Ryōnen, Dōgen's First Female Disciple

Maruyama Sensei


Maruyama Kōgai (丸山郊外) was born in 1946 in Gunma Prefecture.  She graduated from Waseda University, and then went on to receive her graduate degree from the Sōtō Zen affiliated Komazawa University. She is a nun in the Sōtō Zen tradition, who ordained relatively late in life, at the age of 36.[1] She completed her monastic training at Aichi Senmon Nisōdō (愛知専門尼僧堂), the all women’s monastery in Nagoya. She received dharma transmission (shihō,司法) from Suigan Yōgo Roshi, the former abbot of Sōjiji. Yōgo Roshi was also the head instructor (shike 師家) at Nisōdō for twenty years, and is known in America for his tutelage of Jiyu Kennet, the first Western woman to practice in a Japanese monastery. Maruyama Sensei is a research fellow at the Sōtōshu Institute for General Research (曹洞宗総合研究所). She has written widely on a variety of Buddhist topics, including a book focusing on Chinese Zen masters. However, her most common topic is the history of Sōtō Zen nuns, in particular Ryōnen, Dōgen Zenji’s (1200-1253) first female disciple.
Despite the popularity of Zen in the West and contemporary scholarship’s recent turn towards women’s history in Japan, there is surprisingly little written about women in Sõtõ Zen. Paula Arai's work, and in particular her book Women Living Zen, stands out as one of the the only full-length scholarly books on Sōtō Zen nuns in English to date. While a valuable contribution to the field, painting a vivid picture of the lives of contemporary nuns, this book is mostly anthropological fieldwork, with one chapter on the history of nuns. Because of this, there remain many questions about nuns in Sōtō Zen history for practitioners and scholars alike. A sloppy (and far too common) scholarly take on the history of women in Sōtō Zen is simply that there were none, or that there were so few in positions of authority throughout history that they do not deserve study, or that their relatively small number indicates that they were diminished by oppressive patriarchal conditions.
Careful attention to detail, however, reveals many women in the history of Sōtō Zen, albeit women whose lives are obscured by a lack of historical sources. It is well known that Dōgen had female disciples, but we do not know conclusively what kind of roles they held. We also know that Dōgen had female donors, but I have found no comprehensive study in English of Dōgen’s female donors. It is also important not to correlate a community’s size with its importance or historical significance; at the time of Arai’s study in 1999, she estimated that there were only 1000 Sōtō Zen nuns, with 52% born before 1928.[2] Stephen Covell indicates that there were 16,643 Sōtō Zen “priests” (the sect does not record gender) in 2005.[3] If both of these figures are true, it means that women made up about 6% of all Japanese Sōtō clergy (I have heard anecdotally from nuns that the number is lower, around 3%. This is perhaps because many of the nuns born before 1928 have died in the time since Arai’s study in the 1990’s). Taking a very cursory look back through history, in the medieval period as well there seem to be only a few Sōtō convents. For example, Ushiyama Yoshiyuki lists Jōjūji and Hōji in Kaga Province and Entsuin in Noto Province as the only three Sōtō convents in a comprehensive study of medieval Buddhist convents; by comparison, there were forty-three Rinzai Zen convents and twenty-two Ritsu convents.[4] All these figures would indicate that Sōtō Zen nuns comprise and have comprised an extremely small percentage of the overall Buddhist clergy since the medieval period (obviously a very long time has elapsed between the medieval period and today; much more research is needed about Zen nuns in all historical periods. This research is difficult for reasons I explain below).
While this number seems small, it is important to note that today, Sōtō Zen nuns are actually the largest group of female monastics in Japan. Unlike other Buddhist sects, which declined throughout the Tokugawa and Meiji period, Sōtō Zen has survived and spread. It also now flourishes in the United States and Europe. While Sōtō Zen nuns make up only a small percentage (3%-6%) of Sōtō clergy, they still account for the largest group of contemporary Japanese Buddhist nuns.[5] There is a great hunger among contemporary Sōtō nuns to understand their history, and to claim a place in the history of Japanese Buddhism. We can understand Maruyama’s research as arising from this context.
Regardless of the numbers, though, I believe it is crucial not to try to quantify something like importance, meaning, or significance (demographics are quantifiable, but something like “significance” is not). In his essay on the ethics of studying Asian cultures as a Westerner, Donald Davis proposes that in order to avoid the trap of Orientalism, scholars “care first, learn from, and connect histories.” Learning “from” a culture, rather than “about” it indicates that the researcher allows his or her own epistemological standpoint to be tempered and perhaps even collapsed by the research subject:
The effort I put in to learn about Hinduism and Hindu law had changed how I thought about religion and law generally. My viewpoint on these is inextricably bound up with what I have learned from Hindu traditions. I now think of law in terms of dharma, as well as vice versa. My views are not solely a product of some pure Hindu perspective, but I could not help but be changed by the tradition I studied because of the way I was taught and because of the attitude I had going in… Asian humanities should start with the acceptance of the responsibility of deep alterity, but its procedure in the world should be to learn from that which is culturally other. In this way, deep alterity becomes the gateway to cultural alterity. When I learn from, and not just about, Asian cultures and people, I incarnate or enact the responsibility of deep alterity.[6]
If we are to take Davis’ advice to learn “from” our research subjects, then perhaps it is useful to recall a Zen koan on quantifying the abstract to help us understand how to view the history of Zen nuns. One popular Sōtō Zen debate script or mondō (問答) examines how to evaluate the sangha, or Buddhist community. The interlocutor asks, “What do you call a great sangha?” (作者は、甚麼を喚んでか大叢林となすや。乞尊意). The opposing monk eventually wins the debate with the line, “Do not merely gather numbers of people in the sect. [Great sanghas] should be people who are free from all delusions” (宗の多きを望む事勿れ。すべからく大死一番の人あるべし).[7] From this perspective, the “greatness” of a community depends not on its numbers but on the sincerity of practice. This is a view shared by the Sōtō nuns I have met—that despite their small numbers, their sincere practice sets them apart from male Zen monastics in particular.
            It also seems that records of women in the medieval period were either deliberately erased or forgotten in later years, which makes an accurate quantity difficult or impossible to determine. As William Bodiford explains:
There must have been many more nuns at medieval Sōtō monasteries than current records indicate. Thirty nuns contributed to the casting of a bronze bell at Daijiji in 1287. Nuns participated in the funeral services for both Gikai and Gasan. The list of eight temples that Keizan designated to be administered by his disciples included one convent. Yet collections of Sōtō biographies compiled during the Tokugawa period mention the names of fewer than thirty Sōtō nuns from the medieval period… ... few are mentioned in the Sōtō biographies because without access to monastic authority only the most remarkable nuns attracted the attention of the monks who compiled these texts.[8]

Precisely for the reason of their small numbers, and for the fairly obvious evidence of their erasure, the history of Sōtō Zen nuns deserves a closer look.
Maruyama’s essay on Dōgen’s first female disciple, called “Dogen’s First Nun Disciple, Ryōnen,” is thus a rare find. Maruyama has published several articles on the topic of Ryōnen and other Sōtō nuns in academic journals, but I selected this article because the format is interesting and accessible. It is published in an internal journal of Aichi Nisōdō called Jōrin (城林), so we can interpret this piece as blending the lines between theology and scholarship. The topic is a challenging one, as Maruyama herself acknowledges, because there is very little information on Ryōnen’s life. We do not know when she was born or died, who her parents were, where she was from, or any other of the biographical details that would make thorough analysis possible. Like many Sōtō Zen women throughout history, the documents and evidence simply are not there. While reading Mauryama’s essay, at times I wondered if she was grasping for straws. And yet her argument (or perhaps “narrative” is a more accurate term; she rarely argues anything) is deliberate and cumulative. She carefully and methodically lays out bits and pieces of evidence, layering them on top of each other. The effect is like viewing an impressionist painting; up close, the evidence seems either vague or overly convoluted. Only when you take a step back and view the painting as a whole does the picture come into focus.
Dōgen Zenji addressed the nun Ryōnen in three separate dharma talks, which are collected today in the Eihei Koroku, or Extensive Record. However, as Maruyama spends much of her essay discussing, one of the dharma talks, called Ji-Ryōnen Dōja Hōgo (示了然道者法話), or “Dharma Talk for the Practitioner Ryōnen,” is contested. Several prominent male scholars of Dōgen believe this dharma talk was not for the nun Ryōnen, but for a monk with the same name, Hōmyō Ryōnen (法明了然). They believe that the nun Ryōnen was sickly and died early, a few years after Dōgen initially preached to her. Maruyama points out that the dates for these claims do not make sense (Hōmyō Ryōnen was a monk from Korea who did not arrive in Japan until after Dōgen delivered the Dharma Talk for Practitioner Ryōnen). Additionally, the claims the Ryōnen were sick come from confusing her identity with another disciple with the character “nen” () in his name.
In the Teihokenzeiki, an Edo-period Sōtō Sect record by Menzan Zuiho, there is a passage in which it says that Dōgen gave this dharma talk at the temple An’yoin (Kōshōji, before Dōgen changed the name) in the 7th month of 1231. Interestingly, Maruyama notes that there is a family called the Akari family (明里家), who live in current-day Tottori prefecture’s Kurayoshi, in Taizoji temple. There is a legend that has been passed down in this family that Ryōnen is an ancestor, and they possess in their library a copy of this dharma talk, with an identical colophon to the one listed in the Teihokenzeiki. In the official record of the Teihokenzeiki, this dharma talk is attributed to Dōgen’s own hand. But Maruyama believes the dharma talk was transcribed by Ryōnen herself. 
It is unclear whether even aristocratic women in the medieval period could write in the Chinese characters used in official religious and political documents. Joshua Mostow argues that although there were many famous women writers in the late Heian period (794-1185), the ability to write in Chinese was unevenly distributed. In addition, “Women could read and translate but seem to have less commonly written new Chinese compositions.”[9] Ivo Smits similarly indicates that although many women in the Heian court could write, they were excluded from poetry composition meetings: “This situation seems to compare to the development of schools or “houses” (ie) in the field of medieval waka, where women were active as poets but were excluded from positions of influence.”[10] These scholars indicate that it is theoretically possible Ryōnen could have known how to write in Chinese characters, but it seems just as likely that, coming from a low-ranking samurai family, she may not have been able to transcribe Dōgen’s talk.
 This inability to read and write in Chinese had tangible consequences for Buddhist nuns—for example, in the case of Ekyū, the first nun on the record to receive dharma transmission. We know that because Ekyū had difficulty reading Chinese, her teacher Keizan Zenji (1268-1325) gave her a copy of Dōgen’s precept manual written in phonetic Japanese, allowing her to bypass the difficulty of reading Chinese characters.[11] Thus, we know conclusively that while examples of women who could read and write in Chinese script abound, certain medieval Sōtō nuns could not read Chinese characters.
Maruyama, however, unequivocally argues that Ryōnen could not only write, but that she personally transcribed Dōgen’s dharma talk. This is one of Maruyama’s main claims, for as she discusses, there is some debate over whether this dharma talk was indeed addressed to the nun Ryōnen. Maruyama also has a stake in arguing that the 1231 Ji Ryōnen Hōgō was written for the nun Ryōnen, because this indicates that Ryōnen was Dōgen’s first disciple; Koun Ejo, Dōgen’s most famous successor, did not officially join Dōgen’s community until 1234. Indeed, Maruyama’s title, “Dōgen’s First Nun Disciple, Ryōnen” shows just how invested she is in claiming a nun as the first of Dōgen’s students. She also repeatedly uses the phrase daisenpai (大先輩), or “most senior” to refer to Ryōnen.
I was not particularly convinced by Maruyama’s argument that Ryōnen transcribed the dharma talk (although perhaps “suggestion” is a better word than “argument”—it cannot be overstressed how polite and delicate Maruyama’s language is. Almost every paragraph ends with “maybe, perhaps we can make this guess…” This reflects the social values of Sōtō Zen nuns, who make concerted effort to speak in the most humble tenses.[12]). In order to suggest Ryōnen transcribed the dharma talk, Maruyama points out that in the Akari family’s version of the text, between the date and the character of “sumu,” there is an added character for “moju” (early autumn) that is inserted with a circle. Quoting another scholar, Kado Sensei, Maruyama suggests, “Amending the text with that kind of circle is what noble women learned how to do in the Genryaku Kohon Man’yōshū. Women were especially concerned with writing the correct characters without mistakes.”
The Man’yōshū 万葉集 (collection of Myriad Ages, 8th century) is a poetry anthology of the imperial court, responsible for, as Torquil Duthie explains, “making the imperial order into a cultural reality.”[13] In later years, copies of the Man’yōshū were used to help students learn how to write in Chinese characters. Upper class boys of the Heian period would start learning Chinese characters from manuals and primers around the age of six.[14] The Genraku Kohon Man’yōshū (元暦校本万葉集), or collated version of the Man’yōshū, was indeed this kind of calligraphic model from the Heian period, with hiragana readings of the Chinese characters written on the side. [15]  The style of handwriting looks strikingly similar to the Akari family’s copy of the dharma talk.
Selection from the Collated Man'yoshu (12th century)
Ryōnen's dharma talk, possession of Akari family

Yet determining gender from handwriting or writing style is extremely difficult, if not impossible. A common interpretation of gender and literacy in this period is that there was a distinctive “women’s writing” style which usually used kana and was relegated to the private sphere, contrasting with “male writing” of the public sphere. As Ivo Smits points out, “It is simply inadequate to suggest that gender identifications of script—“male writing” (otoko moji, that is, mana) and “the female hand” (on-nade, that is, kana), equate to mutually exclusive ideas about public and private.” The lines between public and private were often blurred, with both women and men writing in either script. In our case, it is clearly quite problematic to assign gendered personality traits like neatness or punctiliousness to an analysis of 12th century handwriting, whether kana or Chinese characters (coincidentally or not, Dōgen is famous for comprising some of the first religious writing in Japanese, i.e in a mixture of Chinese characters and hiragana). Examining the collated Man’yōshū in question, I have found no correctional circles like the ones found in Ryōnen’s talk. Still, this question of handwriting, women’s education, and calligraphic models is a rich area for further study.
Regardless of whether or not the handwriting is Ryōnen’s, Maruyma’s whole argument does not hinge on whether or not Ryōnen transcribed the text herself. What matters is that the dharma talk was composed for her, and that she was there to listen to it in 1231. The Akari family also possesses an oihai (memorial tablet) with Ryōnen’s name, albeit from the Edo period, and their 1828 register of names (尊名拝記帳 ) mentions that Ryōnen was an ancestor of the Akari family. The record indicates that after Dōgen passed away, Ryōnen returned home and died.  This is how, theoretically, the text of the dharma talk moved from Kyoto to Tottori prefecture. Previous accounts of Ryōnen indicate that she died before Dōgen, but as Maruyama shows, these narratives are based on misinformation about her identity, associating her with the sickly monk “Nenshi” who died in China. This misidentification has created a cascade of mistaken narratives.
One such narrative Maruyama disagrees with is that Ryōnen was weak or sick; she has an interest in disproving Ryōnen’s sickliness because if Ryōnen and Nenshi were the same person, this would mean that Ryōnen couldn’t have received the all-important dharma talk in 1231. However, in the beginning of the Collected Documents of Writing Related to Dōgen (Dōgen Zenji Shinseki Kankei Shiryōshu) it says, “The nun Ryōnen married into the Akari Family, but married life did not agree with her so she became sick. This deepened her sense of impermanence, and so she ordained as a nun.” Maruyama discounts this narrative since she sees any indication that Ryōnen was sick as misidentifying her with the monk Nenshi. However, I wonder if we are too quick to discount a story of Ryōnen marrying and becoming ill, especially since in this context “sick” (病気) could indicate either physical, mental (or even existential!) illness. Certainly this kind of experience would have led to a motivation to ordain as a nun. This line from Dōgen’s collected writings is also an important piece of evidence, because it is a document outside of the Akari family that places her at the Akari family.
Ryōnen would have been alive at a time of shifting gender roles in Japan. During the Heian period, women could own and inherit property, the concept of marriage was ill-defined, and polygamy was common. Marriages, when they did occur, were most often uxorilocal, either tsumadoikon, where the man visits the woman’s house, or mukotorikon, where the wife’s family took the man into the family. [16]  By the late medieval period, however, virilocal marriages had become the norm; the Bakafu also restricted women’s inheritance rights in the 13th century, partially in response to a sense of national insecurity over Mongol invasions and widespread restructuring of estate ownership. Wakita Haruko argues that it was not only the shift to virilocal marriage, but also the rise of the ie, or corporate household, which led to women’s diminished authority in the medieval period. 
If Ryōnen married into the Akari family, as the Dōgen Zenji Shinseki Kankei Shiryōshu indicates, she would have been of lower status than her husband. She was on the cusp of changing marriage practices, but the kind of marriage where the wife moves into the husband’s family would only have occurred if the man was of higher status.[17] In the medieval period, women’s role and value had become increasingly connected with motherhood. As Wakita shows, wives had three main functions: motherhood, house-hold management, and sexuality. The cultural veneration of motherhood did not correlate with respect for the women’s humanity, as the common proverb “’a woman without a child must leave the marriage’ shows that woman were required solely for their ability to produce children.’” Additionally, if there was a second wife in the family, this would have created conflict. In other words, there are plenty of reasons why marriage would not have agreed with a woman like Ryōnen, and inspired her to become a nun. As Wakita points out, many men and women “fell outside the ie structure. These people mainly resided in the Buddhist monasteries and nunneries, and this was the reason why the role of nunneries is so important in the history of women.”[18] To me it seems entirely possible that Ryōnen became psychologically “sick” from a confining marriage and left her house to become a nun.[19]
Maruyama believes that Ryōnen became a nun after her husband died; indeed, this was a norm by the end of the medieval period, as she mentions. She cites Shōgaku-ni, the wealthy nun and patron of Dōgen, as another example of a widow-nun (後家尼) of that period. The identity of Shōgaku-ni is difficult to ascertain, but in the essay “Nuns that Have a Connection With Dogen” (道元禅師と縁ある尼僧たち), Maruyama argues that Shōgaku-ni was Hachijo Zenni. Although most scholars believe that Hachijo Zenni was the wife of Minamoto no Sanetomo, Maruyama argues that she was the wife of Kujo Yoshisuke. Yoshisuke was the adopted son of Hachijo Akiko (1137-1211), the wealthy nyōin and daughter of Emperor Tōba, which would mean he and his wife had access to land resources. Maruyama believes Yoshisuke inherited property from Hachijo-in, and that after he died, his wife became a nun and inherited his property. A decade and a half later, she donated a dharma hall to Dōgen’s new project, Kōshoji.[20] There are many other examples of wealthy women at this time who ordained after their husbands died and inherited their husband’s property.
However, Ryōnen, like Shōgaku-ni would have been alive right at the beginning of the surge in widow-nuns. Women in the Heian period ordained for a wide variety of reasons, from personal faith and vocation to a desire to prepare for death. Lori Meeks has shown that in the Heian period, tonsure was seen as a selfish act and was mostly associated with women in their later years, at least in the cultural ideals represented in literature, although women did ordain for faith reasons. She writes, “Heian aristocrats had articulated nunhood as a stage of life (retirement) in which women, like their male counterparts, were to devote themselves to spiritual preparations for death. But by the late Kamakura period, most people associated nunhood with the social obligations of dutiful widows.” Since the Bakafu also restricted inheritance rights for women in 1286 with the exception of widow-nuns, nunhood offered an appealing identity for medieval women seeking to protect their property and autonomy.[21] Since the dharma talk for Ryōnen was written in 1231, a few years before the inheritance laws changed, to me this seems a little early to assume that Ryōnen was necessarily a widow.  However, it is impossible to determine this conclusively, and I think both scenarios—that she left her marriage or that she was a widow—are plausible.
What is clear from Dōgen’s dharma talks is that she was a woman of strong determination and great spiritual capacities. In the 4th dharma talk Dōgen says that even though she is a woman, she is daijyōbu (大丈夫), or masculine and strong. In the 9th dharma talk, he helps her grapple with a particularly difficult koan. In the 12th dharma talk (Ji-Ryōnen hōgo) he says, “This mountain monk regards the sincerity of the aspiration for the way of wayfarer Ryōnen, and sees that other people cannot match her.”
Maruyama’s last major question is to ask how Ryōnen met Dōgen in Kyoto, since the Akari family was in Tottori prefecture. To answer this, she looks for clues in the Jōkyu disturbance of 1221. The Jokyū disturbance (or rebellion, as it is also called, although it only lasted a month) was arguably an inevitable fallout from the Genpei war of the 1180’s. Until the 1170’s, the Taira chieftain Kiyomori and the retired emperor Go-Shirawaka controlled the capital, until a rift formed between the two and Kiyomori placed Go-Shirawakawa under house arrest.[22] Seeking to increase his power even further, Kiyomori placed his infant grandson on the throne. Another chieftain, Minamoto Yoritomo, rallied forces against Kiyomori. Partially this was in response to Kiyomori’s bid for power, but it was also a move by Minamoto to shift power away from the capital in general in order to secure control of provincial land. Minamoto was one of many warrior elites who struggled to maintain authority over provincial land holdings. He was able to successfully gather enough troups to combat the Taira and the capital by promising chieftains that under his authority, the chieftains would be able to bypass Kyoto’s authority, thus guaranteeing authority over their land.[23]
Eventually, Minamoto defeated the Taira and established the Bakafu in 1180, a second, decentralized capital in Kamakura. After he passed away, the Hōjō faction took control of the Bakafu. The Jokyū disturbance occurred in 1220, as Kyoto elite found themselves forced to share power with a second capital, and attempted to reconcile this shifting authority. After the Kamakura government appointed a young Fujiwara child as emperor, the former emperor Gotoba declared war on Kamakura. Hōjō quickly gathered 190,000 men and soundly defeated Gotoba, banishing him to the Oki islands. After the disturbance was resolved, the Kamakura replaced their shugo (military governor) office in Kyoto with a new branch called the Rokuhara tandai, and sent a large number of new stewards, known as shinpo jito into the Western provinces.[24] Jeffery Mass characterizes the spread of the new jito as “no less than a colonization move, for the recipients were almost exclusively easterners and the appointment areas were the confiscated holdings of dispossessed westerners.”[25]
Maruyama believes that the Akari family was one of these new jito families, as the family history tells of them moving from Kamakura to Hoki province, the equivalent of current-day Western Tottori prefecture. In the record of the Akari family it says, The ancestors are Marumitsu Tara, Asakiko (麻利光). They lived in a village below Oyama (mountain). They were Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa’s descendants. From the location of Oyama mountain (大山), Maruyama hypothesizes that the Akari family initially lived in Sagami province, where they served Hatano Yoshishige, the later patron of Dōgen, and Hojo Shigetoki (1198-1261), the Rokuhara commissioner. Shigetoki appointed the Akari family jito of the Kusakabe estate in Oda-gun, Bitchu. Yoshishige supported Dōgen economically later in his life and was the clan leader in the Sagami province, where the Akari family initially resided. Because Shigetoki, who appointed them jito, and Yoshishige, who was a patron of Dōgen, were both living in Kyōtō at the same time as Dōgen in 1230, she implies that this is possibly how Ryōnen was introduced to Dōgen. Kenninji, where Dōgen lived in 1230, was in the same Higashiyama district as the Rokuhara estate.
The evidence is far from conclusive, but she does paint a compelling picture of the territorial bonds that connected Dōgen, Ryōnen, and Dōgen’s benefactor. Even if we cannot believe her theory—that Dōgen met Shigetoki and Yoshishige in Kyōto in 1230, and that Ryōgen met Dōgen through her family’s connections with Shigetoki— Maruyama’s writing does portray some salient features of that time. Her descriptions show the chaotic aftermath of the Jokyū Disturbance, the shifting power dynamics created by the new Bakafu government, the influx of stewards from the East to Western Japan, the ongoing tensions between capital and provinces, and women’s tenuous social position as Japan sat on the brink of new era of decreased gender equality. We can imagine that Dōgen, with his innovation, outsider status, and explicit affirmation of the spiritual capacities of women, would have attracted the attention of women looking for a sense of security and to expand their intellectual and spiritual horizons.
Maruyama’s essay is a valuable contribution to the study of women and Japanese Buddhism. Her careful and subtle analysis of Dōgen’s dharma talks, family records, and oral history placed within a context of the Kamakura period give tentative answers—or suggestions of possible interpretations— to some of the pressing questions raised by those interested in Sōtō Zen Buddhism.







[1] I use the word “nun” to refer to Japanese nisō 尼僧, literally “female monastics,” because this is the word they use to describe themselves when speaking in English. When I lived at Aichi Nisodo, I noticed that Japanese nuns would use the gender neutral obosan (お坊さん ) to refer to themselves when speaking about general monastic concerns and traditions, such as ritualized begging or performing memorial services (e.g, “It is important for obosan to serve their danka.”). However, when indicating a behavior that only female monastics were expected to do, such as remain celibate and be especially polite, they would use the word nisō, or nun (e.g. “These days in Japan, male obosan get married, but nisō do not.”).
[2] Paula Arai, Women Living Zen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 18.
[3] Stephen Covell, Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation (University of Hawaii Press, 2005), 6.
[4] Ushiyama Yoshiyuki, “Buddhist Convents in Medieval Japan,” in Engendering Faith (Michigan: University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies, 2002), 152–58.
[5] See Arai, Women Living Zen, for more information on demographics.
[6] Donald R. Davis, “Three Principles for an Asian Humanities: Care First... Learn From... Connect Histories,” The Journal of Asian Studies 74, no. 1 (2015): 55–57.
[7] Hossenshiki Yougou Kaisetsu: Yoku Wakaru Mondoushu (法戦式用語解説:よくわかる問答集) (曹洞宗宗学研究所, 1992).
[8] William Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 204.
[9] Joshua Mostow, “Mother Tongue and Father Script,” in The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997), 126.
[10] Ivo Smits, “The Way of the Literati: Chinese Learning and Literary Practice in Mid-Heian Japan,” in Heian Japan: Centers and Peripheries (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 110.
[11] Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan, 89.
[12] Paula Arai also writes of this phenomenon. In the conversation style of nuns, “One does not just "live" (ikiru), but one "is grateful for receiving the precious gift of life" (ikasarete itadakimasu —passive followed by humble verb form)... For the nuns, their use of keigo is a fundamental and critical element that helps them maintain their equanimity.”
[13] Torquil Duthie, Man’yōshū and the Imperial Imagination in Early Japan (Boston: Brill, 2014), 2.
[14] Smits, “The Way of the Literati: Chinese Learning and Literary Practice in Mid-Heian Japan,” 112–13.
[15] The collated Man’yoshu in question can be found at http://www.emuseum.jp/detail/100167/001?word=&d_lang=ja&s_lang=ja&class=&title=&c_e=&region=&era=&cptype=&owner=&pos=57&num=7&mode=detail&century=  Many thanks to Duthie for finding this and explaining its function.
[16] Haruko Wakita, Women in Medieval Japan (Tokyo: Monash Asia Institute, 2006).
[17] Wakita, 128.
[18] Wakita, 126.
[19] Although this is only anecdotal and about another culture entirely, I would like to share the following story: When I was in college I took Hindi from an Indian woman. In class one day she told us that in India she had been a successful college professor, but that when her husband moved them to America, she couldn’t speak English and had to stay inside, functioning as a housewife. After a few years she became very “sick” and could not get out of bed. Her husband took her to a neurologist, who asked what her life had been like in India. She told the neurologist that she had been a college professor, and so he advised her to get a job. It was a happy ending for my Hindi teacher, who recovered after resuming her professional life.

[20] Kōgai, Maruyama. 道元禅師と縁ある尼僧たち. Dōgen zenji to en ga aru nisōtachi. 曹洞宗総合研究センター. Tōkyo, Sōtoshu Sōgō Kenkyū Senta, 2012.


[21] See Christina Laffin, Rewriting Medieval Women for more on inheritance rights and widow-nuns.
[22] Mikael Adolphson, The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000), 132.
[23] Jeffrey Mass, “The Kamakura Bakafu,” in The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press, 1990), 53.
[24] Mass, 71.
[25] Mass, 72.

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