Kamakura Travel Guide For Japan Visitors

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Kamakura Trip Hom > Kenchoji Temple

The highest ranked of the Five Great Rinzai(Zen) temples (Gozan) of Kamakura

The first Zen training monastery in Japan

The first Zen training monastery in Japan

Kenchoji Temple is about a 15-minute walk from Kitakamakura station toward Kamakura station on the Kamakura Kaidō (The prefectural road).  Kenchoji Temple is the highest-ranking Zen temple among the Five Great Rinzai temples of Kamakura, called the Kamakura Gozan. The official name of the temple is Kofukusan Kenchokoukoku Zennji.  It was established in 1253 (Kencho 5) when the Chinese Zen priest named Rankei Doryu (Lanqi Daolong) was invited to Japan to become its founding abbot.

There is a tablet on the main gate with the characters 巨福山. They read "kofukusan".  The Chinese character for “ko” in kofukusan is written using 巨.  If you look closely, you will see that there is an extra dot that was added by accident. However, people said that "the overall design looks sharper with the dot", and that it "adds extra value".  So people have come to call the little mark "the valuable dot".

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms

After passing through the main front gate, there are many cherry blossoms standing next to the gate called Sanmon.

The primary statue of Kenchoji Temple: Jizo-Bosatsu

The primary statue of Kenchoji Temple: Jizo-Bosatsu

Beyond Sanmon gate, there is a building where the monks in training listen to the preaching of the priest of the temple, called hattou (temple lecture hall).  It is also where the temple's iconic figure is enshrined.
The Buddhist hall was brought from Zojoji Temple located at Shiba, Tokyo, dismantled and reconstructed in Kenchoji Temple during the Edo period. The statues of Jizo-Bosatsu, Garanjin (tutelary deities), the Thousand-armed Goddess of Mercy, and others are enshrined there.

It is rare for Jizo to be a principal image of the Zen sect of Buddhism, and the reason lies in the history of the land where Kenchoji Temple is located now.  The location was originally used as a place of execution. Before Kenchoji Temple was built, there was a temple to hold a religious service for those who were executed there.  It is said that this might be the reason that Jizo, a figure who guides lost souls trapped in the material world, became the icon of Kenchoji Temple.

One of the three great temple bells of Kamakura

One of the three great temple bells of Kamakura

This temple bell has been designated as an important Cultural Property, and it is considered to be one of the three great bells of Kamakura along with those of Engakuji Temple and Jorakuji Temple. It is the original bell from when Kenchoji was first established, and there is an inscription by first priest Doryu Rankei carved on the bell. The national treasure.

Unryu-zu: The painting of dragon and clouds

Unryu-zu: The painting of dragon and clouds

The hattou (temple lecture hall) is where trainee monks listen to the preaching of the head priest.
The hattou of Kenchoji Temple is the biggest one in the Kanto area. It was rebuilt in 1814 (Bunka 11), in the Edo period. There were once an impressive 388 monks in training in Kenchoji Temple.

The stunning unryu-zu painting on the ceiling of the hattou was painted by Junsaku Koizumi to commemorate 750 years since its foundation.

The gorgeously ornate Karamon (Chinese style gate)

The gorgeously ornate Karamon (Chinese style gate)

There is a hojo (ryuou-den palace), or abbot’s chamber, behind the hattou hall.  The gate to the hojo is called Karamon. Its decorations are beautiful in detail.  The gate is closed, and the entrance to the abbot's chamber is located on the right-hand side of Karamon.  For airing out purposes, the treasures of Kenchoji Temple are exhibited for only 3 days a year around November 3, Cultural Day (a Japanese holiday).

The Zen-sect style temple arrangement

The Zen-sect style temple arrangement

Time permitting, it is recommended to visit the tutelary deity called Hansobo located halfway up the hill behind Kenchoji Temple. If you continue up past Hansobo, you will find the Shojouken lookout, where you can overlook the great Buddhist temple of Kenchoji. The original halls of Kenchoji Temple were burnt down in fires around the 14th or 15th century; most of the halls seen now were rebuilt in the Edo period. However, the main structures were rebuilt as they had been originally, in the Zen-sect style that was the trend in China during the Sung Dynasty.

Famous spot for fall foliage

Famous spot for fall foliage

Kenchoji Temple is known for both its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and colored leaves in fall.  The most impressive display of fall colors are found in the back of the main temple grounds, behind Ryuho-in Hall (a sub-temple of Kenchoji) and along the path to the Hansobo hill. The yellow carpet of fallen gingko leaves is especially beautiful.

Information

Address: 8 Yamanouchi, Kamakura City
Phone: 0467-22-0981
Access:  A 25-minute walk from Kitakamakura station on the JR train line.
Map: Map
Official Website: Kenchoji Temple Website

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