Biography

The Earliest Years

Rengetsu was born on the eighth day of the first month of Keisei III (1791) in the Sanbogi pleasure district of Kyoto. She was  the love child of an unnamed courtesan and Todo Kinshichiro Yoshikiyo (1767-1798), a high ranking retainer of Iga Ueno Castle.  Within a few days of her birth she was adopted by Otagaki Teruhisa* and his wife Nawa. They named her Nobu. In August of the same year, Teruhisa was appointed a sacristan of Chion-in, the huge headquarter temple of the Jodo Sect located in Kyoto. This appointment carried with it a steady source of income and was hereditary. Both the adoption and appointment were likely arrranged by  Nobu’s natural father Yoshikiyo.  Click here to continue reading . . .

Marriage and the Pain of Childbirth

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.  Click here to continue reading . . .

The Middle Years

After the forty-nine day mourning period for her father was completed, Rengetsu left Makuzu-an. She held no official position at Chion-in. There were few Buddhist nuns in Japan, no nunnery to speak of, and at the small number of temples that had an abbess, she was typically a member of the imperial household who had taken vows late in life to serve at a temple sponsored by the emperor. And while there were some mendicant monks who survived by begging, that was not an option for a solitary nun. Rengetsu had no place within a Buddhist organization.  Click here to continue reading . . .

Fulfillment

Rengetsu hit her stride at age sixty and went on to produce a huge corpus of work—poetry, calligraphy, pottery, painting, and collaborations–over the next twenty-five years.

In 1851, at age sixty-one Rengetsu took a break from her pottery making to spend the summer in retreat at Daibutsu (Hokoji), mostly studying the collected poetry of Ozawa Roan. The head priest at a nearby temple, Myoho-in, was Rankei Jihon. Rankei was a Tendai Buddhist savant as well as a poet and calligrapher himself. Rengetsu and Rankei became good friends. While at Daibutsu, Rengetsu also met Gankai Ajari, a marathon monk from Mt. Hiei.  Rengetsu gave Gankei a teapot that he used the rest of his days. We can surmise that Rengetsu acquired a good knowledge of Tendai Buddhism when she was at Daibutsu, regularly attending the morning service or other ceremonies at the temple and talking with Rankei and Gankei.  Click here to continue reading . . . 

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