Episode 418 – The Bucket and the Moon

This week, we have a biography of one of the rare women of medieval Japan who was prominent not just because of her relationship to men, but because of her attainments in her own right. It’s the tale of Japan’s first female Zen master, Mugai Nyodai.


Ruch, Barbara. “The Other Side of Culture in Medieval Japan.” Cambridge History of Japan Vol 3: Medieval Japan.

Appleton, Naomi. “In the Footsteps of the Buddha? Women and the Bohdisatta Path in Theravada Buddhism.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 27, No 1 (Spring, 2011)

Ulanov, Mergen. “Women in Mahayana Buddhism.” Conference Paper: Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, 2019.

Addiss, Stephen, Stanley Lombardo and Judith Roitman, eds. Zen Sourcebook: Traditional Documents from China, Korea, and Japan.

Schrieson, Grace. Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho Masters.

Fister, Patricia. “Commemorating Life and Death: The Memorial Culture Surrounding the Rinzai Zen Nun Mugai Nyodai.” in Women, Rites, and Ritual Objects in Premodern Japan.

A print by the Late Edo/early Meiji woodcut artist of Mugai Nyodai (labeled as Lady Chiyo here) and her broken water bucket.
Mugai Nyodai’s chinzo statue.
A closer detail shot of Mugai Nyodai’s chinzo.
Painting of Mugai Nyodai by the Edo period zen master Hakuin. This is from Patricia Fister’s article, mentioned in the sources.


3 thoughts on “Episode 418 – The Bucket and the Moon”

  1. Is there some reason that her statue looks like that of a man’s. It seems to have fairly broad shoulders, a wide face, and a flat chest. Nothing about the statue would indicate that this is a woman. I know that in Buddhist art when they are trying to depict a figure as genderless (especially Gautama Buddha) the figure has a specifically androgynous look to it, often with a not quite male but not female face or a curvier figure than what would be expected for a male.

    But this statue seems to code her has male, at least from the photos of it.

    1. I don’t know what you mean. She looks like an old lady who shaved her head. They know it’s male because they know her pre-dharma name.

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