Tokeiji was founded in 1285 by a nun named Kakusan Shidō-ni, who was the widow of Hōjō Tokimune. In a feudal age where women normally couldn’t initiate a divorce, this temple was a sanctuary where women fled to break ties. For almost 600 years from its founding until the Meiji period – the start of the modern era in Japan, Tokeiji protected the code of en-kiri or divorce for women, and was a temple where women who were seeking release from marriage could find refuge. In 1871, this tradition was broken due to the anti-Buddhist movement at the time, and in 1902 the curtain was closed on Tokeiji’s role as a nunnery, and the temple became a monastery.
The 5th chief nun Yōdō-ni and the 20th chief nun Tenshū-ni
After the daughter of Emperor Go-Daigo, who was given the Buddhist name Yōdō-ni (?-1396), became the fifth chief nun, Tokeiji was nicknamed the Matsugaok aGosho (the Matsugaoka palace). It is said that after her brother, Prince Morinaga, was put in confinement in Kamakura and died an untimely death, Yōdō-ni entered Tokeiji and became a nun to pray for the repose of her brother’s soul.
The 20th chief nun, Tenshū-ni (1608-1645) was the daughter of Toyotomi Hideyori, and the granddaughter of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. As the adopted daughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandchild Princess Sen, who was married to Hideyori, Tenshū-ni entered Tokeiji at the age of just seven after the fall of Osaka Castle in 1615, on Ieyasu’s orders. Temple records state that when asked by Ieyasu for a wish upon entering the temple, Tenshū-ni stated that she wished that the temple codes that had existed since its founding would not be extinguished.
Thereafter, the temple code allowing women to break ties continued through the Edo period, and the status of the Matsugauoka palace became even higher.
In 1905, Shaku Sōyen became abbot, and Tokeiji embarked on a new chapter as a Zen temple. Sōyen was appointed as the chief abbot of the Engakuji Zen sect at the young age of 34, and was praised as the high priest of the Meiji period.
Dr D.T. Suzuki, a scholar of Buddhism and a lay follower of Sōyen, started studying Zen at Engakuji under Imakita Kōsen. After Kōsen passed away, Sōyen, who succeeded Kōsen, became Suzuki’s teacher. Sōyen and Suzuki used Suzuki’s superb English ability to disseminate Zen to the world, and built a foundation for the development of Zen culture throughout the world. In 1945 after Sōyen passed away and in accordance with his wishes, Suzuki created the Matsugaoka Bunko library on the hill behind Tokeiji, creating a focal point for the postwar study of Buddhism.
The Main Hall and the Principal Deity
Known for its beautiful pyramidal roof, the main hall – called the Taihei-den or peace hall – enshrines the principal Buddhist image of the temple, a seated statue of Shaka Nyorai, the historical Buddha. Inside the statue’s head are recordings written in India ink that details repairs that have been made. The recordings detail many events:in 1515 there was a fire,the present statue was rescued, and the Buddhist sculptor Kōen painted the face; in 1670 the Buddhist sculptor Kaga made repairs;and separate recordings state that in 1926 repairs were made by Gotō Kōkei after the serious damage from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 before the statue was enshrined in the main hall.