Sado Exile ［佐渡流罪］ ( Sado-ruzai): The exile of Nichiren to Sado Island in the Sea of Japan from 1271 through 1274. The priest Ryōkan of Gokuraku-ji temple in Kamakura was challenged by Nichiren to a contest praying for rain. But when Ryōkan’s prayers failed to have an effect, he spread false rumors about Nichiren, using his influence with the wives and widows of high government officials. This led to Nichiren’s confrontation with Hei no Saemon, deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs of the Kamakura shogunate, who arrested him and maneuvered to have him executed at Tatsunokuchi. The execution attempt failed, however, and Nichiren was then confined for nearly a month at the residence in Echi, on the mainland, of Homma Rokurō Saemon, the deputy constable of the island province of Sado. Finally the shogunate ordered Nichiren exiled to the island.
On the tenth day of the tenth month, 1271, Nichiren was taken by Homma’s warriors from Echi to Sado. They reached Sado on the twenty-eighth day of the tenth month in winter, and, on the first day of the eleventh month, arrived at Tsukahara. Nichiren’s quarters were a dilapidated shrine called Sammai-dō in the middle of a graveyard. Exposed to the wind, snow fell in through gaping holes in the roof. Nichiren stayed there for nearly half a year. On the sixteenth day of the first month, 1272, Nichiren debated with several hundred priests of other Buddhist schools who had assembled in the field before Sammai-dō. His impressive victory in what became known as the Tsukahara Debate won a number of converts to his teachings. The next day, Benjō of the Pure Land (Jōdo) school returned to debate further, only to be refuted. A record of their debate exists, signed by both Nichiren and Benjō. In the second month, Nichiren’s prediction of internal strife came true when Hōjō Tokisuke, an elder half brother of the regent, attempted to seize power. Battles broke out in Kyoto and Kamakura between factions of the ruling Hōjō family. In the fourth month, Nichiren was transferred to the residence of the lay priest Ichinosawa at Ichinosawa on Sado.
While on Sado, Nichiren won many converts, inscribed the object of devotion of his teaching (the Gohonzon) for individual believers, maintained frequent correspondence with his followers on the mainland, and wrote a number of treatises. The most important of these are The Opening of the Eyes, completed in the second month of 1272, and The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind, written in the fourth month of 1273. The former reveals the concept traditionally called “casting off the transient [status] and revealing the true [identity]” ( hosshaku-kempon), meaning that he disclosed his true identity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. In Letter to Misawa, he wrote, “As for my teachings, regard those before my exile to the province of Sado as equivalent to the Buddha’s pre-Lotus Sutra teachings” (896).
On the eighth day of the third month in 1274, a government official arrived at Sado Island with a pardon. Nichiren left Ichinosawa on the thirteenth day of the third month and returned to Kamakura on the twenty-sixth day of the third month.