This Zen temple is relatively new in Kamakura as it was built in 1334, a year after the Kamakura Shogunate came to an end. The founder Ietoki Ashikaga was the grandfather of Takauji Ashikaga, the first Shogun of the Ashikaga regime or the Muromachi Period (1336-1573)
Founding priest Tengan joined the school of Priest Mugaku-Sogen (1226-1286),
the founding priest of Engakuji, at the age of 13. He went to China in 1320 to learn more about Zen and stayed there for nine years. After returning to Kamakura in 1329, he was enrolled in Jomyoji, another Zen temple. When Ietoki Ashikaga resolved to erect the Temple, Priest Tengan
was named as the founding priest.
A statue of Priest Tengan on display at Yokosuka city's website.
The Temple reminds us of the bloody struggles erupted among the Shogun, governors and vice-governors in the early Muromachi Period. With the collapse of the Hojo regime in 1333, Takauji Ashikaga established the Muromachi Shogunate placing the government office at the Muromachi district in Kyoto. (Hence the name of the Muromachi Period). As Kamakura was still an important stronghold in eastern Japan, Takauji appointed his second son Motouji Ashikaga (1340-1358) to be the first governor of Kamakura to control the Kanto region (Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures). Motouji nominated Noriaki Uesugi (1306-1368) for vice-governor, whose ancestor came to Kamakura from Kyoto together with the Sixth Shogun Munetaka. Thereafter, the two chairs were held by successive members of the two families, during which period, however, both were almost always at odds with each other.
It was in the early 15th century that a Hokokuji-related tragedy broke out. Mochiuji Ashikaga (1398-1439) assumed the fourth governorship at the age of 13 upon death
of his father. As Mochiuji did not follow suggestions made by the vice-governor
Ujinori Uesugi (?-1417) at all, both turned hostile to each other to the
extent that Ujinori was forced to step down. Mochiuji named Norimoto Uesugi
(1392-1418) as a new vice-governor. Though Ujinori and Norimoto were from
the same faction, they had not been getting along well with each other,
and therefore, Ujinori harbored further hostility toward Mochiuji.
In capital Kyoto, Yoshitsugu Ashikaga (1394-1418), younger brother of Fourth Shogun Yoshimochi Ashikaga (1358-1408), was secretly trying to overthrow the Shogunate in an attempt to take over the seat of the Shogun himself. He sent a message to Mitsutaka Uesugi, uncle of Mochiuji, and Ujinori in Kamakura urging them to launch a coup d'etat in Kamakura. Chances were for Mitsutaka to become the governor in replacement of Mochiuji. Both agreed to the Yoshitsugu's secret proposal and they made a surprise attack one night on Mochiuji's residence. Mochiuji was barely able to escape the attack and asked Shogun Yoshitsugu for help. Overthrowing attempt was by no means acceptable to Yoshimochi. He immediately sent his army to Kamakura to kill Mitsutaka and Ujinori. Both were caught in the end and forced to commit seppuku.
Mochiuji was thus able to restore the law and order in Kamakura as a governor. Nevertheless, he did not go well with new vice-governor Norizane Uesugi (1410-1466) either. Back at the time, children whose age reached 13 were celebrated and given a new adult name in recognition of coming of age. In most cases, governors' children received one Chinese character of the Shogun's name. Look at the first name of Shogun in Muromachi Period. Many start with "Yoshi". In the meantime, when Mochiuji's son reached the age, he named the son "Yoshihisa"' without ever consulting with Sixth Shogun Yoshinori (1394-1441) in Kyoto. Mochiuji ignored the traditional practice. Vice Governor Norizane was enraged and left Kamakura in protest against him for Gunma Prefecture where he was the lord of manor. Mochiuji interpreted his action as a revolt and sent army to kill him. However, Shogun Yoshinori in Kyoto sided with Norizane and ordered the Shogunate army to assault the Mochiuji's residence. Mochiuji was no match for the Shogunate. He and his son Yoshihisa did not have any option but to kill themselves. Yoshihisa's suicide ritual took place right here at the Temple. It was in 1439 and he was only 13 years old. With his death, the Ashikaga governorship in Kamakura ended in tragedy. (Mochiuji committed seppuku at Yo-anjii temple, which no longer exists.) See History for details.
Whenever I visit the Temple, it makes me wonder how a 13-year-old boy took
his own life and what he felt in the face of death.
The Temple lost nearly all of its structures in 1923 due to the Great Kanto Earthquake. Most of the current structures were built after the quake.
Main Hall (Picture; right)
A 50.7 centimeters tall statue of Shaka Nyorai is enshrined as the main object of worship. It was fashioned in the mid-14th century and reflects the Sung style carvings in China. An ICA designated by Kamakura City. The statue of Sho Kan'non, or Arya-avalokitesvara in Skt., ranks tenth of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage. The original statue is, however, preserved at the Kamakura Museum. Also installed is a sedentary statue of founding priest Tengan-Eko carved in 1347, whose posthumous Buddhist title is Butsujo-Zenji.
A sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai on view at Saitama city's website.
Adjacent to the main hall is Kashodo. Kasho, or Kasyapa in Skt., is one of the Ten Great Disciples of Sakyamuni. His statue was once enthroned in this hall, but was lost by fire in 1891. The sculptor was Joko Takuma (date of birth and death unknown), one of the Takuma school sculptors. They formed a local artists group including painters with excellent technique, and lived around here at Takuma valley. The Temple is therefore commonly referred to as 'Takuma-dera.'
A statue of Kasyapa at MMA.
Near the bell, a cluster of small Gorinto (five-tier tombs) are placed with a large one in the center. At the time of the Hojo regime's collapse in 1333, there was a fierce battle in Kamakura, and thousands of warriors were killed. Some of their remains were brought to the Temple and buried here. The Gorinto are their tombs.
Entrance is located on the left-side of the main hall. Admission is 200-yen. In the back yard are a cool bamboo forest and a beautifully arranged garden often seen at Zen temples. Right here the founding priest built a hermitage called 'Kyuko-an'. Stone statues of the Lord Buddha and stone lanterns are found here and there. At the south corner, there is a tea-house, where Japanese powdered tea is served for a fee of 500 yen.
At the west end of the yard are large yagura (caves) and ashes of Ashikaga family including those of Ietoki and Yoshihisa are reportedly buried. (Picture; left) The Temple has since served the family to console the souls of the departed, many of them died in tragedy.
The Temple holds Zazen-kai (sit-in meditation) every Sunday morning from 8:00 to 10:00 for the laity.
(Updated September 2013)