Originally, the Temple was called East Gokurakuji belonging to the Shingon sect. Founding Priest Taiko-Gyoyu was a disciple of Priest Myo-an-Eisai (1141-1215), who first introduced Zen Buddhism to Kamakura and was named the founding priest of Jufukuji. Priest Taiko also founded another Zen temple Jorakuji.
At the time of the Temple's founding, however, Zen Buddhism was not yet firmly credited. Yoshikane Ashikaga, the founder, shared the same great-grandfather with Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, and was a brave samurai helping Yoritomo defeat the Taira clan. As a matter of fact, Yoshikane's wife was younger sister of Masako Hojo (1157-1225), Yoritomo's wife.
When another priest Geppo-Ryonen was nominated to be the chief priest, the Temple chose the denomination of Zen Buddhism around 1258 under the sponsorship of Sadauji Ashikaga (1273-1331), father of Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1359) who established the Ashikaga Shogunate. At the same time, the Temple changed its name to the present 'Jomyoji' deriving from Sadauji's Buddhist title.
Priest Geppo was ordained by Priest Rankei-Doryu (Lanxi Daolong, 1213-1278) the founding priest of Kenchoji. Sadauji helped expand the Temple and produced a number of great priests. At its peak, the Temple had as many as 23 sub-temples. Throughout the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), it was protected and patronized by the Ashikaga family as their prayer hall, and ranked fifth of the Five Great Zen Temples in Kamakura. With the Kamakura Governor's office and residences located at the east side of the Temple, however, the area sometimes turned battleground because of the power struggles involving governors, vice-governors in Kamakura and the Shogun in Kyoto. Every time the battles erupted, structures around here were burnt down or ruined.
In addition, a series of fires ravaged the Temple after the Muromachi Period and it continued to dwindle with no specific supporters. Today, the grounds of the Temple are "Historic Site" designated by the state government.
This is the only temple among the Great Five Zen Temples that does not have direct connections with the Hojo family. Like Hokokuji across the street, the Temple is closely associated with the Ashikagas and its well-known crest (two horizontal bars in a circle) appears on the offertory box placed before the entrance of the main hall. It is called Hutatsu-hiki-ryo.
Main Hall (Picture; right)
The hall was rebuilt in 1756. The main object of worship is a sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit). It was made in the 14th century by unknown sculptor(s). Unfortunately, inside the hall is too dark to make out the statues.
A sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai on view at Saitama City's website.
Also enshrined in the hall are the following:
A statue of Priest Taiko. This life-size sedentary statue was made in the late Kamakura Period
(1185-1333) and is the only ICA owned by the Temple. Occasional visitors
are not allowed to see the statue unless request by group was made in advance.
For your reference, a picture of his statue appears on the explanatory
paper given in exchange for 100-yen admission. Realistic carving, particularly
wrinkled face, is an evidence that he was a great priest undergoing tough
training. The statue is valuable from the technical and artistic viewpoint
A 111-centimeter-tall statue of Sanbo Kojin
Made in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). In Buddhist term, Sanbo means three elements, namely the Lord Buddha, the Laws and the Priesthood. Sanbo Kojin is, meanwhile, the guardian deity of kitchen, or ovens to be exact, in Japan, and a god of eclectic mix among Buddhism, Taoism and Japanese folkloric religion. It is believed that ashes from the kitchen oven, if rubbed on the foreheads of new born babies, would bring good health to them, a similar custom to Roman Catholics receiving a mark of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday. The statue has three heads and six arms, each with a pugnacious expression to dispel evil spirits in the kitchen. Since he is said to detest dirtiness, kitchens of old Japanese houses are always kept clean.
A 34.1-centimeter-tall statue of Awashima Myojin
Made in the Edo Period. As the word Myojin shows, it is a Shinto deity and this particular one is believed to bring an easy delivery for the pregnant women, and cure gynecological diseases. It is a sub-shrine of Awashima Jinja in Wakayama Prefecture, the mother shrine of Awashima Myojin, which enshrines the legendary Empress Jingu.
A statue of Garanjin made in 1731. Garanjin is an offshoot deity of Taoism and often enshrined at Zen temples. (See Kenchoji for details.)
A statue of Priest Daruma (?-528), or Bodhidharma in Skt., made in 1731. Daruma looks like a basket case. He was a Chinese priest and became limbless after a lengthy period of meditation and ascetic practices. As the pioneer of Zen Buddhism, he is highly respected by Zen priests. A hanging scroll of Daruma on display at MFA.
The Temple also owns a wooden statue of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha in Skt.) made during the 14th century. It is kept at Kamakura Museum.
Hokyo-into for Sadauji Ashikaga (Picture; below)
Sadauji was buried here and his tomb, a Hokyo-into, stands in the center of the graveyard behind the main hall. Inscription tells it was made in 1392, nearly sixty years after his death. Kamakura City designated this tomb as an ICA. In May, it is surrounded with beautiful azalea.
On the left-hand side of the main hall is a beautiful garden and a guest room called Kisen-an. It is new, rebuilt in 1991 by a Kyoto gardener. The original Kisen-an was built around 1580 by the Temples' priests to hold tea ceremonies.
A group of ten or more can enjoy powdered tea service in this room with advance notice. Fee is 500-yen per head, open from 10:00 to 16:00. The sand and rock garden is called Karesansui in Japanese and it well fits Zen temples.
Note: The Temple has a well-maintained flower garden, in which peony blooms beautifully in late April through early May.
(Updated September 2013)