Access Map and Diagram
Kenchoji is the first Zen temple erected in Kamakura and the pioneer of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It commands the number one position in the Five Great Zen-Temples in Kamakura, and is the head of the 500-odd branch temples belonging to the Kenchoji school of the Rinzai Zen sect. The Temple used to have seven main buildings and 49 sub-temples in its golden days. Records show that at the memorial service for Sadatoki Hojo (1271-1311), the Ninth Hojo Regent, held in 1323 at Engakuji for his twelfth anniversary of death, 388 priests joined it from the Temple, and further narrate that more than 1,000 people were living in this compound back then. As were the cases in other temples, however, all of original buildings were destroyed by a series of disasters such as fires, earthquakes and civil wars. To be specific, the earthquake in 1293, the fires in 1315, 1414, 1426, etc. ravaged most of its structures and the present ones were either rebuilt recently or brought from outside Kamakura.
Tokiyori Hojo, the Fifth Hojo Regent and the founder of the Temple, was an ardent devotee of Zen. Since there was no Zen master in Japan, he looked for an excellent Zen priest in China. Hearing Zen was getting popular in Japan, Priest Rankei-Doryu (1213-1278), a Chinese Zen master under the Sung Dynasty born in Zhejiang Province near Shanghai, left China in 1246 at age 33 to teach Zen in Japan. He first stayed in Kyushu island and then went to Kyoto before coming up to Kamakura. In Kamakura, he started serving at Jufukuji in the beginning, and then was invited to the Temple by Tokiyori Hojo to officiate as the founding priest. In 1262, he moved to Kenninji in Kyoto, which also belonged to the Rinzai sect and ranked third of the Five Great Zen Temples in Kyoto.
The chief-priest post of the Temple was succeeded by Gottan-Funei (Wuan Puning) (1197-1276), another Chinese Zen priest and fellow priest of Rankei. Back at the time, China was invaded by Mongol and the Mongolian rulers clamped down on Buddhism. Rather than staying in China, he challenged to expatriate himself to Japan and propagate Zen. In Kamakura, he was nominated as a co-founder of Jochiji. Upon facing the main object of the Temple, he was quoted as saying, "Since Jizo Bosatsu ranks below me, it is he who should kneel down to me." Under the patronage of Tokiyori Hojo, he was happy in Kamakura, but suddenly returned to China upon death of Tokiyori.
Priest Rankei came back to the Temple as the third chief priest. Unlike Priest Gottan, he learned the Japanese language quickly and was later naturalized as a Japanese citizen. He spoke Japanese so fluently that he was suspected as a Mongolian spy in 1271 on the occasion that Mongolian envoys visited Japan, and was sent to a remote town near Mt. Fuji twice. The suspicion was later dispelled and the honorable title of Daigaku Zen-ji (Zen Master of Great Realization. "Ji" means a teacher, not a temple in this case) was conferred as his posthumous title, the first priest ever receiving such a Buddhist name. He is also known as a good disciplinarian and trained his disciples with asceticism. The Temple keeps an old document entitled Codes of Conduct for Zen Priests written by him, which is, by the way, a National Treasure. His tombstone called "Daigaku Zen-ji Tower" stands at the rear of the right-hand hill in the Temple's grounds.
Eighth Hojo Regent Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), son of Tokiyori, invited Mugaku-Sogen (Wuxue Zuyuan) (1226-1286),
another Chinese priest, in 1279 from China as the Priest Rankei's successor.
Priest Mugaku was named as the founding priest of Engakuji, but also served as the chief priest of
After the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), the Temple continued to receive support from the governments of the time. For example, the Five Great Zen Temple system was initiated by Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1408), the Third Shogun of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), and the Temple was ranked as the first of them. However, it did not flourish as it had been before. Fires and earthquakes gave dire damages, destroying all of existing structures. In particular, the fire in 1414 wrought the worst damage ever and the Temple lost almost all of its assets. In 1591, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, began to give financial aid to the Temple and it was able to revive to a certain extent, and some of the present structures were brought here from Tokyo by the aid of the Shogunate. In the late Edo Period (1603-1868), the Shogunate introduced a parishioner system called danka in an attempt to crack down on Christians. It required every person to register at a temple and the temple took care of funeral and other religious services for all those parishioners, who in return made monetary offerings to the temples.
Thus, temples were financially able to make ends meet until the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. It was another tuning point for the temples. With the newly established imperial government designating Shinto as the state religion, Buddhist temples across the country began to decline. Kamakura replete with old temples went downhill year after year, and turned to deserted village in the end. A photo taken at Wakamiya Oji (the main street of Kamakura) in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912) shows the area is mostly covered with rice paddies and a few thatched-roof poor farmhouses. However, opening of the railway in 1889 connecting Tokyo with Kamakura gave a big opportunity for the temples as well as village of Kamakura to revive. Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a.k.a. Yakumo Koizumi, a Greek-born Journalist and naturalized Japanese, visited the Temple more than a hundred years ago in 1894 and described vividly in his book "Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan" how it looked like back then. His book is available at Project Gutemberg.
Today, as one of the oldest and largest Zen temples, the Temple attracts over a million visitors a year and the parking lot near the entrance is often occupied by cars and sightseeing buses.
(1) Somon Gate
The first (outer) gate in the front yard called Somon was built in 1783 for Hanju-sanmai-in temple in Kyoto and was brought here in 1943. To enter the Temple, visitors are required to pay a fee of 300-yen at the entrance.
(2) Sanmon Gate (Picture; top)
The second (inner) gate about 70 meters inside the Somon is the two-story, 30-meter high Sanmon, which was rebuilt in 1775 by Priest Bansetsu (1697-1769) at the time he was the 201st chief priest. The copper-roofed structure, 9 by 3.6 meters, was strong enough to survive the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but repaired recently in 1996. An Important Cultural Asset designated by Kanagawa Prefecture. A tablet hanging above the gate shows the name of the Temple, or Kencho Kokoku Zenji, and were written by Emperor Gofukakusa (1243-1304), which indicates that the Temple was once patronized by the Imperial Court. Installed on the second floor of the gate are the statues of Five-Hundred Buddha's Disciples (rakan in Japanese), or Arhat in Sanskrit., who attained the highest level of Buddhist learning and enlightenment through training. To be precise, there are 489 bronze-cast statuettes of Rakan ranging from 15 to 30 centimeters tall, and showing a host of different aspects such as joy, anger and pity to tender smiles. In the center of the altar is a 44.5-centimeter-tall bronze statue of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Skt.). All of them were cast or made during 1830 to 1860. Unfortunately they are not open to the occasional visitors.
(3) Bell (Picture; right)
About 50 meters to the right is the bell under a thatched roof. Cast in 1255 by the Mononobes, a famous family for casting, this is the only structure that has been existing from the very beginning of the Temple's founding. It is one of the two bells in Kamakura designated as National Treasures (the other is in Engakuji), measuring 208.8 centimeter high and 124.3 centimeter in diameter at the bottom. Its weight was thought to be about one metric ton but had not long been known for sure until June 2003 when it was carried to Tokyo National Museum for special exhibition "Kamakura and Zen." It turned out that the bell weighs 2.7 tons. Inscription on the bell written by Priest Rankei, the founding priest, reads that in compliance with the request from Tokiyori Hojo, more than 1,000 people donated funds to make the bell and it was completed in February 22, 1255. At the end of the inscription, the name of "Kencho Zen-ji" appears. Zen-ji, or Zen Temple was used here for the first time in history. The bell is too fragile now to be tolled. Even at the New Year Eve, the Temple allows to ring it only 18 times instead of traditional 108.
(4) Butsuden or Main Hall (Picture; below)
The copper-roofed building was brought here in 1647 from Zojoji in Minato-ward, Tokyo. Originally, it was constructed in the 17th century to have memorial services for the wife of Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632), the Second Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. As Zojoji was a Jodo sect temple, this Butsuden reflects elaborate decorations and is not like those of Zen temples, which are usually simple with no ornamentation. The latticed ceiling here, for example, is decorated with paintings of phoenixes and the interior is lacquered.
Meanwhile, Hidetada Tokugawa's wife was called Goh, and NHK (Japan's national public broadcasting organization) TV's year-long historical drama featured Goh in 2011, which is one of Japan's most popular TV series and on air every Sunday night.
Enthroned on a gigantic pedestal in the center of the floor as the main object of worship is a giant sedentary statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt.) measuring as tall as 240 centimeters in sitting height and reaches 496 centimeters if the pedestal is included. For Zen temples, it is rare to enshrine a Jizo Bosatsu statue as the main object of worship. Why Jizo Bosatsu? Before the Temple was erected, this site had been an execution ground for criminals, termed Jigoku-dani , or the Hell's Valley. To console the souls of those criminals who may have been executed in cruel manners or even on false charge, Jizo Bosatsu was most suitable. The original Jizo Bosatsu statue was, however, destroyed by the fire in 1414, and the existing one was fashioned afterward.
A Jizo Bosatsu statue at MFA.
At the right-hand corner of the hall, though may not be clearly visible, are 282 iron-cast miniature Jizo Bosatsu made during the Muromachi through the Edo Period (14th to 19th centuries). Surrounded by them is a considerably large one which is called Shinpeiji Jizo, ranking 9th of the Kamakura Twenty-Four Jizo Pilgrimage. Shinpeiji is the name of an ancient Zen temple that had existed right here before the Temple was constructed.
Another Jizo statuette which ranks 10th of the Kamakura Twenty-Four Jizo Pilgrim is installed in the interior of the main Jizo statue and is called Saita Jizo. Saita is the name of a samurai who served Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate. But he was convicted on charge of injury and was sentenced to death by beheading. When the executioner tried to decapitate him with a sword, however, he was unable to carry it out. Saita had put a 5.4-centimeter-tall Jizo statuette in his hair, which prevented the sword from beheading. He was released immediately and the statuette was revered as a guardian deity installing it inside the main Jizo Statue. Today's statuette is said to be a similar size replica.
Unfortunately, inside the hall is too dark to make them out. Enthroned on the altar of the left-hand recess are five wooden statues of guardian deity for the entire Temple called Garanjin, two of them standing (119.2 centimeters tall) and three others sedentary (128 centimeters tall each). Garanjin statues, installed mainly in Zen temples, are based on Taoism dogma, and are irrelevant to Buddhism. As a guardian deity of temple complex, Garanjin was introduced to Japan from China together with Zen. Here, we see a eclectic blend of religions housing both Buddha-related statues and Taoism ones in the same hall. All Garanjin statues were made in the latter half of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).
The five statues of Garanjin here were designated as ICAs in 2010.
(5) Byakushin or Juniper trees
Looming in front of the Main Hall are seven huge juniper (chinensis) trees, which are said to have been planted by Priest Rankei, the founding priest himself, bringing the seeds from China. They are reportedly more than 740 years old, one of them is as tall as 13 meters and the root diameter is roughly two meters. Some doubt if they are really as old. The Temple has an ancient sketch map of the old Kenchoji drawn in 1331 by a carpenter, which, meanwhile, shows the trees were really right here. In 1986 and 1993, excavations were made in the Temple's grounds. The result verified the old Kenchoji was precisely as shown in the ancient illustration, meaning Byakushin existed there in 1331at the latest.
In Kamakura, there are reportedly 20 old
junipers. Those in the Temple are the oldest,
and designated as a Scenic Spot by the National
(6) Hatto or Lecture Hall
Zen temples used to have a hall called Hatto in their seven major structures. In today's Kamakura, however, only the Temple has it. Constructed in 1814, the building is called Nengedo, the largest among the wooden structures existing in Eastern Japan, and dedicated to the statue of Senju (Thousand-armed) Kan'non Bosatsu or Avalokitesvara in Skt.; the Bodhisattva of Infinite Mercy. The statue ranks 28th of the Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage in Kamakura.
A hanging scroll of Senju Kan'non statue at e-Museum. Also, as many as one thousand Senju-Kan'non statues are housed at Sanju-san-gen-do Hall in Kyoto.
Placed in the center of the floor, is a sedentary bronze statue of Shaka Nyorai practicing asceticism as bare boned ribs show. This was exhibited at Aichi Expo held in Nagoya in 2005, and after the Expo, the Pakistani government donated it to the Temple.
The building is an ICA designated by Kanagawa Prefecture. Hatto is formerly a lecture hall, wherein chief priests expound scriptures and
doctrines of the Lord Buddha to the priests yet to be ordained. Today,
it is used for conducting a wide array of religious services. Also placed
at the corner of the hall is a drum, which legend says was used when Yoritomo
Minamoto went hunting at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
A woodblock print of Yoritomo hunting on view at MFA.
Bell-shaped windows with grids appearing
on the front walls are called Kato-mado (mado is a window), which are usually employed by, but not limited to, Zen temples.
For the Temple, the year of 2003 was the 750th anniversary of its founding. In commemoration, Hatto was reconstructed in August 2002. Also appears on the ceiling a big dragon painted by Junsaku Koizumi (1924-2012), a Kamakura resident. It is called "Un'ryu", or "A dragon in the Clouds." The black and white painting, 10 by 12 meters in size, took Koizumi three years. The Temple held a consecrating ceremony of this new painting on October 30, 2002. A half year earlier in Kyoto, Kenninji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, celebrated the 800th anniversary and had Koizumi paint "A Twin Dragons" on its Hatto's ceiling.
Un'ryu can be seen at Kenninji's photo gallery.
(7) Karamon Gate (Picture; right)
Ahead of the Hatto Hall stands an old gate, not as large as Sanmon or Somon, with a gabled roof. This gate is called Karamon and was brought here from Zojoji in Tokyo together with the Main Hall in 1647. It represents a typical architecture style in the early Edo Period and is designated as an ICA. The gate was used exclusively for the envoys of the imperial court visiting the Temple. Even today, the gate is open only on specific occasions like the Airing of Treasures in early November. Otherwise, visitors have to go around the gate to reach the next building Hojo.
The Gate underwent major repairs recently, and the Temple held an opening ceremony in a Buddhist manner on May 30, 2011.
(8) Hojo or Chief priest's quarters.
Also called Ryu-o-den. The word Hojo here is different from that of the Hojo family being spelled with different kanji characters, and literally is a space of about three-meter-square, thought to be enough for a chief priest to live in. Later, it began to mean a house where not only the chief priest lives but also religious services are performed. Together with the Somon gate, this was also brought here in 1943 from Hanju Zanmai-in in Kyoto, originally built in the latter half of the Edo Period. Enshrined here is a statue of Crowned Shaka Nyorai.
From 5.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. on the evening of Friday and Saturday, Zazen or sit-in meditation is held for the laity. Any visitors can join it free of charge with an advance notice. Zazen for foreigners is also held here from time to time. One of the priests associated with the Temple hosts it as an instructor, and recent one was introduced in his blog. It carries a dozen pictures, by which you may know how it is practiced.
Backyard of the building is a beautifully arranged garden with a pond. The garden was designed by Priest Muso-Soseki (1275-1351), another great Zen priest famous for making Zen style garden, and the founder of Zuisenji. It was the first garden laid out in Zen style, but rearranged during the Edo Period. Visiting here in May used to be nice with azalea (Rhododendron lateritium) and iris (Iris nertschinskia) in full bloom. The garden was remodeled in 2003 and it no longer has plants like azalea or iris. It is designated as a Historic Spot as well as a Scenic Spot by the National Government.
To the right of the Hojo stands a magnificent two-story building called Kuri, the Temple's office with guest rooms and priests' living quarters. On top of the roof and at the edge of the roof tiles, there appear the symbolic emblem of the Hojo family (Mitsu-uroko, or three scales) made of golden triangles. There are at least ten.
Tacchu or sub-temples
Tacchu are sub-temples built usually in memory
of the departed chief priests or great ones
who achieved outstanding performances. In
the Temple, there are a dozen or so sub-temples
in the grounds. Unfortunately, most of them
are not open to stray visitors. You can get
near the following:
(9) Hoju-in (also called Hoshu-in)
Located about 80 meters west of the Karamon gate, this sub-temple was dedicated to the memory of Priest Ryodo-Soan with posthumous name of Hongaku Zen-ji, the 35th chief priest who passed away in 1360. In the hall is a wooden statue of Priest Ryodo himself. In 1607, relates the Temple's record, Hasedera was under control of this sub-temple. Zenzo Kasai (1887-1928), a popular novelist in the Taisho Period (1912-1926), lived here, but moved to Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
Situated on the left-hand slope of the Hojo Hall, this sub-temple was initially built in 1307 by Sadatoki Hojo, the Ninth Hojo Regent, in memory of Priest Yakuo-Tokken (1244-1320), the 15th chief priest. Shortly after birth, he was orphaned and brought here as a trainee. Growing up, he devoted himself to studying Zen as a disciple of Priest Rankei. So outstanding was his achievement, he was given a chance to visit China for further study. Later, he was nominated as the 15th chief priest and was given the Buddhist name of Butto the National Teacher, the first priest ever who was given such an honorable title while alive. A statue of Sho Kan'non Bosatsu or Avalokitesvara-bodhisattva in Skt., made during the Muromachi Period, is enshrined here as well as Priest Yakuo's statue. Sho Kan'non ranks 29th of the Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage in Kamakura. However, this sub-temple accepts only those pilgrims who can recite Han'nya singyo, or the Heart sutra at the altar.
About 80 meters north of the Ryuho-in is Tengen-in, which was erected for Priest Nambo-Jomin (1235-1308), the 13th chief priest. The original building was constructed 20 years after his death.
Straight ahead of Hojo or about 100 meters north of it is this Shoto-in. Sometimes, it is open and when open, visitors are requested to donate an extra fee of 100-yen into a box at the gate. The sub-temple was dedicated to Priest Koho-Ken'nichi (1241-1316), son of Emperor Gosaga (1220-1272) and the 14th chief priest. His half-brother was Sixth Kamakura Shogun Munetaka (1242-1274). Inside the structure is his 110-centimeter-tall wooden statue, an ICA designated by Kamakura city, made in 1315 by a sculptor called Inkei (his date of birth and death unknown), and a statue of Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri in Skt.), Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Intellect, though much smaller than that of Priest Koho. Originally this sub-temple was built in Jochiji as he was a disciple of Priest Gottan, the founding priest of Jochiji, but was moved here in the 14th century. Priest Koho's tomb stands on the left-hand side of this sub-temple, under which his part of remains are buried. Bukkoku the National Teacher is the posthumous Buddhist name given to him. When I visited here one day, two foreigners (Caucasians) were in front of the hall and taking pictures of the statue placing a tripod. It took some time and I wondered why it took them so much time. I later noticed they were not using flash. Usually, taking pictures of the statues is not permitted at any temples.
At the corner of the left-hand graveyard before entering this sub-temple, there is a stone cenotaph in a cave. It was installed as an R.I.P. stele in 1965, twenty years after World War II, to commemorate the brave fighter pilots who were forced to undertake kamikaze attacks during the War. Close by are new funerary slabs of stainless steel made in 1993, on which their names are inscribed. Both are erected to propitiate the souls of the 829 Air-Force pilots, most of whom were aboard on kamikaze fighters named Ohka (Cherry blossom) and lost their lives at the last stage of the War with the suicidal attacks. Each plane was loaded with a 1.2-ton-bomb and after dropping it on the target, it was destined to make a suicidal crash-attack. The word kamikaze originally means "Divine Winds" that blew away the Mongolian troops and saved Japan from their invasion in 1274 and 1281. Japanese believed or were taught that Japan would never lose the War because it was protected by divine intervention of the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, the mother shrine of the Imperial Family. Suicidal attackers were named after the "Divine Winds". The first Kamikaze Special Attack Forces carried out their mission on October 25, 1944 when five fighter planes plunged into American warships off the coast of Leyte. As Japan's defeat seemed almost certain, the number of Kamikaze attacks increased. All pilots were a little over 20 years old. According to the American documents, 34 Allied ships were sunk and 288 were damaged in total by this Operation Suicide. Japanese records show that nearly 4,400 commandos of the Attack Force were killed in the operation and only 16.5 percent of the planes hit the targets. One of the very few surviving pilots took Buddhist vows after the War entering this sub-temple to console the souls of those young victims and it eventually led him to erecting the stele. Now that more than half a century have passed, few people pay attention to the fact.
There is another survivor of the Kamikaze mission, whose name is Mr. Kaoru Hasegawa (1924-2004) , chairman of Japan's largest cardboard maker, and whom I know by chance. His bomber took a hit from the USS Callaghan in May 25, 1945 but was, by good luck, rescued by the crew of the destroyer. His comment on this experience appears in the October 1995 issue of the Naval History published by the US Naval Institute, and also on "History Makers: Interview by Fred Shultz" (2000 Naval Institute Press).
(Note: In summer of 1944, Japan's defeat was almost certain. The Japanese navy began to employ new kamikaze bombers called Ohka as a last resort. They were human-guided missiles to crash themselves into American warships, and had no landing gears.
To be specific, it is a small one-man piloted flying bomb with three propellant rockets in the rear fuselage and a 1.2 tons explosive warhehad in the nose. Ohkas were carried by Betty bombers and launched from an altitude of about one mile and a distance of six miles from the target ship. However, many of them were shot down well before they were near the target. Toll of Ohkas totaled more than 150. One of the suvivors who were supposed to be on Ohka but the War ended just before he was about to get on board, visited Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia where a Ohka was displyed in 2003. When he saw it and knew that the Ohka had been nicknamed "Baka(Idiot) Bomb" by Americans, he reportedly broke into outbusts of tears.)
The path branches and heading east will bring you to Kaishun-in, about 500-meter away from the Hojo. This sub-temple was built for Priest Gyokusan-Tokusen (1255-1334), the 21st chief priest who passed away in 1334, and enshrines a sedentary statue of Monju Bosatsu, which is believed to have been made in the 17th century, as well as a statue of Idaten or Skanda in Skt. Also in the hall is Priest Gyokusan's own statue. He was given the title of Zen Master under the name of Bukkaku Zen-ji. Considering the 14-year time span between the 14th and the 21st chief priests here, it seems that chief priests had been changed pretty often.
One day in July 2013, I joined a Zazen party held here for the elder beginners. Most of them had never experienced Zazen before. The chief priest of this sub-temple instructed us politely how to sit and make posture (cross-legged, or a lotus position to be exact) on a thick square mat, and keep our eyes slightly open, casting them downward. Meditation is important to release tension but as important is breathing (abdominal respiration). We have to inhale fully and exhale very slowly and quietly. As we were all with age near or over 70, many felt painful to keep sitting in the same posture with spine straightened up for more than 10 minutes.
The priest told us Zazen practiced in Rinzai Zen is slightly different from that of Soto Zen in that Rinzai priests sit with their back to the wall, whereas Soto facing the wall. When a leader-priest strike on the participants' shoulder with his stick (made of flat wood), he hits their shoulder in front of them. In case of Soto, the leader strike them from behind. The stick is called Keisaku in Rinzai, and Kyosaku in Soto.
There are other important sub-temples on the north hill of the temple grounds or to your right immediately after going through the Sanmon gate. It is regrettable that this particular part of the Temple's grounds is usually closed and occasional visitors are not allowed to enter. This is the most sacred place in the Temple, where priests undergo ascetic discipline day and night. They are (14) and (15) listed below:
Was built for Priest Kozan-Mongo (date of birth and death unknown), the 28th chief priest, who was also a Zen Master with the title of Kakkai Zen-ji. A sedentary statue of Kan'non Bosatsu is enshrined here, which was chiseled by a famous sculptor named Uncho (his date of birth and death unknown) in the mid 14th century. The statue ranks 27th of the Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage in Kamakura.
As the sub-temple for Priest Rankei, the founding priest, this is the most sacred structure of the entire Kenchoji complex, originally built in 1279, one year after he died. Two years later, he was conferred with the posthumous name Daigaku Zenji, and a statue of Shaka Nyorai was enshrined. Today, there are Kaisando, Shodo, Zendo and stone towers for him and Priest Mugaku. The present-day Kaisando was rebuilt in 1453, and the statue of Priest Rankei is enthroned on the altar. As is common in Zen temples, the Temple treats the statue as if it were a real, living priest.
Shodo is usually built in front of Kaisando Hall to perform religious services. The
nine-meter-square structure was rebuilt in
1458. Both are the oldest building in the
Temple and are designated as ICAs. Up north
and behind the Kaisando are two stone towers called Ranto (Ran is literally an egg and it was named after the large egg-shaped stone
being placed on top). One is for the founding priest Rankei, which was
made in the Kamakura Period and is an ICA. The other is for Priest Mugaku.
The path running left-side of Hojo will end up as a half-dirt path lined with cherry trees and Japanese cedar at the foot of the hill named Shojoken. As the torii gates in between show, the structure up here is not a sub-temple but a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism (Hanso means half-priest), and functions as a tutelary deity for the temple compounds. Along the 250-odd zig-zagged steps stand a dozen or so images of goblin here and there on the southern slope. All of them are verditer green and have a high-bridged nose and beak-like mouth. They are called Tengu, which are legendary creatures believed to live deep in ancient mountains or a god of mountain, and those in here are called Karasu (crow) Tengu as their appearance with a pair of wings indicates. They were brought from a temple called Hokoji, another Rinzai Zen temple in Shizuoka Prefecture, in 1890 as its offshoot. Back at the time, the Temple's fortune was on the wane with few patron-worshipers visiting here as a result of Shinto becoming the state religion. The Temple was in financial difficulties with no help whatsoever from the governments. The parishioner system initiated by the Tokugawa Shogunate had collapsed. Even the Temple was on the verge of dilapidation. However, opening of the Yokosuka Line railways in 1889 linking Tokyo to Kamakura (and Yokosuka, Japan's naval base) gave the Temple a great opportunity of revival. Chief Priest Aozora-Kando (1825-1904) had a divine revelation in a dream one night, in which he was suggested to invite and enshrine Karasu Tengu of Hokoji. It was attracting a huge worshipers in Shizuoka as a deity to ward off evils. Following this revelation, he immediately asked Hokoji to help enshrining Karasu Tengu in the Temple, and built a shrine here as its affiliate at the best spot of the Temple's grounds. His idea proved to be a big success. With the opening of the Yokosuka Line, Hansobo soon began to be flooded with many worshipers, particularly on the 17th day every month, the day consecrated to Karasu Tengu. Since their statues were made of iron, however, the government confiscated them in early 1940s to produce weapons. Those statues we see today were made anew in 1979. The Temple continues to run a ritual for those Tengu on the 17th day every month. At the top of the steps, 145 meters above sea level, is a shrine, in which Hansobo Daigongen is enshrined.
Meanwhile, Karasu Tengu are also seen at Saijoji.
To the right of Hansobo shrine stands a small Jizo-do hall, which is sacred to a statue of Jizo Bosatsu. Popularly called "Shojoken Jizo," it ranks 10th of the Twenty-Four Jizo Pilgrimage in Kamakura. The path ascending the slope serves as a good hiking trail, which leads off into forest and the other side of Kamakura, or Zuisenji, Kakuonji or Yokohama city. Local people call it the Kamakura Alps. On weekends, quite a few hikers are walking this path. The rear entrance of the Temple is placed here, and hikers coming in from the other side of the hills will be charged a fee of 300-yen as admission.
Isolated from the Kenchoji grounds, this sub-temple is situated on the other side of the main road running in front of the Somon, and dedicated to the memory of a Chinese priest named Seisetsu-Seicho (Qingzhuo Zhengcheng) (1274-1339), who came to Japan in 1326 and became the 22nd chief priest the next year. He also served as the 16th chief priest of Engakuji. The main object of worship is a 87-centimeters-tall statue of Sho Kan'non carved in the 13th century by unknown sculptors. Other than that, this sub-temple enshrines unique ones, which are a pair of Marishiten (Marici in Skt.) statues. Each is standing on a boar and is believed to be the guardian god for samurai warriors. A hanging scroll of Marishiten at MFA.
The Temple has plenty of other valuable assets. Best known, perhaps, are:
Zen and Westerners
In Lawrence Sanders' Guilty Pleasures (1998), Zen is described as a mysterious religion. A publisher-empire owner has a son and a daughter. His wife is in a terminal illness. His son marry a girl named Zenobia who is a devotee of Zen Buddhism and even called Zen. The sick wife is interested in her faith and eventually commit suicide apparently affected by this daughter-in-law's belief. The father and daughter has a incestuous relationship. Sex is a taboo in Buddhism, let alone incest. The author displayed the two extremes: Zen and incest.
What does Kencho mean?
The word Kencho stems from an era-name called the Kencho Era, which was 1249-1255 period spanning only seven years. Fixing the era name was always at emperors' disposal those days. For the Temple, having the name of Kencho meant a prestigious status since the naming was authorized by the emperor. There are only a handful of temples with such naming: Enryakuji in Shiga Prefecture and Ninnaji in Kyoto. With respect to this era-name indigenous to the Japanese history, Japan has long been honoring the system. Even today, now called the Heisei Era, we Japanese have to fill in all official documents with the Heisei Year, not the dominical one, when referring to the year. Before the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868, this name had customarily been changed at emperors' disposal, but began to change only at Emperor's demise and new emperor's ascending the throne after 1868. The year of 2013, for instance, is the Heisei Year 25. It started in 1989 when Emperor Hirohito died (ending the Showa Era) and Prince Akihito succeeded to the Emperor's position. In other words, the Year Heisei shows how many years ago the former emperor passed away.
The Temple is also famous for its cleanliness. There is a Japanese phrase "as clean as the garden of Kenchoji swept with a broom", which translate as perfectly clean. But, does the present-day Kenchoji really deserve the words? In the restrooms for the sightseers, I saw a spider was spinning a web. Near the RIP stele for the suicide pilots noted (12) above, there are several Yagura caves. Some of them were full of thrown-away garbage just like mini-landfills. The souls of those pilots may not be solaced unless the Temple keep it clean as reputed. Since there stands a "Keep Out" sign near the entrance today, we cannot confirm if they are kept clean.
In Japanese cuisine, there is a soup called Kenchin-jiru or Kenchin soup, which originates in the soup the priests of the Temple cooked and ate. The recipe was made by the founding priest, who did not like to throw away waste vegetables but managed to utilize them, and therefore, it was far from luxurious. Today's Kenchin-jiru we cook or eat at restaurants is, however, a rich soup made of burdock, carrots, Japanese radish, soybean curd etc., a typical vegetarian soup, and available at some Japanese restaurants.
Fune is a boat. The Temple was frequently destroyed by fires. When a fire broke out in 1293 and 1315 and most of the buildings were lost, the Temple started to send a trade mission to China, then controlled by the Yuan Dynasty, to earn necessary funds for restoration. The first trading vessel was dispatched in 1325, and again in 1326. The name of the vessel was "Kenchoji fune." This fact indicates that the Temple back then was powerful enough to deal with international trades.
Indian ink (black-and-white) paintings
Indian ink painting was introduced into Japan from China together with Zen Buddhism. Though painted in monochrome, it has six variations of shade through ink and water mix. The Temple was once the center of Japanese Indian-ink paintings. To name a few, Shokei Kenko (his date of birth and death unknown), a pioneer painter of Indian-ink in the 15th century was living in Hoju-in sub-temple and served as a secretary for the Temple. Sesshu Toyo (1420-1502), another famous painter, was also a disciple of the 164th chief priest Gyokuin-Eiyo (1432-1524). There is an episode on Sesshu. When very young, he was sent to a Zen temple as a trainee. One day he did something mischievous. An angry priest bound him at a pillar with his hands tied behind his back. He wept and shed tears on the floor. With tears, he drew up a mouse using his toe fingers. It was so real that the priest could not help but release him.
Cost of graves
How much do you think it would cost us Japanese to have a small lot for a tomb in the graveyard of the Temple? The other day, I received a direct mail from a tombstone maker, which said "How about having your tomb in the prestigious Kenchoji grounds?" The cost of a perpetual leasehold with tomb, said the letter, starts from 2.3 million yen for a 0.36-square-meter space.
(Updated July 2013)