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Naahime

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In the summer of 1615 Princess Naa, the granddaughter of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was brought to Tokeiji convent in Kamakura from Osaka when she was seven years old to save her life. Her father Hideyori and his mother Yodo-gimi had just committed suicide in Osaka castle, and her eight-year-old brother was beheaded. Sen-Hime, who was Naa-hime’s stepmother, pleaded with her grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu to spare the little girl. Tokeiji was founded as the first convent to be used as a sanctuary for women by Abbess Kakusan after the death of her husband (the 8th Kamakura Regent Hojo Tokimune).

Soon after arrival the little princess had her hair shorn and was renamed Tenshu Hotai and was mentored by the Abbess Naizan. According to Richard Cocks's Diary, William Adams traveled with Captain Saris through Kamakura in 1616 on their way to visit Ieyasu in Edo. Cocks had been at Osaka Castle and knew that Hideyori’s daughter was safe at Tokeiji. He wrote, “It is a sanctuary & no [one] may take her out.”

Once she became Abbess Tenshu, she was kept busy with religious studies, prayer, writing letters and poetry. She was in constant touch with the head priest of Engakuji across the way, communicated by letters with the well-known priest Takuan Soho, and continued to be in close touch with Sen-hime. Abbess Tenshu is known for her strong stand during the Hori Incident in 1642 when Daimyo Kato Akinari of Aizu sent his men to Tokeiji. When they demanded to enter the convent to take the Hori clan women the abbess answered that she would kill herself before giving them over, so the men left. Through Sen-hime’s insistence Kato Akinari was punished. Above all, Abbess Tenshu succeeded in arranging with the Shogun to keep Tokeiji protected as a sanctuary with extraterritorial rights throughout the whole Tokugawa era.

Among the treasures at Tokeiji, there is a small lacquered box that would have been used for communion wafers. At the time of the battles at Osaka, there were Christians living at the castle to escape the growing persecution. It is possible that a Jesuit priest gave this to the little princess before she came to Tokeiji.

References

  • Inoue, Zenjo. Tokeiji to kakekomi onna (Tokeiji and runaway women), Yokohama: Yurindo, 1995.
  • Milton, Giles: Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2003.
  • Morrell, Sachiko Kaneko and Robert E. Morrell. Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan’s Tokeiji Convent Since 1285, N.Y.: State University Press, 2006.
  • Rozmus, Lidia and Carmen Sterba, editors. The Moss at Tokeiji: A Sanctuary at Tokeiji that Saved Women’s Lives (1285-1902), Santa Fe: Deep North Press, 2010.
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