Nichiren Shōshū ［日蓮正宗］: Literally, “Nichiren Correct school.” One of the Nichiren schools, whose head temple is Taiseki-ji in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. This school regards Nichiren as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law and recognizes his teaching of “sowing” implicit in the “Life Span” (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. After Nichiren’s death, under fierce pressures from the shogunate, many of Nichiren’s disciples professed themselves to be followers of the long-established Tendai school, but Nikkō and his group never compromised, adhering to Nichiren’s teachings and practices. Nikkō then established a center for Nichiren’s teachings at the foot of Mount Fuji. Hence, the group of Nikkō’s followers came to be called the Nikkō school or the Fuji school.
In 1876 eight major temples in the line of Nikkō and his disciples, including Taiseki-ji, united as one group and called themselves the Nikkō branch of the Nichiren school. In 1899 this group was renamed the Essential Teaching (Hommon) school. The next year, however, Taiseki-ji became independent of the Essential Teaching school, taking the name Fuji branch of the Nichiren school. In 1912 they changed their name to Nichiren Shōshū.
Nichiren Shōshū regards Nichiren as its founder and Nikkō as his rightful successor. Nikkō lived up to the mission Nichiren entrusted to him of widely propagating his teachings. He established Taiseki-ji when he found it no longer possible to preserve Nichiren’s teachings purely at Kuon-ji temple, Minobu. Minobu had fallen under the influence of another of Nichiren’s senior disciples, Nikō, and the steward of the area, Hakiri Sanenaga, who together had rejected and subverted certain essential elements of Nichiren’s doctrine. Nikkō tried to preserve Nichiren’s original writings, making copies by hand, and designated among them the ten major writings he deemed most important. At the same time, he devoted himself to propagating Nichiren’s teachings.
In 1333 Nichimoku, who succeeded Nikkō as the chief priest of Taiseki-ji, died while on his way to Kyoto to submit a letter of remonstration to the emperor. Nichigō, who had accompanied him, claimed a portion of the land of Taiseki-ji. This resulted in a conflict that lasted some seventy years and led to Taiseki-ji’s decline. Later Nichiu (1402–1482), the ninth chief priest, contributed to the restoration of the temple, repairing its buildings and educating the priests. Nichikan (1665–1726), the twenty-sixth chief priest, worked to restore rigorous observance of Nichiren’s teachings at Taiseki-ji. He is noted for his clear analysis of and commentaries on Nichiren’s works and teachings.
In 1930 the Soka Kyōiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society) was inaugurated by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi (1871–1944) and Jōsei Toda (1900–1958), who had converted to Nichiren Shōshū. From the early 1930s through the Second World War, imperial Japan tried to unify the people with State Shinto as the spiritual backbone of wars it fought and the Peace Preservation Law of 1925 as the means for thought control. Under this system, the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood complied with the militarist government’s command to incorporate Shinto worship, which Makiguchi refused despite the urging of the priesthood. As a result, charged with violation of the Peace Preservation Law and with lese majesty against the emperor and his ancestral god, twenty-one top leaders of the society were arrested and imprisoned. Most of them abandoned their faith and renounced their association with Makiguchi and Toda. Makiguchi upheld his faith and died in prison in 1944. His disciple, Toda, also remained steadfast and was finally released on parole just before the end of the war. He then embarked on the reconstruction of their lay Buddhist movement, which he renamed Soka Gakkai (Value-Creating Society), and of Nichiren Shōshū, which had been left destitute.
In the ensuing years, the Soka Gakkai grew into a substantial worldwide movement with a membership of several million. The priesthood of Nichiren Shōshū, however, found itself ill-prepared to deal with an active and socially engaged membership body of this scale. Its 67th chief priest, Nikken, sought to disband the organization and bring its membership directly under his control. The Soka Gakkai resisted this plan and was excommunicated in 1991 by Nikken. Contrary to Nikken’s aims, however, the Soka Gakkai continued to grow and flourish after the excommunication. Nichiren Shōshū maintained a posture of appealing to Soka Gakkai members to leave the organization and directly believe in and support the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood. To do so, they promulgated a doctrine ascribing to their chief priest certain unique and special powers and implied that he alone was the living equivalent of Nichiren. The Soka Gakkai held that this doctrine had nothing to do with the teachings of Nichiren, the spiritual founder of both groups, and thus constituted a misrepresentation of his teachings. See also Soka Gakkai; Taiseki-ji.