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Founded in the early 16th century, the Temple is rather new in Kamakura compared with others, and draws less public attention despite its quiet and genuine temple-atmosphere surrounded by outlying hills on three sides. Its location may partly be responsible for being less popular.

RyuhoGate The Kamakura Period ended in 1333 with the collapse of the Hojo regime and shortly thereafter, the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) began under the Ashikaga Shogunate with the nation's capital bringing back to Kyoto. Toward the end of the Muromachi Period, local wars among warlords broke out across the country slipping into civil wars and chaos often referred to as "the era of warring state."

In the Kanto region (Tokyo and its six neighboring prefectures), the Go(post)-Hojo family was gradually extending its military power with the base castle in Odawara, western tip of Kanagawa Prefecture. Another powerful warlord in the region was the Miura faction that was controlling the Miura Peninsula and was near rivalling the Go-Hojo. In order to contain and conquer the Miura faction, So-un Hojo (1432-1519), the chief of the Go-Hojo clan, built another castle near the Temple in 1512, which was called Tamanawa Jo (castle).

So-un Hojo appointed his second son Ujitoki (?-1542) to be the first lord of the Tamanawa castle. It was an impregnable fortress. Records show that the castle was attacked at least five times, but not once did it fall. When Tsunashige Hojo (1515-1587), grandson-in-law of So-un, was the third lord of the castle, he erected the Temple for the salvation of the departed souls of his family. It was located at the other side of today's Temple across the road, and was called Koge-an (and later changed to Dai-o-ji). In 1575, the sixth lord of the castle Ujikatsu Hojo (1559-1611) relocated the Temple to the present site and changed the name again to Ryuhoji taking his father's posthumous Buddhist title.

In Kyoto and western Japan, meanwhile, Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598), one of the greatest heroes in Japan's history, was gaining power and was about to unify Japan. The last enemy was the Go-Hojo in Kanto. In 1590, the Toyotomis laid siege to the Odawara castle with an army of 200,000 strong as against Go-Hojo's 50,000 (some say 170,000 against 130,000). At the same time, he ordered Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (then, Hideyoshi was his boss), to attack the Go-Hojo's ally castle in Tamanawa. Knowing it was heavily fortified and might take a heavy toll should he resort to arms, Ieyasu got in touch with the then chief priest of the Temple, Ryotatsu by name, whom the lord of the castle Ujikatsu had greatly been trusting. In addition, the Priest was his uncle. Ieyasu asked Priest Ryotatsu to persuade Ujikatsu into surrendering so that unnecessary bloodshed might be avoided. Bloodshed was the last thing Priest Ryotatsu wanted. Though Ujikatsu was determined and ready to defend to the death, he finally accepted Ryotatsu's advice to give up. The castle was thus opened up peacefully and the life of Ujikatsu was spared.

ryuhomainIn the meantime, the Odawara castle was also at stake. Toyotomi continued an encircling operation and tried to starve them into surrender cutting off food supply. The Go-Hojo was by no means match for the Toyotomis. Inside the castle, senior members of the Go-Hojo discussed day after day whether or not to surrender. It took more than 100 days before coming up with a conclusion to surrender. Hence the words Odawara Hyojo was created, which means an endless conference with no conclusion. Two leaders of the Go-Hojo were ordered to kill themselves by seppuku (disembowelment), and the 100-year ruling by the Go-Hojo came to an end.

With Go-Hojo's surrender, Hideyoshi Toyotomi achieved the unification of Japan in 1590. After destroying the Go-Hojo, he visited Kamakura, and at Shirahata Sub-shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, he reportedly said, "You and I are the real heroes in Japan," stroking the Yoritomo's statue on the shoulder.

Entering the Edo Period (1603-1868) reigned by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Tamanawa Castle was no longer necessary and abolished in 1620 following the One-Castle-One-Prefecture policy laid out by the Shogunate. (In Kanagawa Prefecture, the Odawara castle survived.) Today, the area is greatly developed and there is nothing reminiscent of the Castle, which is supposed to have been on the hill west of the Temple or the other side of the bus-running main road. Right in the center of the castle ruins stands a girls' Catholic junior and senior high school. Since it is for girls' school, local boys say the district still remains as impregnable as the Tamanawa Castle had been.

The Temple was originally a huge complex having a set of seven structures, or Shichido Garan, though sometimes wrecked by fires and battles. Except for the gate and bell, all structures are relatively new. The building behind the gate to the left is a kindergarten run by the Temple. To the right is the Collection Hall of Folk Materials, but usually closed.

Main Hall (Photo; above right)

The magnificent structure was reconstructed in 1960. As is the case with the Zen sect, the hall is clean and simple with no noticeable ornamentation except for those hanging down from the ceiling. Enthroned in the recess are the trinity statues of Shaka (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit) , or Shaka statue in the center attended by Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri Bodhisattva in Skt. meaning wisdom and intellect) at its left and Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra Bodhisattva in Skt. Bosatsu of brightness) at its right. The trio is called Shaka Sanzon.

With only one chair placed before the altar, the floor is spacious enough for scores of Zen priests to hold session of zazen, or sit-in meditation. The door is usually closed, but visitors can view the inside through the window glasses. On the left and right shelves under the ceiling are placed hundreds of bisque statuettes of Rakan or Arhat.

Shaka Sanzon statues on view at Nishio city's official website in Aichi Prefecture.

Old Farmhouse (Picture; below)

ryuhofarmHalfway through the path leading to the Main Hall and to your right, you will see an old, shabby-looking farmhouse, which is enrolled upon the list of ICAs. Built in the late 17th century, it was owned by the Ishii {e-she-e} family, an old parishioner and chief of the Tamanawa village in the late Edo Period. Typical of farmhouse back at the time, it was designated as an ICA in 1969. Unfortunately, the house is always closed and casual visitors are not allowed to go inside.

Peony Garden

Flowers are always found at any temples in Kamakura. Religious people love nature and love flowers. The Temple maintains a flower garden and the most beautiful one would probably be herbaceous peony. In May, the garden will be covered with brilliant colors.

Some 400 meters down the main road near railway tracks is another flower garden, or Ofuna Flower Center , which is run by Kanagawa Prefecture. Opened in 1962, it has 1,500 species, 300,000 flowers in its 80,000 square meters enclosure. Like the Temple's garden, herbaceous peony is the specialty of the Center. In the greenhouses, 1,000 species, 30,000 flowers are cultivated. Visiting both the Temple and the Center would be a good idea. Admission: 350 yen (Free for senior people over 65. Needs identification). Open 9:00 to 17:00 (to 16:00 from October 1 through March). Closed on Monday (or Tuesday when Monday is a national holiday).


  1. Referring to the Go-Hojo family, Japan Inside Out written by Jay Glue, one of the most comprehensive and detailed guidebooks for Japan, states as follows: Quote. Once heart of powerful Hojo clan. Starting as father-in-law of Yoritomo, becoming regents to Kamakura Shogunate in 1203, Hojo were de-facto rulers of Japan until demise 1333. Ensuing 270 years, Warring State era, Hojo regained power locally until defeated by Hideyoshi 1590. Hojo's main power base was nearby Odawara but secondary castle built here 1512 to protect Kamakura, Miura estates. Unquote. This is incorrect. The Hojos in Odawara and Tamanawa have nothing to do with the Hojo Clan in the Kamakura Period. To distinguish between the two, historians call the Odawara Hojo "Go (post)-Hojo." In fact, So-un Hojo was born in Kyoto and his real name was Shinkuro Ise, though little is known of his family background. While Ujitsuna Hojo (1487-1541) was the second lord of Odawara Castle, he secured his ruling power in Kanto and changed his original family name Ise to Hojo in 1524, wishing to be as powerful as the Hojo Regents during the Kamakura Period.

  2. Zen sect has three schools: Rinzai , Soto and Obaku. Most of the Zen temples in Kamakura belong to the Rinzai and there are only three Soto temples but no Obaku. The Rinzai was first introduced by Priest Eisai, ak.a. Yosai (1141-1215) while the Soto by Priest Dogen (1200-1253). Both studied in China. Priest Eisai was ordained in the Lin-chi (Rinzai in Japanese) school and Priest Dogen in the Ts'ao-tung (Soto in Japanese) school. What's the difference between the two? Best known, perhaps, is that the Rinzai emphasize on dialogs between the meditators and their masters called ko-an, means to gain intuitive knowledge. The Soto focuses on seated meditation called Shikan-taza {she-kan tah-zah}. Priest Dogen founded Eiheiji {a-hay-gee} in Fukui Prefecture, which is the mother temple of the entire Soto sect. Meanwhile, the bulletin board at the gate of the Temple reads that the Temple belongs to Sodo sect. The laity would read the Kanji character "Sodo," but in this particular case, it is pronounced "Soto."

  3. The battle waged between Go-Hojo and Miura continued for almost five years, which battered Kamakura, and many of the valuable assets were ruined. It was Ujitsuna Hojo, son of So-un and the second lord of Odawara castle, that greatly contributed to restoring old glory of Kamakura. Just one examples out of many was the restoration of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It needed roughly ten years.

  4. So-un Hojo gave his family the well-known "21-item Codes of Conduct"as family precepts. On top of the list is: Be religious. (What do you think comes next? It is "Go to bed before 8:00 p.m. and get up early in the morning," to save lamp oil. Environmentally sound.) However, the Hojos cracked down on the Jodo-Shin Sect Buddhism, or the True Pure Land Religion, in fear that the revolt might be masterminded by them. (Back then, the sect was well known for their revolt). This is the main reason why the Jodo-Shin sect temples are scarce in Kamakura. There is only one, that is Jofukuji located near Kita-Kamakura Station.

(Updated August 2013)