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Hei no Saemon

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Hei no Saemon 平左衛門 (d. 1293)

Also known as Taira no Yori-tsuna or by his full name and title, Hei no Saemon-no-joYoritsuna. (Hei is another pronunciation of the character for Taira.) A leading official of the Hojoregency, the de facto ruling body of Japan during the Kamakura period. He served two successive regents, HojoTokimune and HojoSada-toki, and wielded tremendous influence as deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs (the chief being the regent himself). He collaborated with Ryokan and other leading priests to persecute Nichiren and his followers.

In 1268, when the first envoy from the Mongol empire arrived to demand that Japan pay tribute or face invasion, Nichiren sent letters to Hei no Saemon and ten other leading political and religious figures. In these letters he reminded them that his prediction of foreign invasion made eight years earlier in his work On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land was about to be fulfilled, and requested a public religious debate.

All ignored his request.On the tenth day of the ninth month in 1271, Hei no Saemon summoned Nichiren to court to answer accusations against him. Nichiren refuted these charges and again requested a public debate, asserting that ruin would overtake the country if the government punished him unreasonably. His words enraged the official. On the twelfth day of the same month, leading a company of armed men, Hei no Saemon rode to Matsubagayatsu in Kamakura and arrested Nichiren. Maneuvering to do away with him, Hei no Saemon had his men take Nichiren that night to the execution ground in Tatsunokuchi. Their attempt to behead him failed, however, and Nichiren was exiled to the island of Sado.

Nichiren stayed there for nearly two and a half years until he was pardoned and left for Kamakura in the third month of 1274. On the eighth day of the next month, Hei no Saemon again summoned him to ask on behalf of the regent about the impending Mongol invasion. Nichiren replied that it would take place within the year and repeated his warnings, which again went unheeded; thereafter Nichiren left Kamakura.

In 1279 Gyochi, the deputy chief priest of Ryusen-ji temple, plotted to have twenty peasant-believers in Nichiren's teachings arrested at Atsuhara in Suruga Province. Gyochi made false accusations against them, and they were brought to Hei no Saemon's residence in Kamakura. There without investigating the charges, Hei no Saemon tried to force them to recant, eventually beheading three of them as a warning to the others.

In 1284, two years after Nichiren died, HojoSadatoki became regent and Hei no Saemon became steward to the main family of the Hojoclan. He arranged the death of Adachi Yasumori, who sat on the regent's council, and seized the reins of power for himself. His influence at one point surpassed even that of the regent. In 1293, however, Hei no Saemon was attacked by the forces of HojoSadatoki on the charge of attempted revolt, and Hei no Saemon and his second son Sukemune killed themselves. The eldest son Munetsuna was exiled to Sado Island.