Marriage and the Pain of Childbirth

Though we dislike The blossoms  Scattering so soon, Still our hearts were refreshed By their brief presence.     Rengetsu

In 1807, at age seventeen, Nobu completed her service at Kameoka Castle and returned home to Chion-in.   It had been arranged for her to marry. A few years before, Oka (Tayuinosho) Tenzo had been adopted into the Otagaki family assuming the name Mochihisa. Since Nobu seems to have met Mochihisa a few times when she was serving in the castle, her betrothal to him was not unexpected.

In 1808, her first son, Tetsutaro, was born in October. He died less than a month later. In September 1810, her first daughter Tanshin was born. Tanshin died in December of 1812.   In June of 1815, Nobu’s second daughter Chie was born. She died within a few days.

Mochihisa was evidently not much of husband, spending most of his time in dissipation, gambling, drinking, and chasing women.  Nobu separated from him soon after the birth (and death) of their second daughter Chie in 1815. Mochihisa returned to his hometown and died in August of the same year.

In 1819, at the age of twenty-nine, Nobu married Ishikawa Jujiro, who was adopted into the Otagaki family as Hisatoshi, and given a post at Chion-in. Nobu’s third daughter Chigyoku was born at the end of the same year. The union between Nobu and Hisatoshi was happy.  However, tragedy struck again. Hisatoshi died of illness on June 19, 1823. The night before, the thirty-three old Nobu shaved her head vowing to renounce the world. A few days later Nobu formally made vows as a Pure Land Buddhist nun, taking the name Rengetsu, “Lotus Moon.” At the same time, her father Teruhisa became a priest under the name of Saishin,  “Pure Land Heart.” Soon after his ordination, Saishin (Teruhisa) turned over his position at Chion-in to yet another adopted son, Hisaatsu, and retired.

Saishin, Rengetsu, and her children–according to one account, Rengetsu was pregnant at the time of Hisatoshi’s death and a few months later gave birth to a son named Jomu–sequestered themselves in Makuzu-an, a small sub-temple of Chion-in. At Makuzu-an, Rengetsu cared for her children and aging father. Rengetsu and her father spent hours chanting the nembutsu. They also resumed playing high-level go as one of their few consolations. In 1825, Rengetsu’s daughter Chigyoku died at the age of seven. In 1827, her son Jomu died at age five.* In August of 1832, Rengetsu’s father —a man who had lost his wife, all five sons, two adopted sons, and all his grandchildren—died at age seventy-eight.

At age forty-two, Rengetsu was all alone.


*There has always been the question, “How many children did Rengetsu actually have?” Late in life, Rengetsu herself wrote, “I lost two daughters and one son,” but there is good evidence that she lost four, most likely five children as described above.  Tomioka Tessai who knew more about Rengetsu than anyone stated that, “Six of her children died.”  There is a slight possibility that Tayuinosho Senri (1814-1896) was her son, although it is recorded that Senri was her nephew. Senri was a well-known scholar, agitator (he was imprisoned for a time by the Bakufu), advocate of Western military science, adventurer, and pioneer. Rengetsu kept in close touch with Senri all her life and from the nature of her letters to him–she signed them “Mother”– she clearly loved Senri like a son but it may be that she “adopted” him because all her other children were dead.

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