Steinfrauen, defekte Männer und Asketen

Gewollte und ungewollte Kinderlosigkeit in buddhistischen Quellen des japanischen Mittelalters

  • Katja Triplett (Autor/in)


What was being ‘childless’ supposed to mean and what did it actually mean to those living in medieval Japan? Buddhist texts from the Japanese medieval and early modern periods describe childlessness as a desirable state for ordained people. Buddhist ordination rules prescribed the renunciation of sexual acts, sexual reproduction, and thus children. At the same time, normative texts of the period describe childlessness as a source of grief for Buddhist laypeople. In Japan, having one’s own offspring was primarily important for ensuring the ritual care of deceased ancestors: living family members had to ensure that the deceased obtained enlightenment in the beyond. This contrast between the ordained who abstained from sexually reproductive acts and the sexually reproductive families who supported the monastics’ livelihood reflected a societal model that did not correspond wholly to social reality from the early Japanese medieval period onward. Nevertheless, an analysis of the interpretations and intra-religious debates about aspects of childlessness found in the normative sources of that period is worthwhile because the sources provide valuable information about the worries and needs of women and men of a specific region at a specific time. For this reason, they also provide a window on the local reality of life in medieval Japan that might be of interest for comparative studies on the topic of ‘childlessness’ in other religions such as Catholicism, and in other parts of the medieval world.

Keywords Japan; Buddhism; Childlessness; Japanese Christianity; Infertility