Organized Panel Session
The creative spirit was effervescent in Japan’s imperial Buddhist convents, where nuns dedicated themselves to Buddhist practice/rituals as well as literary/artistic pursuits. Their residential temple-palaces, called bikuni gosho (lit. “nuns’ palaces”), have been characterized as cultural salons as well as sanctuaries.
After tonsure, princess-nuns did not live in a “cloistered” world. Records reveal that they made frequent visits to the palace and other temples to participate in ceremonies as well as cultural activities, where they socialized with family, palace attendants, courtiers, and other clergies. Their religious and secular spheres were not exclusively female, but extended to male family members, lay patrons, and guardian samurai.
While most nuns received their initial training within convent walls, many studied with eminent male religious masters. At least two princess-nuns, for example, sought out instruction from and fraternization with priests from the newly introduced Obaku sect. Details are not fully known, but presumably they listened to dharma talks and had personal consultations. Instruction was also carried out through correspondence, both letters and Chinese verse, and male monastic teachers composed verses praising the nuns’ spiritual awakening and religious activities.
This paper will introduce some of the Edo-period imperial Buddhist nuns and representative works, and also examine what distinguished them from their male monastic counterparts. Their “hidden” legacy and accomplishments add a new chapter to the history and culture of women in premodern Japan.