Access Map and Temple Diagram


JokomyogateThe Temple was founded by Nagatoki Hojo, a member of the Hojos, while he was stationed in Kyoto as a chief commander of the military headquarters called Rokuhara Tandai. He returned to Kamakura in 1252, one year after the Temple's founding, at the time when Prince Munetaka (1242-1274) was named the Sixth Kamakura Shogun and was going down from Kyoto to Kamakura.

Nagatoki assumed the post of Sixth Hojo Regent four years later in 1256 and was in the office for nine years. Upon his retirement in 1264, handing over the Regency to Masamura Hojo (1205-1273), he entered priesthood with the Buddhist name of Sen-a, similar name to that of founding priest. However, he died a month later and was buried here.

The Kamakura Period (1185-1333) came to a tragic end with the collapse of the Hojo Regime, and Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) restored the supremacy in 1333. The Emperor began to patronize the Temple. Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of the Muromachi Shogunate, was also a good patron of the Temple, particularly for the fourth chief priest Chi-an {chee-an}. He backed up the priest both financially and spiritually, whereby the Temple greatly expanded.

In 1335 shortly after the fall of the Hojos, Tokiyuki Hojo (?-1353), son of 14th Hojo Regent Takatoki Hojo (1303-1333), attacked Kamakura to retrieve the Hojo regime. Tadayoshi Ashikaga (1306-1352), younger brother of Takauji, was then in Kamakura and Takauji in Kyoto. Tadayoshi and his troops were on the brink of defeat right here in the Temple. To help guard his brother and Kamakura against the attack of Tokiyuki, Takauji and his army came back to Kamakura without getting an approval from the Imperial Court, which made Emperor Godaigo upset. Although the Ashikagas won the battle eventually, Takauji's obtrusive manner aroused Emperor's hostility.

After the battle, Takauji confined himself in the Temple under the observation of Priest Chi-an to express his allegiance to the Emperor. Some literatures say, however, that during this confinement, he harbored his mind to revolt against the Emperor. All told, he was a descendant of the Minamoto clan, and may have wanted to revive the Minamoto Shogunate. In the end, he won the battle against the Imperial army, and the Emperor's supremacy lasted only briefly. Takauji established the Ashikaga Shogunate office at the Muromachi district in Kyoto.

Further contributing to the expansion of the Temple was Tadayoshi Ashikaga. Thanks to his dedication, it one time was a mainstay of Buddhism in Kamakura covering four major sects with more than ten sub-temples constructed. Even in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), the Temple enjoyed Kamakura governors' patronage, and ashes of the first Kamakura Governor Motouji Ashikaga (1330-1367) and the second Governor Ujimitsu Ashikaga (1359-1398) were buried here.

(1) Kyakuden {k'ya-koo-den} or Guest House
A large wooden structure you will see after entering the gate is the guest house, in which a 47.4-centimeter-tall wooden statue of Aizen Myo-o, or Ragaraja in Sanskrit, is enshrined. The statue was reportedly made by Priest Gangyo (?-1295), a famous priest in Nara. He came down to Kamakura to be the founding priest of An-yo-in and others. On the occasion that Mongolian troops invaded northern Kyushu in 1274 and 1281, the statue was the principal object of invocation to expel the enemy and to pray for the victory. It is an ICA designated by Kamakura City. Unfortunately, the house is usually closed and occasional visitors are unable to worship and view it.
An Aizen Myo-o statue on display at e-Museum.

(2) Fudo-do Hall
Another wooden structure, though much smaller, standing to the right-hand side of the courtyard is Fudo-do Hall, in which a wooden, sedentary statue of Fudo Myo-o, or the Immovable (Acalanatha in Skt.), is enshrined. The Immovable holds a sword in his right hand and a rope in his left. His teeth are bared and eyes glare angrily, standing in a threatening posture in order to destroy the devils who try to do harm to the Lord Buddha's teaching. The statue was made in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). The sculptor is unknown. Legend holds that it was hauled all the way down here from Kyoto by Priest Mongaku (1139-1203), the founding priest of Fudarakuji, and is well-known for his austere disciplines. How come the statue was carried here by him who died well before the Temple was established? Because, the prototype temple was said to have been erected by him at the request of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate.
A Fudo Myo-o statue at TNM.

(3) Amida Hall
JokomyoAmidaBetween the Guest House and the Fudodo Hall is a path leading to the Main Hall. Up a flight of narrow stone steps is a receptionist booth and all visitors are requested to pay 200 yen here. Right in the middle of the courtyard is an old, wooden Main Hall facing south, which is also called Amida (Amitabha in Skt.) Hall since the statues of Amida Trinity used to rest in this hall before. As the appearance shows, it looks very old except for the copper roof. It was rebuilt in 1668 in an architectural style of Zen Buddhism. Part of the pillars and beams are reuse of the ones employed at Yofukuji, a gorgeous structures built by Yoritomo Minamoto, but no longer extant. The 5.4-meter-square building is an ICA designated by Kamakura City. Enshrined inside the hall are statues of, from left to right, Amida Nyorai, or Amitabha representing the past, Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Skt.) , the present, and Miroku (Maitreya in Skt.), the future, the same arrangement as the one in Sen'nyuji, its mother temple in Kyoto. All statues are relatively new, though.

A statue of Nagatoki Hojo, the founder of the Temple, is installed in the right-hand recess and that of Shin-a in the left. Both were made during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).

In front of the Main Hall are gigantic trees of podocarp, or Podocarpus macrophylla, believed to be more than 750 years old.

(4) New Amida Hall (Picture; right)
At the immediate left of the Main Hall is the new Amida Hall, in which one of the most famous and most magnificent Buddha statues in Kamakura is enthroned on a mighty lotus pedestal. That is crowned Amida statue flanked by Kan'non Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara in Skt.) at its left and Seishi Bosatsu (Mahasthama-prapta in Skt.) at its right forming a trinity of Amida Nyorai. The Amida statue here is just gorgeous not only in its artistic value, but also in size, especially in its 188.8-centimeter-high pedestal matching those of the main objects at Kenchoji and Kakuonji. Seated on a triple-deck petals of lotus flowers, it is also famous for its unique ornamentation called domon. Patterns of flowers, leaves of tree and Buddhist fittings are put on the robe of statue. Those are made of clay and affixed on the statue's robe with lacquer. To make those ornaments, clay are put into molds which have patterns of flower, leaves and fittings. Those patterned clays are glued on the statue with lacquer. They should have looked as if they had been embroidered. In days of yore, these Domon must have been richly tinted in colors, though the coloring has long faded with time. The technique was developed in Kamakura and can be found nowhere else. (The information board at the entrance of the Temple translates Domon as a crest, but it has nothing to do with crest.) An inscription inside the statue reads that it was carved in 1299. However, experts point out that the crown of Amida may have been made in later years, probably in the Edo Period (1603-1868), since a crowned Nyorai usually has its hair curled up, whereas the statue here has long hair. Slender fingers, long nails, and canonical dress hanging down from the gigantic pedestals clearly indicate the influence of the style prevailed in China under the Sung dynasty.

The size of the statues: Amida Nyorai is 144 centimeters tall and two Bosatsu are 107 centimeters. Naturally, those are ICAs. Kan'non and Seishi statues seem symmetric and both are like a twin. To be precise, they are not identical, and the difference is in the head part of the statues. Kan'non has a Buddha's face on its head while Seishi has only a bottle.

Amida Trinity statues at Kyoto National Museum.
An Amida statue at e-Museum.

Also installed near the left wall of this hall is a wooden statue of Jizo Bosatsu or Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt. popularly referred to as "Yahiroi {yah-he-roy} Jizo", meaning "Picking up thrown arrows". The statue is said to have been a guardian deity for Tadayoshi Ashikaga as legend tells us the following story: At a certain battle, Tadayoshi ran out of arrows and was almost defeated when a priest appeared out of nowhere. This priest gathered scattered arrows and gave them to Tadayoshi. Thereby, he was able to defeat the enemy. After the battle was over, however, he saw the priest just disappeared only to find there was a Jizo statue standing nearby with an arrow in his hand. Tadayoshi thought the Jizo statue was vicarious of the priest. The statue, 77 centimeters tall, made during 14th century, holds a arrow-shaped stick in his right hand instead of an ordinary staff. An ICA designated by Kanagawa Prefecture. The statue is listed on the 17th of the Twenty-Four Kamakura Jizo Pilgrimage.

This hall was built recently in 1980. The Amida trinity statues would be more suitable should they were enshrined in the old main hall. They were moved into the reinforced hall to protect them from such natural disaster as fires and earthquakes.

(5) Senju Kan'non
Next to the new Amida hall is a structure, in which a statue of Senju Kan'non, literally Thousand-Armed, or Sahasrabhuja in Skt. is housed. The statue ranks 25th of the Thirty-Three Kamakura Kan'non Pilgrimage. It was carved in 1928 and donated by the devout. Paintings of Senju Kan'non at TNM.

(6) Tombs of the Otomo Family
The Otomos successively held the position of chief Shinto priests at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), and their unique tombstones can be seen placed east of the Main Hall at the foot of a hill. They are scepter-shaped and inscribed with Torii gates. As rare examples of Shintoist tombs, they are valuable.

(7) Abiki Jizo
Behind the Amida hall are rugged stone-steps leading further up to a clearing. where cherry and plum trees are planted. At the northeast corner of the clearing is a Yagura (cave), roughly 15 square meters, in which a stone, 85-centimeter-tall sedentary statue of anotherJizo is installed. Legend relates that sometime in the Kamakura Period, the stone statue was in a fishing net at the beach of Kamakura as fishermen were drawing it off the Kamakura coast. Hence, the statue was called "Abiki" {ah-be-key} or "net-drawing"Jizo. However, letters inscribed on the back of the statue indicate it was carved in 1313 and seems to have nothing to do with fishermen. The statue ranks 16th among the Twenty-Four Kamakura Jizo Pilgrimage. (Note. Abiki can also be called Amibiki.)

(8) Tombs for Tamesuke Reizei (1263-1328)
JokomyHokyointoTo the left-hand side of the cave is a flight of some 40 steps leading up to the top of a hill right behind the cave, where a 153.5-centimeter-high Hokyo-into tomb (picture; left) for a famous tanka poet Tamesuke Reizei stands, who was a court noble in Kyoto. His grandfather was Teika Fujiwara (1162-1241), a famous and authoritativeTanka poets. Soon after Tamesuke's father died, a dispute occurred between him and his brother by different mother over the land inheritance. Tamesuke's mother Abutsuni (1222?-1283) came down to Kamakura in 1279 to file a lawsuit to the court on behalf of Tamesuke since he was only 13 years old. She was also a famous tanka poetess and wrote a travel book entitled "Izayoi Nikki" (literally, dairy of the sixteenth night of the lunar month), sketching what she saw during the travel from Kyoto to Kamakura. Amazing may it sound, it took her only 14 days to walk nearly 600 kilometers. The book is highly esteemed even today as it vividly depicts people and their lifestyles back in the Kamakura Period.

Tamesuke later joined his mother in Kamakura. They won the case eventually, but never returned to Kyoto. Because of this dispute, theTanka family was broken up to three schools changing the original family name of Fujiwara to Reizei, Kyogoku and Nijo. The present Reizei family have its residence in Kyoto. Tamesuke made tanka anthologies and contributed to the diffusion of tanka culture in eastern Japan. The Hokyo-into was built in the early Edo Period (1600-1868) by Mitsukuni Tokugawa (1628-1700), an offspring of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate. Some historians insist, however, that it must have been made in the 14th century as its appearance suggests, and Mitsukuni may have repaired it. Anyhow, it is designated as a Historic Site by Agency for Cultural Affairs of National Government.

A great deal of precious documents kept by the Reizei family had remained unpublicized for over 800 years by imperial order until 1980. In 1981 after the order expired, the family established the Reizei Museum in Kyoto, near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, exhibiting those ancient artifacts and documents, which include 20,000 items of literary materials, many of them aretanka poems.

Incidentally, the current head of the family is Tamehito Reizei (1944-) and the 25th generation.


Sen'nyuji in Kyoto, the mother temple of Sen'nyuji school of Shingon sect, had long served as a specific temple for the Imperial Family until early Meiji Period (1868-1912), when Emperor Meiji institutionalized Shinto as the state religion. Sen'nyuji is also referred to as "Mitera" in honor of the Imperial Family. (Mi is an honorific prefix and tera denotes a temple.)

(Updated August 2013)