Access Map


Founding priest Nen-a-Ryochu was born in Shimane Prefecture and took Buddhist vows at age 16. He entered Enryakuji in Shiga Prefecture to study Buddhism. While in Enryakuji, he began to show interest in Jodo Sect tenets and was ordained by an immediate disciple of Priest Honen (1133-1212), the founder of Jodo sect Buddhism. Priest Ryochu himself later assumed the third-generation-chief of the Jodo Sect. Though mostly active in western Japan at first, he came to Kamakura in 1240 to propagate Jodo sect doctrine in eastern Japan.

komyogateBack at the time in Kamakura, Tsunetoki Hojo, the founder of the Temple, was the Fourth Hojo Regent. He was greatly attracted by the Priest Ryochu's teaching and resolved to help the priest financially. With the patronage of the Regent, Priest Ryochu built a small temple by the name of Rengeji in Sasukegayatsu, western part of Kamakura, where Sasuke Inari Jinja is located. Three years later, the temple was relocated to the present site and renamed Komyoji.

Throughout the Hojo regime era, the Temple was protected by the Hojo Regents. Also contributed to the expansion of the Temple was the ninth chief priest Kan'yo-Yuso (1427-1509). Emperor Gotsuchimikado (1442-1500) embraced his faith, and in 1495 the emperor officially began to patronize the Temple. He even allowed the chief priests wear the Purple Robe, a symbol of the highest-ranking conferred by the Imperial Court.

In the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), it continued to flourish under the support of the Ashikaga Shogunate.

Entering the Edo Period (1603-1868), Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616), the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, also favored the Temple materially and spiritually. In fact, Ieyasu established the 18 Schools for Jodo Sect Buddhism in Kanto regions (Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures) and placed the Temple at the top of the list. When Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858) of American Navy came near the Miura Peninsula in 1854 to pry open a diplomatic relations with Japan, the Shogunate office thought that the Temple would be a suitable venue to welcome foreign guests, and told the Temple to prepare for the meeting. It was not materialized, however, since Commodore Perry did not agree to the proposed idea for unknown reason.

The Temple is a huge complex and its structures consists of Somon (outer gate), Sanmon (inner gate), main hall, founding priest's hall (rebuilt in 2002), priests' living quarters, temple office, Karesansui garden, lotus garden, graveyard for the Naito family, etc. Even today, it is the mother temple of Jodo sect in the Kanto region and the largest among the 13 Jodo sect temples in Kamakura.

(1) Sanmon (Inner Gate) (Picture; top)
The largest and most magnificent in Kanto, it was originally built in 1553 for Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (repaired in 1847). After the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868, it was brought here following the government's policy to segregate Buddhism from Shinto. As the gate has worn with time, it was repaired again recently in 1998. A large plaque shows Tenshozan in Chinese characters, part of the official name of the Temple, which was brush-written in 1436 by Emperor Gohanazono (1419-1470), father of Gotsuchimikado.

Enshrined on the second floor are statues of Shaka (Sakyamuni in Skt.) Trinity (Sanzon), with the Shaka statue in the center attended by Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri in Skt.) at its left and Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra in Skt.) at its right. The statue of Monju Bosatsu usually stands on the pedestal in shape of a lion and Fugen on a white elephant. On this floor, however, the statue of Fugen has the elephant pedestal only and that of Fugen is missing. According to a priest of the Temple, the statue is thought to have been stolen by soldiers of the Occupation Forces amid the confusion shortly after World War II ended in 1945.

A hanging scroll of Shaka Sanzon on display at MFA.

Surrounding the trinity statues are the Four Deva Kings (Shitenno), namely Jikokuten, or Dhrtarastra; Komokuten, or Virupaksa; Zochoten, or Virudhaka; Tamonten (also called Bishamonten), or Vaisravana. All of them are clad in armor and have threatening aspects. In addition, statues of Sixteen Rakan (Arhat in Skt., Shaka's immediate disciples), are enthroned on both sides of the altar.

Shitenno statues at NNM.

After the recent renovation, the Temple began to make the gate on public view twice a year, one in early April and the other in early November. Admission is 300 yen. I heard the story of the stolen Fugen Bosatsu statue from a guide priest when it was opened in early April 1999.

(2) Main Hall (Picture; below)
The 30-meter square structure, rebuilt in 1698, is so big that the copper-rust green roof can be viewed from Inamuragasaki, the opposite side of Kamakura bay. The main objects of worship are Amida trinity, namely a sedentary statue of Amida Nyorai enthroned in the center flanked by statues of Kan'non Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara in Skt.) at its left and Seishi Bosatsu (Mahasthama-prapta in Skt.) at its right. The Amida Nyorai statue is believed to have been fashioned in the early Kamakura Period (1192-1336) as it has inscription affixed reading that it was repaired in 1363. The sculptor is unknown.
An Amida Nyorai statue at e-Museum.

Also enshrined in the left-hand recess are a statue of Priest Honen, the founder of Jodo Sect, and that of Nyoirin Kan'non (Cintamani-cakra in Skt.) carved in the late Kamakura Period, which is rare in Kamakura and ranks 28th of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage.
A Nyoirin Kan'non statue at NNM.

In the right-hand recess, another two statues are enshrined; Priest Zendo (Shan-Tao in Chinese) (613-681), pioneer of Pure Land Buddhism in China under the Tang Dynasty, and colorful Benzaiten (Sarasvati in Skt.), or the Goddess of Fortune.

In case religious services are not performed, occasional visitors are permitted to go inside the hall, free of charges, and sit on tatami mat close to the statues after worshiping in proper manner.

Kishu Garden
At the left (northwest) side of the main hall is a garden with a pond. It was named Kishu in honor of the founding priest whose posthumous title was Kishu. The pond was designed in the early 17th century by a famous architect and garden designer named Enshu Kobori (1579-1647), who created such famous gardens as in Katsura Imperial Villa, Nijojo Castle and Imperial Palace, all in Kyoto. He was also noted as a votary of ceremonial tea party and taught manner of the tea ceremony to Iemitsu Tokugawa (1604-1651), the Third Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In summer, visitors can enjoy beautiful lotus flowers in the pond. The most amazing story about this lotus would be the origin of its seeds. Finding some 2,000-year-old seeds at a historic relic in Chiba Prefecture, Dr. Ichiro Oga (1883-1965), a famous botanist, succeeded in reviving them. The lotus here are their offspring and called Oga hasu (lotus).

(4) Karesansui Garden (Picture; right)
Visitors can climb the wooden steps of the main hall and go around it. The corridor leads to the famous garden at the right-hand side (southeast) of the hall. It is a typical garden commonly referred to as Karesansui, or a dry rock-and-sand garden (some translate it "raked pebble garden"), displaying landscape with rocks and sands. Sands usually represent water. Though it is rather new laid out in 1973, three rocks (chlorite-schist produced only in Saitama Prefecture) embody the Amida trinity, and the other five rocks personify the Lord Buddha and the four great priests, who contributed to founding the Jodo sect Buddhism: Priest Zendo, Priest Honen, Priest Bencho (1162-1238) who established the Chinzei school of Jodo sect as the direct disciple of Priest Honen promoting missionary activity in western Japan, and Priest Ryochu (the founding priest). What the overall garden presents to us with this design is the Pure Land Paradise.

garden is usually seen at Zen temples, most famous among them is that of Ryoanji in Kyoto, and therefore, it is rare to find it in Jodo sect temples. In May, beautifully trimmed satsuki, or Rhododendron indicum, in the garden will be in full bloom. I personally feel that the garden here is more beautiful, or at least cleaner, than Ryoanji's, which is always crowded with sightseers. Worse still, an admission of 500 yen does not allow us to get access to the main hall. Ryoanji garden attracts visitors with its enigmatic arrangement of the 15 rocks (clustered so that one can see no more than 14 from any angles).

(5) Kaisando Hall or Founding Priest's Hall
Between the sanmon gate and the main hall to the northwest is the hall for the founding priest, which was newly rebuilt in summer of 2002 in commemoration of the founding priest's 800th birthday. Enthroned on the altar is a 79.3-centimeter-tall statue of the Priest Ryochu fashioned during the Muromachi Period. The hall also keeps 8 other statues of chief priests.

Ojuya Invocation
For three days and three nights from 6:00 p.m. October 12 through 6:00 p.m. October 15, the Temple hosts an invocation service to pray for the redemption of people and for bumper crops of grain. Priests keep on chanting sutras for three days, 24 hours a day uninterrupted. This practice originally started in the 15th century in Kyoto, where the service used to continue for ten consecutive days as Ojuya literally means "ten nights." The Temple began this practice in 1495 initiated by the ninth chief priest Yuso-Kan'yo. Back then, quite a few local people living in the Miura Peninsula joined the service just like the Thanksgiving Day. So many people gathered around here that a fair was held during the days. Daily commodities were on sale and rural people took chance buying them. Even today, the tradition is carried on and open-air stalls stands in the courtyard, selling mostly potted plants during the three-day-period.

(6) Sedentary stone statue of Jizo Bosatsu: Near the main hall to your right, two stone statues of Jizo, or Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt. will be found in a wooden shed. The larger one has an inscription of 1325 make. Although worn out with times, it ranks 22nd of the Twenty-Four Kamakura Jizo Pilgrimage.

Stone tablets, or Itabi : To the right of the Jizo statue, near the wall of Karesansui garden, are stone monuments including Itabi {e-tah-be}. For further details on Itabi, see Hasedera.

Mandala Picture Scrolls:
The Temple owns two volume of the horizontal, illustrated scrolls exquisitely printed on silk. They are called Taima mandala and are designated as National Treasures. A number of paintings of the Holy Land or the Western Paradise of Amida Nyorai were produced those days based upon the teaching of the Kanmuryoju sutra (Sukhavativyuha in Skt.). The very original design can be ascribed to Priest Zendo. The most important scene of the painting is the Western Holy Land with Amida trinity and other holy hosts coming down from the heaven. The scenes are surrounded by illustrated stories portraying votive faith of Lady Vaidehi, mother of the Indian King Ajatasatru. The oldest Japanese version of this mandala is believed to be Taima Mandala made on the weaved lotus-fiber by Lady Chujo in the late Nara Period (710-794). Lady Chujo is a legendary woman, and yet the legend realistically says that she was a member of the court noble Fujiwara Family. But she took the tonsure and joined Taima-dera in Nara being unable to endure the bullying of her nasty step-mother. She was said to have made the scrolls overnight in the year 763 and the size measures 4 by 4 meters.
Meanwhile, Taima mandala is different from those manadala often referred to in Shingon and Tendai sect.

During the Kamakura Period, copies of thisTaima Mandala were often produced on the recommendation of Priest Honen and other influential priests. The Temple's scrolls was among them. However, it was far larger than others in size measuring 5.16 by 7.8 meters for one, and 5.15 by 7.0 meters for the other, in which how the original Taima Mandala was produced is illustrated. They are kept at Kamakura Museum.

Hanging scrolls of Taima Mandala at MMA and MFA..

There are two sub-temples: (a) Renjo-in standing south of Sanmon and (b) Senju-in north of Sanmon. Both belong to the Jodo sect and are on the list of the 13 Jodo temples in Kamakura. In Renjo-in, the main object of worship is a wooden statue of Amida Nyorai carved in the 14th century and that of Eleven-Headed Kan'non (Ekadasamukha in Skt.), which ranks 19th in the Thirty-Three Kamakura Kan'non Pilgrimage. Senju-in enshrines a statue of Thousand-Armed Kan'non (Sahasrabhuja in Skt.) and is enrolled as the 20th of the Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage in Kamakura.

(7) Chief priests' tomb
Right behind the temple grounds on the slope of a hill lies the graveyard for Tsunetoki Hojo, the founder, and those of chief priests. The largest one right in the middle is that of the founding priest. Except for Tsunetoki's Hokyo-into, tombs here are not same as regular ones, each placing a egg-shaped stone at the top. A path on the right of the temple ground lead to the tombs, but it may be difficult to find the yard. Had better go out of the Temple once and turn left at the bus-running road. The cemetery lies facing the northwest corner of the playground of Kamakura Dai-ichi (First) Junior High School.

(8) Cemetery of the Naito Family (Picture; below)
KomyoNaitoOn the way to chief priests' cemetery from the bus road, this spectacular cemetery will appear to your the left, which is famous for a cluster of Hokyo-into and other stone monuments. Unusually large and brown-tarnished gravestones are standing like bamboo shoots in a 2,000-square-meter or so enclosure. The information board at the entrance tells us that there are 40 Hokyo-into, 1Gorinto, 13 other monuments, 4 Buddha statues, 118 garden lanterns, 17 washbasins and 9 Jizo statues. Most of Hokyo-into are as tall as 3 meters. Those stone structures were erected during the 250-year period from 1634 through 1888, and give us a rare chance to know what the tombs of feudal lords were like back then and how they changed over the years.

The Temple was the family temple for the Naitos, a feudal lord in Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture in the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1868). No other temples in Kamakura was appointed to be a family temple by feudal lords. They were powerful and in the event their family members died, grand funerals used to take place. Here are Hokyo-into for the deceased members of the Naito family. It is not open to the public. Though the site is designated as a Historic Spot by the City of Kamakura, the Temple seems to receive no subsidy. When I visited here on an early summer day, the yard was overgrown with grass, almost as tall as the gravestones. Perhaps, neither the Temple nor the descendants of the Naitos can afford to properly maintain it.

Taima Mandala picture strolls mentioned above were donated to the Temple by the Naitos in 1675.

Naito Memorial Hall at Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture.


(Updated February 2015)