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Founding priest Mongaku was originally a samurai, Morito Endo by name, in Kyoto serving the Imperial Guards in the late 12th century. He fell in love with a married woman named Kesa. She was so beautiful and charming that he wanted to marry her by all means and proposed to her. His proposal was too persistent for her to decline. Kesa finally replied to him that she would marry him if he could kill her husband, and suggested to him that he visit Kesa's house at one designated night when the couple are asleep. Following her suggestion, Morito broke into her house the night. The person he killed, however, was not the husband but Kesa herself. Kesa had given him wrong advise by design and was in bed in disguise of her husband. She had preferred death to bigamy. Morito immediately took the tonsure for atonement and entered Jingoji in Kyoto, changing the name to Mongaku.

FudarakuMHWhat made him famous was his strict and ascetic disciplines after he entered priesthood at Jingoji , the mother temple of Shingon sect (also famous for the Yoritomo's portrait it owns). Just one example out of many, he went to Nachi in Kumano, Wakayama Prefecture and stood naked for days under the cold waterfalls in the dead of winter.

Back at the time, Jingoji's fortune was on the wane with no patron. Priest Mongaku tried to meet with Retired Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-1192) to ask for financial aids. Goshirakawa gave him a flat refusal and did not even meet him. Outraged, Priest Mongaku snarled at the imperial court people with violence. As a result, he was exiled to the Izu Peninsula, where he got acquainted by chance with young Yoritomo Minamoto, the founder of the Temple and Kamakura Shogunate, who was there in exile.

Priest Mongaku is said to have been the first aide for Yoritomo and helped re-organize the Minamoto ally. He urged Yoritomo to raise an army against the Taira Clan, Minamoto's arch-rival enemy, showing his father's skull. (His father was brutally killed by the Tairas). The Priest's persuasion encouraged Yoritomo to rise up against the Tairas and eventually led him to unify Japan. To reward him for his contribution, Yoritomo accepted his request to found the Temple. Naturally, the Temple served as a prayer hall for Yoritomo himself. Priest Mongaku's saga often appears in the ancient stories and was dramatized into Kabuki and Noh play.

A woodblock print of Mongaku in Nachi Waterfall (by Kabuki player) at MFA.

The name Fudaraku was derived from Potalaka in Sanskrit, which is said to be the name of a mountain where Kan'non, or Avalokitesvara in Skt. is believed to reside. Some believe the mountain really exists near Cape Comorin, India. The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet also originates in Potalaka and the Dalai Lama is thought to be an incarnation of Kan'non. In Japan, Toshogu Shrine and Futara-san Shrine in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, one of the most famous tourist attractions, are also associated with Potalaka. Futara-san stems from Potalaka as the similar pronunciation of both words suggest, and Nikko is another mode of pronunciation of Futara, though their kanji (Chinese) characters are different.

Main Hall
The present-day structure is a hall-cum-residence, and the surrounding area is packed with private houses. There is nothing that gives us any hints or vestige of its ancient glory. However, the Temple is rich in assets with as many as 20 or so statues, including the following:

Eleven-Headed Kan'non (Ekadasamukha in Skt), the main object of worship. The statue is also ranked 17th of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage.
A Eleven-Headed Kan'non statue at NNM.

Yakushi Nyorai, or Bhaisajya-guru in Skt., attended by Nikko (Solar or sunlight, surya-prabha in Skt.) Bosatsu at its left and Gakko (Lunar or moonlight, candra-prabha in Skt.) Bosatsu at its, forming a Yakushi trinity. They are relatively new fashioned in the Edo Period (1603-1868).
A Yakushi Nyorai statue at e-Museum.

Fudo Myo-o, the Immovable, or Acala-vidyaraja in Skt.
This statue was reportedly made to force the Tairas surrender through invocation. The ritual was performed in front of this statue to conjure away the enemy. As the saying "Curses, like chickens, come home to roost" goes, so did Priest Mongaku's curse. He had to die an unnatural death several years later.
A Fudo Myo-o statue at NNM.

Jizo Bosatsu, or Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt.
Made circa 1400, it reflects a Sung style sculpture, with the half cross-legged posture, which is rare for the Jizo Bosatsu statue.
A Jizo Bosatsu statue at NNM.

Hiken Daishi
A unique sedentary statue carved in 1377. Perhaps only one in Kamakura. Hiken Daishi is Priest Kukai (774-835) himself, the founder of the Shingon Sect, holding a sword in his right hand like a statue of Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri in Skt.).

A 30-centimeter-tall statue of Yoritomo Minamoto, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, wearing a court dress. It was exhibited at the Yoritomo Exhibition held at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in June 1999 in commemoration of his 800th anniversary of death .

A 31-centimeter-tall sedentary statue of Priest Mongaku. There are no fewer than ten statues of Priest Mongaku in the Kamakura area. All of them are wearing only a loincloth with his arms folded across his chest to demonstrate he is undergoing stern disciplines.

Unfortunately, the door of the hall is usually closed and none of these statues can be viewed. If request is made in advance, the priest will show those statues. As a token of appreciation, donation is necessary. The Temple also keeps a red banner used by the Taira Clan when both fought against each other. Red was the symbol color of the Taira whereas white was the Minamoto's. Why the Temple has such a flag is unknown. It may have been a war trophy. The Temple has once in a while been damaged by tornados, and therefore, is dubbed the Tornado Temple, or Tatsumaki-dera in Japanese. Yoritomo built several temples and shrines in Kamakura. Only two of them are extant: The Temple and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.


Fudaraku Tokai (voyage)

In the Heian Period (794-1185), Kan'non adherents in Wakayama Prefecture believed that Mt. Fudara and the Kan'non Paradise exist off the Kumano coast in the far south (probably near Cape Comorin), like Amitabha's Western Paradise. At the temple called Fudarakusanji, in Kumano, Wakayama, chief priests used to set sail on a small boat in seek of this paradise when they reached age 60. For each departing priest, the temple held cordial farewell ceremony praying for the priest's success. Once the rite was over, he was put into the boat, and locked up so that he could not get out. The boat was loaded with 30 days food and lamp oil only, and usually sailed out in November with a tail wind. In reality, however, the destination was nowhere but lonely death by starvation on the Pacific Ocean. During the 850-year-period from 866 to 1722, 21 priests are recorded to have followed the practice in search of Fudaraku Paradise. It was the 21st priest who broke away from the long-honored tradition. Terrified at the imminent death in the boat, he broke it and drifted ashore near Kumano. The Temple since has discontinued this human-sacrifice ritual. Instead, they began to send the body of the departed priest in a boat. The model boat in real size is on display at Fudarakusanji. This unique practice was novelized by Yasushi Inoue (1907-1991), a famous author who wrote many Buddhism related stories.
Meanwhile, Priest Mongaku may have named the Temple 'Fudarakuji' since he had faith in Kan'non and was familiar with Fudaraku Tokai.

Mongaku's tomb and slug festival

Priest Mongaku is reported to have been exiled to Sado island off the coast of Niigata Prefecture after Yoritomo's death. His whereabout afterward is unknown. One of his tombs is located in Gifu Prefecture, where legend asserts he died on his way from Sado back to Daiitokuji in Gifu, the temple he erected. Near the temple is his tomb, or a stone monument for him. A strange festival takes place here on July 9 (of lunar calendar) every year the day Kesa was slain by Morito. It is believed among villagers that on this day, score of slugs, all having a black line on their back, mysteriously gather here and crawl up the tomb stone. Locals believe that the slugs are transformation of Kesa and the black lines of the slugs are the scar made by Morito's sword. Kesa must have appeared before Morito in adoration of his success (some say in curse of his cruel behavior). At least two authors novelized the story relating to Kesa and Morito: Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) and Kan Kikuchi (1888-1948).

(Updated May 2011)