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Some historians cast a doubt if the Temple was really erected in 1250, because founding priest Soden passed away nearly 60 years after the Temple's foundation. The Temple believes it was. Originally located near the Zaimokuza beach, it was destroyed by the earthquake coupled with tsunami wave in 1703, and forced to move to the present site. Inside the main hall are magnificent twelve statues enthroned on the alter in the shape of letter U.

The Temple is famous for preserving statues of Ju-o, or Ten Kings in Hades. Before worshipping and watching the statues, visitors may need to know a little about the Ju-o concept. It was based on Chinese Taoism and introduced into Japanese Buddhism during the Heian Period (794-1185). In Kamakura, it flourished in the 14th century, and seems to be a Buddhist version of the Roman Catholic's Purgatory or Dante's Inferno. According to the teaching, wicked men go to hell after death while good men to paradise. Those who are not certain will be subject to trial once a week after death on their deeds while they were alive. They are judged by the Ten Kings over the courts of justice in the netherworld. The trial will be staged by each king on the specific day in the following order:

  1. First 7th day after the funeral-------------Shinko-o
  2. Second 7th (14th) day after the funeral-----Shoko-o
  3. Third 7th (21st) day after the funeral-------Sotai-o
  4. Fourth 7th (28th) day after the funeral------Gokan-o
  5. Fifth 7th (35th) day after the funeral--------Enma Dai-o, or Yama in Sanskrit
  6. Sixth 7th (42nd) day after the funeral-------Henjo-o
  7. Seventh 7th (49th) day after the funeral----Taizan-o
  8. 100th day after the funeral---------------Byodo-o
  9. First Anniversary-----------------------Toshi-o
  10. Second Anniversary---------------------Godo-tenrin-o

Enma Dai-o, or Yama, as the ruling judge, deliver a verdict five weeks after one's death hearing the check-ups made by the first four kings. Thereby, the defendants are ordered to go to one of the Six Stages of the World: Hell, World of Preta (hungry ghost), Realm of Beasts, World of Asura (fury), Human Being and Heaven. (In Sanskrit, it reads Sad-gati and some Japanese translate it "Six Stages of Existence". All are suffering stages even in the Heaven.) Henjo-o decides specifically which one of the Six Worlds the defendants will be sentenced to go. The world of Human Being, for example, has various types; wealthy or poor, peaceful or violent. Taizan-o gives personal conditions such as span of life and sex, etc. During the first 49 days after death, their souls are believed to be wandering where their body used to live and on the 50th day, they go to the stage where they were ordered to. However, those who go to the World of Hell, Preta, Beasts and Asura may be relieved and can go to Heaven later if they stay religious and hold a mass on the 100th day, first and second anniversary of death.

Paintings of Ten Kings at NNM.
A hanging scroll of the Ten Kings at MFA.

Datsueba {dats-a-bah}
After the first trial by Shinko-o, the dead who were found innocent can cross the River Sanzu or the River of Three Crossings walking on a bridge guided by Jizo Bosatsu, or Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt., while the guilty must swim across a deep water and the less guilty have to ford a rapid stream. At the other side of the River, a Datsueba is waiting for the guilty to come up and rob them of their clothes. Datsueba literally means 'an old woman who robs clothes'.

Paintings of Datsueba at MFA.

Jizo Bosatsu
is believed to save those souls that are suffering in each world. A group of six stone-statues of Jizo can often be found in Kamakura. They are called 'Six Jizo' and each Jizo is assigned to one of the Six Stages to save those wandering souls. Jizo Bosatsu is also referred to as the guardian deity of children. Babies including stillborns and fetuses are also destined to go to the netherworld and have to face the trial. When they try to wade the River Sanzu which lies between Shinko-o and Shoko-o, they are too small to cross the River. They pile up stones by themselves with their little hands but to no avail as devils come out of nowhere and destroy piled-up stones not to let them get over. If their parents have faith in Jizo Bosatsu, however, Jizo will appear before the babies and help them wade the River safely guarding against the devils. Jizo statues usually carry a stick called shakujo in their right hands and it is used, says the folklore, for fathoming the river. Hearing this horrible story, parents who lost their babies would be unable to remain indifferent. Imagining their little babies wandering at the riverbed unable to wade, those parents feel they have to do something for their dead children. Statuettes found in some temples, Hasedera for example, are the ones dedicated by those parents in sorrow.

A Jizo Bosatsu statue at e-Museum.

(Note: Some temples, though a handful of them, take advantage of this folkloric belief, and send messages to the traumatized parents saying that their lost children will continue to be agonized and never be saved unless they soothe children's souls by building statuettes and offer religious services. As a result, those parents are forced to buy expensive statuettes and pay an exorbitant fee for the services.)

That's the outline of the Ju-o and Jizo concept. Through this teaching, priests tried to persuade people, the young in particular, to do right things while they are alive. Background of this concept is punishing the bad and rewarding the right, or the retributive justice. In today's technology-oriented society, however, few people believe the world after death. In early 1999, The Times of London reported on an England football coach who was quoted as having said "Disabled people were paying for sins committed in previous lives", and he was fired because of this comment. If such thoughts exist in the Christian society even today, then, why not the life after death?

With their faces possessing dreadful and scowling expressions, those statues intimidate worshipers. On the U-shape altar of the hall 12 wooden statues, mostly sedentary, are placed. Unless otherwise specified, all statues were made during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The statue of Enma-Dai-o is installed right in the center. Its headgears and costumes somehow look like Chinese, reflecting Taoism influence.

On the far left of the left altar is a sedentary statue of Jizo Bosatsu. With shaved head and having a stick in his right hand and a treasure ball called Hoju in his left, this is a typical statue of Jizo. The gentle and amiable aspect makes a sharp contrast with the Ten Kings. With its gracefulness, he makes excuse for the defendants at the time of trials before the Ten Kings and help mitigate the punishment. Hence the name of "Excuse Jizo". It is the Eighth of the Twenty-Four Kamakura Jizo Pilgrimage. Statues of Datsueba and the founding priest are placed on the right alter.

The Temple gives us a rare chance to look into the statues real close like displays in a museum. Though the statues are not the objects of art but the object of worship, visitors may be allowed to take a close look at and appreciate them after worshiping in proper manner. But, taking pictures is in no case permitted.

Other than those statues, the Temple owns statues of a pair of Gushojin {goo-show-gin} and shoko-o, which are carved during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) and are kept at the Kamakura Museum as ICAs. With respect to Gushojin, once a baby was born, the deity is believed to immediately stay with the baby and keeps all the records on his or her performances until their death. One Gushojin writes down only good behaviors while the others note sinful ones. In the first trial by Shinko-o on the first seventh day after death, the Gushojin reports to Shinko-o on all of the performance of the dead. The 100 centimeters tall statue of Shoko-o is an excellent one fashioned in 1251 by Koyu, a local sculptor. His birth and death year unknown.

(Updated August 2013)