Chūjō-hime (中将姫 Chūjō-hime?, Middle Captain Princess) (also written Chūjōhime or Chūjō Hime) (753?–781?) was by most accounts a daughter of the court noble Fujiwara no Toyonari who escaped persecution at the hands of her stepmother by becoming a nun at the Taima-dera in Nara. There she took on the name Zenshin-ni or the Dharma name Honyo (法如). She has become a folk heroine, the subject of numerous Japanese folktales which celebrate her filial piety. She is sometimes called the Japanese Cinderella.
She is said to be the daughter of an imperial minister of the Fujiwara clan and a royal princess. Different stories disagree on her date of birth: most place it in the 8th century, during Emperor Shōmu's reign, and suggest she was the daughter of Fujiwara no Toyonari; however, a few state she was the daughter of Fujiwara no Toyoshige, a century earlier. It is said that the childless couple had appealed to Kannon and been granted a daughter in exchange for the life of one parent. When Chūjō-hime is three, therefore, her mother dies; her father subsequently remarries.
In some versions of the story, her stepmother then orders her taken into the mountains and abandoned to die. In others, she remains at home and makes copies of the Buddhist sutras for her mother's salvation, and this devotion earns the enmity of her stepmother. In either case, she is rescued by the Buddhist nuns of Taima-dera and becomes a nun herself. As a nun, she lives an austere and meditative life, and comes to be known as a "living Buddha." She is credited with inventing the art of embroidery during this time.
Chūjō-hime is credited with weaving the Lotus Thread, Taima Mandala, a mandala depicting the cosmography of the Pure Land. It is said that she managed this miracle in a single night. Some versions of the story say that she was aided in the task by an apparition of Amida Butsu in response to her prayers. Other beliefs hold that she was herself an incarnation of Kannon.
In popular culture
She is cast as the main female character in the 1939 novel Shisha no sho by Shinobu Orikuchi.
- Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003. 129–130
- "Chujo-hime and the Spirit of her Wicked Stepmother". Sinister Designs: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka. Retrieved 2007-01-05.
- Glassman, Hank. "Chujo-hime, Convents, and Women's Salvation". Retrieved 2007-01-05.
- Ashkenazy, Michael (2003). Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio.
- "Chūjō-hime." (1985). Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
- Papinot, Edmond (1910). Historical and geographical dictionary of Japan. Tokyo: Librarie Sansaisha.