Atsuhara Persecution ［熱原の法難］ ( Atsuhara-no-hōnan): A series of threats and acts of violence against followers of Nichiren in Atsuhara Village, in Fuji District of Suruga Province, Japan, over a period of three years, beginning in earnest in 1278. Around 1275, after Nichiren had taken up residence at Mount Minobu, propagation efforts in the Fuji area began under the leadership of Nichiren’s disciple Nikkō. At Ryūsen-ji, a temple of the Tendai school in Atsuhara, Nikkō converted several of the younger priests, who in turn converted a number of local farmers.
Alarmed at the defection of priests and lay supporters, Gyōchi, a lay priest and a member of the ruling Hōjō clan who acted as the deputy chief priest of the temple, demanded that the priests Nisshū, Nichiben, and Nichizen, who had converted, discard their belief in Nichiren’s teachings. When they refused, Gyōchi ordered them to leave the temple. Nichizen returned to his home, but the other two remained at the temple and redoubled their propagation efforts. Having failed to shake the conviction of those priests, Gyōchi turned his attention to the lay believers. He enticed the samurai Ōta Chikamasa and Nagasaki Tokitsuna as well as other followers of Nichiren to renounce their faith and join forces with him in intimidating Nichiren’s believers among the peasantry. In the fourth month of 1279, Shirō, a lay follower of Nichiren, was attacked and wounded during an archery contest at a local shrine, and in the eighth month another believer named Yashirō was beheaded. Gyōchi’s group tried to attribute the offenses to Nichiren’s followers, including Nisshū and Nichiben.
On the twenty-first day of the ninth month, twenty farmers, all believers, were helping to harvest the rice crop from Nisshū’s private fields when they were arrested for allegedly stealing rice from the fields of Ryūsen-ji. During the arrest the farmers resisted, and the priest Daishin-bō, one of the group harassing them, was thrown from his horse and died. Ōta Chikamasa and Nagasaki Tokitsuna, who had joined in this effort to oppress the farmers, also lost their lives. Gyōchi filed charges with the Kamakura shogunate against the arrested believers, and their case was presided over by Hei no Saemon, a chief retainer of the ruling Hōjō clan. Ignoring a document of vindication from Nisshū and others, drafted on their behalf by Nichiren and Toki Jōnin, the officer had them imprisoned and tortured at his private residence, urging them to recant. Not one of them yielded. Eventually he had three of them executed—the brothers Jinshirō, Yagorō, and Yarokurō. The date of their execution was the fifteenth day of the tenth month (the eighth day of the fourth month, 1280, according to another account). The other seventeen were banished from Atsuhara. Nichiren was deeply moved by the unyielding devotion of these ordinary farmers who had neither education nor social power. This event opened the way to Buddhism in which ordinary people are not mere believers but active players.