest of To-ji Temple). This derives from the fact that Emperor Saga bestowed To-ji Temple (then under construction) on Kukai on March 9, 823, and appointed him as the chief of the construction department of To-ji Temple. Considering that the role of To-ji Choja is to be in charge of the maintenance, management and improvement of To-ji Temple, which Kukai left, it is not at all wrong to consider the chief of the construction department of To-ji Temple as the forerunner of To-ji Choja and to consider Kukai, who helped construct the To-ji Temple, as the first To-ji betto.
Subsequently, Choja were selected from the priests of the Shingon sect, and a custom was later established for the emperor to appoint Choja from monzeki (a priest of a temple in which resided a member of nobility or the Imperial Family) of noble birth of four temples (the Ninna-ji Temple, Daikaku-ji Temple, Kaju-ji Temple and Daigo-ji Temple (Sanbo-in)). Since 919, when Kangen also acted as the head priest (betto) of Kongobu-ji Temple, which due to rivalry hadn't long recognized To-ji choja and his authority, the authority of To-ji Choja was considerably strengthened. To-ji Choja then acted as the Great Ajari for Shichinichi no Mishiho (seven days' secret ceremony of severe prayer), and started to strengthen its role as a representative of the sect.
One person was originally appointed as To-ji Choja, but the number of To-ji Choja was increased to two in 843, three in 895 and four in 969.
The highest-ranked Choja was called Ichi no Choja (the highest-ranked chief abbot of the temple) or Ichi no Ajari (a highest-ranked master in Esoteric Buddhism; or the highest-ranked priest), and called himself the jimu (chief priest of Toji-dera kanzu)
However, in 872 a custom was established for him to double as the homu, who was in charge of Sogo, or the Office of Monastic Affairs. The appointment system was abolished during the Meiji Restoration, and later its status was lowered due to the separation of the schools of the Shingon sect. However, Choja is still revered by people as the supreme leader of the To-ji Shingon sect.
To-ji Choja Bunin (records of the To-ji Choja (the chief abbot of To-ji Temple))
It is said that there existed "Ningai Sojo Jihitsu Choja Shidai" (the records of the To-ji Choja (chief abbot of To-ji Temple), self-written by Ningai Sojo (the high-ranking Buddhist priest)) in the middle of the eleventh century. The oldest extant one, however, is two volumes of "To-ji Choja Bunin (records of the To-ji Choja (the chief abbot of To-ji Temple)," which Kanshin, the thirty-seventh Choja, completed in 1145 over a period of 20 years. The records describe the dates of appointments, secular surnames, masters, disciples and chronological records of the respective Choja since Kukai. There is also "To-ji choja Narabini Koya Kengyo To Shidai" (records of the To-ji Choja (the chief abbot of To-ji Temple), Koya Kengyo and Others), by an unknown author and compiled in or around 1243, describing the masters, disciples, titles, secular surnames, Jingen and kinichi (death anniversaries) of past Choja up to Gonkai, the fifty-fifth Choja. Subsequently, in about 1360, Goho compiled five volumes of "To-ji Choja Bunin" (records of the To-ji Choja (the chief abbot of To-ji Temple)). This contains a detailed history of To-ji Temple as well as the masters, disciples, titles, secular surnames, Jingen and kinichi (death anniversaries) of past Choja, and was used for many years as the basic historical record of To-ji Temple. Additionally, information up to 1635 was added to the original version written by Goho. On the other hand, because the original version written by Goho had become too unwieldy, a more convenient abridged version of "To-ji Choja Bunin" Volume 1, covering up to 1367, was also compiled.