The largest Ji sect temple in Kamakura, it was built by Priest Ippen, the founder of
the sect. After learning at Enryakuji near Kyoto, he started his career as an mendicant priest of the Jodo sect at the beginning. Later, he developed his own doctrines as an independent sect. He mainly preached commoners that chanting the sacred name of Amida, or "Nam-ahmy-dab-tsu" repeatedly and dancing with this chant will bring them salvation
immediately. Travelling all over the country, he gave them paper talismans
inscribed with the sacred name of the Amida (Amitabha in Sanskrit) Buddha. Dancing with recitation of the holy Amida name throw them into ecstasy and his mission grew increasingly popular.
In 1282, he and his followers tried to visit Kamakura, then the nation's capital, for further spread of his doctrine. Refused to enter by Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), the Eighth Regent and Zen Buddhism advocate, they began rallying at the neighboring city of Fujisawa. It turned out most successful and attracted many devotees. The mother temple of this sect, or Yugyoji, exists today in the middle of the city. (Yugyo means wayfaring priests or pilgrims.)
The Temple's legend narrates that there once lived a female attendant for Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of Kamakura Shogunate, whose name was Lady Machi. She had Unkei (?-1223), one of the most notable Buddha-statue sculptor in the Kamakura
Period (1185-1333) and often referred to as a Japanese Michelangelo, carve
statues of Amida trinity in 1215, and enshrined them in her prayer hall. She worshipped
them every day devoutly. Even more enthusiastic for worshiping them was,
however, her male servant called Manzai-hoshi. Despite his faithfulness
toward Amida, he had not always been behaving himself, and one day he was suspected
of cheating or stealing something. As a punishment, Lady Machi branded
his left cheek with a hot iron (a horseshoe). Even when he was being branded,
he did not forget to chant "Nam-ahmy-dab-tsu", or a prayer to Amida.
That night, Lady Machi had a dream, in which the Lord Amida appeared with a clear brand on his left cheek and said "Why did you brand on my cheek?" Hearing this, she woke up and immediately called for Manzai-hoshi only to find his brand had just gone. Next, she went to the Amida Nyorai statue and found a brand on its left cheek. In awe, she ordered repairmen to fix the cheek of the statue. The repairmen tried to mend the cheek over and over again for 21 times, and yet the brand did not disappear. This was a clear indication to her that the Lord Amida bore the blame for Manzai-hoshi, a vicarious sacrifice, and she realized anew that the Lord Amida helps those who have faith in him regardless of their behavior.
It was a miracle and the news spread fast. Quite a few people began to visit her prayer hall to worship the Amida statues. To accommodate those worshipers, Lady Machi built a temple called Ganzoji at Hikigayatsu near Myohonji in 1217 as a Shingon sect temple, wherein enshrined the said statues of Amida Nyorai trinity. Sixty-five years later in 1284, this Ganzoji was relocated to the present site together with the trinity statues and renamed the temple "Kosokuji" converting the denomination to Ji sect same time. (No details are available as to the reason of the relocation and the conversion.)
An Amida statue at e-Museum.
Statue of Ippen
Entering the gate, both sides of the path are already graveyards. Straight ahead is a bronze statue of Priest Ippen. Similar statues are found in many Ji-sect temples. As the founder of the Ji sect based on Pure Land Buddhism, he is known as a "wayfaring saint", which refers to his extensive travels for missionary work. Certainly, he was one of the most active and influential priests during the Kamakura Period.
Turn left at the statue of Priest Ippen, and you will find the main hall. The present hall was rebuilt in 1859. Damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, it was repaired the next year. Chinese characters Kosokuji appearing on the plaque were brushed by Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339).
Inside the hall is beautifully decorated. The main objects of worship are naturally the statues of Amida Nyorai trinity, or Amida Sanzon and designated as ICAs. The Nyorai statue in the center is called Hoho-yake Amida, or Branded-cheek Amida, named after the folkloric episode above. It is 96.7 centimeters tall and is obviously under the influence of the Unkei school sculptors, though there is no evidence that it was really fashioned by Unkei. The gilded statue is now almost blackened.
Amida Sanzon statues are on view at KNM.
Flanking at its left is a 61-centimeter-tall statue of Sho Kan'non Bosatsu (Arya-avalokitesvara in Skt.), said to have been fashioned by Kaikei (a disciple of Unkei's father. His date of birth and death unknown). At its right is the same size statue of Seishi Bosatsu (Mahasthama-prapta in Skt.), which was reportedly carved by Tankei (1173-1256), son of Unkei. The Sho Kan'non here, meanwhile, ranks 7th in the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage.
A sho Kan'non statue at NNM.
Since there is no evidence to certify that Unkei had ever come to Kamakura, the genuineness of the sculptors above are in doubt. Experts on Buddhist sculptures all agree, however, that they were made in the first half of the 13th century.
Unfortunately, those statues are not on public view. For occasional visitors,
it is necessary to form a group of 10 or more and make an appointment one
week in advance. Fee is 300-yen per head.
The feretory was donated by Mochiuji Ashikaga (1398-1439), the Fourth Kamakura Governor. Though present one was rebuilt in the Edo Period (1603-1868), it still exhibits something like the "Ashikaga style", say connoisseurs.
The Temple also owns two sets of picture scrolls, on which the episode of Lady Machi and Manzai-hoshi are illustrated. Designated as another ICAs, the scrolls alternate textual description written by Tamesuke Fujiwara (1263-1328), a famous Tanka poet during the Kamakura Period (a.k.a. Tamesuke Reizei. See Jokomyoji), and paintings drawn by a painter of the famous Tosa school, a specialist group of the traditional Japanese paintings. They are preserved at the Kamakura Museum and on display from time to time.
At the right of the courtyard are stone statues of Jizo Bosatsu, or Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva in Skt. The big statue standing at the rear of smaller six Jizo statues is called salt-licking Jizo. Here goes another folkloric tale. The road running in front of the Temple in ancient days was the only one connecting Kamakura to the east coast of the Miura Peninsula, and was called "salt road" since salt vendors carried salt from the east coast to Kamakura. The vendors made it a rule to offer a spoonful of salt to the Jizo statue on their way to Kamakura praying for safe journey and good sales for the day. Curious may it have sounded, they always found the salt they had offered in the morning was gone when they were on the way back home in the evening. They believed Jizo liked salt and licked it out in return for their safe journey and good business.
As is common in the case with Jizo statues, which always have shaven heads and frigid appearance, pious people make red coverings and caps to protect them from the cold, and keep on offering salt to this particular statue.
Weeping forsythia or Forsythia suspensa in March.
Styrax obassia in early May.
Iris or Iris laevigata in June.
Great trumpet flowers or Campsis chinensis in summer.
Scarlet saga or Salvia splendens in early autumn.
Don't be confused with the other Kosokuji which is located in Hase and belongs to the Nichiren sect. Japanese will never fail to tell this Kosokuji from the other since the names shown in Chinese characters (Kanji) are different.
(Updated September 2013)