Kujo Takeko (九条武子)

Takeko KUJO (October 20, 1887 - February 7, 1928) was an educator and tanka poet, also actively engaged in the social movement in her later years.

She was born as the second daughter of Koson OTANI, the 21st head abbot of the Nishi Hongwan-ji Temple, in Kyoto (her mother Fujiko, a concubine of Koson, was born into a warrior class family from Kishu Domain). She helped her sister-in-law, Kazuko OTANI, the wife of then head abbot, Kozui OTANI, found the Buddhist Women's Association (BWA, Fujinkai in Japanese) and when Kazuko OTANI died young at the age of 30 in 1911, Takeko became general manager, taking on the solemn responsibilities of operating the Association.

She founded Kyoto Joshi Senmon Gakko (Kyoto Women's College; present Kyoto Joshi Gakuen (Kyoto Women's Educational Institution), Kyoto Women's University), basing it on Buddhist principles. After narrowly escaping death in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923, she promoted many projects such as the reconstruction of the completely destroyed Tsukiji Hongwan-ji Temple and activities to aid the seriously injured and the orphaned (establishment of the 'Asoka Hospital').

She studied under Nobutsuna SASAKI and excelled in composing waka; her collections of waka include "Kinrei" (金鈴, "Golden Bell") and "Kunzen" (薫染, "Fragrant Influences"). Her much-loved Buddhism hymn 'Seiya' (聖夜, "Splendor of an Evening Sky") was contained in her collection of essays "Muyuge" (無憂華, "Flower Without Sorrow"), published in September, 1927. The lyrics of 'Seiya', for which the music was written by Shinpei NAKAYAMA (1887 - 1952), are in seven-and-five syllable meter, and express the joy and peace of a person who is protected by infinite Buddha's filling the universe like the splendor of millions of sparkling stars in the evening sky.

In February 7, 1928, she contracted blood poisoning due to overexertion from her efforts in the earthquake reconstruction projects and passed away at the young age of 42, while the name of Amitabha Buddha was recited. Within the Jodo Shinshu sect, Takeko KUJO's anniversary of the death is called Kisaragi-ki.

Personal Profile

Takeko was praised for her intelligence and beauty, and was known as one of the 'Taisho san bijin' (three beautiful women of the Taisho period) along with Byakuren YANAGIHARA (niece of Emperor Taisho's mother, Aiko YANAGIHARA) and Kinkin EGI.

As for her private life, in 1909, she married Yoshimune KUJO, who was from a family of dukes and worked at Yokohama Specie Bank.

After they married, Takeko accompanied Yoshimune to Britain, where he studied at the University of Cambridge and worked in London, but after one and a half years, Takeko returned to Japan while Yoshimune stayed in Britain. Thereafter, they lived separately for more than ten years. There has been speculation that there was a friction between the couple because Yoshimune was uncomfortable with Takeko's beauty, intelligence, and high lineage (the OTANI family was a family of counts) but Takeko made no mention of divorce and intently waited earnestly for Yoshimune's return. At the end of 1920, Yoshimune returned to Japan and the couple started to live together again and although they had no children, they allegedly had a good relationship through the Great Kanto Earthquake and other incidents until Takeko's death.

Monument engraved waka poem

Drawn by the power of Great Things; Ah, how unsteady are my steps (in the precincts of Tsukiji Hongwan-ji Temple)
In a nest of wagtails in the corner of the latticework in a Mountain Hall,Three chicks cry, waiting for their mother (at the West Tower on Mount Hiei)

[Original Japanese]