Jigoku Dayū, “the Courtesan of Hell” and monk Ikkyū

Jigoku Dayū, “the Courtesan of Hell” and monk Ikkyū

A short summary of her story.

Otoboshi, orphaned, was kidnapped when she was still a child and sold to a woman who was involved in prostitution in brothels.

She became the highest-ranking courtesan (Dayū) and decided to change her name to Hell (Jigoku) since she was convinced that her status was determined by actions committed in her previous life. She had infernal images embroidered on her dress as a sign of atonement with the hope of being reborn in heaven.

Her meeting with the Zen monk Ikkyū, a habitual brothel-goer (one of his maxims was that “virtue lies in the midst of vice”) intrigued Jigoku. The two spoke in poems and when the monk returned to see her, he found Jigoku Dayū enlightened. She decided to become a nun but Ikkyū told her that her profession was worth more than those religious hypocrisies.

Jigoku was finally at peace with herself and she continued her work as a courtesan since:

“What is not a dream? Who will not end up as a skeleton? We appear as skeletons covered with skin — male and female — and lust after each other. When the breath expires, though, the skin ruptures, sex disappears, and there is no more high or low. Underneath the skin of the person we fondle and caress right now is nothing more than a set of bare bones. Think about it — high and low, young and old, male and female, all are the same” .

–Ikkyū (“Skeletons,” 1457) [Translated by John Stevens]

This work is inspired by a photo of @hangknot – model Hane


[mixed media on paper]