There are more historical figures connected to Ito than you might think. I have already written about Miura Anjin, but there is a person who was exiled to Ito about 350 years before Anjin built a sailing ship in Ito. Nichiren, the founder of the Nichiren sect.
I have already reported on Ikegami Honmonji, the place where Nichiren died, but soon after he began to teach and spread his beliefs, he was exiled to Izu in 1261 due to his "Rissho Ankokuron" which he submitted to the then Kamakura Shogunate. He remained here in Ito until he was pardoned in 1263. Nichiren claimed that the Lotus Sutra was the only correct sutra among the many Buddhist scriptures, and that natural disasters frequently occurred at the time because the shogunate did not ban the evil sects such as the Jodo sect which advocated rebirth through nembutsu instead of worshiping the Lotus Sutra. His criticism prompted the shogunate to sentence him to exile.
Legend has it that when Nichiren was exiled to Izu, he was stranded on a rock called "Manaita-iwa", which sinks into the sea at high tide, and was fortunately rescued by a fisherman named Yasaburo. Yasaburo was afraid of the severe treatment of the Jito, so he hid Nichiren deep in the rock cave where he usually kept his fishing gear. At this time, the Jito, Ito Sukemitsu (*), was suffering from a high fever, but when Nichiren prayed for him, he immediately recovered. Moved by this, Sukemitsu became a devotee of Nichiren and presented him with a standing statue of Shakyamuni that he had pulled from the sea in Ito. Nichiren practiced at a hermitage on the mountain behind Ito's residence, Bishamon-Do, until he was pardoned and returned to Kamakura two years later.
I recently visited the places related to Nichiren' s exile to Ito.
Manaita-iwa (photo above) still stands next to the beautiful but steep cliffs of Jogasaki and is bathed in the waves. Renchakuji Temple (meaning "the temple where Nichiren arrived") near Manaita-iwa was built in the 16th century by Imamura Wakasa-no-Kami, the lord of Ito under the Hojo clan, which ruled Izu at the time. A beautiful walk leads to a small temple called Okunoin right next to Manaita-iwa.
In Kawana, about 10 kilometers from Manaita-iwa, was the residence of Yasaburo, a fisherman who helped Nichiren. Renkei-ji Temple was built there, and Yasaburo and his descendants are buried in the temple cemetery for generations. At the site of the rock cave where Nichiren was hidden, there is a small hall carved out of the rock wall. It's down a steep slope from the temple, close to the coast.
On the site of the residence of Ito Sukemitsu where Nichiren was called to pray, in 1275 after Sukemitsu's death, his vassal Ayabe Masakiyo built Bukko-ji Temple for the salvation of Sukemitsu's soul. The grave of Sukemitsu is also located here. It is said that Nichiren was extremely pleased with the standing statue of Shakyamuni that Sukemitsu gave to Nichiren, and that he always carried the statue with him for the rest of his life. In the precincts of Bukko-ji Temple, there is Hexagonal-Shakado-Hall, which was built by descendants of the fisherman named Banzaemon who pulled the Buddha statue from the sea, hoping to convey the achievements of his ancestors for a long time. There are legends all over Japan about people picking up miraculous Buddha statues from the water, so it's hard to believe, but when you learn about the sincerity of these descendants, you start to feel that such things may have happened.
Descendants of Sukemitsu came to live in their territory in Kyushu, and through many twists and turns, continued to exist as daimyo of the Obi domain until the end of the Edo period. On the other hand, Sukemitsu's grandfather, Suketsune, was the arche enemy who was revenged by the Soga brothers. The story has become famous through numerous Kabuki plays, but since that story is also related to Ito, I would like to treat it in a separate section.
The hermitage where Nichiren lived in Ito was later taken care of by neighboring Nichiren sect temples as a place connected to Nichiren, but in the Meiji period it became an independent temple as Butsugen-ji. The Sanmon gate dates back to the end of the Edo period, and the current Bishamon-do Hall was built after World War II.
My family belongs to a Nenbutsu sect that Nichiren fiercely attacked as a cult, but like most Japanese people today, I do not have much faith in religion. I even wonder why people at that time of Nichiren entered the path of faith so enthusiastically.
If you read Nichiren's biography, you might think that because Nichiren caused miraculous things such as healing from illness and supernatural phenomena, people thought that following him would bring them benefits in this world. In the Jodo sect and Jodo Shinshu sect, which Nichiren called Nembutsu sects, this world is an "impure land" and the idea is to attain Buddhahood in the "Pure Land" by clinging to Amida Buddha. Thereby, no benefit is promised for this world. It is not impossible to understand that the promise of peace in the afterlife can be a source of salvation, when people have a really hard time in this world. On the other hand, Nichiren says that we must make this world better, and that we will attain Buddhahood in this world, so perhaps a miracle is necessary after all to attract people. It is similar to the various miracles that Christ performs in the Gospels of the New Testament.
A major difference between the Nichiren sect and other Buddhist sects is its strong rejection of sects that think differently from its own. A radical sect within the Nichiren sect is called the "Fuju-Fuse" group, which does not accept donations from non-believers of the Lotus Sutra and does not give memorial services to non-believers of the Lotus Sutra. The Nichiren Shoshu sect, which is a branch of the Nichiren sect, goes further and holds that Shakyamuni, the originator of Buddhism, was a temporary Buddha, and that Nichiren is the real Buddha in the present day of the Latter-day Law, and that Nichiren's teachings are more important than the Lotus Sutra. If you go that far, can you call it Buddhism? In any case, the Nichiren Shoshu believer group is Soka Gakkai, and the political party that sprang from it is Komeito. As someone who is not much religious, I feel a little uneasy about this.