Access Map


Almost all literatures referring to the Temple tell us a story about a typical Japanese samurai, who committed a seppuku ritual suicide here at the dawn of modern Japan. His name is Matsunosuke Hiroki (1838-1863). The Tokugawa Shogunate began its national isolation policy in 1636, closing off to all foreigners except Chinese and Dutch for nearly 200 years until U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858), with a fleet of heavily armed black ships, sailed in near the coast of Uraga {woo-rah-gah}, the other side of Kamakura of the Miura Peninsula, in 1853 to negotiate a treaty for opening up Japan's harbors. He brought President Fillmore's letter addressed to Shogun, threatening that if refused, Japan would face a losing war. (See Gyokusenji in Shizuoka for details.) The government was in a difficult situation to decide whether or not to lift the isolation policy. The conservatives insisted to fight against the foreigners to keep Japan closed, whereas liberalists demanded to establish diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

A year later in 1854, Japan finally signed the Treaty of Peace and Amity with America and opened up two ports: Shimoda of the Izu Peninsula and Hakodate in Hokkaido. The first American Consul General Townsend Harris (1804-1878) was dispatched to Shimoda and he urged Japan to further open its market. In 1858, a high-ranking government official of Japan called Naosuke Ii {e-e} (1815-1860) decided on entering into the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with America amid strong oppositions from the conservatives, and yet without getting an approval of the Emperor. The Treaty was signed on July 29, 1858, which was, meanwhile, made of only 14 articles and far from fair to Japan.

JogyojiMHIn 1860, two years after the Treaty was signed, Naosuke Ii was assassinated near the present Imperial Palace on his way to the office. It was called Sakuradamon Incident. Assassins, a group of 18 rightist samurai were mostly clansmen from the fief of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, one of the three powerful branch families of the Tokugawas. (See Eishoji.) Four of the assassins were killed by Ii's guards, four took their own lives after they knew Ii was successfully assassinated, and seven were sentenced to death afterward. However, the remaining three just disappeared from the scene and were put on the wanted list.

One of them was Matsunosuke Hiroki. Despite the authorities' massive search, he managed to escape the chase as he disguised himself as a temple priest and went underground travelling mainly the coast of the Japan Sea. Later in 1862, he secretly came to Kamakura to elude the pursuit and was employed by the Temple as a grave keeper. Within a year, however, he learnt that all the fellow assassins were either caught or killed themselves, and he was the only one alive. It was a sheer shame and against the code of samurai. He confessed to the chief priest of the Temple that he was among the assassins, and asked the priest to help him commit seppuku. The priest accepted his request. Following a suicide-ritual, he disemboweled himself with a sword in front of the priest on March 3, 1863, exactly the same day of the assassination three years earlier. He was 25 years old. Today, his tomb lies in the graveyard of the Temple at the left side-hand side of the main hall, though few visitors pay attention to it.

(Note. In ritual Seppuku, the samurai suicide squat on the floor and thrust his sword into his abdomen, turning it for disembowelment. As it is in most cases unbearably painful, a comrade standing by strikes his neck with a razor-sharp sword severing the spinal column in one stroke.)

Main Hall
Since its founding, the Temple have encountered a series of fires. The present hall was originally constructed in 1812 as the founding priest's hall of nearby Myohoji, but brought here in 1886 after losing the former one by fire. It was roughly a quarter of a century after Hiroki committed suicide. Though the 5.4-meter-square hall is rather small and its appearance looks shabby, the ornament inside is valuable. The coffered ceiling is painted with birds and flowers, and in the transom are wood-cravings of twelve zodiac animals. The eaves are longer than the usual ones, which are never seen in Kamakura.

The main objects of worship are a set of statues, generally known as Sanbo Honzon, including that of Priest Nichiren, other Buddha statues, and the tablet inscribed with the holy statement Nam-myo-ho-ren-ghe'kyo, as often seen at Nichiren Sect temples .

On the right-hand side is another structures, in which the following two statues and one Shinto deity are enshrined side by side:

A statue of Kishimojin, or Hariti in Sanskrit. Kishimojin is the Goddess of Children. Dedicated to guardian spirit of children and pregnant women. She was once child-devouring demons, but was rehabilitated by the Lord Buddha and began to love children.

A statue of Senju Kan'non or Sahasrabhuja in Skt. Senju Kan'non is literally Thousand-Armed Kan'non. The statue does not have that many arms. Most of them are equipped with 42. A panel of Senju Kan'non statue on view at MFA.

Kasamori Inari. This deity has nothing to do with Buddhism. It is Shinto-based. For details on Inari, see Sasuke Inari Jinja. With its nature as Shinto deity, there is no statue. I saw several black stones being placed on a stand. Kasamori deity is believed to cure skin disease and worshiped for faith healing.

In this hall, we can observe the mixture of Buddhism and Shinto elements. A good example of an amalgam in Japanese religions.

(Updated August 2013)