This talk introduces the lives of female priests from the 14th and 15th century who belonged to a Pure Land Buddhist group known as jishū. A prominent and popular Buddhist movement, the jishū attracted a wide and diverse audience throughout the medieval period in Japan. It was a mixed gender group, with female members traveling, preaching, chanting and dancing alongside their male members. Women have long been active supporters and promoters of Buddhist rituals and functions, but female presence and importance in the operations of Buddhist schools has often been minimized. By looking at the jishū movement, we discover that outside the walls of institutional Buddhist monasteries, there was a fluid and engaging community in which women held important roles, including leadership of mixed gender congregations.
Dr. Caitilin J. Griffiths teaches Japanese history and cultural courses at the University of Toronto. Her new publication, Tracing the Itinerant Path: Jishū Nuns of Medieval Japan, from the University of Hawai’i Press (2016), fills in the lacunae that exists in our understanding of women’s participation in Japanese religious history through the example of the jishū, a Pure Land Buddhist group. Her field research was made possible through the support of the Japan Foundation Fellowship.