The Tale of Chiyono relates how a young woman servant, Chiyono, at a country convent found enlightenment. When hauling water the bottom of her bucket fell away and the moon reflected in the water vanished. By the 17th century, Chiyono’s story had merged with Mugai Nyodai’s. One of the earliest versions of the story that couples the two women has been preserved in Shōkenji convent (Seki City, Gifu). According to the convent tradition, Nyodai (Chiyono) first trained at Shōkenji and she experienced the epiphany of enlightenment at the waterhole on the temple site.
The Shōkenji project seeks to research the yet-unstudied documents and other related items at Shōkenji. Photographing, transcibing, and comparing manuscript texts should provide a basis for a broader study that places the Chiyono story within the context of popular late-medieval tales (otogizōshi), Zen literature, and histories of outstanding nuns in China, Korea, and Japan. Chiyono’s story complements the Shōkenji den, a history of Shōkenji outlining the convent’s origins and the life of its founder, Mugai Nyodai. Hōkyōji Abbess Tokugon Rihō, who wrote a biography of Nyodai, and also fostered a close connection between her convent and Shōkenji, donating a number of her paintings and famed calligraphies, which are still in Shōkenji’s archive. In addition, Rihō wrote detailed instructions on appropriate convent life, shedding light into a little known subject. The project plans to photograph and research this unpublished document as well.
The project aims to publish key documents at Shōkenji in facsimili form accompanied by modern Japanese and English translations. These beautifully illustrated books will introduce the material to the general public. Another publication will be comprised of scholarly essays related to the material.