Vol. 6, No.1 June 1995

Memorial Service for Mugai Nyodai

On Monday, November 28, 1994, a memorial service for the Zen abbess Mugai Nyodai (d.1298) was held by the monzeki convent of Hokyoji in Kyoto. The ceremony was a commemoration of the 700th anniversary of Nyodai’s death, held several years in advance of the actual anniversary at the request of Sawada Eisai, the current abbess of Hokyoji. In attendance were representatives of the eight other monzeki convents in the Kyoto area: Daishoji, Donge-in, Kosho-in, Rinkyuji, Reikanji, Sanji Chionji, Hoji-in and Jiju-in. The ceremony itself was performed by twenty monks affiliated with the nearby monastery of Shokokuji and consisted of a ritual perambulation of the Dharma Hall in conjunction with the recitation of the Surangama Dharani (Ryogonshu). The procession was led by Nagao Shunpo, one of the chief officers of Shokokuji. He was followed by representatives from various subtemples of Shokokuji, including Ejo Hozan of Shinnyoji, a temple originally founded by Nyodai-ni in memory of her Chinese teacher Wuxue Zuyuan (1226-1286).

After the dharani recitation, the monks and nuns offered incense in front of the altar while a small brazier and bowl of incense was circulated among the guests for the same purpose. The ceremony was followed by a vegetarian banquet.

The approximately thirty invited guests included lay supporters of the convent, local politicians and five Japanese and foreign scholars working on women in Japanese Buddhism. The Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies was represented by Professor Barbara Ruch and Anne Lazrove.

The nun Mugai Nyodai was one of the principal dharma successors of the Chinese emigré monk Wuxue Zuyuan, the founder of Engakuji. After Wuxue’s death, Nyodai-ni was active in Kyoto, where she founded the convent of Keiaiji. Keiaiji later became the highest ranking temple of the Five Mountain Convents (niji gozan) in the Kyoto area, although it is no longer in existence today. Hokyoji was founded in 1384 as a sub-temple of Keiaiji. A letter written by Mugai Nyodai was displayed next to the altar during the memorial service.

Hokyoji is one of the convents that has agreed to allow its archive to be catalogued as part of the Convent Archives Survey Project (see report that follows) being conducted under the joint auspices of Kokubungaku kenkyu shiryokan (National Institute of Japanese Literature) in Tokyo and the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies. The fieldwork is being supervised on the Japan side by Professors Komine Kazuaki of Rikkyo University and Ishikawa Rikizan of Komazawa University. On the American side, Anne Lazrove has been designated by the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies to be the point person. She will take part in the August 1995 survey. Microfilmed copies of all documents that are catalogued will be deposited at the Kokubungaku kenkyu shiryokan with photographic copies going to the IMJS archives. As was noted in the last issue of IMJS Reports, the Rekishi shiryo hensanjo (Historiographical Institute) of Tokyo University and the IMJS already possess photographed copies of some of the documents in the Hokyoji archives as well as some from Daishoji, another monzeki convent in Kyoto. They are currently being catalogued by IMJS Archives curator Yuiko Yampolsky and are being made available for study in situ by interested scholars.

-Anne Lazrove

Report on Imperial Buddhist Convent Survey

The Buddhist Convent Survey Project is one of the fruits of the research group “Josei to shinbutsu shinko” initiated by Barbara Ruch at the National Institute of Japanese Literature in Tokyo in the Spring of 1993.

The research group was to last, by definition, only during Barbara Ruch’s tenure at the National Institute. During that tenure, however, the convent research project was created as a permanent outgrowth of that initiative. It is funded by Japanese Ministry of Education funds through the National Institute and by Tides Foundation funds through the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies.

As is well known, Imperial Buddhist convent archives have been virtually unused in past and current research on pre-modern Japanese cultural and religious history. The reasons for this are various and will not be discussed here. The significant facts are that for roughly 2000 years almost all imperial and aristocratic women eventually became Buddhist nuns of one or another type until the practice was forbidden by the Meiji government in its attempt to separate Buddhism and Shinto practices. During those 2000 years the contribution of imperial and aristocratic women to the transformation of Buddhism into a Japanese faith was enormous. More relevant to researchers is the fact that imperial women brought a great wealth of artifacts and documents with them to convents and subsequently produced more while there. Imperial convent archives, therefore, are the richest of convent archives for historical research.

At the same time convents, unlike monasteries, are rarely open to the public and never seek the tourist trade. They are largely closed, private residents for women. In the case of imperial convents, their very existence has become tenuous because imperial women, since the nineteenth century, remain still unable, even should they wish it, to become Buddhist nuns. Current abbesses are now in their 90’s or have only remote links to the aristocracy, and most convents house only two or three nuns. Access for scholars has tended to be denied, not merely because until recently scholars were males, but also because researchers’ attitudes toward convents tended to be patronizing, academic, too insensitively secular, or otherwise unpleasant for the residents.

In view of the fast vanishing elderly population of these convents and the rich store of unsurveyed and uncatalogued documents and treasures, the need for the current project is clear. The recent devastating Kansai earthquake is a reminder of the irretrievable loss of precious Kamakura period Zen documents in Kamakura during the earthquake there many decades ago.

The current initiative was begun by gaining access to convents that look to Mugai Nyodai, the thirteenth century abbess of Keiaiji, as their founder, by seeking their help on research about her (recently published in both Japanese and English by Barbara Ruch). The convent survey project itself then began in the fall of 1993 at Daishoji and Hokyoji convents in Kyoto. New discoveries made there were reported on briefly in the April 1994 issue of IMJS Reports.

Since that time a formal structure has been set up to carry out the surveys indefinitely over the next decade. The National Institute of Japanese Literature staff member, Nakano Maori is the point person at the National Institute. The National Institute has appointed the following professors to be “Special Survey Researchers” (Tokubetsu chosa-in): Komine Kazuaki (Rikkyo University); Nishiguchi Junko (Soai University); Oka Keiko (Otemae Women’s University). The Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies will cover the costs of the following researchers: Ishikawa Rikizan (Komazawa University); Manabe Shunsho (Kanazawa Bunko); Katsuura Noriko (Tokyo Women’s University) and Anne Lazrove (Yale University).

Microfilming sessions will be undertaken once or twice a year and will be done by the professional company, Korakudo of Kyoto with costs borne by the National Institute.

Anne Lazrove is coordinating our current discussions on computerizing survey results both in Japan and in New York.

In December of 1994 the team of Komine, Nishiguchi and Oka surveyed about two hundred wa hon at Hokyoji . In January 1995 Komine, Oka, and Ishikawa surveyed about half of Hokyoji documents and diaries finding much of value that is scheduled for microfilming in August. In August of 1995 the next survey session at Hokyoji will take place and a report will be forthcoming from Anne Lazrove on her return.

– Barbara Ruch


The Japanese Religion Group (JRG) will present the following sessions at the November 18-21 AAR Meeting in Philadelphia:

Japanese Buddhism & Modernism
Saturday, November 18, 3:45 – 6:15 pm
Panelists: Michiko Yusa, William LaFleur, Chris Ives, Yoshiharu Tomatsu, Paula Arai, Paul Watt.

Special Meeting: The Aum Cult
Saturday, November 18, 8:30 – 10:30 pm
features a video on Aum Shinrikyo edited by Richard Gardner and a discussion by Richard Gardner and William LaFleur.

Identity in a Sea of Change: Zen Buddhism from Tokugawa to Meiji
Sunday, November 19, 9 – 11 am
Panelists: John Maraldo, Griff Foulk, Michel Mohr, Dennis Lishika, Janine Sawada, Martin Collcutt.

The JRG Committee is comprised of Steven Heine, Chair; Byron Earhart, Elizabeth Harrison, Victor Sogai, and Sybil Thornton.

For information contact Steven Heine by e-mail at sxh23 [at] psuvm.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-3403.

[ Volume 6 of IMJS Reports was compiled by Sanjiv S. Desai ]