Official Name: Zokusenzan Jorakuji
Religious sect: Kenchoji school, Rinzai (Zen) Sect, Buddhism
Founded: in 1237 by Yasutoki Hojo (1183-1242)
Founding priest: Taiko-Gyoyu (1163-1241)
Main object of worship: Statue of Amida Trinity
Address: 8-29, Ofuna 5-chome, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0056
Area size: 5,200 square meters
Location: 1,100 meters southeast of Ofuna Station or 1,300 meters northwest of Kita-Kamakura Station
Time needed to get there: 15 minutes from Ofuna Station or 20 minutes from Kita-Kamakura Station
Admission: Free (open yard)
Phone: 0467-46-5735

Access Map


The Temple is located not in the center of Kamakura, but on its outskirts near Ofuna Station of East JR. It was originally erected in 1237 by Yasutoki Hojo, the Third Hojo Regent, to propitiate the soul of his mother-in-law, and was called "Awafune Mido" {ah-wah-foo-neh me-doh}, or Awafune Hall. (Mido is a hall in which Buddha statues are enshrined). The town name Ofuna is said to originate in Awafune. Yasutoki was one of the most capable Regents in the Hojo regime and known as a powerful and competent leader. To mention just a principal one, Emperor Gotoba (1180-1239) in Kyoto tried to topple the Kamakura Shogunate in 1221. As a military commander, Yasutoki successfully led his forces and defeated those of the imperial court. It is called Jokyu Disturbance. While in regency, he formed the Council of the State whereby important matters were resolved after consultation among all council members. He also systematized the code of Samurai, the first one ever promulgated. Historians say that throughout the 100-year Hojo regime, the era ruled and managed by Yasutoki (and Tokiyori) was most stable and prosperous.

sannmon After Yasutoki's death, Tokiyori Hojo (1227-1263), the Fifth Hojo Regent and a grandson of Yasutoki, ordered to bury his grandfather in the Temple. At the same time, the Temple changed its name to Jorakuji taking Yasutoki's posthumous Buddhist title 'Joraku-in'. Several years later, a Chinese Zen priest Rankei-Doryu (Lanxi Daolong. 1213-1278), the founding priest of Kenchoji, came to Kamakura at the request of Tokiyori. Priest Rankei stayed in Jufukuji at first, but Tokiyori invited the great Zen master to the Temple and asked him to preach Zen teachings. Naturally, the Temple converted denomination to the Rinzai Zen from the Shingon sect (some say from Tendai sect). Priest Rankei had been assuming the chief priest position of the Temple until Kenchoji was founded in 1253. Quite a few local priests gathered here to study this new school of Buddhism, and the Temple flourished.

Nominated as the chief priest of Kenchoji, Priest Rankei had to leave the Temple. With this close association between the two temples, however, the chief priest of Kenchoji held concurrently the chief priest post of the Temple in later days.

Founding priest Taiko-Gyoyu (1163-1241) was born in present-day Kanagawa Prefecture and learned Shingon sect Buddhism at his early age. Later, he began to study Rinzai Zen under the guidance of Priest Myoan-Eisai (1141-1215), the pioneer of Rinzai Zen in Japan. Priest Taiko was the second chief priest at Jufukuji after Priest Myoan-Eisai, and well known as the founder of Jomyoji as well as Toshoji, both Zen temples. (The latter no longer exists). When the Temple was founded in 1237, Priest Rankei was not in Kamakura yet. Priest Taiko was requested to be the founding priest instead.

The Temple's structures consist of: Gate roofed with thatch, Butsuden (Main Hall), Monjudo (Monju Hall), Priest's Living Quarters. The copper-roofed Butsuden was repaired in 1991. Monjudo, together with the priest's living quarters, were rebuilt rather recently in 1970.

Right in the center of the temple ground, there stands an old, half-rotten stump of a huge gingko tree. According to the Temple, it was planted by the founder Yasutoki himself.

Butsuden and Statues

Enshrined in the hall are Amida (Amitabha in Sanskrit) Trinity statues with the Amida statue in the center and its satellite: the Kan'non statue at its left and the Seishi statue at its right. As to when and by whom the statues were fashioned are unknown. Also installed in the right-hand corner of the hall is a statue of Priest Rankei.

An Amida statue at e-Museum.

Overhead on the ceiling appears paintings of a dragon moving through the clouds, as often seen in Zen temples, painted by Yukinobu Kano (1643-1682), who was a paintress, though the name sounds like male's. She was one of the artists of the famous Kano School, the most influential among the Japanese school of Chinese painting, initiated by Masanobu Kano (1434-1530) in the 15th century, and had long been patronized by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The size of the painting is roughly 3 by 3 meters. Unfortunately, the tints are faded with time.

Monjudo Hall

Monju is a Bodhisattva, or Manjusri in Skt. In Japan Monju Bosatsu is thought to be a Bodhisattva of wisdom and intellect. There is an old saying in Japan, "Three heads are better than one and can create a better idea like that of Monju." The statue was brought here from Eishoji right after the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. Though not much is known of the statue's origin, legend holds that Priest Rankei brought the head part of the statue and he fashioned the remainder from the neck down. It is on public display only once a year on January 25, the day when Monju Festival takes place.

Paintings of Monju at MFA.

Himemiya and Kiso Zuka (Mounds)

Halfway up the hill behind the Butsuden Hall lies a mound called Himemiya-zuka and another one called Kiso Zuka. The stone monuments nestled on the mound tells us a tragic love story in ancient days. To understand the story, we need to know the background.

Shortly before Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, established his military government in Kamakura, the Minamoto Clan led by Yoritomo had been bitterly fighting against the arch-rival Taira Clan. His cousin Yoshinaka Kiso (1154-1184) also fought vigorously against the Taira with his operation base in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, and he greatly helped defeat the enemy. As a matter of fact, he was the first to occupy Kyoto, then the imperial capital of Japan. During those years of the battle, however, Yoshinaka had conflicts with Yoritomo over alliances with the neighboring factions. To show his pledge of loyalty, Yoshinaka sent his 11-year-old son Yoshitaka (1173-1184) to Kamakura as a hostage. Soon afterward, Yoritomo's daughter named O-hime (1179-1197) fell in love with Yoshitaka and both were engaged. During his occupation in Kyoto, Yoshinaka ingratiated himself with Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) and obtained the title of Supreme Commander without getting an approval of Yoritomo, which made Yoritomo furious to the extend that Yoshinaka had to fight against Yoritomo. In the end, Yoshinaka was defeated and killed by Yoritomo's troops.

Judging from Yoritomo's cruelty, it was now obvious that Yoshitaka, the boy in hostage, was next to be killed by Yoritomo. Yoritomo's wife Masako had secretly released Yoshitaka in advance before the orders to kill him were given. Alas, he was caught while running back to Kiso, and was executed on the spot. He was only 11 years old. Daughter O-hime mourned over the loss of her future husband and harbored a grudge against her father's cruel manner. Losing her sweetheart forever, she fell sick. Yoritomo and Masako sought whatever measures were available, mostly incantations and prayers, for her recovery. Despite their frantic efforts, she remained sick and weak, and died in 1197 at age 20.

The Himemiya-zuka is for O-hime and the Kiso Zuka for Yoshinaka. Zuka (or Tsuka) usually means a grave. Yoshitaka's head is said to have been brought to Kamakura for identification and buried under the mound here. Whether or not O-hime was also buried here remains uncertain.


The bell is among the three most-notable ones in Kamakura. (The other two are those of Kenchoji and Engakuji). Cast in 1248 by the instruction of Tokiyori in memory of his grandfather Yasutoki, it is 131.2 centimeter high and oldest in Kamakura. The caster's name is unknown. The bell is not hung in the Temple ground, but on display right in the center of the Kamakura Museum's hall.

(Updated August 2013)