Access Map


KaizoMHThe Temple is relatively new erected during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). Kamakura was no longer the nation's Capital. The founder Ujisada Uesugi was then Vice Governor of Kamakura, and the Temple was built under the instruction of Ujimitsu Ashikaga (1359-1398), the Second Governor-General of Kamakura. Back at the time, Japan was being ruled by the Ashikaga Shogunate in Kyoto. In Kamakura, the first son of Takauji Ashikaga (founder of the Ashikaga Shogunate) assumed the governor's post, and thereafter, the office was held by the successive members of his family to rule eastern Japan. Since governor-generals were mostly young and titular, vice-governors were virtually at the helm. This vice governor's post also became hereditary in 1363 and was succeeded by the member of the Uesugi families. The founder of the Temple was among them.

Founding Priest Shinsho-Kugai, a.k.a. Priest Gen'no, was reportedly a descendant of Priest Rankei-Doryu (founding priest of Kenchoji) in the fifth generation. In its golden days, the Temple had more than 10 structures, though there are only a few today.

There is a Noh play entitled Sessho-seki or "A stone that kills animals," which originates from the legendary tale of the founding priest. Once upon a time when Emperor Toba (1103-1156) was on the throne, he was annoyed often by a mysterious disease. Soothsayers declared that his sickness was caused by a white fox, and the fox was a transformation of his daughter. Revealed its identity, the fox escaped down to Tochigi Prefecture. The Emperor ordered Yoshiaki Miura (1092-1180), a faithful retainer of Yoritomo Minamoto (founder of the Kamakura Shogunate), to catch and kill the fox. Miura sought after the fox and finally found it in Tochigi. The moment the fox was killed, it transformed into a stone. Thereafter, whoever touched the stone or got near it began to die instantly, and the stone was called "Sessho-seki."

Hearing this story, the founding priest of the Temple came down to Tochigi to deal with the murderous stone. As he neared the Sessho-seki , he found a great deal of skeletons scattered around it. Chanting sutras with strong willpower, he struck a blow on the stone by a hammer. The stone was crushed with his one blow. The spirit of the stone departed in peace, and thereafter no people or animals were killed. (Note. The area is located near Nasu volcanic mountains, and people may have died of poisonous gases coming from the volcano. It is now one of the sightseeing spots in Tochigi.)

Today, the hammers used by masons are called "Gen'no," which was named after the founding priest's posthumous Buddhist title "Gen'no".

Yakushido Hall (Picture, right)

KaidoYakusiIn the southwest corner of the courtyard is the 5.4-meter-square Yakushido Hall. It was brought from Jochiji in 1776 and quite a few statues are enshrined. The centerpiece is the wooden statue of Yakushi Nyorai, or Bhaisajyaguru-vaiduryaprabha in Skt., commonly referred to as the Physician of Souls, sitting on the lotus-flower pedestal, and its two attendant statues of Nikko Bosatsu (surya-prabha in Skt.) at its left and Gakko Bosatsu (candra-prabha in Skt.) at its right, forming a beautiful Yakushi Sanzon (Trinity). The Yakushi statue holds a head of another Yakushi Nyorai statue in its bosom, though it is not showing.

Yakushi Trinity can be viewed at the website of Yakushiji in Kyoto.

Legend has it that the founding priest often heard a baby crying sadly at night out of nowhere, and he once searched the source of the weeping. It led him to a nearby cemetery, and what he found was a shining tombstone under which the sorrowful cry came from. He chanted sutras to ease the soul of the baby. Hearing the chant, the baby stopped crying. The next day, the priest found a head part of Yakushi Nyorai statue under the tomb. He made a statue of Yakushi Nyorai anew, and embedded the head part he found (measuring only 18 centimeters long) into the bosom of the new statue. That is what we see today at this hall. It is also called Naki {nah-key} Yakushi, or Weeping Yakushi in honor of the legend.

On the both side of the trinity are statuettes of the Twelve Guardian Deities just like those attendants of theYakushi Nyorai statue at Kakuonji. For details on the Twelve Guardian Deities, refer to Kakuonji.

Main Hall (Picture; top)

The main hall Ryugoden stands in the back of the courtyard facing southeast. The building was constructed in 1925, two years after the Great Kanto Earthquake, which had destroyed the old one. However, wood-carvings of dragon at transom were made in 1812 and still reserves its original shape. Paintings on the sliding doors were drawn by one of the famous Kano school painters, who were active during the Edo Period (1603-1868) as official painters for the Shoguns, warlords and emperors.

Enshrined in this hall is a statue of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Skt.) and Eleven-Headed Kan'non Bosatsu (Ekadasamukha in Skt.), for which the Temple is listed as the 26th of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage. The statue of the founding priest fashioned in the 14th century is also installed in this hall.

A statue of Eleven-Headed Kan'non at E-Museum.

Sixteen Wells

Walk along the narrow path near theYakushido Hall southward, which runs through private houses, and you will find a yagura, or a cave, about 100 meters ahead to your right. The cave, dug during the Kamakura Period, is roughly two-meter high and has a 16-square-meter space. On the cave floor are 16 wells, all same size with 70-centimeter diameter and 40-centimeter deep, spotted orderly. The clean water in each well has never run dry. What were those wells used for? Nobody knows for sure. The established view by the archaeologists is that they were used for burying ashes of the departed, but the Temple denies it saying each well represents a Bosatsu, or Bodhisattva, and the sacred water was dedicated to those Bosatsu. In a niche of the back wall is a stone statue of Kan'non Bosatsu, or Avalokitesvara, under which is a small statue of Priest Kukai (774-835), commonly called Kobo Daishi, the founding priest of Shingon Sect Buddhism. One may wonder why the statue of Priest Kukai is enshrined here at a Zen temple. Because the prototype of the Temple was built as a Shingon sect way back in the early 13th century.

Although the cave is fenced, visitors can easily view the inside. A flashlight is provided by the courtesy of the Temple. Despite the sign saying "Do not throw coins into the wells," many coins are seen in the bottoms.

Itabi {e-tah-be}

Itabi is like a monument made with a stone slab. It was made for the repose of departed souls in the mid-Kamakura Period. Engraved on the slab are mostly Sanskrit letters expressing Amida, or Amitabha. Two pieces of Itabi, one was inscribed as of 1306 make, and the other 1377, are kept at the Kamakura Museum.

Two pieces of other type of Itabi made of wood are installed on left-side altar of the Yakushido Hall. They are rare and extant only in the Temple. One of them inscribes it was used in 1423 and the other in 1515 at memorial services. Pictures of Itabi at NNM.


Behind the Main Hall and priests' living quarter is a beautiful garden with a pond, a typical garden at Zen temples. However, it is off limits to occasional visitors.

Sanmon gate: Record shows it was repaired in 1468. The oldest structure together with the Yakushido Hall.

A statue of Ugajin: There are four yagura caves to the left of the main hall. One of them, the second from the back, has a red torii gate, a symbol of Shinto shrines. Behind the torii is a stone statue of Ugajin {woo-gah-gin}. Though the head part is badly worn, it shows a snake coiled up around the body. Ugajin is the God of Food, one of the Shinto pantheon, but was merged with Benten, or Sarasvati in Skt., in Japan. Zeniarai Benten is the shrine sacred to Ugajin.

Bottomless Well near the Gate: The well is among the Ten Celebrated Wells in Kamakura. The name is deceiving though. The well itself is not bottomless. Legend says that in days of yore, a nun tried to draw water from the well with a bucket in front of the chief priest. As she pulled up water, the bucket bottom fell off and she was drenched to the skin. She remained calm and made a tanka (32-syllable) verse describing the scene. Thus the well was named as "Bottomless." The only well among the Ten that still springs water. Others are dry.

Iwafune Jizo {e-wah-foo-neh gee-zoe}

IwafuneJizoIwafune Jizo is not located in the Temple grounds but standing about 500 meters down the southeast of the Temple at the junction of three roads near the East JR Railway tracks. This Jizo Hall is, however, under the care of the Temple and ranks 15th on the list of Twenty-Four Kamakura Jizo Pilgrimage. In this hall, a wooden statue of Jizo, or Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt., is enshrined as a guardian deity for the first daughter of Yoritomo Minamoto. The existing statue was carved in 1691. The original one may have existed in the early Kamakura Period in view of the story related to this hall.

Shortly before Yoritomo established his military government in Kamakura, the Minamoto Clan led by Yoritomo had been fiercely fighting against the arch-rival Taira Clan. His cousin Yoshinaka Kiso (1154-1184) also fought vigorously against the Taira with the base in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, and his troops finally dispersed the enemy occupying Kyoto in 1180. During those years, however, Yoshinaka had conflicts with Yoritomo over land issues. To swear loyalty, Yoshinaka sent his 11-year-old son Yoshitaka (1173-1184) to Kamakura as a hostage. Yoritomo's daughter O-hime {oh-he-meh} (1179-1197) fell in love with Yoshitaka and both were engaged.

In the meantime, Yoshinaka in Kyoto closely associated with Emperor Godaigo and obtained the title of generalissimo without getting an approval of Yoritomo, which made Yoritomo infuriated to the point that Yoshinaka had to fight against Yoritomo. In the end, Yoshinaka was defeated and killed by Yoritomo's troops. Everybody knew that Yoshitaka, the boy in hostage, was next to be killed by Yoritomo, given the fact that keeping a legitimate son of enemy alive would lead to his own defeat in the future as his case had clearly shown. Yoritomo's wife Masako had secretly released Yoshitaka in advance before the orders to kill him were given. Nevertheless, he was caught while running back to Kiso, and was executed. He was only 11 years old. The executioner was also executed by the orders of Masako. O-hime grieved at the loss of her future husband and bore a grudge against her father's cruel manner. With Yoshitaka gone, she fell sick. Yoritomo and Masako sought whatever measures were available, mostly incantations and prayers, for her recovery, but she remained sick and weak, and died in 1197 at age 20. There is Himemiya and Kiso Zuka (mounds) to commemorate the two at Jorakuji

The old structure was replaced with a new one in late 2001.

Late April to early May: azalea, or Rhododendron kaempferi
Summer: great trumpet flowers, or Campsis chinensis and Indian lilac, or Lagerstroemia indica
Mid October to early September: bush clover, or Lespedeza bicolor

(Updated August 2013)