Japanese Gender History Essay Example

  • Category:
  • Document type:
    Research Paper
  • Level:
  • Page:
  • Words:

Japanese history 10

Japanese Gender History


The literature will majorly focus on how Nichiren viewed women in the Buddhism religion. It will further analyze the doctrines that are attached to women and their efforts spiritually to how treaties focus the issue which contradicts the social and religious values of the Japanese. In addition, it will give a survey that Nichiren undertook1 the challenges that were faced by women and how they managed to confront them basing on a social context.

Women and Japanese Buddhism’s historical relationship

Buddhism underwent through a transformation during the middle ages. The new Buddhism movement was widely accepted because of its simplicities in the way they run their religious practices. It clearly stated the responsibilities that were to be played by women in Buddhism. Among that was first changed in the new Buddhism was the relationship that women had with Buddhist schools. This is shown in the fact that the first three people to joint Buddhist schools were women. Between 710 and 794 which were termed Nara, both nuns and the monks had the same status. This later changed between 794 and 1185 in that monks accorded themselves more roles that the nuns during public functions of state Buddhism; the nuns were not allowed to hold any positions during such functions2.

With time, schools such as Tendai and Shingon laid strategies so as to forcefully exclude women into holding any position. Among these strategies were that all priests who were seeking to be ordained were supposed to go on a harsh retreat to mountains where they would undergo ascetic practices for a longer periods than expected3. Due to this, the number of women who were ordained reduced with time. It was later realized that women who hold clerical positions in the schools had disappeared.

The number of nuns who had been ordained dropped sharply; in the long run convents that existed were closed down while others were turned to monasteries. Men started to mock women saying that they are impure. They later denied them to enter sacred places and any place of worship too.

Records revealed by Heian aristocracy that a later time women started to renounce the world with the aim of serving as nuns without necessarily being ordained. This basically indicated that majority of those who would turn up was women being Buddhism followers. During this period at the medieval Japanese society, a good number of women had positions regardless of being restricted to participate in any societal practices. From this point, they played decision making role in their families, adopting and bringing children as well as being successors of their deceased husbands.

The new Buddhism rose from this social background and the responsibilities that women had for its development has been broadly analyzed in this context of Nichiren congregation. Despite the fact that priests and disciples were all male, the evolvement of the congregation was highly contributed by women; this therefore means that the foundation of the congregation lied in both women and men. More so, women followers were highly respected because they embraced faith in their own right within the Nichiren School.

When analyzing how Nichiren viewed women, it is equally important to differentiate the doctrines for the extent to which women were in enlightenment and how he practically advised as far as social constraints is concerned4.

Buddhist Misogyny and how Nichiren responded

As pointed out by Tsutsui (2009), the period that lasted between the ancient to medieval indicated that an era had come to an end where men and women were seen to be equal5. It therefore called for a new era that was fully rooted on religious social misogyny. Tsutsui (2009) continues thus “It was rare for women to take positions of nuns, they could only increase in numbers; this is mainly because they were regarded as religious subjects that ought to be saved”6. It occurred during the Kamakura period that was between 1185 and 13337.

Buddhist misogyny grew stronger through the support of social and cultural biasness against women of Shakyamuni of India. The appearance of the first doctrines of misogynic that was associated with the first schism orders of Buddhist took place around a century after the death of Shakyamuni. The doctrine denied women opportunity to Buddhahood. In Japan, henjonanshi being a doctrine stated that if women do not transform themselves to male either symbolically or literally in public then they will not be in a position to achieve spiritual salvation8.
The aim of the doctrine was to be spread widely in the period of Heian after its emergence from the Buddhist clergy.

According to Holm and John (2000), Nichiren was informed of this doctrine as he was witnessed criticizing a school saying that the school was in transformation process through rituals so as to convert female into male9. In addition, teachers secretly conducted Tendai grand ceremonies but all failed. Irrespective of whether an individual was a Buddhist or non-Buddhist, the issue of women being regarded as damned and eternal wretched was not something new especially to the Pre-Lotus Sutra Buddhism. From the existing obstacles and obedience that has severally been mentioned by Nichiren, this should never be used as a base in condemning women from leading religious lives. For instance, Holm and John (2000) outlined that whoever will get tied into the existing obedience will be severed in that lifetime10. He added to say the obstacles has all disappeared, and that those who had impurities in their bodies had been removed completely11.

According to Ueno, Chizuko and Yamamoto (2004), Lotus Sutra dictates how his women followers are emancipated from the shackles which have been imposed by religion12. Further, they gave a statement to support, it state that if one read the Nichiren other than the Lotus Sutra there is not slight wish of becoming a woman. The statement continues to state that it is only in Lotus Sutra that a woman embracing sutra will even surpasses all men.

Lotus Sutra Enlightenment

The ancient Buddhist is openly rejected by Nichiren because of the fact that it denied women religious salvation because of sex reason. According to him, male and female are equal and therefore calls for equality in the way both are treated13.

There is an illustration given by Holm and John (2000) where they give a parable of dragon king’s daughter whereby she is give profound significance14. The authors also give a description through the Nyonin jobutsu Shariputra reputed being the wisest of all Shakyamuni’s disciples. She was later questioned be the Wisdom Bodhisattva Accumulated on her capacity tor enlightenment focusing on the Pre-Lotus Sutra Scriptures. The reservation that they had was repudiated for them to witness15. On the other hand, it will reach a time when the creature would come to Buddha and his followers, Shakyamuni would always prophesize that she was going to attain Buddhahood and her near future just she was; not only as a female but as an animal and also as a child.

From Nichiren’s perspective, the dragon girl in herself had strong meaning. It referred to the king’s daughter, that when she attained Buddhahood the opportunity for women to attain Buddhahood would be opened at a later time.

Through a detailed explanation, Nichiren interpreted the Lotus Sutra saying that it is the first in the teachings of the Buddha, he added that teachings that women to attain Buddhahood comes first in the Lotus Sutra16. It is through this reason that women have been condemned in all other sutras except for the Lotus, this might have rendered Lotus to be unable to attain Buddhahood. He has never identified any reason that prevents enlightenment of women and to further downcast them.

In a number of Pre-Lotus Sutras women do not have the capacity to attain Buddhahood irrespective whether human or heavenly beings. It is through this fact that king’s daughter attained Buddhahood not necessarily changing her appearance of worldly animosity.

It is therefore through their current form that women have the capacity to attain Buddhahood. He highlights how the dragon girl attained Buddhahood without changing to either heavenly being or to a male. He further, argues that if the dragon girl attained Buddhahood without changing her appearance then women should automatically attained Buddhahood as they are human like any other person, nothing should hinder them from attaining Buddhahood as they are born just the same way as male17.

The main issue that is raising arguments here is the body of a woman. Basing on the dragon girl, she had the powers to transform herself into a male whenever she appeared to the Shakyamuni and his group, in some other places she would be seen as an enlightened being; that is as a female animal as well as a child. It was basically the biological appearance of the female but the main issue lied with the brackets of social and cultural backgrounds18. Nichiren believed that the difference in their physique as would not affect Buddhist salvation in any way.

Defilement by blood

The issue of impurity has raised arguments in the need for women to attain enlightenment. This has been the only pretext for religious misogyny and exclusion of female in Japanese Buddhism. For quite sometime, the issue has deepened its roots especially in Japan. History reveals that during the mid Heian period the growth of its culture was recorded to be high and it improved more during the medieval period.

It was evident that both male and female were face by death equally though blood impurity dwelled on women most as far as childbirth and menstruation is concerned. This is a supportive factor that women are impure. The issue of women being impure was first heard in the Imperial Palace before spreading to the samurai and other parts of Japan. This is believed to have taken place between 1185 and 1868.

A belief that emanated from China claimed that blood which is spilt out by women either during menstruation or childbirth had defiled the god of the earth, in addition, the washing of the clothes will make the water of streams and rivers unclean, meaning that food made from such water will also be impure19.

Women in their day to day lives

Nature of women

Nichiren gave an instant where a woman becomes jealous, at that time a flame in her heart roars. Her body reddens while her hair stands as she starts shake right from her head to the toe making her complexion to kindles. Moreover, her eyes start to widen like that of a cat aiming on a mouse. In the letter from Sado, he gives a detailed description on how men and women differ occasionally.

In his description, he states how a man can offer to die with aim of defending his honor; on the contrary, a woman can only dedicate herself to die for a man. In this view of Nichiren, he describes women to majorly rely on men as it is reflected on the social situation of the Kamakura era and not in the sexist approach20.

On spouses

Nichiren’s approach of this fact that women were handed the responsibility to both fulfill both the spouse and Buddhist as practitioners looked so sensible. During the Kamakura era, the only role of a woman was that provided in the marriage and nothing more. According to Nichiren’s writings, he outlined a situation where women regarded their husbands as souls and that without them they would not have a soul. In most of the passages written by Nichiren women are associated to water as it takes the shape of the container that is in. A woman is dependent just like a ship that depends on the rudder. This basically means that a woman will be dictated by the character of her husband; if a husband is this, then obviously the woman will turn out to be a thief21.


In this section women are seen in the way they suffer severe pain during birth. A woman is seen to bears a lot of pain to the time of birth, at the time of birth she only gives birth and amazingly washes the unclean enemy as stated by Nichiren and clasps her to her breast and after a period of about three years she nourishes it22.


Throughout this analysis of Nichiren’s writings he fairly advises women on how to go as per personal circumstances. The issue of Nichiren’s perspective on equality has been historically documented on the capacity of women to attain Buddhahood. It is equally important to also note that the arguments are not based on the modern context of social circumstances.

In a number of his Nichiren’s writings it is evinced that women are subordinately present and completely lack to understand the differences on the roles and nature that are attached to both women and men. Discussion on gender should clearly state their differences and give a full picture thereby avoiding the sexist issue. In the old Japan, monks and nuns were accorded equal responsibilities but due to the reduction of the number of nuns, spiritual roles of women also reduced.

Lastly, the Nichiren Buddhism was not in a position to win the mass in trying to promote feminism in its time of Nichiren in Japan.


, 1963: 54-65.JSTORAnesaki, Mike. «History of Japanese religion.»

New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000.Women in religion.Holm, J, and John Bowker.

London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.A companion to gender history.Meade, Teresa, and Wiesner-Hanks Merry.

London: Routledge, 2009.The American occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and memory.Molasky, Michael.

New York: Yaylor & Francis, 2006.Gender in the world history.Stearns, Peter.

New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2009.A companion to Japanese history.Tsuitsui, William.

Trans Pacific, 2004.Nationalism and gender.Ueno, Chizuko, and Yamamoto Beverley.

London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006, pp. 6-12A companion to gender history.Meade, Teresa A, and Merry E Wiesner-Hanks.

2 Ibid, pp. 672

Yaylor &Francis, 2006, pp. 231-232 Gender in world history.Stearns, Peter N.

Yaylor &Francis, 2006, pp. 63-67Gender in world history.Stearns, Peter N.

John Wiley and Sons, 2009, pp. 72-122A coompanion to Japanese history.Tsutsui, William M.

6 Ibid, pp. 124

7 Ibid, pp. 135

Trans Pacific, 2004, pp. 76.Nationalism and gender.Ueno, Chizuko, and Yamamoto Beverley.

New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, pp. 98-102Women in religion.Holm, J, and John Bowker.

10 Ibid, pp. 100

11 Ibid, pp. 23

Ueno, Chizuko, and Yamamoto Beverley. Nationalism and gender. Trans Pacific, 2004, pp. 79.

Anesaki, Mike. «History of Japanese religion.» JSTOR, 1963: pp. 54-65

New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, pp. 6Women in religion.Holm, J, and John Bowker.

Ibid, pp. 56.

New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, pp. 552Women in religion.Holm, J, and John Bowker.

Ibid, pp. 621

London: Routledge, 2009, pp. 341The American occupation of Japan and Okinawa: literature and memory.Molasky, Michael S.

Tsutsui, William M. A coompanion to Japanese history. John Wiley and Sons, 2009, pp. 472

New York: Yaylor & Francis, 2006, pp. 83Gender in the world history.Stearns, Peter.

New York: Yaylor & Francis, 2006, pp. 62Gender in the world history.Stearns, Peter.

22 Ibid, pp. 778