Raikoji at Nishi-mikado


Access Map


History

The Temple is thought to have been erected circa 1289 since Priest Ippen,the founding priest, visited Kamakura in 1289. He is also the founder of Ji sect Buddhism, of which head temple is Yugyoji located in Fujisawa city adjacent to Kamakura. Priest Ippen started his Buddhist career studying at Enryakuji, the mecca of Tendai Sect, but later began to believe in the Jodo sect, or the Pure Land Buddhism. Back at the time, people were suffering from various hardships caused by poverty, famine, epidemic, drought, civil wars and natural disasters. They were disappointed at their daily life and sought the paradise after death or rebirth in the paradise.

According to Jodo Sect preaching, Amida Nyorai (Amitabha in Sanskrit) and Bodhisattva would appear at the moment of one's death and lead him or her to the Western Paradise should they believe in the Amida Buddha. There are a number of pictures beautifully and realistically painted those days that show the Amida trinity and 25 Bodhisattva descending from the heaven to guide the dying devout into the Pure Land Paradise. The Temple's name "Raiko" denotes welcoming those trinity and Bodhisattvas coming down.

Priest Ippen advanced the Pure Land concept further, saying that reciting the name of the Amida Buddha, or "Nam-amy-dah-boots" called nenbutsu, give salvation to the faithful while they are alive, not after death. Later in 1279, he combined Nenbutsu with dancing. This ecstatic dancing and nenbutsu, easiest to practice among any sects, won a great popularity from the commoners. With his devotion and self-sacrifice, he travelled throughout the country as referred to as "a wayfaring priest" or "a priest of abandonment," and came to Kamakura, the nation's capital, in 1289 to spread his faith. Although denied to enter Kamakura by the Hojo Regent, he was well accepted by the people in Fujisawa, and gained momentum gradually. As a matter of fact, Ji Sect was at the forefront of Japanese Buddhism in the 14th and 15th century. In Kamakura, there are seven Ji sect temples including Kosokuji in Juniso and Betsuganji. For further details on Ji Sect, refer to Yugyoji.

Main Hall and Statues

The hall as well as the priest's living quarter is rather new built in the mid 1990s. Enshrined inside the hall are the following:

A notice in Japanese is seen on the front door, which reads: "The statues are the objects of worship , not objects of art-appreciation." Those who want to worship the statues have to sit before them in proper manner. (i.e. with one's knees bent and with one's toes directly beneath the body). Probably this is the common feeling shared by all religious people. Those who follow the Temple's instruction, say the notice, are requested to push the button near the notice. The admission is 200 yen.

Meanwhile, Kofukuji in Nara, which is on the World Heritage List, exhibited its Ashura and other related statues at Tokyo and Kyushu National Museum in 2009. This Ashura statue was enshrined at Kofukuji by Empress Komyo (701-760) in condolence of her mother's death. Since it was fashioned 1,300 years ago and has a unique figures, the exhibitions drew more than 2 million people, an unprecedented record. Revenues may have totaled over 2 billion yen, a big success for a business. Kofukuji secured enough fund to rebuild its structures. It was obviously exhibited as an object of art and many may have watched it out of curiosity. The chief priest of Kofukuji referred to it in his lecture presented in April 2010 for NHK radio (Japan's national public broadcasting organization) , of which subject was "Prayer and Heart". He said that the exhibitions gave many viewers a big chance to appreciate the beauty of the Ashura and at the same time to think about Buddhism. I believe the priest of the Temple will be of different opinion and opposed to exposing sacred statues to the public..

I visited the Temple on a weekday in February 2010 for the first time in years. There was no one else in the Temple's grounds. As instructed, I pushed the button and asked to let me in to worship the statues. A couple of minutes later, an old lady appeared and opened the door for me. The hall was kept clean. She made a brief explanation of all the statues enshrined in the hall. I sit in front of the Amida statue and chanted 262-Chinese ideograms Hannya Shingyo sutra. All of the statue were so magnificent that I was just overwhelmed.

An Episode of the Batsudabara statue

Here is an interesting episode in connection with the Batsudabara statue. It was modeled after a high-ranking priest at Kenchoji by name of Jikyu {gee-k'yoo}. While he was the chief priest of a sub-temple called Kotokuan in Kenchoji, he fell in love with a boy servant at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Boy servants are called Chigo {chee-goh} in Japanese, and pretty Chigo sometimes were kept by pederasts. Believe it or not, the priest practiced pederasty and he approached the Chigo to coerce him into sexual relations. Astonished, the boy fled to Enoshima, a tiny island off the coast of western Kamakura, where Enoshima Jinja, stands, and took his own life by throwing himself into the water. (Hence the name of "Chigo-ga-Fuchi" at Enoshima). Immediately afterward, Priest Jikyu followed suit and committed suicide.

Note: Kamakura Encyclopedia reads the temple was founded by Priest Ippen, while the Temple says founding priest is Priest Ikko. Both were the great priests of Ji sect.

Updated August 2013


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