Legend has it that Yasutoki Hojo built the Temple in 1219 to pray for the Hojos' good luck in war at the site where Priest Kukai (774-835), the founder of Shingon sect Buddhism, had held a sacred fire-ritual for invocation while he was travelling in this region. The ritual is called Goma in Japanese, or Homa in Skt., meaning a holy fire for invocation to exorcise evil spirits, practiced mostly by esoteric Buddhists such as Shingon sect. To be specific, it is the rite of burning cedar sticks on the altar while chanting sutras and making most of the Buddhist fittings. Fire is believed to purify or ward off the evil spirits. In general, ritualism of this sect is very elaborate and complicated.
The principal object of worship is Fudo Myo-o, or Acalanatha in Skt. Fudo is "immovable" in Japanese.
Also enshrined statue is that of Mongaku (1139-1203), a famous priest for the Shingon sect, well known as he was in austere training in the early Kamakura Period (1185-1333) and erected Fudarakuji. Priest Mongaku committed homicide by accident when he was serving as a samurai for the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Knowing he killed a married woman, he immediately took Buddhist vows. Later, he was exiled to Izu peninsula as a criminal, where he got acquainted with Yoritomo Minamoto, the founder of Kamakura Shogunate, and persuaded him to fight against the Taira clan.
A woodblock print of Priest Mongaku at MFA.
The Temple flourished as long as the Hojo family reigned the country. In
1333, however, the family was completely destroyed as the loyalist troops
led by Yoshisada Nitta (1302-1338) attacked Kamakura resulting in the collapse of the Hojo regime.
Exactly this part of Kamakura turned fierce battleground. Fortunately,
the statues had been carried out and kept at a small retreat located in
a hill behind Gokurakuji before the battle broke out. After the Temple was rebuilt here during the Edo Period (1603-1868), the statues were relocated as well.
A statue of Fudo Myo-o can be seen at Miyagi Prefecture's website.
Other than Fudo Myo-o, the following statues are also enthroned on the alter of the main hall:
Unfortunately, inside the hall is too dark and the statues can barely be
made out in the dim natural light. In addition, reflection of glass pane
does not allow us to peer in. To worship and watch those statues, reservations
in advance are necessary.
In the courtyard, there are two bronze statues: Those of Fudo Myo-o and Priest Kukai in mendicancy.
The approach to the Temple has a flight of 108 steps and both sides are
lined with 262 hydrangeas. From mid-June through early July, beautiful
flowers are in full bloom and the Temple is called "Another Ajisai (hydrangea) Temple." The other one is Meigetsu-in. The 108 is the number of tolling bell on New Year's Eve, and, 262 is the number of Chinese characters used in Hannya-shingyo sutra. As the steps show, the Temple is located on the top of a hill and the step-path was the only road available back in the Kamakura Period. (The car-running road down the Temple was built only recently in the 1910s.) It was an open-cut made by Priest Ninsho (1217-1303), the founding priest of the neighboring Gokurakuji and an important road leading to Inamuragasaki seashore.
The open-cut was the main road back at the time used for going to and coming from Kyoto. As one of the ancient Seven Open-cuts in Kamakura, it was strategically developed to defend enemy attacks. In other words, the open-cut path was just wide enough for a horse to go through. At the time of Yoshisada Nitta's assault, the path was so impregnable that the troops with tens of thousands samurai gave up passing this road after four-time unsuccessful attacks. His troops finally retreated to the Inamuragasaki coast and retried attack from the promontory there. His breakthrough operation succeeded and eventually led to the victory.
Today's landscape does not tell us anything about the bitter battle. However, human skeletons, bones, and broken weapons were quite often unearthed around here.
Down the road, or 150 meters east of the Temple to be exact, is a small
temple called Kokuzo-do, which is part of the Temple and under its management. Kokuzo is Akasagarbha in Skt., and worshiped among the Shingon sect Buddhists.
A painting of Kokuzo Bosatsu at NNM.
(Updated August 2010)