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Tendai Buddhist Priest Accused of Abuse in Japan


A Buddhist nun in Japan has come forward with allegations of brainwashing and sexual abuse against a leading Tendai priest, prompting shock withinthe country’s Buddhist community. The nun, identified by her Buddhist name Eicho, described feeling betrayed and exploited, and stated that her faith had been manipulated to facilitate sexual abuse, resulting in complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Eicho said that she had come forward to “restore my dignity, which has been stamped from existence for 14 years. I spent my days like a caged bird. My identity had been stolen and erased.” (Kyodo News)

Eicho’s upbringing in the Tendai school, a Buddhist tradition that dates back some 1,200 years in Japan, played a significant role in her life. Her grandfather was a high-ranking priest and she grew up immersed in the Buddhist teachings, eventually becoming a devoted follower.

According to Eicho, the alleged abuse occurred over a period of more than a decade. She has petitioned the Tendai school, to which the temple belongs, to revoke the priesthood of the accused perpetrator, who is now in his 60s, as well as his mentor, an 80-year-old abbot who holds the high rank known as “daisojo.” At present, neither of these individuals have been publicly named. These actions follow an unsuccessful attempt to file a criminal complaint against the chief priest.

The alleged abuse began in 2009, when Eicho was instructed by her family’s cousin, the high-ranking priest, to visit the accused chief priest at another temple. Despite her initial reluctance to come forward due to her reverence for the priests and fear of religious consequences, Eicho eventually sought help from a women’s hotline in 2015.

Eicho’s subsequent decision to speak out stems from a desire to raise awareness about sexual violence against women, particularly within religious contexts where victims may fear reprisal for exposing abuse. She said that she was inspired by Japanese journalist Shiori Ito, who she saw coming forward in 2017 to accuse former TV reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi of sexual assault. At the time, few women in Japan had come forward with public allegations of assault or abuse, so Ito’s actions helped spark the #metoo movement in Japan.

 “I was empowered to know that being a victim of sexual violence is nothing to be ashamed of,” Eicho remarked, recounting Ito’s actions. (Kyodo News

Despite filing a complaint with the police, charges were not pursued due to a lack of evidence. Eicho’s attempts to seek justice were met with resistance, including pressure from the accused abbot and disillusionment with the Tendai school’s response.

Eicho’s accusations have sparked an internal investigation within the Tendai tradition. However, skepticism remains about the impartiality of the investigation, with Eicho and her legal representative calling for a third-party committee to address the allegations.

Michiko Sato, left, with Eicho at a press conference in March 2024. From

It wasn’t until 2023 that Eicho’s family, concerned for her well-being, convinced her to flee the temple once and for all. She was hesitant, however, and only left after meeting and working with Michiko Sato, an attorney who would work with her through the ensuing legal process.

The accused chief priest has declined to comment on the specifics of the case but has maintained his innocence, emphasizing his longstanding connection to the temple and his mentor, the high-ranking priest.

The allegations have raised broader concerns about sexual violence within religious communities and the challenges victims face in coming forward. Psychiatrist Miyako Shirakawa noted that victims often struggle to report abuse due to fears of accusations of blasphemy and betrayal, especially in cases involving authority figures within religious hierarchies.

“Sexual violence within religion is easily concealed, and if it is sexual violence done by someone in a position of authority, victims are often not believed by those around them,” Shirakawa said. (Kyodo News) She added that power imbalances, such as the master-disciple relationship, can be abused to convince victims that they are wrong to complain about the harmful behavior. She also noted that these incidents often shattered the faith of the victims, causing deep and lasting psychological trauma.

Eicho has expressed hope that by sharing her story, she can bring about change and support other victims of sexual abuse. She remains steadfast in her pursuit of justice, determined to restore her dignity and prevent similar harm from happening to others.

See more

FEATURE: Nun speaks out over Tendai priest sexual abuse allegations (Kyodo News)

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