Women’s History Month: Kakusan Shido-Ni

In honour of women’s history month, every day in March, I’ll be highlighting a woman who changed the world.

Today’s woman is Kakusan Shido-Ni, a Buddhist Nun who in the 1200’s founded Tokeiji, a convent that acted as a refuge for runaway wives.

kakusan shido ni1
In lieu of any reference to how Kakusan may have looked, here instead is a sketch of the monastery she founded, Tokeiji

Name: Kakusan Shido-Ni

Born: 1252 in Japan

Died: 1305

Iconic for: Setting up what was effectively the first women’s shelter in the 1200’s.

Life summary: Kakusan lost part of her family during fighting between the Hojo and Adachi clan and had to be rescued by the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu. She married Hojo Tokimune, a rule of Japan, and after his death, became a nun as was customary for widows at the time. She opened the Rinzai Zen Buddhist convent, Tokei-ji, in 1285 in memory of her husband.

In a time when women could not request divorces, the convent became a sanctuary for those escaping marriages. Men could not enter, creating a safe space for women and counselling was offered to them. Most crucially, if women stayed there for three years, the temple could grant them divorces. This lasted for six hundred years leading to the temple being nicknamed ‘The Divorce Temple.’ Between 1603 and 1868 alone, records show that over 2000 women sought refuge here. It’s right to grant divorces was taken away in 1873.

In a time when women had little choice, Kakusan set up a place that prioritised looking after women. It was unprecedented and she could never could have foreseen its impact or the amount of women’s lives that she changed.

Quote: From the request she made to the Emperor when asking that her temple be allowed to grant divorces to women who remained in the convent for three or more years. The quote emphasises her understanding of the brutal reality of abuse and her desire to take a stand for other women: “Being treated unjustly, some commit suicide or take other extreme measures. I request that this humble temple code provide that if such women reside in this convent for three years, the marital relationship will be severed.”


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