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Reviewed by:
  • Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan's Tōkeiji Convent Since 1285
  • Dennis Hirota
Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan's Tōkeiji Convent Since 1285. By Sachiko Kaneko Morrell and Robert E. Morrell. State University of New York Press, 2006. 246 pages. Hardcover $83.50; softcover $27.95.

On first picking up Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan's Tōkeiji Convent Since 1285, I imagined a genre of popular history reminiscent of Oliver Statler's Japanese Inn, in which a well-placed edifice, with its practices, architecture, and locale, forms a point of focus against a shifting milieu of political events and successive occupants. A Rinzai Zen convent founded during the thirteenth century in the hills of Kamakura, Tōkeiji—commonly known since the mid-Edo period as the "asylum" (kakekomi) or divorce (enkiri) temple where wives could find sanctuary from, and eventual dissolution of, unhappy marriages—would seem to offer an ideal site for such a book. But the historical survey provided by Sachiko Kaneko Morrell and Robert E. Morrell overflows the strictures of any easy characterization and might best be described as a varied sourcebook of historical, religious, and literary documents that illuminate the significance of Tōkeiji in Japanese history and society, from its founding in the Kamakura period down to the present.

Wary, perhaps, of a misconstrual of their intentions by potential readers because of the popular image of their subject, the authors disclaim any particular interest in "class [End Page 519] or gender warfare" or, indeed, in any theoretical program. Rejecting all indulgence in "fashionably pretentious rambling," the authors describe their methodology as "Pedestrianism . . . walking slowly with our feet on the ground" (p. xiii). In this case, "walking slowly" means putting "a premium on direct translations of primary materials" and seeking "to conjure up something of the feel and smell of the convent's history" (p. xiii). It is particularly in these two features—the insertion into their narrative of an abundance of translated materials and the breadth of the attempt to evoke the intellectual background of the temple's founding and practices—that Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes bursts the format of historical narrative and inclines toward both a general introduction to Japanese religion and a rich collection of primary materials related to Tōkeiji and its residents from throughout its history.

The body of the book comprises eight chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 appear intended to provide an ideological backdrop for the temple's history. Chapter 1 gives "a brief overview" of the Shinto, Confucian, and Buddhist beliefs that form the "traditional religious and ideological underpinnings to Japanese ways of thought and behavior" (p. 1), and chapter 2 is devoted to Buddhist attitudes toward women in the Kamakura period, largely in the form of a complete translation of Mujū Ichien's "Mirror for Women" (Tsuma kagami), which originally appeared in MN 35:1 (1980). The authors seek to show that Buddhism had a positive impact on women in Japan, seen not only in Mujū's tract, but also in the lives of the women who engaged in practice at Tōkeiji and those who found sanctuary there.

The history of Tōkeiji from its founding is treated chiefly in chapters 3 to 8. Chapter 3, "Abbess Kakusan and the Kamakura Hōjō," treats the political events and chief figures involved in the founding of Tōkeiji, which was established in 1285 as the place of retirement for Hōjō Tokimune's widow, Lady Horiuchi (Buddhist name Kakusan). One of the characteristics of the historical account in Zen Sanctuary—perhaps indicated by the authors' disclaimer regarding gender and class warfare—is that the Morrells, although quite willing to assert broad generalities about the political implications of some Japanese Buddhist schools, view their focal subject not within the context of the relations between political authorities and Buddhist institutions, as might be exemplified by the cases of the Nara temples or the Tendai and Shingon temples in Kyoto, but in terms of a pure religious commitment. Concerning the founding of the great Rinzai Zen temples in Kamakura by the shogunate and its Hōjō regents, the authors state, "[Rinzai Zen master] Eisai...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 519-523
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-16
Open Access
No
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