Historical Overview

While Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284) was the de facto ruler of Japan as the Eighth Regent of the Hojo regime, Mongolian troops under the command of Kublai Khan (1215-1294), grandson of Genghis Khan (1167-1227), attacked northern part of Kyushu island in 1274 and again in 1281. Though they failed to invade Japan owing to timely typhoons. (Hence the word Kamikaze, or the god's wind.) Tokimune even executed Kublai's envoy summoning them to Kamakura. To propitiate the souls of the war victims including those of enemy's, he founded this Zen temple in 1282. As the founding priest, he invited Priest Sogen Mugaku (1226-1286), a Chinese Zen Buddhist (Wu-hsueh Tsu-yuan in Chinese), then living in southern China where freedom of religion was suppressed under the Kublai government. Since Zen Buddhism was cordially protected by Tokimune and well accepted by the samurai class, the Temple flourished during the entire Kamakura Period (1192-1333). No doubt Zen would not have flourished in Kamakura had not been for his contribution. Priest Mugaku's eulogy on Tokimune at his funeral ceremony may sum up his personality. Zen and Japanese Culture written by Daisetz Suzuki (1870-1966), a famous theologian, reads like this: "There were ten wonders in his life, which was the actualization of a Bodhisattva's great vows: he was a filial son to his mother; he was a loyal subject to his Emperor; he sincerely looked after the welfare of the people; studying Zen he grasped its ultimate truth; wielding an actual power in the Empire for twenty years, he betrayed no signs of joy or anger; sweeping away by virtue of a gale the threatening clouds raised by the barbarians (Mongolian attack), he showed no feeling of elation; establishing the the Temple, he planned for the spiritual consolation of the dead both for Japanese and Mongolian; paying homage to the teachers and fathers of Buddhism he sought for enlightenment---all this proves that his coming among us was solely for the sake of the Dharma."

Even after the Hojo regime came to an end in 1333, Priest Soseki Muso (1275-1351), then the chief priest, was so influential as a Zen master that he earned confidence of the Imperial Court as well as the new Shogunate. (Back at the time, Tenryuji was being built in Kyoto for the repose of emperor Godaigo's souls and Priest Muso was named as the founder. Tenryuji is the head temple of Tenryuji school of Rinzai Sect). Thus, the Temple was able to maintain its status as a leading Zen monastery. It is recorded that in 1383 more than 1,500 people attended the memorial service held here for Priest Muso's 32nd anniversary of death. As was the case in other temples, Engakuji was ravaged time and again by fires and earthquakes. Further, it had to weather hardships in the 14th to 16th century with no financial support from the rulers then in power. Entering the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Temple was again protected by the Tokugawa Shogunate and was able to restore some of the Temple's structures. To name a few, the Main Hall was rebuilt in 1625 and Hojo (living quarter for chief priest) in 1673. But, the great earthquake in 1703 destroyed most of the structures, though they were restored shortly afterward.

When Priest Kosen Imagita (1817-1893) assumed the post of the chief priest, he renovated the Temple, making it the most influential Zen monastery in eastern Japan.

Shortly before the Yokosuka Line of Japan Railways was constructed in 1889, the Temple had to yield part of its grounds. A small pond lying on the other side of the railway tracks near the Temple is still a part of Engakuji property and is called Byakurochi (egret pond). Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a.k.a. Yakumo Koizumi, a Greek-born Journalist and naturalized Japanese, visited the Temple in 1894 and described vividly in his book "Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan" how it looked like back then.

In its heyday, the Temple owned 42 sub-temples other than the main structures and its acreage reached approximately 200 hectares. Naturally, it keeps a number of important assets and the whole Temple enclosure is designated as a Historic Spot by the National Government.

Over the past 700 years, the Temple was ravaged at least by ten major fires, and if other calamities like earthquakes are included, such a calamity occurred every 50 years on average. In Kamakura, there are the Big-Five Zen temples and the Temple ranks second, accommodating today more than 200 priests. Among today's Rinzai sects, Engakuji school is one of the biggest and has no fewer than 200 affiliated temples throughout Japan.

(1) Somon or the Outer Gate
Gate1As is common in Zen temples, Engakuji has two gates; one is the outer gate called Somon and the other is the inner gate called Sanmon. Somon here has a tablet reading 'Zuirokuzan', part of the official Temple name.

(2) Sanmon or the Inner Gate
The magnificent, double-decked gate next to the first gate is Sanmon. This was reconstructed in 1783 in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the founding priest's death by Priest Seisho Seisetsu, who was the 189th chief priest. A large tablet reading 'Engakuji Kosho Zenji', hangs above, and it was inscribed by Emperor Fushimi (1265-1317), implying the Temple was under the Imperial patronage. On the second floor, a statue of Eleven-Headed Kan'non (Ekadasamukha in Sanskrit) is enshrined in the center flanked by those of Sixteen Rakan or Arhat (Sakyamuni's disciples).

(3) Butsuden (also called Taikoh Myo-hoh den) or Main Hall
The next building you will see straight ahead is Butsuden or the main hall of the Temple, in which a 2.6-meter-tall sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai or Sakyamuni, the main object of worship, is enthroned on a gigantic lotus support. The size of 2.6 meters is a typical dimension of Buddha statue and is called Jo-roku in Japanese. Jo is a unit of length measuring about 3 meters and roku is six, meaning Jo-roku is 1.6-jo, roughly 4.8 meters. If the statue stood up, it would be as tall as 4.8 meters. Jo-roku originates in the belief that Sakyamuni was that tall.

Usually, Shaka Nyorai statues wear simple clothes and put on no accessaries such as crowns or jewelry. But in the Temple, the Nyorai statue has hair dressed up with a crown on top of the head and looks like a Bosatsu or Bodhisattva in Skt. Zen Buddhism regards the Kegon-kyo or the Garland Sutra (Avatamsaka Sutra in Skt.) as its scriptural authority, of which main object of worship is Birushana Butsu or Vairocana in Skt., and the Nyorai statue here is a sort of this Vairocana. Similar Nyorai statues can therefore be viewed in many Zen temples such as Jufukuji, Hojo of Kenchoji, etc.

The head part of the Statue is original one made in the first half of the 14th century. The body part was repaired in 1625. Flanking the Statue are those of Bonten or Brahma-Deva and Taishakuten or Indra in Skt.

(4) Shorei-in :
At the north (left) side of Sanmon stands Shorei-in, the sub-temple for Priest Zen'eki Shukuetsu who was the 150th chief priest and passed away in 1535. Here is enshrined a 25-centimeter-tall sedentary statue of Amida Nyorai or Amitabha in Skt., carved in the Edo Period. Also placed inside the house are statues of Priest Sono Daisetsu, the 40th chief priest and Priest Zensai Kibun, the 154th chief priest.

(5) Senbutsujo :
NSEnbutsujoext to Shorei-in and at the left-hand side of Butsuden is Senbutsujo with thatched-roof built in 1699.

(6) Kojirin
Further up the Senbutsujo is the Kojirin. Koji means a lay Buddhist and this was a drill hall for kendo or Japanese fencing used by Yagyu school (Yagyu is the name of a famous sword-master family served as instructors for the Tokugawa Shogun during the Edo Period). Most notable among the Yagyus was Munenori Yagyu (1571-1646), one of the greatest swordsman in history, who served the Third Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa (1604-1651), and won the favor of the Shogunate. (Incidentally, Rin'noji in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, was built for this Shogun). A devout Zen Buddhist, Munenori incorporated much of the Zen teachings into his treatise on swordsmanship.
Enshrined in the center of the hall is a sedentary statue of Fudo Myo-o or Acalanatha in Skt.

(7) Hojo or Living quarters for the chief priest.
Back to the main path, and go straight up about 100 meters, and there will be the Hojo to your right. Hojo is the same spelling as that of the Hojo Family in alphabet but totally different in kanji characters.

In the courtyard, there is a huge juniper tree like the ones standing in Kenchoji grounds. Priest Mugaku brought the seeds from China. You will also see scores of stone figurines in the garden along the wall. Those are One Hundred Kan'non statues or the Goddess of Mercy, (Avalokitesvara in Skt.), and all have different expressions on their faces. (One Hundred originally meant a total of Kan'non Pilgrimage temples in three regions: 33 in western Japan, 33 in Kanto and 34 in Saitama Prefecture.

(8) Myokochi pond or Pond of Sacred Fragrance
Ahead of Hojo is a small pond called Myoko-chi. It was designed by Priest Muso, the founding priest who was also famous as a garden designer. The best known garden designed by him, perhaps, is that of Saihoji in Kyoto.

(9) Byakurokudo
Up the pond and at the right-hand side of the path is a cave called Byakurokudo. Legend has it that a white deer appeared from this cave to listen to the Priest Mugaku's preaching shortly after he founded the Temple. Roku in Byakurokudo means deer and do a cave (not a hall in this case). The official name of the Temple is Zuirokuzan Engakuji and Roku is included in this name to commemorate the legend.

(10) Butsunichi-an and Ensokuken
Go straight along the white wall of the left-hand side for about 50 meters and there is an entrance to Butsunichi-an, where Tokimune Hojo built a hermitage when he was under pressure from the Mongolian attack and practiced sit-in meditations. He died young at the age of 34 and was cremated here. Later, a hall was constructed to host memorial service for him. Subsequently, it became a sepulcher-cum-mass hall for the other members of the Hojos including Kakuzan-ni (1253-1306, Tokimune's wife who founded Tokeiji, their son Sadatoki Hojo (1271-1311, the Eighth Hojo Regent) and grandson Takatoki Hojo (1303-1333, the 14th Regent). As Tokimune died on April 4, 1284, a tea ceremony is held here on the fourth day every month, calling it The Fourth Day Tea Party.

In this sub-temple, wooden statues of Eleven-Headed Kan'non, Tokimune Hojo, Sadatoki Hojo are enthroned on the altar. The Kan'non statue here is the last of the Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage in Kamakura.

(11) Obai-in
ObaiinAt the far end of the path is Obai-in sub-temple wherein is enshrined a statue of Thousand-Armed Kan'non (Sahasrabhuja in Skt.) in the center flanked by Sho Kan'non (Arya-avalokitesvara in Skt.), those of Yakushi Nyorai and Priest Muso. Originally the structure was erected sometime during 1352 to 1356 by one of Priest Muso's disciples. Priest Muso was very aggressive in promoting Zen Buddhism and this sub-temple was once the headquarters for all of the Muso groups. Among his prominent disciples was Priest Shushin Gido (1325-1388), who was influential in propagating the Muso doctrines and even rebuilt this sub-temple soon after it was destroyed by fire of 1374. In the memorial service held here for Priest Muso in 1383 at his 32nd anniversary of death, more than 1,500 people reportedly participated as noted earlier. Important portraits were also painted in the Temple and have been kept here. In Zen Buddhism, portraits of great priests were highly respected and hung on the wall after their death. As a matter of fact, they later gave a great impact on the Japanese portrait paintings.

Another statue of Sho-Kan'non is enshrined in the small hall straight ahead of the gate. As the word obai (literally yellow plum) suggests, this sub-temple has a lot of flowers in the courtyard just like a small botanical garden.

(12) Shariden
Back to the Myokochi pond and to the north (to your right), there is a gate from where Shariden, the centerpiece of entire Engakuji, can be viewed, the oldest building in the whole Engakuji complex and the only building in Kamakura that is designated as a National Treasure. The original one, which no longer exists, was built in 1285 by Sadatoki Hojo, but ruined by the 1563 fire. The existing structure was first constructed in the early 15th century as the main hall of Taiheiji nunnery, which was situated at Nishi Mikado and once listed on the top of the Five Great Nunneries in Kamakura, but was abolished after the chief nun was abducted during the 1556 battle waged among the local warlords. With no chief nun, the nunnery was on the brink of dilapidation, and it was the Temple that volunteered to take over the structure in the latter half of 16th century. The steep slope of roof with shingles indicates something of a Sung-style Chinese architecture. With the double-deck roofs, it seems like a two-story structure, but it is not. Indeed, it is the oldest Chinese-style building in Japan and that is the main reason for being enrolled on the list of National Treasures.

The principal object of worship is a statue of Birushana Butsu or Vairocana, flanked by Kan'non Bosatsu on the right and Jizo Bosatsu on the left.

Shari is Sarira in Skt., and denotes sacred ashes of Shaka (Sakyamuni). Shariden, therefore, should means a hall that is dedicated to the ashes of Sakyamuni. However, there is no such ashes any more. The world famous Kinkakuji or the Temple of Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is also a Shariden.

(13) Kaisando {kye-san-doh} Hall
Though barely viewable, there is another structure right behind Shariden, which is the hall for the founding Priest Mugaku. He came to Kamakura in 1279 from China at the request of Tokimune Hojo shortly after the demise of Priest Doryu Rankei (1213-1278), the founding priest of Kenchoji, and immediately assumed the seat for the fifth chief priest of Kenchoji. At the same time, he was appointed by Tokimune to be the founding priest of the Temple in 1282. Upon death of Tokimune two years later, however, Priest Mugaku resigned as the chief priest of the Temple, and returned to Kenchoji, where he also died at its Hojo hall after the second anniversary of Tokimune's death. Kenchoji buried him in its temple grounds and built a sub-temple named Shozoku-in to perform memorial service on his behalf. The Temple was unhappy with the way Kenchoji treated, since the Temple was not able to have the founding priest's tomb nor his sub-temple. Thereafter, the two temples turned hostile to each other. While Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) was briefly in power, the fifth chief priest Muso somehow made an acquaintance with the emperor, and succeeded in getting Priest Mugaku's tomb back to the Temple. The emperor also instructed to relocate Shozoku-in sub-temple to the Temple.

In this hall, Priest Mugaku's wooden statue (an Important Cultural Asset) resting on a chair is enthroned on the altar. It was made circa 1286 after his death. The face looks stern just like a real Zen Master who has experienced ascetic disciplines. On his anniversary of death, this statue is brought out from here to Butsuden, treating it like the real Priest Mugaku still alive. He was honored with the title of Bukko the National Teacher, given after his death. Also in the hall is a pedestal called Shumidan (the word came from Sumeru in Skt.), an excellent artifact made during the Kamakura Period. Meanwhile, Kaisan (literally 'opening the mountain') means founding a temple as well as founding priest. Unfortunately, visitors are not permitted to get access to the hall. In Zen temples, a religious hall for the founding priest is customarily built in front of the Kaisando hall and is called Shodo, like the one in Kenchoji. Shariden in the Temple is therefore the equivalent of Shodo in Kenchoji.

(14) Shozoku-in
ShozokuinInside the gate of Shariden and to your right is Shozoku-in sub-temple, which was built for dedication to Priest Mugaku, the founding priest. The original structure belonged to Kenchoji as referred to above, but was brought here in 1337 by Priest Muso. Today, Shozoku-in consists of a Zen hall, living quarters, accommodations for visiting priests, a bell, etc. and looks like an independent temple. Beginner-priests who want to pursue Zen Buddhism first visit here and apply for enrollment. Shariden also belongs to this Shozoku-in. The Zen hall houses a sedentary statue of Jizo Bosatsu, which ranks 13th of Twenty-Four Jizo Pilgrimage in Kamakura.

(15) Bell and Benzaiten

On the right-hand side of Sanmon, there is a flight of about 140 steps leading up to the top of the hill where the famous bell, the largest in Kamakura measuring 2.6 meters high with 1.42-meter diameter and a National Treasure is hanging. Unlike the Western bells, Japanese ones have clappers not inside but outside the bells, and the clapper is a log (hemp-palms are preferred) hung horizontally. To ring a bell, a man swings the log and hit the outside of the bell. It was made by members of Mononobe family, the most notable caster family during the Kamakura Period, and Sadatoki Hojo donated it in 1301.

Near the bell stands a wooden structure, which is Bentendo, or the hall sacred to the Goddess of Fortune (Sarasvati in Skt.). When the Mononobes began to cast the bell, it didn't go well for no apparent reason. The Hojos, founder's family, offered a prayer for successful casting to Enoshima Benten, one of the three largest in Japan located west of Kamakura on a small island. After the prayer, the Mononobes succeeded in making this fine bell. In honor of and to dedicate to Enoshima Benten, this Bentendo was erected as its offshoot.

Other sub-temples
In Zen temples, they customarily established sub-temples inside the temple grounds to worship and commemorate master priests. The Temple had as many as 42 sub-temples at the height of its prosperity. Today, it has the following 17, but most of them are not open to the public. The suffix an translates as a small monastery, a hermitage, or a retreat.

(16) Zoroku-an:
Dedicated to the memory of Priest Shonen Daikyu (1214-1289) or Butsugen the Zen Master (posthumous Buddhist name), who was the second chief priest and died in 1289. Shortly before he died, he had made his stupa in the Temple. The head part of his statue made in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) is kept at the Kamakura Museum. Originally, this sub-temple was built in Jufukuji in 1283, but later his disciples relocated it here in 1335. His preaching written with a brush pen reads the date of 1282. The Fifth Regent Tokiyori Hojo (1227-1263) invited him from China. Incidentally, The Temple keeps quite a few ancient documents. All of them are valuable and called Engakuji Documents.

(17) Haku-un-an:
Erected for Priest Enichi Tomin (1272-1340), a Chinese and the 10th chief priest. A statue of Crowned Sakyamuni believed to be made in the latter half of the 14th century is enshrined. Also enthroned on the altar is Priest Tomin's sedentary wooden statue, 97 centimeters tall, which was made in the mid-to-late 14th century. The Ninth Regent Sadatoki Hojo invited him to Kamakura. Though the Temple belongs to Rinzai sect, Tomin was a devotee of the Soto sect, the other of the two Zen sects. Also, a 30-centimeter tall statue of Idaten or Skanda in Skt., a swift-running heavenly warrior, is enshrined in this sub-temple.

(18) Garyo-an:
A sub-temple for Priest Dotsu Okawa, a priest at Jufukuji and was invited to the Temple to become the 17th chief priest. He died in 1339. His wooden statue, which is believed to be fashioned in the 14th century, is housed. The word Garyo is literally a lying dragon and means great men who have no chance to show his talent.

(19) Uncho-an:
Originally, this sub-temple was erected in the grounds of Choshoji (no longer extant) to honor its founding priest En-in Kuzan, and was once named as one of the ten greatest temples in the Kanto region (the greater Tokyo area). It was located near Kita-Kamakura Station. Unfortunately, Choshoji was abolished in 1431, when this sub-temple was brought here. Kuzan's wooden statue enshrined in this sub-temple has an inscription affixed telling 1693 made. The main object of worship is a sedentary statue of Crowned Shaka Nyorai . Neither the name of the sculptor nor the year of carving is known.

(20) Shoden-an
Built in 1348 to dedicate to the memory of Priest Sho-in Myogan (?-1369) in Manjuji (no longer exists), but was brought here in 1354. In the hall is his wooden statue carved in 1365 by a local sculptor named In'no Minobo. Priest Myogan was the 24th chief priest, who died in 1369 and was conferred with posthumous title Daitatsu the Zen Master. He was also the 34th chief priest of Kenchoji. His portrait painted in 1365 is kept at the Kamakura Museum. Also enshrined is a statue of the Crowned Shaka Nyorai.

(21) Zokuto-an:
Erected around 1354 by Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the first Shogun of Ashikaga Shogunate, for Priest Hokin Daiki who was the 30th chief priest and died in 1368. He also belonged to Jomyoji and Jochiji. Butsuman the Zen Master was his Buddhist title given after his death. The main object of worship is a wooden statue of Sho Kan'non brought from Tokeiji, and carved in the late Kamakura Period.

(22) Nyoi-an:
This sub-temple is sacred to Priest Myoken Mugai or Busshin the Zen Master, the 36th chief priest, who passed in 1369. The original structure was built in 1370 right after his death. His wooden statue is placed on the altar. Important ancient writings are also kept in here.

(23) Kigen-in:
A flight of steps on the south of Sanmon ascends to this sub-temple, which is for Priest Ze-ei Ketsu-o {zay-a kets-o} or Bukkei the Zen Master, the 38th chief priest, who died in 1378. His wooden statue is enthroned on the altar. He painted a portrait of his master Priest Dokan Shi-an (?-1342) in 1333. Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), one of the most influential writers in modern Japanese literature whose portrait is printed on today's 1,000-yen bills, stayed here for about ten days in autumn 1894 when he was 28 years old to practice Zazen or sit-in meditation. His experience at that time is depicted in his novel Mon or The Gate. On December 9 every year, his anniversary of death, writers gather here in memory of his works.

(24) Keisho-an:
Built for Priest Dokin Sejo, the 49th chief priest who died in 1385. Inside the structure are 15 statues of Ten Kings in Hades including those of Enma (Yama in Skt.) or the King of Hell and Datsueba. All are about 30 centimeters tall. Visitor can view the statue of Datsueba.

(25) Sai-in-an:
A sub-temple dedicated to Priest Shu-o Don'o, the 58th chief priest, who belonged to the Muso school and died in 1401. Now, part of Kojirin.

(26) Fuyo-an:
A Sub-temple dedicated to the memory of Priest Mon-iku Togaku or Bucchi the Zen Master, the 61st chief priest, who died in 1416. Used to be a training hall for young priests but was later remodeled. Other than Priest Togaku's statue, that of Priest Tokugo Tokei (1240-1396) who was the 4th chief priest is also enshrined here.

(27) Jutoku-an:
Built for Priest Chu-en Gettan , the 66th chief priest, who died in 1408. His statue is enshrined. The main object of worship is a sedentary statue of Sho Kan'non carved in the 14th century. Since this sub-temple was restored by the Miura family, their tombs are placed in its grounds.

(28) Denshu-an:
Enshrined is Priest Si-un Nanzan (1254-1335), the 11th chief priest. Formerly, a sedentary statue of Jizo Bosatsu carved in the early 14th century, had long been enshrined. The statue is unique in that it has domon ornamentation, a technique developed in Kamakura and can be found nowhere else. Patterns of flowers, leaves of tree and Buddhist fittings are put on the robe of the statue. Those are made of clay and affixed on the statue's robe with lacquer. The patterned clays are glued on the statue with lacquer. The building is currently used as a kindergarten run by the Temple. Priest Nanzan was a disciple of Priest Mugaku and enjoyed a close intimacy with Takatoki Hojo, the 14th Regent. In this sub-temple, a portrait of Priest Nanzan painted by Takatoki Hojo is kept.

Kiku of kikusui is Chrysanthemum, which is Imperial Family's emblem. Kikusui is literally Floating Chrysanthemum. However, it implys more than that. Kikusui is a family crest of the famous samurai named Masashige Kusunoki (1294-1336) and it shows a 16-pedal chrysanthemum flower on water, whereby it looks like the flower floating on water. Kusunoki is well known for his undying loyalty toward the Imperial Family and helped Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) restore imperial supremacy in 1333 from the Kamakura shogunate, sacrificing his life.

Many Japanese still believe chrysanthemum is the national flower, as its 16-pedal design logo is printed on the front cover of all Japanese passports. The real national flower is, however, not chrysanthemum but cherry blossom.