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  • The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan by Gina Cogan
  • G. G. Rowley
The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan. By Gina Cogan. Harvard University Asia Center, 2014. 336 pages. Hardcover $49.95/£36.95/€45.00.

The difficulties faced by the daughters of emperors and princes, especially concerning whether they should be married, and if so to whom, have been the subject of debate, both in fiction and in reality, from the Heian period through our own time. Daughters of emperors were sometimes married to high-ranking noblemen, who were constrained to honor their princess-brides in a manner befitting their imperial status. The alternative solution, and the one afforded many imperial daughters from the medieval period through 1871, when the Meiji government forbade members of the imperial family from practicing Buddhism, was to consign them at a young age to the respectable safety of a convent, where they lived out their lives as nuns. Daitsū Bunchi (1619–1697), the eldest daughter of Emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596–1680; r. 1611–1629) and the subject of Gina Cogan’s biography The Princess Nun, experienced both: she was married off at age twelve and became a nun nine years later, when she was twenty-one.

As a child, Bunchi was known as Ume-no-Miya. Her mother was an imperial concubine, the daughter of Yotsutsuji Kintō, and was known as O-Yotsu (ca. 1589–1639). In 1631, Ume-no-Miya was married to her first cousin, the high-ranking courtier Takatsukasa Norihira (1609–1668), but the marriage was not a success; for reasons unknown, the couple separated in either 1634 or 1638. Ume-no-Miya became a serious student of the reforming monk Isshi Bunshu (1608–1646); in 1640 she took the tonsure and became a nun. In 1642, she founded the Rinzai Zen convent Enshōji in what was to become the Shūgakuin area northeast of Kyoto. In 1656, when her father began planning to have a villa built nearby, Bunchi moved her convent to the Yashima area near Nara; in 1667, her stepmother Tōfukumon-in, the former Tokugawa Masako, petitioned the shogunate for funding that enabled Bunchi to rebuild the convent in nearby Yamamura, where she moved in 1669 and where Enshōji still stands today.

But of course there is more to Bunchi’s life than this, and the “more” is what Gina Cogan gives us in this biography. An enviable array of contemporary sources is available from which to draw: the five volumes of documents in Enshōji monjo, published by the University of Tokyo’s Historiographical Institute, as well as additional documents collected in Bunchi nyoō, published by Enshōji; a hagiography by the monk Chimyō Jōin (1621–1700), a fellow disciple of Isshi’s; Isshi’s own letters to Bunchi preserved in his discourse records (goroku); Bunchi’s religious autobiography Fumonsan no ki (Chronicle of Universal Gate Mountain, 1688; translated in full in the appendix), which provides an account of the founding of Enshōji, its move to Nara, and the rules [End Page 306] Bunchi wanted her community of nuns to observe; Bunchi’s correspondence with a variety of figures, such as her uncle, Prince-Abbot Sonshō of Daikakuji, and Keishōin, the mother of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi; and several courtiers’ diaries in which she makes an appearance. Cogan translates extracts from all these sources and makes good use of them throughout her book.

Cogan’s training is in religious studies, and at times her grasp of the history of the seventeenth century is shaky: Ieyasu did not move the capital from Kyoto to Edo (p. 3), nor did he ever defeat Hideyoshi (p. 29). All five regental families (sekke), not just two of them, were branches of the Fujiwara (p. 26); and military liaison officers (buke tensō) were not chosen from their number (p. 29), but from the middle ranks of the aristocracy. The biography (p. 30) of Konoe Sakiko (Chūkamon-in, the mother of Go-Mizunoo) is based entirely upon a passing mention in the entry for Sōjiin in Sano Keisaku’s Kōshitsu to jiin...


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