Asian Studies Conference Japan

Saturday, June 19 - Sunday 20, 2004
Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University

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 Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

Session 18: AV Room, First Floor

Women, Religion, and Performance in Japan

Organizer: Monika Dix, University of British Columbia, Kokugakuin University

Throughout the course of history, women have played a crucial role in Japanese religious traditions, both as performers and objects of performance, but not much attention has been given to their stories. This is especially true in terms of interdisciplinary scholarship, which incorporates research on women, religion, performance, literature, and art in order to arrive at a new reading regarding the significance of women in Japanese cultural traditions. The aim of this panel is to examine the interrelationship between women, religion, and performance in both pre-modern and modern Japan. The papers address a wide range of issues and genres, and thereby challenge conventional views of women and performance in Japanese religious traditions. This panel opens up a forum for further discussion and research regarding questions such as: "How are women traditionally presented in religious traditions and performances?" and "To what extent can these presentations be reread on different levels?" It also enhances our understanding regarding the role of women in Japanese religious and cultural traditions from new perspectives.

1) Monika Dix
Remembering and Imagining: Reconstructing Chûjôhime's Legend Beyond the Mukaekô at Taimadera

The mukaekô, a ritual enactment of Amida Buddha's shôju raigô (Amida Buddha and his heavenly host descending to the devotee), takes place every year on May 14 at Taimadera, and commemorates Chûjôhime's rebirth into Amida's Pure Land Western Paradise. Having originated in the Heian period (794-1185) and still being performed today, the mukaekô constitutes the most popular reminiscence of Chûjôhime's legend, focusing exclusively on her entry into Amida Buddha's Pure Land Western Paradise which is the predominant sign of salvation in Pure Land Buddhism.

There are other examples of Chûjôhime as performer and object of performance, however, including Zeami's noh plays, Taema and Hibariyama, which also stress the religious significance of Chûjôhime's legend, namely women's impurity due to their female sexuality and women's capability of salvation through faith in Amida Buddha. But, unlike the explicit emphasis of Chûjôhime's rebirth in the mukaekô, these sources emphasize a variety of other aspects indicative of women's defilements and women's difficulty of attaining salvation based on Mahayana Buddhist thought. My paper focuses on these particular aspects in various textual and visual examples of Chûjôhime's legend, and examines their religious relationship and significance in terms of the Buddhist concept of female salvation.

2) Vyjayanthi Ratnam, Cornell University
Kenreimon'in and Performance in the Heike Monogatari

Performance in the Heike monogatari corpus has always been linked to the notion of communal pacification. The last fascicle of the Kakuichi-text (the Kanjô no maki) plays a particularly significant role in this regard. As readers have always understood it, a penitent Kenreimon'in atones for the sins of her clan, and her salvation at the end of the tale metaphorically gestures to the peaceful rebirth of the others. Through a diachronic reading of the Kenreimon'in in the tale across the Engyô-bon, Kakuichi and Gempei Jôsuiki texts, I will show how this neat historical closure is limited to the Katari-bon texts such as the Kakuichi-bon, where performance is indexed to pacificatory liturgy. In particular, I will demonstrate how the wild rumors of incest that circulate in the Gempei Jôsuiki text contest such a closure and articulate a different, more open-ended vision of the conclusion of the Gempei war.

3) Hank Glassman, Haverford College
The White Nun of Wakasa, or, Strange Events of the Summer of 1449

Nuns who walked the main arteries and tributaries of the Tokaido, Japan's major east-west thoroughfare, as well as country back roads, seem to have been at the vanguard of the phenomenon of hôganshô, permanent fund-raising missions emanating from temples and shrines. These institutions, which appear beginning in the late fifteenth century, were originally run and staffed by women. The most famous, whose female leaders were known as the "three great saints" (tenka no san shonin), are the Kannokura Myoshinji, home of the Kumano bikuni, Seiganji in Owari, and the Great Shrine of Ise's Keikoin. These women and the wandering nuns who operated under their auspices, were all closely associated with Tendai Shugendo institutions and lineages. The legend of one such nun, the Yao bikuni, appears widely in gazetteers of the modern (kinsei) period. The Yao bikuni legend is particularly important to our story because of its early date. While there is no firm evidence of the Kumano bikuni before the seventeenth century, we have several fifteenth-century references to the activities of this weird "white nun". Among these is a comic otogizôshi (anonymous short tales) from 1480 entitled Hitsuketsu no monogatari ("The Brushmaker's Tale"). My paper will focus on this text and other related otogizôshi.

4) Lorinda Kiyama, Stanford University
Pilgrimage Song-Dance in Contemporary Japan

In an age when tour buses rush worshippers along Buddhist temple circuits, pilgrimage songs (goeika) are not losing their currency. They are the basis of goeika buyô (pilgrimage song dancing), an art form established in the twentieth century. This paper traces the history of goeika buyo in the Shingon sect, from regional movements to the recent standardization of the song-dance form under the central church. It touches on Shingon efforts to promote goeika buyô in Hawaii and Brazil. The notion of sokushin jôbutsu, of becoming a Buddha in your body now, is taken literally by women who train in pilgrimage song-dancing. Goeika buyô performers believe themselves to embody, not merely represent, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas they dance. Joining Buddhist statuary and portraits on the altar, the women begin each piece by creating a kekkai, or boundary, with their folded fans. Inside the sacred dividing line are the women dancers and the deities. Outside are male viewers, the everyday world. This is a startling inversion of traditional kekkai. In addition to discussing the history and ontology of goeika buyô, this presentation will include video clips from a celebration of Kôbô Daishi's birth, held at a kabuki stage in rural Kyushu, June 2002. We will see how movement and lyrics are coordinated in specific pieces, and how diverse songs, joined by a priest's narrative, create a living picture scroll of the Shingon sect founder's life. Finally, goeika buyô will be considered in light of embodied female worship elsewhere.

Discussant: Gaynor Sekimori, University of Tokyo


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