Professor proves 'celibate' monk Ryokan was married

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept 18, 2006

Tokyo, Japan -- A new study has found that Zen Buddhist monk Ryokan (1758-1831), who was believed to have remained celibate throughout his life, actually had a wife.

<< Ryokan Zenshi (1758-1831)

Nobuaki Tomizawa, a former Niigata University professor in economics and a well-known expert on Ryokan, proved that the monk was married by studying a family tree that had been passed on to descendants of the monk's family, the Yamamotos, in his birthplace, Izumozakimachi in Niigata Prefecture.

The front cover of the Yamamoto family tree bore a date indicating it was created in 1866, 35 years after Ryokan's death. The family tree contains the posthumous Buddhist names of the successive family heads, as well as those of their wives and children. The entry for each married couple was written with the husband's Buddhist name first followed by his wife's.

Tomizawa noticed that Ryokan's name, written as "Ryokan Zenshi" (Zen master Ryokan), was preceded by a woman's name, Shakuni Myokan. Written above her name were two kanji characters instructing that their names be read in reverse order.

"Whoever made this family tree wrote Ryokan's and his wife's names in the wrong order. Instead of rewriting them, the person just wrote down those two characters," said Tomizawa, 64.

Since her name lacked a kanji that was always used in a posthumous Buddhist name of a Yamamoto woman, she probably divorced Ryokan before he became a monk.

"Before Ryokan became a monk, he was being trained to be a rural chief involved in local politics, so it's natural to think that he had a wife in those days," Tomizawa said.