Matsugaoka Tōkei-ji, The Divorce Temple

Feb 6, 2023 0 comments

For over six hundred years, the Matsugaoka Tōkei-ji, in the city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, had served as a refugee for women seeking shelter from abusive husbands. At a time when women did not had the right to divorce their husbands, abused women often fled to the sanctuary of this Buddhist temple. After serving at the temple and convent for a specified number of years, the Tōkei-ji arranged for a divorce to be given them by their husbands. It was during this time that the popular nicknames for the temple came into use, which are Enkiri-dera (the “Temple of Severing the Relationship”), and Kakekomi-dera (the “Temple into which one runs for refugee”). It is also sometimes referred to as the “Divorce Temple”.

Matsugaoka Tōkei-ji

Gate of Main Hall of Tokeiji Temple, Kamakura. Photo: Toshihiro Gamo/Flickr

The temple was founded in 1285 by Lady Horiuchi, the wife of Hōjō Tokimune, the eighth regent of the Kamakura shogunate, after her husband’s death. Lady Horiuchi was born in 1252 to the powerful Adachi clan and allies of the Hōjō. After her father died when she was one year old, Horiuchi was raised by her older brother Adachi Yasumori, who succeeded Yoshikage as head of the clan and as her guardian.

Horiuchi’s future husband, Tokimune, was born a year earlier and grew up at the Adachi residence in Kamakura. Both children were likely acquainted from a very young age. Horiuchi married Tokimune when she was nine and he was ten years old. After their marriage, the young couple moved together from the Adachi household to Tokimune’s own residence. Nearly seven years later, Tokimune became regent to the shōgun, and de facto the most powerful man in the country.

Both Lady Horiuchi and Hōjō Tokimune were ardent disciples of Zen Buddhism, and actively took part in meditation exercises. When Tokimune unexpectedly fell ill in 1284, both he and Lady Horiuchi took the tonsure and put on robes of monk and nun. Tokimune took the religious name Hokoji-dono Doko, and Lady Horiuchi was given the Buddhist name Kakusan Shidō. Shortly after, Tokimune died and Lady Horiuchi vowed to build a temple in his honor.

Matsugaoka Tōkei-ji

Main hall of Tokeiji Temple, Kamakura. Photo: Toshihiro Gamo/Flickr

Lady Horiuchi did not specifically intend the Tōkei-ji as a refuge for women fleeing their husbands. That reputation derives largely from its activities during the last two centuries of the Tokugawa period, although Tōkei-ji did provide a mechanism for women to divorce their husbands even since Horiuchi’s days. It’s role is more aptly described during its first four hundred years when it was known as Kakekomi-dera, or the “Temple into which one runs for refugee”. Some of the convent’s prominent abbesses originally arrived here seeking refuge, asylum and sanctuary.

According to one historical record of uncertain date and authorship, Lady Horiuchi asked her son Sadatoki to enact a temple law at Tōkei-ji to help women seeking separation from their husbands. Sadatoki forwarded the request to the emperor, who approved it. Initially, the period of servitude at the temple was set at three years. This was later reduced to two years. As many as 2,000 divorces were granted by the Tōkei-ji during the Tokugawa period, but after enactment of a new law, the temple lost this right in 1873. All cases of divorce were henceforth handled by the Court of Justice. After the Meiji Restoration, the temple not only lost its financial support but the government's anti-Buddhist policies contributed to the demise of the former nunnery.

The temple remained a convent exclusively for women and men were not allowed to enter it until 1902, when a man took the post of abbot and Tōkei-ji became a branch temple under the supervision of Engaku-ji.

The entire temple, with the exception of the bell tower, was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, and the temple was gradually rebuilt in the subsequent decade.

Matsugaoka Tōkei-ji

Photo: Toshihiro Gamo/Flickr

# Sachiko Kaneko and Robert E. Morrell, “Sanctuary: Kamakura's Tōkeiji Convent”, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
# Tōkeiji Temple, Japan Reference


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