Historical Overview

The Kamakura Period ended its one-and-a-half century rule in 1333 when the resurgent loyalist troops led by Yoshisada Nitta (1302-1338) destroyed Kamakura after a fierce battle. (See History of Kamakura for details.) Knowing defeat was imminent, 870-odd samurai of the Hojo clan headed by Takatoki Hojo (1303-1333), the 14th Hojo Regent, committed mass suicide at a great Zen temple called Toshoji, which was built in 1237 for the Hojo family and existed 200 meters southeast of today's Hokaiji, near Redemptoristine Convent. At the same time, they burned out the temple so that no samurai were identifiable to the enemy. Code of samurai always calls for suicide rather than surrender. It was honored even during World War II.

Takatoki Hojo took the post of the 14th Hojo Regent in 1316 at age 13, too young to be a real ruler. In addition, the power of the Shogun and Regent were no longer as strong as it had been before. Initiated by Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339), Nitta troops with over 100,000 warriors attacked Kamakura in 1333 to topple the Shogunate and Hojo regime. Hojo clan's samurai fought back bravely, but the goddess of victory did not side with them. Takatoki was forced to take his own life at age 31. To mourn for the dead, Takatoki in particular, Emperor Godaigo instructed Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the First Shogun of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), to erect the Temple appointing Priest Enkan (1281-1356), a famous Tendai sect priest in Kyoto, to be the founder. However, Priest Enkan himself was one of the priests who had invocated for the fall of the Hojo regime at the request of the Emperor.

The Temple stands right on the site where chieftains of the Hojos resided generation after generation. As if to show the past glory, the Hojo's emblem, triangles made up with black and gold denoting 'three scales', appears on the Temple gate and roof's tiles.

The second chief priest Yuiken Shokei (1289-?) was a disciple of Priest Enkan and contributed to enlarging the Temple into a full-scale monastery.

Hokaiji is one of the two Tendai sect temples in Kamakura. The other is Sugimoto-dera.

Hondo, or Main Hall

HondoThe main object of worship is a sedentary statue of Jizo Bosatsu, a guardian deity of children. The 91-centimeter tall wooden statue, an ICA, was fashioned in 1365 by Ken-en Sanjo (birth and death years unknown), a famous Kyoto sculptor in the 14th century, with a staff in its right hand and a string of beads in its left, a typical Jizo Bosatsu statue. Since Jizo is also believed to save the souls of those who are undergoing the hellish agony in the netherworld, the statue is most suitable here in that it can console the souls of Takatoki and many other war-dead. The statue is the first of the Twenty-Four Jizo Pilgrimage in Kamakura.

As Ken-en was a sculptor in Kyoto, the statue has some hints of Kyoto style, not Chinese ones observed in many other statues in Kamakura. Why Kyoto sculptors? Because, the Temple was constructed under the instruction of Emperor Godaigo in Kyoto.

Flanking the Jizo Bosatsu statue are life-size statues of Bonten, or Brahma-Deva in Skt., and Taishakuten , or Sakra Devanam Indra in Skt., both are excellent works made during the 14th century probably by Ken-en himself or one of Sanjo-school sculptors. In Kamakura, their works can be seen only in the Temple.

In front of the Jizo Bosatsu statue are Ten Devas. On the right-hand recess are the statue of the Lord of Hades, or Yama, and that of Takatoki Hojo. On the left of the Jizo Bosatsu flank the statues of Fudo Myo-o (the Immovable), or Acala-vidyaraja, and that of Jundei Kan'non, or Cundi in Skt., which is listed on the second of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kan'non Pilgrimage. Visitors are allowed to go inside the hall and worship those statues real close.

Tendai sect Buddhists seem to have had customs to make statues of prominent priests like those of Zen priests. Priest Shokei was honored with a posthumous title of 'Fusen the National Teacher' and left a number of sutra transcripts, which are precious documents even today for those who study the Tendai doctrines in the greater Tokyo area. In fact, the Temple once used to be among the largest Tendai school in eastern Japan.

Kangiten Hall

At the southeast corner of the Temple grounds or on the right of the main hall stands a small structure, in which the statue of Kangiten (Nandikesvara in Skt.), is enshrined. The statue with 152-centimeter height, made during the first half of the 14th century, is unique in that it has two elephant faces on two human bodies hugging each other. Originally, Kangiten was a god of Hinduism and was later employed by Buddhism. In Japanese folklore, Kangiten is believed to invite a conjugal affection and bless couples with children. Unfortunately, the statue is not on public display and the feretory door is always closed.

Taishi-do Hall

Taishi stands for Shotoku Taishi, or Prince Shotoku (574-622), who adopted Buddhism as the official religion of the Imperial Court in the late sixth century, and later proclaimed it as the state religion. Prince Shotoku is regarded as the founding father of Japanese Buddhism and Taishido is dedicate to his memory. The legend relating to the birth of Prince Shotoku is similar to that of Jesus Christ. Her mother gave birth to him after having a dream in which a priest appeared asking her to allow him to come into the world to save people. She got pregnant immediately and went into labor after bumping into the door of a stable. Sounds like a Japanese version of the Annunciation. The priest appeared in her dream may have been the Angel Gabriel.

On the open French doors, a pair of the Imperial Family's emblem of open chrysanthemum with 16 rays are showing. This emblem is still used as the symbol of Japan and appears on the cover of the Japanese passports as well as at the gate of Japanese embassies worldwide. To be precise, however, chrysanthemum is the symbol of the Imperial Family and it dates back to the era of Emperor Gotoba (1180-1239), who loved the flower so much that it became the Family's flower. The national flower of Japan, meanwhile, is cherry blossom.

Inside the hall, a typical statue of Prince Shotoku, whose portrait once appeared on the 10,000-yen note, is enshrined, but all we can view is the lower part of the statue. No other temples have Taishido in Kamakura.

As is well known, he erected seven temples including the famous Horyuji in Nara and Shiten'noji in Osaka.

Tokuso Shrine

In between the Kangitendo Hall and the Taishido Hall is a shrine with a torii gate. This small shrine is sacred to Takatoki Hojo. It may sound odd for a temple to have a shrine in its grounds. According to legend, the ghost of Hojo martyrs haunted the area after the tragedy of 1333. In order to pacify the spirits of those ghosts, this shrine was erected. Enshrined here is a statue of Takatoki Hojo himself. Tokuso means patrimonial head of the Hojos covering nine generations in direct lineage.