Nun seeks dignity after alleged sexual abuse by Tendai priest in Japan (Pt. 2)

Mainichi, Japan/May 10, 2024

By Rino Yoshida

Takamatsu -- But gradually realizing that what was happening to her was not right, Eicho took action. She called a women's hotline for advice in 2015. Then in May 2017, she saw a TV press conference held by Japanese journalist Shiori Ito, who had come forward to accuse former TV reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi of sexual assault.

Eicho said she was "stunned" to see Ito make the accusations. "I was empowered to know that being a victim of sexual violence is nothing to be ashamed of," she said. Because of her willingness to expose Yamaguchi, Ito became a symbol of the #MeToo movement in Japan where people rarely report sexual assault.

Later, with the help of someone she met through social media, Eicho fled the temple in October 2017 and began living in a shelter run by a private support group. After leaving the temple, doctors diagnosed her with complex PTSD and depression.

In 2019, Eicho filed a complaint with police on charges of rape. Although she was hesitant and afraid, she decided to file the complaint on her own. But the charges were not pressed for lack of evidence.

"This was my answer from the Buddha. Dying is my only choice," she thought. But before taking steps to end her life, Eicho says, she visited the daisojo to ask him the "meaning" of the outcome of her complaint. She says he yelled at her saying, "What are you doing trying to bring charges against your relative!" and convinced her to return to the abbot's temple. Under his spell once again, she returned.

Eicho was ordained and became a nun. Life began again for her at the temple. Thinking that she might avoid sexual violence and threats, Eicho drew up a pledge for the abbot to sign in which he promised "not to engage in sexual acts or any act of violence" against her.

Nonetheless, she says the abbot's behavior continued as he would touch her breasts and force her to sleep next to him. Eicho wrote about her harrowing experience in a diary she kept:

"I feel I am being destroyed by my assailant day after day and I can't think of anything else to do but die" (May 20, 2021). "I want to die. I have to do what he says, like a slave, all the time. No one will help me." (May 27, 2021).

One last escape, the press conference

In January 2023, with the news being dominated by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church), which had come under scrutiny following the assassination of former premier Shinzo Abe by a man who said the controversial religious group had ruined his family financially, Eicho's husband and other family members came to realize that Eicho was being brainwashed.

They successfully convinced her to flee the temple for a second time, but Eicho felt panicked, thinking she would be "abandoned by the Buddha" and even contemplated suicide.

But through an acquaintance, she later met Michiko Sato, the attorney who would come to represent her and sit beside her at the Tokyo press conference in January. It would take her time, she says, to unlearn what she was taught, and to realize that the top-ranking priest was "not a Buddha, but a human being."

One option was to file a civil suit, but she says she thought that the damage done to her was "never something that could be resolved with money."

Instead, she and her attorney decided to demand that both the accused abbot and the daisojo be stripped of their priestly titles to prevent similar damage and ensure that the sexual violence perpetrated against her was recognized.

"Restoring my dignity"

"I'm betting my life on these accusations," Eicho told Kyodo, adding that she is at times plagued by fear, wondering if she can really bring a case against the daisojo, who is revered in the community as a "living Buddha" and is also her relative.

Even now, Eicho says, she can hear the verbal tirades she suffered from the accused abbot repeating in her head. She also continues to shave her head everyday despite her doctor identifying it as a form of "self-mutilation."

"I am covered in scars, both physically and emotionally, from the suffering." Still, she made the accusation because "it was the greatest thing I could do for myself after being erased from existence for 14 years."

"Only when the right punishment is given to both of them will I get justice," she said. "I can't change the fact that it happened and the suffering I feel, but I want to assure myself that 'I am still here.'"

Furthermore, Eicho hopes her tell-all "will change society's view" about sexual abuse.

"There are many women who have been sexually victimized and abused everywhere. Victims whose faith has been used against them find it particularly difficult to speak out because of their faith."

For Eicho, remaining quiet is no longer a choice she can live with. "I feel for the lives, souls, and human rights of so many women fighting with me. I am scar-ridden, but I have no choice but to speak out so that the same thing will not happen again. It is a reality of society that victims have no choice but to do this."

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