Women’s religious belief and writing

Ms Longmei Zhang1, Ms Yan Chen2, Miss Chunquan Qiu3, Miss Ruhui Ma4

1Beijin Foreign Studies University, Beijin, China, 2Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou, China, 3Hunan University, Changsha, China, 4Beijin Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China


In the Heian and Medieval Period in Japanese history, female writers left a large number of diary literature, which is a very strange phenomenon from the perspective of world literature. Our group aims to explore the relationship between Buddhist belief and the female writers’ creation of diaries and tales. By comparing women’s writings in China and the Choson Dynasty, we analyze the literary works of Michitsuna no Haha, Murasaki Shikibu, Lady Nijō and Hino Meishi.

In Kagerō Nikki, Michitsuna no Haha mentioned that she wished to become a nun. But ultimately her faith was used to improve the practical interests of her worldly life. Murasaki Sikibu was different, because she thought that becoming a nun was the inevitable destination. In the Medieval Period, Buddhist renunciation was the only way for Lady Nijō to escape from prostitution and keep her chastity. And Hino Meishi’s Buddhist act is also her way of proving her chastity. Women in the Middle Ages began to take the initiative to use Buddhist activities to achieve their realistic purposes.

Paper 1:
Murasaki Shikibu’s Renunciation Heart and Her Literary Creation   
Longmei  Zhang

Syakkyaka or Buddhism songs became popular from 1000. Being a literary form which combines literature with religion, it was welcomed by aristocratic scholars and females. And they regarded it as a beneficial way to enter into the bliss world after death. From Shūi Wakashū, Syakkyaka began to be included into Nijūichidaishū. Seeing from the poems in Nijūichidaishū and those created by the waka poets, the main purpose of the poems was to gain merits and virtues.

Compared with the contemporary female writers, only two Waka from Murasaki Sikibu that could be described as Syakkyaka, which were collected into The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu as diary poems. What’s more, the two poems were composed in the Thirties Dharma assembly of Saddharmapundarika Sutra hosted by Fujiwara Michinaga, so they were occasional works. In her diary and even in The Tale of Genji, she expressed her longing to become a nun. She also dwelled on how a person who was in vexation could get out of the obsession and become a nun in order to achieve the pursuit of rebirth in the hereafter. Among female writers in Heian Period, she was the only one who regarded Buddhism as the ultimate destination.

Paper 2:
The Description of Buddhist Dreams in Kagerō Nikki and Sarashina nikki

Yan Chen

Female writers in Heian Period such as Michitsuna no Haha, Sugawara no Takasue no Musume and etcetera wrote a lot of religon-related diaries. They were vegetarian at home, made pilgrimages to temples outside the capital city and recorded the Buddhist Dreams they had. Because of their writings, we are able to understand the status of noble women’s the Buddhist belief at that time. On one hand, they sought spiritual comfort from Buddhism when they were confronted with mental distress; on the other hand, they always focused their attention on secular life. Their literary writing benefited both from the tolerant creative environment and the free religious environment. The dilemma in reality aroused their strong self-consciousness and such such self-consciousness was effectively expressed via prose and diaries, which are ideal for detailed narration. Although Buddhist religous-related descriptions appeared in their writings, they always focused on the secular world and the inner self. After all, Buddhist belief was only an external reference when they expressed themselves.

Paper 3:
The Purpose and Significance of Lady Nijō’s Pilgrimages
Chunquan Qiu

Not long after being expelled from the court, Lady Nijō became a nun and began her pilgrimages to temples and shrines. But her tour was very different from that of the monks in Rutangqiufa Xunlijiand that of the European nuns in Roman Times described in Itinerarium Egeriae.

During pilgrimages, Lady Nijō’s heart was not immersed in the pursuit of religious belief, but still attached to the secular world. Most of the time, she was actively involved in groups of poets as a literary intellectual from the capital city. She built her own reputation as a waka poet via imitating the famous poet monk Saigyo’s experience.

We can say that the pilgrimage of Lady Nijō was not driven by Buddhist belief, but by a variety of practical purposes. In the Kamakura Period, it was extremely difficult for women to travel alone. Lady Nijō’s completion of the tour across Japan by herself is highly relevant to her choice of becoming a nun. All in all, becoming a nun and going for pilgrimage were just a method through which she made her waka-creating tour, which is similar to the female poets in China and the Chosun Dynasty.

Paper 4:
The significance of visiting the temples or shrines and practicing as a lay believer in the second volume of Takemukigaki
Ruhui Ma

The author of Takemukigaki, Hino Meishi, was the widow of Kinmune,the head of Saionji. In the second volume of Takemukigaki, in addition to recording the grand activities held in Kitayama Mansion as the widow and the active posture of her son Sanetoshi as the next head of the family, Meishi also recorded many about the temple’s and shrine’s visiting and lay believer’s practicing with a meditation, showing a devout Buddhist faith.

At the same time, it can be seen from the details of some narratives that the Buddhist activities of Meishi also included, praying for her dead husband, praying for the prosperity of Saionji-family and her son, and the aim of self-proving the utilitarian purposes in the attitude of lay believers. Although Meishi had a strong sense of impermanence and a desire to leave life and death, she couldn’t stop the pursuit of temporal interests. Therefore, she chose Zen to find a formal and theoretical basis for the lay believer.


Zhang Longmei (1964-), is a Professor in Beijin Center for Japanese Studies, Beijin Foreign Studies University. She received he Ph.D. in 1998, The University of Tokyo. Her research interest is classical Japanese literature.

Chen Yan (1977-)is an Associate professor in College of Foreign Languages, Fujian Normal University. She received he Ph.D. in 2010, Beijin Foreign Studies University. Her research interest is classical Japanese literature.

Qiu Chunquan (1986-), is an Assistant professor in College of Foreign Languages, Hunan University. She received her Ph.D. in 2018, Beijin Foreign Studies University。Her research interest is classical Japanese literature.

Ma Ruhui (1992-), is a Ph.D. Candidates in Beijin Center for Japanese Studies, Beijin Foreign Studies University, currently doing her research at Waseda University as a visiting fellow for one year. Her research interest is classical Japanese literature.


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