Manpuku-ji was established in the year 744 by a priest named Gyogi, with its primary focus on the worship of three statues of the Buddha of healing.
Gyogi first became a priest at a state run temple and learned the Hosso-shu sect of Buddhism which is one of the six sects of Nara Buddhism known as the mind-only or consciousness-only school of Buddhism. He later ventured outwards doing missionary work, teaching Buddhism to common folk and the poor, traveling from village to village to build bridges, roads, ponds, drains. Travelling outside of one’s monastery to propagate Buddhism was strictly prohibited and Gyogi and his followers would later be persecuted by the government for this only later to be pardoned because of Gyogi’s popularity, and administrative skill in these public works he organized.
He became very interested in coastal areas continued public work projects in fisherman’s villages. It was during his seaside walks that he developed a keen interest in map making. In fact his maps gained so much acclaim Gyogi is widely considered the father of Japanese map making. Gyogi lives in history as a man of benevolence and chivalry.
The Creation of Manpuku-ji
Gyogi was summoned west by the government to aid with the construction of Todai-ji temple in Nara, the capital of Japan at the time. On his way, local fisherman pleaded him to construct a temple dedicated to the recovery from disease. So, before departing to the capital, his last contribution was to organize the construction of Manpuku-ji under the Shingon-shu sect of the temple Daigaku-ji in Kyoto.
At the time widespread sickness plagued the Kanto plains. Gyogi summoned his spiritual powers to carve a statue of the Yakushi-nyorai, the Buddha of healing. It was thought that worshipping this particular statue at Manpuku-ji would bring about the swift cure of disease and recovery from sickness.
Manpuku-ji’s Role in History
The sliding doors in the main temple
When a disagreement over the heir to the throne led to a disagreement between the Minamoto and Taira clans the Genpei War (1180-1185) broke out and victories in battles such as Ichi no Tani, and of Dan no Ura lead to the collapse of the Taira clan giving the Minamoto clan a stranglehold on the throne of Japan and paving the way for the creation of the Kamakura Shogunate. Though not the first shogun Minamoto no Yorimoto became the first shogun to enjoy nationwide power, and the rise of military/samurai power and suppression of the power of the emperor would last another 650 years until the Meiji Restoration.
After leading his clan to victory General in Chief Minamoto no Yoshitsune returned to the newly formed capital of Kamakura however a rift between himself and his brother, then a politician but later the first Kamakura Shogun Minamoto no Yorimoto, led to him being denied entry to Kamakura. Whether this rift was caused by Yorimoto failing to bestow Yoshitsune with honors or titles after Yoshitsune’s decisive military victory at the battle of Dan no Ura, or because Yoshitsune had been granted a high honor by retired Emperor Goshirakawa without Yoritomo’s approval, or just because Yorimoto suspected or feared his brother Yoshitsune would attempt to usurp his power is unclear.
Shocked by this refusal Yoshitsune retreated to Manpuku-ji at this point to write a letter to profess his loyalty to Yorimoto and thus the famous “Koshigoe Letter” was born setting off a chain of events that would lead to Yoshitsune’s eventual demise.