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Kakusan-ni (1252-1306) (ni denotes a nun), the founding nun, was the wife of Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), the Eighth Hojo Regent and the founder of Engakuji, who died young at age 34. The couple gave birth to Sadatoki Hojo, the Ninth Hojo Regent. She came of a distinguished family by the name of Adachi, but the Adachis were later involved in the bloodbath power struggle with the Hojos.(Refer to Amanawa Jinja Shrine for details.)

In 1285, a year after Kakusan-ni lost her husband, a battle broke out between the Hojos and the Adachis, and the Adachis were defeated. Being the head of the Adachis, her elder brother was killed during the battle. She was the mother of the winner on one hand, and was the sister of the loser on the other.

Back then, wives of upper-class people usually turned into nuns upon their husbands' death. With her family fortune and her son's social status being the Regent, she founded the Temple as a convent to pray for the repose of the departed husband, and entered nunhood herself. She also made the Convent serve as a refuge for the oppressed women who were unhappy with their husbands. The first women-lib advocate Japan ever produced. Undergoing ups and downs, Tokeiji remained a convent for over 600 years until 1902, when a male priest finally took over the seat of the chief.

Rulers' daughters and even an emperor's daughter were enrolled in the Convent and assumed chief nuns' position making it quite authoritative. The fifth chief nun Yodo-ni (?-1396), for example, was a daughter of Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) and an elder sister of Prince Morinaga (1308-1335), who was immolated during the battle between the imperial court and the military ruler, and enshrined at Kamakuragu Shrine. She took Buddhist vows to console her brother's soul and came here from Kyoto to hold religious services for her ill-fated brother. As a result, the Convent was sometimes called "Kamakura Palace" or "Matsuga-oka palace" as the site was so called.

Five centuries later in 1869, Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) wanted to erect the Kamakura Shrine for Prince Morinaga, and looked for a proper place. It was the Convent that donated part of the land it owned at Nikaido in Kamakura to the Emperor, where Prince Morinaga had been imprisoned centuries earlier, and today's Kamakuragu Shrine stands.

The 20th chief nun Tenshu-ni (1609-1645) was a granddaughter of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598), who unified Japan in 1590 and became the most powerful ruler in Japan's history. After Hideyoshi's death, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616) took over the ruler's position and his family continued to govern Japan for about 270 years from then on. In the meantime, Ieyasu's grand-daughter Sen (1597-1666) had married Hideyoshi's son Hideyori (1593-1615). It was obviously a marriage of convenience. Sen was only six years old. Hideyori had two children by a common law wife, one boy and one daughter. It was inevitable for Ieyasu to challenge Hideyori in seek of supremacy. When Hideyori was defeated by Ieyasu in 1615 and Ieyasu took control of Japan, not only did Ieyasu order Hideyori to kill himself at age 23, but he also decapitated Hideyori's 8-year-old son in fear that the son might revenge someday in the future if kept alive. However, Ieyasu saved the life of Hideyori's 7-year-old daughter, and sent her to the Convent since Sen was her foster mother. The Convent accepted her cordially getting patronage from the Tokugawa Shogunate, and she was eventually nominated as the 20th chief nun by the name of Tenshu-ni. The Convent was so prestigious those days that its couriers did not need to salute with prostration even if they met with feudal lords' procession.

Note: NHK (Japan's national public broadcasting organization) started broadcasting its new period drama "Goh" in January 2011, 45-minute Sunday night specials for the year, of which heroine Goh (1573-1626) is Sen's mother.

During the time that Tenshu-ni was the chief nun, there was an incident that demonstrated how powerful the Convent was. It occurred in the early Edo Period (1603-1868) in 1639. Present-day Fukushima Prefecture, Aizu to be precise, was then under the control of mighty Kato feudal lord. The second-generation lord was rather tyrannical, and one of his retainer named Hori was not happy with him. One day, he left the castle together with his 300 or so followers, accusing and criticizing Kato of his tyrannical behavior. Hori and his men went down to Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture while ordering his wife to run into the Convent with their children. Enraged by the betrayal, Kato resolved to apprehend Hori and his family in whatever steps were possible, and execute them as soon as they were caught. The Tokugawa Shogunate supported his claim in view of the necessity to maintain and secure the Shogun's authority as well as lord-retainer nexus. Two years later in 1641, he succeeded in seizing Hori and executed him as declared in such a cruel manner as dismembering Hori's body alive inch by inch, the cruelest manner imaginable. On the other hand, he failed to retrieve Hori's wife and children, who were sheltered in the Convent. When Kato's retainers came to the Convent and asked Tenshu-ni to surrender Hori's family, she flatly declined, saying if they take away the family by force, then she would commit suicide. Kato's men gave up, and left the Convent empty-handed. Hearing the fact, the Tokugawa Shogunate ousted Kato out of its position as Aizu feudal lord. The incident has been novelized at least by three authors.

Most famous in the Convent was its function as the Japan's (some insist world's) first refuge for women who suffered violence by their husbands. In the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) and for centuries thereafter, it was an easy job for a married man to get rid of an unwanted wife. If only he writes a short divorce-letter referred to as Mikudarihan {me-koo-dah-re-han}, or "three-and-a-half-lines notice" to her, he was able to divorce without any excusable reasons at all. The letter was a formed one and read like this: "I will divorce you for my personal reasons. You can go anywhere you want and remarry anyone you want." Simply because a married woman was unable to bear a child or whatever, she was often forced to agree to an unreasonable divorce.

For affordable men, having concubines was quite natural. One of the Minamoto family had as many as 40-odd children, and one of the Shogun of the Tokugawa family in the Edo Period was famous for having over 60 children in his lifetime. By stark contrast, women had no right whatsoever to obtain a divorce from their unwanted husbands, however cruel, drunken, or sadistic they were. It was the society where predominance of men over women prevailed. The only chance for women to escape was to run off to the Convent. In other words, the Convent was a sanctuary for the abused wives. Once inside the Convent, they were protected officially by the authorization of the Shogunate. After staying three years (later, two years) in the Convent, their marriage was annulled, and they were able officially to get a divorce. Men were denied access. The Convent was secured with extraterritoriality. Those women, once accepted by the Convent, did not need to become nuns. In this context, the Convent played a pivotal role in freeing many harassed wives from their disgusting husbands.

The Convent was thus named "Kakekomi-dera",{kah-keh-ko-me-deh-rah} or "Run-into Convent", meaning to escape from the violent husbands. It was also referred to as "Enkiri-dera" {en-key-re}, or divorce Convent. Unfortunately, the Convent lost many of the ancient documents due to repeated fires, and it is not certain how many women were accommodated here. However, during the latter half of the 270-year Tokugawa regime until 1968 in which period most often run-ins were observed, the Convent's records show there were roughly 2,000 women who sought refuge in the Convent. In most cases, they did not stay as long as two or three years since the Convent forced their husbands to accept a divorce by its power. It was like today's family court.

TokeiRantoThe Convent suspended the divorce-setting function in 1873, however, as a new law for divorce was enacted, and the Court of Justice started to handle the case. In addition, the Convent had lost financial supporters with the Meiji Imperial Restoration earlier in 1868, and waned to the point where only a nun, her maid and a cat lived. Tokeiji thus ceased to be a convent in 1902, and it was placed under the supervision of Engakuji. At the same time, a male priest, then the chief priest of Engakuji, assumed the post of Tokeiji's supervisor.

In 1893, the second chief priest Shaku-Soen (1859-1920) visited Chicago to attend the world convention for religion, and made a speech on Zen Buddhism. His speech was translated into English by Dr. Daisetz T. Suzuki (1870-1966), a famous Zen Buddhist scholar, who pioneered in and was credited with introducing Rinzai Zen to the West. This is the reason why the Rinzai Zen is more widely known overseas than the Soto sect.
(Note: D.T. Suzuki Museum was opened in 2011 in Kanazawa city, Ishikawa prefecture, his birth place. Open from 9:30 5:00 p.m. Closed on Monday. Admission: 300 yen.)

Taiheiden, or the Main Hall (Picture, top)

The immediate building appearing to your right after entering the gate is living quarters for priests and the next building with copper-rust roofs is the main hall called Taiheiden, in which a sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai is enshrined as the main object of worship. The Temple's record shows that the statue escaped a fire in 1515, whereby it is believed to have been fashioned sometime in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). Sculptors unknown. The hall was built in 1935 and is characteristic of the Zen style architecture with its roofs curved upward and four ridges spread radially. On top of the roof, it has a peach-shaped Buddhist fitting called Hoju or mani in Skt. This architectural style is called Hogyo Zukuri in Japanese. A Hoju at TNM.

A sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai at MFA.

Enthroned on the left- and right-hand altars are statues of prominent nuns: the 20th chief nun Tenshu-ni on the left and Kakusan-ni, the founding nun, Yodo-ni, the fifth chief nun on the right. On the occasion of the Great Kanto Earthquake hitting the Kanto area in 1923, many old structures and statues in Kamakura were damaged, and those in the Temple were not exceptional. Among them was the statue of Tenshu-ni. Except for the head part, it was ruined to a non-recoverable extent. Worse still, there was no photograph, no painting whatsoever to show how it looked like. The Temple sought any possible measures to repair and restore it. They finally found that an English book entitled "Kamakura: Fact & Legend" written by Iso Mutsu {e-so moo-tsu} (1867-1930) and published in 1918 carried a photograph of the statue. Based on this precious picture, the Temple restored the statue of Tenshu-ni in 1993 and installed it here again in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Earthquake. Iso Mutsu was an English lady who married a Japanese diplomat, and lived in Kamakura for a long time. Her book is a classic guide for Kamakura. She died in 1930, and was buried at Jufukuji together with her family.

Meanwhile, the original main hall of the Temple was moved to Sankeien Garden in Yokohama in 1907. According to the Temple's records, the the original main hall was rebuilt in 1634. Entering the Meiji Period in 1868 and Shinto becoming the state religion, Buddhist temples were put in a position unable to get enough support financially and spiritually from the government and private sectors as well. Almost all of them were in hand-to-mouth existence. At the time, the Temple was too poor to maintain its structures. The roof of decrepit main hall was leaking. In the meantime, there was a wealthy businessman named Sankei Hara (1868-1939) in Yokohama, who succeeded in silk trades. He was a collector of art and historic architectures. Hearing the main hall of the Temple was aging, he offered to take over it. He removed the hall to the present site at Sankeien restoring original design.

Suigetsudo {sooy-gets-doh} Hall

The next structure lying west of the Taiheiden, though small and barely visible with trees and not accessible for casual visitors, is called Suigetsu-do (water-and-the-moon hall) built in 1959, in which a rare statue of Kan'non is enshrined. It is only 34.5 centimeters tall and is called Suigetsu Kan'non, one of the 33 Kan'non varieties, believed to have been made in the 14th century. The statue, sitting on a rock in a pond, looks down at the full moon reflected on the surface of the pond. Unfortunately, Suigetsudo is not on public display, and the statue is viewable only at a specific time such as during Kamakura Festival or it is temporarily on view at the Treasure House of the Temple. An Important Cultural Asset designated by Kanagawa Prefecture. Paintings of Suigetsu Kan'non at NNM

NHK, the state-run TV broadcaster like the BBC in the UK, used to introduce old temples, once a week. The 25-minute program "Visit to Old Temples" gave us rare chances to closely watch the Buddha statues of famous temples which would otherwise never be seen. In a November 1997 program (rerun in November 1998), it covered the Temple. Usually, two TV personalities, a man and a woman, appear on the scene visiting a temple and narrate about the temple and Buddha statues. Most of them admire the quiet and holy atmosphere, and pay homage to the statues. In case of Tokeiji program, two middle-aged women were on the scene, both unmarried, probably because it used to be a convent. They were different from other narrators. Believe it or not, right in front of the main object of worship, they laughed and laughed joking with big mouths wide-open. It was obviously a blasphemy against Buddhism and their sacrilege should be accused. NHK sometimes misjudges selecting the right personalities.

A Monument for Mrs. Russell (Picture, below)

TokeiRusselIn the front courtyard of Suigetsu-do is a small tea house, where I learnt a stone monument for an American women named Mrs. Russell stands. The first Western woman who practiced Zen in Japan, she stayed in the Temple for eight months from July 1902 to March 1903 as a disciple of Priest Shaku, then the chief priest. Later in 1905, Priest Shaku visited America as a missionary for Zen Buddhism staying at her residence near San Francisco. As I wanted to know more about her, one day I asked a receptionist of the Temple where the stone monument stands. Flipping a book or two, she said she did not know anything about Mrs. Russell nor her monument. Instead, she suggested that I go in to the priest's living quarter. I did, and rang the door bell. As a middle-aged woman appeared, I told her that I wanted to know where Russell's Monument stands, who she was and what the Temple had to do with her. The woman said the monument stands in the yard of Suigetsudo hall. That's all she knew about Mrs. Russell. Neither her full name nor her date of birth and death did the woman know.

In August 2008, an American lady who is a haiku poetess and used to live in Kamakura gave me information on Mrs. Russell. Her name is Ida Russell (1865-1917), wife of a wealthy businessman Alexander Russell engaged in real estate, mining and rubber industries. The Russells were well known in the San Francisco area at the turn of the century. Ida is said to have delved into the study of comparative religions, including Zen Buddhism, and in search of Zen, she visited the Temple.

Matsuga-oka Hozo (Treasure House)

The fourth building standing next to Suigetsudo is the Treasure House of the Temple opened in 1980, in which various temple treasures are stored and exhibited. Listed below are the notable ones:

(1) A wooden statue of Sho Kan'non, or Arya-avalokitesvara in Skt. is quite valuable and stored on the first floor, the first statue you will see in the House. It was fashioned during the latter half of the Kamakura Period and is an ICA. Originally, this 135-centimeter-tall statue had been enshrined as the main object of worship in another convent called Taiheiji. In the Muromachi Period, Taiheiji ranked first among the Five Zen Convents, but was abolished after the chief nun was abducted during the civil war of 1556 and the statue was brought here. (Hence the Main Hall is called Taihei-den). It has unique ornamentation called domon. Flowers and Buddhist fittings are found on the robe of statue. Those are made of clay and attached to the statue with lacquer. To make those ornaments, clay are put into molds which have patterns of ornaments and patterned clays are glued on the statue with lacquer. Visitors can view these ornaments real close, almost within reach. There are several statues with domon decoration in Kamakura, but no other statues can be viewed as close as this one. A Sho Kan'non statue at NNM.

Given the nature of the Convent in the Edo Period, men were not permitted to enter it. Only in six days during the Bon festival from July 13 through 18 every year were they allowed to meet their wives in refuge. The meeting took place right in front of this statue (like a witness), which was enshrined in the main hall back at the time.

(2) Maki-e {mah-key-a} or gold-raised lacquer works.

Treasure House is open from 9:30 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Closed on Monday. Extra 300 yen needed.

With respect to makie, the Temple is as famous as Kodaiji in Kyoto, a Zen temple built for the wife of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.

(3) Ancient writings: There are numerous archives on display including the notorious Three-and-a-half-line letters. All are written in running styles with brushes and are not decipherable for the laity. Those ancient writing totals more than 800, most of them written during the Edo Period. How come the Temple today keeps so many old documents at a time when no copying machines were available? Because the husbands had to report to the Convent bringing the original letters issued by the Convent, and the quality of paper was far more excellent than today's, as it was made of strong fibers such as paper mulberry (Botanical name: Broussonetia kazinoki) and mitsumata (Edgeworthia papyrifera) . A famed civil law scholar named Zen'nosuke Nakagawa (1897-1975) often visited here to look into those old documents, which must have provided him with various information on how Japanese family disputes had been dealt with in bygone days. He is one of the celebrities buried here.


The wooden house standing opposite the Treasure House is a ceremonial tea-house named Kan'untei {kan-um-tay}, which is off-limits to occasional visitors.


In the backyard beyond the Temple structures stretches the peaceful graveyard, where quite a few distinguished people are buried. Halfway through the graveyard-path and up the double flight of stone steps to the right are a cleared space where tombs for notable chief nuns are placed. To be specific, Gorinto (five-tier stone stupa) for Kakusan-ni, Ranto (egg-shaped stone tower) for Yodo-ni and Tenshu-ni are standing. Celebrities buried here include (Picture; above,right):

Shigeo Iwanami (1881-1946), the founder of Iwanami Publication House
Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945), a famous philosopher
Ya-eko Nogami (1885-1985), a female novelist
Sazo Idemitsu (1885-1981), a pioneer businessman
Seiton Ma-eda (1885-1977), a painter of Japanese painting
Toshiko Tamura (1884-1945), a female novelist
Hideo Kobayashi (1902-1983), a literary critic
Zen'nosuke Nakagawa (1897-1975), a professor emeritus of Tohoku University

Dr. Reginald Horace Blyth (1898-1964), an Englishman who came to Japan in 1924 to learn Japanese literature was also buried here. He wrote English Literature and Oriental Classics in 1942. He showed a keen interest in Zen Buddhism through Dr. Daisetz T. Suzuki. Japanese short poem haiku is another area he was engaged in and he introduced it to foreign countries. Given Ph.D. degree in literature from Tokyo University in 1954.

Most of the above are males and buried after the Convent stopped to be a nunnery.

Beginning with narcissus and Japanese apricot in January, the Temple is called a flower Temple.
Early January to mid February: narcissus or Narcissus tazetta
Late January to early March: Japanese apricot or Prunus mume. There are about 30 trees and all are old enough.
Mid March: Yulan or Magnolia denudata
Late April: peony or Paeonia suffruticosa
June to July: summer camellia or Camellia japonica
Mid to late June: iris or Iris laevigata (brought from Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo) and Hydrangea or Hydrangea macrophylla
Mid July to late August: Chinese bellflower or Platycodon grandiflorum
Mid August to early September: Indian lilac or Lagerstroemia indica
Mid September to early October: bush clover or Lespedeza bicolor and fragrant olive or Osmanthus fragrans
Mid October: cosmos or Cosmos bipinnatus
Mid November to early December: Japanese maple or Acer palmatum and Gingko or Ginkgo biloba

Photo album of floweres in the Temple.

I have a remote and indirect connection with the Temple. As the list above shows, a number of celebrities are buried in here and among them is Dr. Daisetz T. Suzuki. His first name "Daisetz" is literally "great awkwardness", and it was given to him when he joined Zen training in the Temple. His profile appears in the Columbia Encyclopedia, which reads as follows:

Quote. Japanese Buddhist scholar, educated at Tokyo Univ. After studying in the U.S.(1897-1909), he became a lecturer at Tokyo Univ., he later taught at leading universities in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. One of the greatest authorities on Buddhism, he is known for his introduction of Zen Buddhism to the West. Among his many works are Essays in Zen Buddhism, The Training of Zen Buddhist Monk, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, An Introduction of Zen Buddhism, and Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. Unquote.

His close friend and financial supporter was the founder of the trading company I worked for over 17 years. In the Temple grounds up on a hill, there is Matsuga-oka Library, which was built by Dr. Suzuki getting financial aid from the founder of the company I worked for. Unfortunately, the company faced difficulties in 1974 as a result of the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973 followed by Arab oil embargo, and the prices of crude oil imported from the Middle East to North America quadrupled. At the time, I was stationed in New York and the company was constructing a petroleum refining factory in eastern Canada (Come By Chance in Newfoundland to be specific) with a plan to import crude oil from the Middle East. However, the quadrupled oil prices suddenly made the project economically infeasible. The investment was so huge in terms of budget that the parent company in Tokyo ran into financial troubles, and was forced to merge with another company in the end. The founder had died well before Dr. Suzuki did and was buried in the Temple's grounds. Tombstones of these two gentlemen are placed side by side.

(Updated July 2013)