- Founded: 1285, Kakusan-ni
- Other Names: 縁切寺 (Enriki-dera), 駆込寺 (Kakekomi-dera)
- Japanese: 東慶寺 (Toukei-ji)
Tôkei-ji is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple in Kita-Kamakura popularly known as "the divorce temple." Founded by Kakusan-ni, widow of Regent Hôjô Tokimune, in 1285, the temple regularly took in and protected women who had run away from abusive husbands or other such dangerous situations.
Though popular conception has it that any woman who made it through the gates was granted an immediate divorce, or that if they stayed at the temple for two years they'd be automatically granted a divorce, the reality was somewhat more complicated. It was, in fact, the case that the temple protected women who came there, and did not allow their husbands or other men to enter the temple to retrieve them or harm them. Abbesses of the temple often included imperial princesses or others of similarly elite origins, and the temple wielded such prestige that regents and warlords were at times turned away entirely. One account tells of a warlord named Katô Akinari who attempted to enter the temple in order to kill the wife and daughters of one of his rivals; learning of this, the Tokugawa clan reported severed its support for Katô entirely, seizing his fief.
At least 2,000 women are believed to have been sheltered at Tôkei-ji over the course of the Edo period. Those who came to the temple would first be interviewed by the nuns, who helped the woman negotiate with her husband to work out a settlement. If they could not come to a settlement, and the nuns decided that divorce was the correct move, they could then grant it; outside of Tôkei-ji and some number of other special avenues, it was generally not possible under Edo period law to get a divorce without the husband's agreement. Women granted a divorce in this way were then generally expected to remain at the temple for another two or three years, to repay the gesture by cooking, cleaning, and otherwise contributing as a member of the temple community. After these two or three years, they could freely leave the temple as a free and divorced woman.
Yodo-ni (1318-96), a daughter of Emperor Go-Daigo, found sanctuary at Tokei-ji after the death of her brother, Prince Morinaga, in Kamakura. Naa-hime (1609-44), the daughter of Toyotomi Hideyori and granddaughter of Tokugawa Hideyoshi, was brought to Tokei-ji in 1615 after she was rescued from Osaka castle with her step-mother Sen-hime by the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Sen-hime’s grandfather. Tokei-ji was then given extraterritorial rights by the Tokugawa shogunate.
In the late Edo Period, Tokei-ji was widely known as the “Divorce Temple” by sheltering runaway wives for 2 or 3 years to protect them by the authority of the shogunate, provide counseling and give them the choice of a legal divorce. Most of the women later returned to their parents’ home and some were reunited with their husbands. In the museum at Tokei-ji there are many short senryû poems written by the runaway women.
In 1901, Tokei-ji’s history as a convent and sanctuary ended when it became a monastery. It lost its extraterritorial rights when the Edo Period ended and the Meiji government set up courts for divorce.
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- Kondo, Tadahiro’s website: A New Guide to Kamakura. Retrieved from
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- Rozmus, Lidia and Carmen Sterba, ed. The Moss at Tokeiji: A Sanctuary at Tokeiji that Saved Women’s Lives (1285-1902), Santa Fe: Deep North Press, 2010.
- Tokeiji Official Web Site, Kamakura: Tokeiji Temple Co., LTD. Retrieved from http://www.tokeiji.com/pc/
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