Access Map


The Temple ranks fourth on the list of Five Great Zen Temples in Kamakura. When Munemasa Hojo, the third son of Fifth Regent Tokiyori Hojo (1227-1263), died young at age 29, his wife and their son Morotoki (1275-1311) (later he assumed the post of the Tenth Regent), jointly established the Temple to pray for the repose of the departed soul, nominating Priest Gottan-Funei (1197-1276) to be the first chief priest. Usually, one priest was enough to be the founding priest. In this temple, however, three are listed. According to several literatures, the practical founding priest was Priest Nanshu-Kokai (?-1303). He thought he was too young to be given the honorable position and, asked the founders that Priest Gottan as well as Priest Taikyu (1215-1289), both Chinese invited to Japan by Fifth Regent Tokiyori be nominated as the founding priests. Unfortunately, Priest Gottan had returned to China in 1265 and passed away before the Temple construction was completed.

Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), the Eighth Regent, must have also helped build the Temple in the face of the untimely death of his younger brother. Mrs. Munemasa Hojo was another contributor, though little is known of her contribution in this male-dominated society and era.

At its peak, the Temple had 11-structures including the main hall and sub-temples, and nearly 500 people lived in the temple precinct. In the case of the memorial service held for the Ninth Regent Sadatoki Hojo (1271-1311)'s 12th anniversary of death at Engakuji in 1323, it is recorded, more than 200 priests of Jochiji joined the service.

Inside the Temple's grounds today, however, there is no old buildings. The main hall Donge-den and other structures we see today were built after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Kanro-no-i well

At the entrance, there is a well, called 'Kanro', said to be one of the Ten Celebrated Wells in Kamakura and its water was once one of the five best. Kanro is literally sweet dew in Japanese, or amrta in Sanskrit meaning sweet dew heavenly gods drinks and shed to the earth when people are happy with the ruler. Today's well is, however, far from celebrated. It's like a small pond and muddy. The picture above shows amateur photographers surrounding the well to take pictures. The stone steps leading to the main hall is well-worn and tell us how the Temple is old.

Belltower-cum-Gate (Picture; right)

Unique is the two-story main gate with a bell on the second floor. No other temples in Kamakura have this kind of structures. The shape of windows appearing on four walls looks like a bell and is called Kato-mado (mado means a window), which was originally employed by Zen temples to show a lotus flower. The bell was cast in 1340, according to the inscription affixed to it. The top of the roof tiles is emblazed with the crest of the Hojos, or the Three Scales (Mitsu-uroko)..

Donge-den, or the Main Hall (Picture; below)

In the 7.2-meter-square Donge-den hall, three wooden statues of Nyorai (Tathagata in Skt.) are enthroned on the central altar as the main objects of worship: From your left to right, Amida (Amitabha in Skt.), Shaka (Sakyamuni in Skt.) and Miroku (Maitreya in Skt.), all in seated figures and represent 'past', 'present' and 'future' Nyorai respectively. The statue of Shaka is believed to have been fashioned circa 1370. The other two were carved in the mid-15th century. Wavy pattern of the skirt, of which hem is draping down, is the apparent features of Sung style in China. All are ICAs designated by Kanagawa Prefecture.

A statue of Miroku at e-Museum.

On the left-hand side of the threesome statues is another statue of Priest Daruma (Bodhidharma in Skt.), the founder of Chinese Zen Buddhism in the sixth century. The wooden statue was made in the 14th or 15th century. In Priest Daruma's portraits we often see, he almost always has a bushy-beard face with piercing eyes. Daruma dolls sold in Japan are like basket cases. By contrast, the statue here has no beards and looks even beaming.

Also enthroned on the right-hand side altar are wooden statues of:

A statue of Kan'non Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara-bodhisattva in Skt.), that is listed on the 31st of Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage, is enshrined at the rear of the hall.

In addition, the Temple owns the following important statues, though they are currently kept at the Kamakura Museum:

Standing near this hall is a huge tree named Koyamaki (sciadopitys verticillata), said to be the largest tree in Kamakura. Another notable tree is Hakuunboku (Styrax obassia) standing at the rear of the Donge-den, of which beautiful flowers are in bloom only one week in early May.

Yagura (Picture; below, right)

In the backyard, there are flower gardens, bamboo forest, graveyards and yagura, or caves dug at the foot of hills. Kamakura did not have enough space to accommodate cemeteries except for the privileged classes. Instead of building cemeteries, their ashes and/or cenotaphs for the repose of the departed souls were buried or placed inside those caves. In the Temple, there are many yagura and cenotaphs in its backyard. In one of these yagura is a statue of Ugajin {woo-gah-gin}, a figure of a coiled serpent with a human head on top of it.

Also enshrined in a yagura is a stone statue of Hotei or the God of Contentment and Happiness, holding a big bag on a big berry and a fan. Originally, he was a Chinese Zen priest (?-916), but in Japan he is believed to be an incarnation of Miroku bosatsu. The fact that he is enrolled in Shichifukujin, or the Seven Deities of Good Fortunes of Japan is a telltale hint of syncretism of Buddhism and Shintoism. Incidentally, he is the only human being among the Shichifukujin and Hotei here is one of the G7 in Kamakura.

A woodblock print of Hotei at MFA.

Monument for Sir George Bailey Sansom (1883-1965)
Sir George, born in London, came to Japan in 1906 as a secretary of British Embassy and had stayed there until World War II broke out in 1941. He lived near the Temple and studied Japanese culture. One year after the War ended, he revisited Japan as a British member of the U.N. Far Eastern Commission. In 1947, he went to America and taught East Asian culture at Columbia and Stanford University. His monument stands on a hill behind the Temple.

Unearthed coins
The monetary economy in Japan started in the latter half of the Kamakura Period. Since Japan did not have a mint nor technology to produce coins back then, they were imported them from China. In 1971 when the Temple's grounds were excavated, nearly 150,000 coins contained in a earthenware were uncovered.

The word "Gota-gota"
Gota-gota is a Japanese slang. It means confusing, tangled, causing headaches, or making matters worse. The word originates from the name of founding priest Gottan. He was known as a priest who used to lecture disciples like a stern schoolteacher. The word gota-gota is widely in use today and convenient to express various conditions in trouble.

"Taikyu-Shonen" is often called "Daikyu-Shonen". I followed Kamakura Encycropedia which reads "Taikyu-Shonen". His wrtings are kept at at e-Museum as ICAs.

(Updated August 2013)