Next we visited Tokeiji, Japan’s first and probably the World’s first women’s refuge, just across the road from Engaku-Ji at Kitakameruka.
Kakusan, wife of Hojo Tokimune, the eighth Kameruka era regent founded Engaku-Ji in 1285 as a Rinzai Zen nunnery. Initially it was to pray for the soul of her dead husband but she also came to offer refuge to women who wanted to escape from their husband.
In Feudal Japan at the time, a husband could divorce his wife at any time with a brief written declaration but the wife had no right for divorce no matter what happened. However, if she were to abscond and make it to Tokeiji, then her husband could not claim her. She could then stay at Tokeiji without having to become a nun. After three years (later reduced to two), she could claim a divorce and Tokeiji could also force husbands to accept a divorce before that time.
Tokeiji fulfilled this role for over 600 years. In 1873, the new Meiji government passed a law to allow divorce and established a family court. Tokeiji no longer had a role as a refuge and after the last Head Nun died in 1902, it ceased to be a nunnery. It then became part of Engaku-Ji with a male Head Priest.