Tatsunokuchi Persecution ［竜の口の法難］ ( Tatsunokuchi-no-hōnan): An unsuccessful attempt to execute Nichiren at Tatsunokuchi on the western outskirts of Kamakura in Japan in the ninth month of 1271. It is described in Nichiren’s works The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra and The Letter of Petition from Yorimoto. From early in 1271 Japan had been suffering a drought, and the shogunate ordered the priest Ryōkan of Gokuraku-ji temple to pray for rain. Nichiren sent him a challenge, stating that if Ryōkan’s prayers could produce rain in seven days he would become Ryōkan’s disciple, but if Ryōkan failed he should become Nichiren’s disciple. Ryōkan accepted the challenge, but failed to produce rain even after fourteen days of prayer he offered with several hundreds of priests; instead, fierce gales arose. Humiliated, he ignored his promise and began using his influence among the wives and widows of top shogunate officials to make accusations against Nichiren. As a result, Nichiren was summoned for interrogation by the deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs, Hei no Saemon, on the tenth day of the ninth month, 1271. Nichiren took the opportunity to remonstrate with Hei no Saemon, predicting the outbreak of internal strife and foreign invasion if the rulers punished him unlawfully.
On the twelfth day of the ninth month, two days later, Hei no Saemon and a group of warriors rushed to Nichiren’s dwelling at Matsubagayatsu and arrested him. Around midnight, Nichiren was taken by Hei no Saemon’s men to the execution grounds on the beach at Tatsunokuchi.
As the party passed the shrine of the god Hachiman, Nichiren requested that he be given a moment. His request was granted, and he turned to address the deity of the shrine. Nichiren reprimanded Hachiman for failing to protect him, saying that he was the votary of the Lotus Sutra, whom Hachiman had vowed to protect in the presence of Shakyamuni Buddha. He also sent a messenger to Shijō Kingo, a samurai who was a staunch believer and supporter; Kingo hurried to Nichiren’s side, determined to die with him. After they reached the execution site, just before dawn on the thirteenth day, at the moment Nichiren was about to be beheaded, a luminous object shot across the sky, brightly illuminating the surroundings. Terrified, the soldiers called off the execution. Nichiren was then placed in custody at the Echi (about twenty kilometers from Tatsunokuchi) residence of Homma Shigetsura, deputy constable of the island province of Sado, for about one month. On the tenth day of the tenth month, 1271, he was sent into exile on Sado. Reflecting on the event, he wrote in The Opening of the Eyes: “On the twelfth day of the ninth month of last year . . . this person named Nichiren was beheaded. It is his soul that has come to this island of Sado” (269), and later in Letter to Misawa, “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). This is interpreted by Nichikan, the twenty-sixth chief priest of Taiseki-ji temple, to mean that the ordinary person Nichiren ceased to exist after the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, but the Buddha Nichiren went to Sado alive. Hence Nichiren asserts, the teachings he had expounded before his exile to Sado should be regarded not as true but provisional. This process has been described as Nichiren’s “casting off the transient and revealing the true” ( hosshaku-kempon), i.e., discarding his transient status and revealing his true identity.