Nyonin Kinsei (No Women Admitted) (女人禁制)

"Nyonin Kinsei (No Women Admitted)" means forbiddance for women to enter shrines and temples, reijo (sacred ground), ceremonial sites and others, as well as the limitation to unobstructed cultivation and worship by men.

There is a temporary Nyonin Kinsei which considers particular period related with women's menses as a period of abstention, while there is a permanent Nyonin Kinsei which constantly prohibits women's entering in distinction from men.

Nyonin Kekkai (Barrier to Women)

Particularly, the barrier to regulate women's entry to sacred mountains is called the 'nyonin kekkai,' and the stones to show the borderline for women were placed at that border. However, for religious female believers Nyonin-do was built as a place where women could devote Buddhist invocations outside of the kekkai (border).
Additionally, the place which permits women to worship and practice unobstructed cultivation is called a 'nyonin koya.'

After the cultural enlightenment of the Meiji period, the stipulation of nyonin kekkai was released with regard to many sacred mountains. Other places have also been released in recent years, in accordance with women's social progress and the discussion of 'nyonin kaikin (release for women) that followed. The places that keep the tradition of Nyonin Kinsei remain only in a small proportion.


Nyonin kinsei, such as in regard to sacred mountains, are considered to be based mainly on Shugen-do's tradition.

Because Shugen-do was established through the syncretization of Buddhism (mainly Mikkyo, or Esoteric Buddhism) with the ancient Japanese Shinto faith, Taoism from China and others, it is difficult to clearly discern why it prohibits women's entry to sacred mountains.

The reason originated in Buddhist commandments
In the original Buddhism, no commandments existed that prohibited entry by women with barriers at particular places. In Shobogenzo, written by Dogen, there is a criticism of nyonin kekkai in Japanese Buddhism as 'a laughing matter in Japan,' and Honen, Shinran and others were critical in their views of nyonin kekkai.

However, Buddhism considers human desires as bonno (earthly desires) and sees an ideal to control bonno by wisdom, so that it recommends the control of sexual desire, which is the most difficult human desire to overcome. Accordingly, in the commandments for priests there are strict restrictions for activities that could stimulate sexual desires such as the prohibition of sexual intercourse (fuin-kai), that of masturbation (koshutsusho-kai), that of contact with women (shoku-nyonin-kai), that of using evil-minded words (sogo-kai), that of urging sexual intercourse as a memorial service (tanshinsaku-kuyo-kai), that of staying alone with a woman (byosho-fujo-kai), and that of doing what which incurs a doubt about their relationship at the time of being alone with a woman (rosho-fujo-kai).

Moreover, the mountaineering ascetic, who is a practitioner of austerities as half priest and half layman, also needs to keep at least fuin-kai during unobstructed cultivation (one of the hassai-kai, or eight precepts).

Incidentally, lay people are also prohibited from indecent sexual acts (such as premarital intercourse, extramarital affair, adultery, indecent assault, bestiality and rape) as fujain-kai (no sexual misconduct) (one of the five commandments). Additionally, it is recommended that lay people keep fuin-kai only during the period in which they devote unobstructed cultivation, such as in Zen seated meditation and Buddhist invocation.

It seems that in order to achieve those goals, women were removed from the places of unobstructed cultivation by men in Shugen-do. On the contrary, nunneries (facilities for priestesses) were originally specified as facilities attached to temples with a resident priest (facilities for priests) (for the purpose of protecting the priestess from sexual violence) so that it was difficult to remove men on a strict basis.

Additionally, in Buddhism it was originally prohibited for priests or priestess (except Buddha) to make a member of the opposite sex enter the Buddhist priesthood as a disciple (in order to avoid the ruination of the priest who would have his mistress around him as a disciple).
(Only a priest can make a man enter the Buddhist priesthood, and only Ama (nun) can make a woman enter the Buddhist priesthood.)

The facility necessary for entering Buddhist priesthood is called the kaidan (Buddhist ordination platform).

The person who entered priesthood for the first time in Japan was an ama, but from the Nara period to the Kamakura period when the placement of a kaidan needed permission from the Imperial Court, all kaidans such as those at Todai-ji Temple and Enryaku-ji Temple were subject to male priests so that it is believed the difficulty of women's jikai (handing down the precepts) and tokudo (entry to the Buddhist priesthood) were related to nyonin kinsei.

However, Buddhist commandments are different among priests, practitioners of austerities and lay people as mentioned above, and there are differences among sects in the contents of commandments as well as their interpretations and severity. Therefore, some nunneries adopt the policy of 'no men admitted' and some temples in mountain areas do not adopt nyonin kinsei.

The reason for the uncleanliness of blood in Shinto
In Shinto, the blood that is separated and flows from the body of a living thing is considered to be unclean.
(This is the concept of considering a part of the body, meaning what is separated from the body, as unclean, which is also perceived in regard to the hair, nails and released bodily fluids; and similar ideas exist in other religions and myths.)

For this reason there has, since ancient times, been a taboo that prohibits women in menstruation and puerperal period from entering sacred places (such as shrines) and touching sacred things (such as a mikoshi, or a sacred palanquin).

Originally, not only women but also men bloodied due to injuries were prohibited from entering sacred places, while hunting and other activities in sacred places were prohibited for the same reason; however, it seems that based on a characteristic of male chauvinist thinking in the feudal era, only the uncleanliness of blood during menstruation and puerperal period had been emphasized and used as the reason for the removal of women from sacred places.

The faith in divine power such as in Taoism and Mikkyo
There is a theory that this is due to the expectation of power in Buddhism and divine power by incantation and prayer against priests, mainly as influenced by Taoism and Mikkyo in ancient Japan. It was thought that the thorough sila (morality) was necessary in order to keep the power of Buddhism, which was needed for priest's prayer.

Among the stories in which Sennin, a wizard, loses divine power due to his sexual desire, the story of Kume-no-sennin in "Konjaku Monogatari (Tales of Times Now Past)" is famous. According to that story, he was attracted by young woman's white shins who was washing clothes on the shore of Kume-gawa River, lost divine power, fell down from heaven and married with that woman.

The syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism in medieval times
It is thought that different views on the taboos of Buddhism, Shinto and Taoism as above were syncretized in medieval times, and that the basic idea of present Nyonin Kinsei and Nyonin Kekkai was established led by mountain temples and Shugen-do around the Kamakura period.

Additionally, since the Kamakura period more and more of the literature distorted and cited a description in consciousness-only theory of ' 女人地獄使。能断仏種子。外面似菩薩。内心如夜叉 (Women are messengers from hell. They can cut Buddha's seeds. Their outside faces resemble Bosatsu. Their minds are like Yasha (devil))' (there is a superstition adapted from the Kegon-kyo Sutra) and another description in the Hoke-kyo Sutra of ' 又女人身。猶有女人五障説 (There exist women. There is a theory that women are five obstacles)' as 'Because women are unclean, they can neither become Buddha nor be relieved,' apart from the original meanings or contexts.
(No such meaning is found in the originals.)

For these reasons nyonin kinsei is sometimes interpreted as being based on the philosophy regarding women in Kamakura Buddhism.

However, it should be noted that there were founders of sects in the Kamakura period, such as Honen and Dogen, who were critical of nyonin kinsei.

Other factors contributing to the origin of nyonin kinsei
Additionally, there is an opinion that it is because the place of unobstructed cultivation in Shugen-do was in a severe, trackless mountain area.

Alpine climbing accidents are not rare, even today. Moreover, in ancient times mountain areas were thought to be dangerous places where the evil spirits of the mountains and rivers lived. Therefore, mountain areas were places that women, who could give birth, did not or must not approach in order to ensure their safety.

On the contrary, because mountain areas were such places, practitioners of austerity chose them as places of severe unobstructed cultivation where men could not be caught up in thoughts of women. Once the mountain path had come to be maintained well in accordance with civilization, religious women began to climb the mountains, relying on the mountaineering ascetic; this confounded the mountaineering ascetics, who then determined the borderlines of taboo by putting barrier stones and built women's halls for prayer and preaching.

Kunio YANAGIDA, a scholar of folklore, paid attention to the barrier stone called Uba-ishi at the start of a trail up Mt. Iwaki-san (or Ubasute-yama), a mountain where old women would be abandoned, and in "Imo-no-chikara" and "Bikuni-ishi" introduced a legend that a woman who crossed over the barrier stone would change into a stone. It was thought that the area beyond the barrier stone or border stone was the other world (the other world over the mountain) and that a religious person could gain a superpower by doing unobstructed cultivation in a kind of other, cloistered world.

Moreover, there is a theory that it was caused by avoiding the jealousy of female gods because the mountain god Iwanaga-hime had, since ancient times, been considered to be a female. For example, in the legend of Tono three mountains, which are seen in "Tono Monogatari (Tale of Tono)," each of three female gods lived in Mt. Hayachine-san and Mt. Rokkoshi-san, and they had kept nyonin kinsei for a long time. It could be thought that this was a taboo myth in order that women would not approach dangerous mountains.

However, Tagiri-bime, a god of Munakata-taisha Shrine Okitsunomiya on Oki-no-shima Island, which today keeps nyonin kinsei, is also a female god so that the myth that female gods were jealous and abhorred women might be established differently.

According to the other theory, there is an explanation that women have difficulty practicing severe unobstructed cultivation because 'women tend to be psychic,' like priestesses and Itako (people who can communicate with the dead).

As the reasons for Nyonin Kinsei, there exist various origins and theories as mentioned above. In each place, each origin has been transmitted. Additionally, there is a case that these were combined and changed over a period of history so that it is said to be difficult to reach general ideas from any one originating point.

Additionally, it could be thought that the time when nyonin kinsei was adopted in festivals was the Edo period or after Meiji period when male chauvinism became widespread, and in "Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters)" there is a description that women would join in festivals. Moreover, in ancient Japan women were believed to be sacred persons who were generally haunted spirits, so that women were thought to have many qualifications for being enshrined as god, as represented by Himiko. For example, in Okinawa, where Shinto is said to remain in its original form, women were called 'kaminchu' (men were called uminchu) and no men were admitted in the place where Shinto priest (such as Noro) would perform religious services, as opposed to nyonin kinsei. A trace of this custom remains today.

Opposition to nyonin kinsei (the case of Mt. Omine-san)

On November 3, 2005, the members of 'a project to climb Mt. Omine-san,' which was set up by dissenters against the nyonin kinsei of Mt. Omine-san, visited the spot in order to climb Mt. Omine-san, and requested the release to the temple's side by submitting a questionnaire, but it ended in failure. As a result, both sides agreed to have a chance to talk another day and broke up, but immediately after that the three women of the project stubbornly climbed the mountain in order to assert their view of the problem. Against this action, criticism came from the temple's side, local people in opposition and portions of the mass media.

While there is an opinion that "praises" the activity of the project side (it is a gesture of agreement with male chauvinism and an evil custom that is opposed to the principle of gender equality), there is another opinion that nyonin kinsei should be maintained firmly (it succeeds the religious and traditional culture that is rooted in Japan and does not promote discrimination such as male chauvinism so that the enforcement of mounting climbing is a hasty and foolish action that violates Japanese culture).

Additionally, there is an opinion that criticizes the project side from the standpoint of the freedom of religion (even if a certain faith or custom seems to be superstitious in the context of modern values, it is not good to carelessly and forcibly abandon it so high-handedly, but instead one should wait for the believers to reform voluntarily).

Moreover, some intellectuals criticize the project side because they do not act to require abolishment or amendment against the festivals and places in which traditionally no men are admitted, as a contrary practice in Japan (such as Utaki (Okinawa)).

Mountains and holy grounds

Lineage of Buddhism and Shugen-do in mountains

Mt. Fuji (but released from the latter part of the Edo period)

Mt. Tate-yama (released in 1872)

Mt. Hakusan (same as above)

Mt. Hiei-zan (same as above)

Mt. Koya (Koyasan) released in 1904

The three mountains of Dewa Sanzan (released in 1997)
However, there is a different period of unobstructed cultivation between men and women.

Mt. Ishizuchi-yama, Mt. Ishizuchi-san (Ehime Prefecture) (currently nyonin kinsei only on the starting day of the climbing season which is July 1st.)

Mt. Omine-san (Nara Prefecture) (nyonin kinsei in all mountain areas, with a large sign posted at the start of the route to the climb)
There is a protest movement.

Mt. Ushiro-yama (Dosen-ji Temple) (Okayama Prefecture) (except for the route of the climb to the top)

The Lineage of Shinto

Oki-no-shima Island: Even men must purify themselves by abstaining from eating meat at the time of entry.

Festivals of Shinto Lineage

Tanabu Matsuri Festival (Mutsu City Aomori Prefecture): In recent years women have been permitted to pull floats, but basically it adopts nyonin kinsei so that women are not permitted to ride on floats.

Kanto poles (Akita City)

Yamahoko floats in the Gion Matsuri Festival (Kyoto City): There are women's Hayashi-kata in some Yamahoko floats, but nyonin kinsei is adopted in regard to Naginata-boko, the first float of the parade.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa (Fukuoka Prefecture): There are cases in which girls of elementary school age or younger can participate while wearing the same costume of Shimekomi as men.

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri Festival: Women are permitted to pull Danjiri floats but are not permitted to ride on them.

Based on the membership of a special technician with an unusual talent

Mine (Yamashi): In recent coal pit operations the custom has been abolished and women have come to work in the pits.

In the tunnel under construction (Yamashi): Currently, female technicians are able to work without problems.

Sake breweries (toji, or chief sake brewer): Currently, there are female toji.

The dohyo (sumo ring) in a grand sumo (wrestling) tournament is the subject of discussion, but it remains as it has.

Forms of entertainment that adopt (or have adopted) nyonin kinsei

Kabuki: Although the founder of kabuki was regarded as a woman, nyonin kinsei has been implemented because of the problems of morality such as the appearance of groups which played kabuki and provided prostitution, giving rise to 'Yaro Kabuki,' which persists in the present day.

Japanese lyrical Noh drama: The participation of Noh actresses in the Nohgaku Performers' Association was admitted in 1948. Women's participation in the Association for Japanese Noh Plays (general accreditation of important intangible cultural heritage) was admitted in 2004.

Places that have taboos similar to Japan's nyonin kinsei

Mt. Athos: The site of a monastery of the Orthodox Church, it prohibits the bringing in of female livestock. However, cats are accepted.

The Olympic stadium of ancient Greece: Only married women were prohibited from watching the games. Unmarried women could not participate in games but could watch them.

Holy of holies of the Freemasons: The qualification for membership is limited to literate adult men who have no physical defects.

Membership golf clubs (which limit member qualification and facilities rights exclusively to men): Many golf clubs of long standing, such as St. Andrews, Augusta National Golf Club and Koganei Country Club, allow only men to participate.

[Original Japanese]