Kita Kamakura 

 

Kita Kamakura Station is a train station located in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. It is served by the JR East Yokosuka Line and the Shonan-Shinjuku Line.

 

Kita Kamakura is a small neighborhood of Kamakura City. Although the official name of the neighborhood is Yamanouchi, it is better known as Kita Kamakura because of the station’s name. The area is particularly famous for of its traditional atmosphere and its many temples – a result of being the home base of the Hojo clan which ruled Japan for over 150 years (1185-1333). Of these temples, three are of the five highest ranking Rinzai Zen temples in Kamakura – known as the Kamakura Five Great Zen Temples, or the Kamakura Gozan.

 

The temples of Kita Kamakura:

 

Engaku-ji

 

Engaku-ji is one of the most important Zen Buddhist temples, ranked second among the Five Great Zen Temples. It is located right next to Kita Kamakura Station, with the railway tracks cutting across the formal entrance to the temple compound.  

 

Engaku-ji Temple, officially named Zuirokuzan Dai-Engaku Kosho Zenji, was founded in 1282 by a Zen priest, Sogen Mugaku, at the request of the then Regent Tokimune Hojo. It was built to honor those killed in battles against the Mongolian invasion between 1274 and 1281, as well as to spread the Zen thought. The temple continued to be an influential Zen temple even after the end of the Kamakura period. After 1333, things began to deteriorate due to paucity of funds. The buildings were also badly damaged due to fires and earthquakes. Things began to improve only after the Tokugawa Shogunate took over in 1600, as the Shoguns personally took interest in the temple and took it under their protection. They slowly began rebuilding, and by the end of the Edo era (1603-1868), the temple buildings were completely renovated. Engaku-ji further progressed during the Meiji era and soon became the main center of Zen training in the Kanto region. It particularly became influential during the time Priest Kosen Imagita (1817-1893) was its head.  

 

In all, there are 18 temples on the complex (collectively called Engaku-ji). From the entrance they all rise up a forested hillside in a straight line in typical Chinese style. The sight from the entrance is beautiful, with the temple buildings blending picturesquely with the trees. Of the most important parts of the Engaku-ji temple complex are the main gate (a two storied gate framed with calligraphy); Butsu-den (the main hall rebuilt in 1964); Shari-den (the Reliquary Hall built in the sixteenth century Chinese style, which is said to house a tooth of Buddha); Butsunichi-an (said to be the burial site of Hojo Tokimune); Obai-in (a thatched temple containing the statue of Kannon); and the Great Bell (a 2.5 meter tall temple bell, said to be the largest in Kamakura). Of these, Shari-den and the Great Bell have been designated National Treasures.

 

There are souvenir stalls at the entrance to the complex and refreshment facilities in the gardens surrounding Shari-den and near the Great Bell.   

 

Kencho-ji

 

Kencho-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple located a few meters south-east of Kita Kamakura Station. It ranks first among the Kamakura Five Great Zen Temples, and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. Kencho-ji was built in 1253 by a Chinese Zen master named Rankei Doryu on the orders of Emperor Go-Fukakusa. The regent of Kamakura, Hojo Tokiyori, became the temple’s patron. A series of other temples in Kyoto were added to the main temple, with Kencho-ji as the head. Although the temples were established to promote Zen Buddhism in Japan, they were also used by the rulers to keep a watch over local conditions for their own political ends. It was for this reason that the regent was made Kencho-ji’s patron, and the priests acted as advisers. This system worked for the whole of the Ashikaga shogunate (1336-1573), after which it began to decline.

 

During the Ashikaga period Kencho-ji became a prominent center of learning. The Japanese Literature of the Five Mountains (a characteristic literature of Zen Buddhism that is read even today) was also written during this time.

 

After the Ashikaga period, Kencho-ji continued to decline and to lose its importance until Zen master Aozora Kando took over in the 19th century. Aozora Kando brought back the glory and importance of Kencho-ji.

 

The Kencho-ji complex originally consisted of 49 temples, but most of them burned down during the declining days. Today there are 10 temples on the complex.

 

To enter the complex, one has to first pass through the outer gate, called Somon. This gate was brought here from the Hanju Zanmai-in temple in Kyoto. After Somon comes the main gate Sanmon, built in 1754. Upon entering the complex, one can see the ten temple buildings standing in a line north to south, in typical Chinese style, in the middle of a garden. Of these buildings, the most important are the Butsuden, or the Buddha Hall (brought here from Zojo-ji in Tokyo in 1647); the Hatto, or the Dharma Hall (built in 1814, where all the public ceremonies are held), said to be the largest Buddhist wooden structure in Eastern Japan; the Hojo, or the head priest’s living quarters; the Monastery where the monks are trained; the Bonsho, or the Temple Bell (cast in 1255); the Karamon, or the Grand Gate (also brought from Zojo-ji, Tokyo, along with Butsuden in 1647); and the large garden behind Hojo. The Bonsho has been designated National Treasure, and the Butsuden and the Karamon are Important Cultural Properties.       

 

In the garden, towards the end of the temple buildings, also stands a Shinto shrine. The spirit of Hansobo Daigongen is said to be enshrined here. On both sides of the steps leading up to the shrine are statues of tengu, the companions of Hansobo Daigongen. On the right side of the shrine there are steep stairs that lead up to a structure which once used to be the Inner Sanctuary. Next to the sanctuary is an observation deck, which gives a beautiful view of the surrounding area. On clear days, Mt. Fuji can also be seen.

 

Jochi-ji

 

Jochi-ji is the Zen Buddhist temple that ranks fourth among the Five Great Zen Temples. Located about 8 minutes walk from Kita Kamakura Station, it is one of the most important temples of the area.

 

Jochi-ji was established by the wife and son of Munemasa Hojo (1254-1283) - Hojo

Regent Tokiyori’s son - after his death in 1283. The temple originally had 11 structures but all were destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The present buildings were all built after the earthquake.

 

Of the most important parts of Jochi-ji are: the well at the entrance of the temple (said to be one of the five celebrated wells of Kamakura); the bell tower gate (a uniquely designed two storied gate with a bell, cast in 1340, on the second floor); and the Main Hall (with three wooden statues, carved in the mid-fourteenth century, of Nyorai representing past, present, and future, on the central altar). The three statues of the Main Hall have been designated Important Cultural Assets by the Government of Kanagawa.

 

Tokei-ji

 

Tokei-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple and a former nunnery, is located about 5 minutes walk from Kita Kamakura Station. It is the only surviving nunnery of a network of five opened in 1285 as a refuge for women abused by their husbands. Tokeiji was founded in 1285 by Kakusan-ni, wife of Hojo Tokimune (1251-1284) after her husband’s death. She dedicated it to her husband and made it a refuge for abused women. The temple remained a nunnery until 1902 when a man took over the temple from the nuns and became the head priest. Since then Tokei-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple under the supervision of Engaku-ji.

 

There are two main buildings in the temple complex – the Main Hall and the Suigetsu-do. Suigetsu-do is the living quarters of the priests and is closed to the public. The Main Hall stands to the left of Suigetsu-do and is built in typical Zen architectural style. Its copper rust roofs are curved upwards and has four ridges spread radially. Inside the hall, on both sides on altars, stand statues of the nuns.

 

Behind the temple buildings is a graveyard where many celebrities are buried.

 

Choju-ji

 

Choju-ji is also a Zen Buddhist temple located about 10 minutes walk south-east of Kamakura Station. It was founded by Motouji Ashikaga in 1358 with Zen priest Ingen Kosen, who became the temple’s first head priest. For several years, the temple faced hostility from the Imperial Court because Takauji Ashikaga, Motouji’s father, had taken control of Japan after rebelling against EmperorGodaigo (1288-1339). When the Meiji government took over in 1868, they, too, ostracized Choju-ji as a traitor’s temple. The anti-Buddhism movement further worsened the situation and the temple reached near dilapidation. Since then the temple has made it a policy to keep itself closed to the public.

 

In the Main Hall of Choju-ji stand the statues of Kannon, Priest Kosen, and Takauji Ashikaga. Behind the Main Hall is a structure dedicated to Takauji Ashikaga, where his hair is said to be kept.

 

Enno-ji

 

Enno-ji is located about 15 minutes walk from Kita Kamakura Station. It is not clear who founded this Zen Buddhist temple, but it is said to have been built in the year 1250 near the Zaimokuza Beach. The temple was destroyed in an earthquake in 1703, after which it was moved and re-built at its present location.

 

Enno-ji is particularly famous for its statues of the Ten Kings in Hades, or Juo. The Juo concept originally comes from Chinese Taoism and was later adopted by Japanese Buddhism during the Heian Period (794-1185). According to the belief, after death a wicked man goes to hell and a good man to heaven. Those who were in-between had to go through tests to decide where they would go. These tests were taken once a week in turns by ten kings until a decision was reached. These ten kings of netherworld are called the Ten Kings of Hades. The statues of these Ten Kings stand on an altar in U-shape in the Main Hall of Enno-ji and are the main objects of worship at the temple.

 

Meigetsu-in

 

Meigetsu-in is a Zen Buddhist temple located about 10 minutes walk from Kita Kamakura Station. It was founded in 1383 by Norikata Uesugi, the then Vice Governor of Kamakura, but its origins are said to date back to 1159. In 1159 a son of a warrior built a small temple in memory of his father who was killed in a battle of clans. In 1256 the fifth regent of Kamakura, Tokiyori Hojo, stepped down from regency and became a priest. He became the head priest of this temple and added another hall to it. Later in 1323, Tokiyori’s son, Tokimune, built a full-fledged temple near the hall that his father had built, separate from the one built by the warrior’s son, and called it Zenko-ji. In 1383, Norikata Uesugi, the Vice Governor of Kamakura, expanded Zenko-ji, included in it the original temple built by the warrior’s son, and called the new expanded temple Meigetsu-in. Meigetsu-in flourished and became one of the most important temples of the region.

 

Though the temple is not as big and as important as it once used to be, it is still frequented by a large number of devotes and is considered one of the main temples of Kamakura. The most important part of Meigetsu-in is its Main Hall, re-built as recently as 1973. In the center of the hall on an altar stands the main object of worship, a 54-centimeter tall wooden statue of Sho Kannon, said to have been carved in 1309.   

 

Meigetsu-in is also famous for its flowers. There are thousands of flowers on the temple grounds and people flock to the temple not only to pray but also to watch and enjoy the flowers. In January and February the narcissus and the winter sweet are in full bloom; in March and April the yulan, forsythia, violaceus, and peach; and in June/July the hydrangea. The flowers make the temple grounds beautiful throughout the year.

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