Historical Overview

Originally, the Temple was called East Gokurakuji belonging to the Shingon sect. Founding Priest Gyo-yu Taiko (1163-1241) was a disciple of Priest Eisai Myo-an (1141-1215), who first introduced Zen Buddhism to Kamakura and was named the founding priest of Jufukuji. Priest Taiko also founded another Zen temple Jorukuji.

At the time of the Temple's founding, however, Zen Buddhism was not yet firmly credited. Yoshikane Ashikaga (1154-1199), the founder, shared the same great-grandfather with Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, and was a brave samurai helping Yoritomo defeat the Taira clan. As a matter of fact, Yoshikane's wife was younger sister of Masako Hojo (1157-1225), Yoritomo's wife.

When another priest Ryonen Geppo was nominated to be the chief priest, the Temple chose the denomination of Zen Buddhism around 1258 under the sponsorship of Sadauji Ashikaga (1273-1331), father of Takauji Ashikaga, who established the Ashikaga Shogunate. At the same time, the Temple changed its name to the present 'Jomyoji' deriving from Sadauji's Buddhist title.

Priest Geppo was ordained by Priest Doryu Rankei, the founding priest of Kenchoji. Sadauji helped expand the Temple and produced a number of great priests. At its peak, the Temple had as many as 23 sub-temples. Throughout the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), it was protected and patronized by the Ashikaga family as their prayer hall, and ranked fifth of the Five Great Zen Temples in Kamakura. With the Kamakura Governor's office and residences located at the east side of the Temple, however, the area sometimes turned battleground because of the power struggles involving governors, vice-governors in Kamakura and the Shogun in Kyoto. Every time the battles erupted, structures around here were burnt down or ruined.

In addition, a series of fires ravaged the Temple after the Muromachi Period and it continued to dwindle with no specific supporters. Today, the grounds of the Temple are a 'Historic spot' designated by the national government.

This is the only Temple among the Great Five Zen Temples that does not have direct connections with the Hojo family. Like Hokokuji across the street, the Temple is closely associated with the Ashikagas and its well-known crest (two horizontal bars in a circle) appears on the offertory box placed before the entrance of the main hall.

Main Hall
The hall was rebuilt in 1756. The main object of worship is a sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit). It was made in the 14th century by unknown sculptor(s). Unfortunately, inside the hall is too dark to make out the statues.

Also enshrined in the hall are the following:

The Temple also owns a wooden statue of Amida (Amitabha in Skt.) Nyorai made during the 14th century. It is kept at the Kamakura Museum.

Hokyo-into for Sadauji Ashikaga
Sadauji was buried here and his tomb, a Hokyo-into, stands in the center of the graveyard behind the main hall. Inscription tells it was made in 1392, nearly sixty years after his death.

Tea-room Kisen-an
On the left-hand side of the main hall is a beautiful garden and a guest room called Kisen-an. The original Kisen-an was built around 1580 by the Temples' priests to have tea ceremonies.

The sand and rock garden is called Karesansui in Japanese and it well fits Zen temples.

Notes: The Temple has a well-maintained flower garden, in which peony blooms beautifully in late April through early May.