An Anniversary Commemoration

Abbess Mugai Nyodai

The Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies, founded in 1968, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a wide range of activities commemorating the seven-hundredth anniversary of the death, in November 1298, of Abbess Mugai Nyodai, the Zen Abbess whose life and legacy have been the inspiration for much of the work of the Institute during the past decade.

Abbess Mugai Nyodai (1223-1298) was a disciple and spiritual heir of the Chinese Rinzai Zen monk Wu-hsueh Tsu-yuan (known in Japan as Mugaku Sogen [Bukko Kokushi]); the founding Abbess of Keiaiji Convent, the head temple-complex of the Five Mountain Rinzai Zen Convent Association; and the spiritual matriarch of many of the remaining imperial convents today. The discovery of the magnificent life-size thirteenth-century chinso portrait sculpture of Abbess Mugai Nyodai was one of the initial revelatory events that drew scholarly attention to the wholly ignored female side of Buddhist institutional history and, more broadly, to the role of women in Japanese religious history. In many ways, therefore, she has been the Institute's 'patron saint'.

In the pages that follow we invite you to celebrate with us our past thirty years and to share in our ongoing goals and aspirations. As we approach the new millenium, we hope you will join us and support our innovative programs so as to bring to the center stage of world culture those extraordinary areas of Japanese culture which remain too often neglected.


nihonshi no naka.gif (5412 bytes)
Culture of Convents
in Japanese History
A Celebration of
Zen Abbess Mugai Nyodai
mugainyodai zenni.gif (2126 bytes)

Nuns and abbesses conduct a rare sange

Nuns and abbesses conduct a rare sange
ritual as they scatter paper lotus petals in a
circumambulation to gagaku music

Commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of its founding in 1968, the Institute held a series of events November 21-23, 1998 on The Culture of Convents in Japanese History at Columbia University.

Nuns from the few remaining Imperial Buddhist Convents of Japan now being studied by the Institute visited the United States for the first time to conduct a rare Buddhist ceremony in St. Paul's Chapel in memory of their spiritual leader, Zen Abbess Mugai Nyodai, who is known as the first female Zen master in Japan. The seven-hundredth anniversary of her death in November 1298 was commemorated as part of the Institute's thirtieth anniversary.

During the memorial service, nuns from Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Tokyo conducted Buddhist rituals never before seen outside Japan, and never viewed by the general public even in Japan. Chief Abbot Keido Fukushima of Tofukuji monastery performed a special incense burning and poetic invocation.

IMJS Reports Vol. 9, No. 1

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