Background: Founder Yoshisada Nitta
Founder Yoshisada Nitta was a warlord in Gunma Prefecture, roughly 100 kilometers north of Tokyo. His ancestor was the same group as the Minamoto Clan. For the reason that his ancestors did not help Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, at a critical time when the Minamotos were fighting against the Taira Clan, Yoritomo did not give favor to them. The Nittas were treated badly and not happy at all for almost five generations. Even 150 years later, Yoshisada had hostility toward the Kamakura Shogunate.
Hearing the news that Rokuhara, the stronghold of the Kamakura Shogunate in Kyoto, surrendered in 1333, Yoshisada and his troops rose in revolt against Kamakura. A number of other warlords who were no longer satisfied with Hojo regime also rose and joined the Nittas. Tens of thousands of warriors stormed to Kamakura to fight a battle against the troops of Kamakura Shogunate. A bitter battle developed particularly at the Inamuragasaki district, southwest part of Kamakura, where present-day Gokurakuji and Joju-in stand.
Strategically fortified, Kamakura was not easy to break in for the Nitta troops, and the furious battle continued for several days. After advance and retreat, Nitta and his troops finally succeeded in destroying the fortress. The Hojo regime, and the Kamakura Period, which lasted nearly 150 years, came to a tragic end. Nitta, who himself later had to commit suicide after the defeat in 1337, lamented that so many warriors, both friend and foe, were killed during the civil-war type battle. This was his motive to erect the Temple at the site where he had placed his camp. The Temple opened three years after he conquered Kamakura.
About 600 meters northeast of the Temple, where the road from the Temple crosses the Wakamiya-Oji main road stands the Kamakura Summary Court building. This particular neighborhood was the bloodshed battleground. The excavation carried out by a professor of Tokyo University in 1953 revealed that hundreds of human skeletons, which are obviously those of the war-dead, were buried around here. According to the survey, nearly 1,000 people including women and children were murdered and their corpse were left unattended for more than a year. Later, farmers around here who grew carrots found the color of carrots were distinct from regular orange. They were just like human blood. Farmers believed that the carrots absorbed blood shed by those murdered people. Never have they since grown carrots. Today, this district is crowded with many buildings and luxurious condominiums, etc. as if nothing had happened. After the investigation, those remains were carried to the Temple and entombed cordially.
A woodblock print of Yoshisada Nitta at MFA.
Main Hall (Picture, top)
Enshrined as the main object of worship are statues of Amida (Amitabha in Sanskrit) Trinity, ICAs designated by the City of Kamakura. Legend has it that the statue was made in Kyoto and was carried down here for the Temple. Unfortunately, the interior of the hall is too dark and unable to make them out. On request, the statues can be viewed. Their appearance seem brand new, as they were gilt as recently as 1963.
An Amida Nyorai statue on display at e-Museum.
The statue of Sho Kan'non, or Arya-avalokitesvara in Skt., a 30 centimeters tall cast-metal, was made in 1812 and ranks 16th of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage. The Temple also owns a stone statue of Yakushi Nyorai, or Bhaisajya-guru in Skt. It was made in 1296 and 96.5 centimeters tall. The stone statue of Yakushi Nyorai is rare in Kamakura, and the work is highly evaluated by connoisseurs. Made of one piece of andesite stone, it is designated as an ICA by Kanagawa Prefecture and is displayed at the Kamakura Museum.
Also owned by the Temple are statues of Enma (the Judge of Hell), or Yama in Skt., and Datsueba, one of the Ten Kings in the Netherworld. Those statue are not enshrined here, but are on view, like the Yakushi Nyorai statue above, at Kamakura Museum. For details on Enma and Datsueba, see En'noji.
Neri-kuyo (Picture; right)
In mid-October every year, when nearby Komyoji holds "Ojuya", a religious service observed specifically by the Jodo Sect, a parade called neri-kuyo marches from here to Komyoji. According to the sect's belief, Amitabha
descends to this world followed by 25 Bodhisattvas to save the devout,
most often the dying people, and lead them to the Pure Land Paradise. The
neri-kuyo is a personified version of this belief and priests impersonate Amitabha and Bodhisattvas.
Best known neri-kuyo is perhaps that of Taima-dera in Nara held on May 14 every year. The picture here shows about a hundred priests leaving the Temple's gate area, which is otherwise deserted, for Komyoji to join Ojuya ceremony.
Neri-kuyo at Taima-dera.
The Chinese characters 'Dairisan' engraved on the Sanmon gate and 'Kuhonji! appearing on the tablet of the main hall are believed to be the Nitta's
holograph. All structures including the main hall were rebuilt after the
Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
The word kuhon (ku is nine) is a term used by Jodo sect Buddhists meaning; (a) our deeds can be grouped into nine categories from good to bad. In accordance with this classification, where we go or which part of the Pure Land we go after death will be fixed. (b) Nine ways of hand positions for Amida Buddha statues.
(Updated August 2010)