“Tokeiji is the place where men are deprived of their pride.”
Normally I ask for the Japanese version of the maps and flyers at tourist sites, because 1. I can read Japanese and 2. the Japanese version is often more detailed. When we got to Tokeiji, I told the staff member “either language is fine” in Japanese, so I received an English version. I’m going to let you draw your own conclusion to that interaction; suffice it to say that the solution to the language problem is to let customers pick up their own brochures at the counter if desired. However, the Japanese version is unlikely to have had such an awesome statement as the one above, so I think I secretly won this round.
Shokozan-Tokeiji Temple (東慶寺) is just down the road from Engakuji and is another stop on Kamakura’s suggested hydrangea walking course. While Engakuji is famous for being the birthplace of Zen Buddhism, Tokeiji, founded in 1285 CE by the nun Kakusan-ni, was the historically the Japanese equivalent of Reno prior to the 1970s. The brochure reads,
In those days when women had no right to seek a divorce, the [Kamakura] Shogunate designated Tokeiji as a sanctuary for women where a woman petitioner could obtain a divorce from her husband after she spent three calendar years at the temple. That was how it earned the nickname “Divorce Temple [縁切寺]“.
Joking aside, the temple apparently played a critical role in housing and representing women in an era (several eras, really) of sexist divorce laws, in which men could easily obtain divorces for any variety of reason but women could not. In 1873, women with male representatives of their families became legally able to sue for divorce under Meiji constitutional law; in 1891, women were granted legal personhood via the law allowing them to sue for divorce by themsevles in a court of law (Fuess, 2004, p. 100). By 1902, the temple ceased to be a nunnery and became a branch of Engakuji with the first male head of the temple.
Despite its uncommon history, today the temple that championed women’s rights is famous for its year-round host of flowers, especially hydrangeas.
Also of note is the graveyard, in which Kanazawa-native and Buddhist philosopher D.T. Suzuki is buried.
The hydrangeas weren’t in full bloom when I visited in early June, but the irises (hanashobû, 花菖蒲) were. The cool rains of June and the vivid green of the leaves, moss, and foliage makes the purples even more beautiful.
“Any woman in a hurry is kindly directed to Tokeiji, ‘Just over there!’”
I would love to see Yoshinaga Fumi do a manga series on the women of Tokeiji Temple. What kind of stories that temple must have in its walls and gardens!–and who better to tell them?
For more on the history of divorce in Japan, see Fuess, Harald. 2004. Divorce in Japan: Family, Gender, and the State, 1600-2000. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.