Kakuon-ji (覚園寺), officially known as Jubusen Shingon-in Kakuon-ji (鷲峰山真言院覚園寺) by its mountain name, is a Buddhist Shingon temple of the Sennyu-ji school located in Nikaidō, Kamakura. It was founded in 1296 by Hōjō Sadatoki, the ninth Kamakura regent, to celebrate the victory over the Mongol invaders.



History


Kakuon-ji was built on the grounds of a temple constructed in 1218 by Hōjō Yoshitoki (北条義時, 1163-1224), the second regent of the Kamakura shogunate. The original temple was dedicated to a statue of Yakushi Nyorai (薬師仏), the Healing Buddha, allegedly created by the famous sculptor Unkei. Thanks to the fame of the statue the district became known as Yakushi-dōgayatsu. The statues and the temple structure burned down in 1243 and 1251. The temple was reconstructed in 1263 but later fell in disrepair.



Hōjō Sadatoki (北条貞時, 1271-1311) founded Kakuon-ji on the very same ground to mark the victory over the Mongolians who were repulsed in 1274 and 1281 and installed Chikai Shiné (智海心慧), the founder of Gokuraku-ji, as the founding priest. The Hōjō remained patrons of the temple until the downfall of their clan in 1333. It was also patronised by Emperor Go-Daigo who elevated it to an imperial temple (勅願寺 chokuganji) and offered prayers there. Kakuon-ji continued to attract scores of notable priests and later secured the support of the Ashikaga. Takauji (足利 尊氏, 1305-1358), the first Ashikaga shōgun, selected the temple as his primary place of worship.

Just like Kamakura itself, the temple later declined in the Sengoku period and barely survived without patrons. It suffered great destruction in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923.



The Aizendō Hall (above) was moved to its current position after the Meiji Restoration from a temple called Dairaku-ji. It enshrines the statues of Aizen-Myōō (愛染明王), Fudō Myōō (不動明王), and Ashuku Nyorai (阿閦如来), three of the Five Wisdom Kings.


The statue of Aizen-Myōō (愛染明王)

Aizendō can be entered without admission but it is not always open to visitors. Other buildings, such as Yakushidō can only be visited at certain times in guided groups (admission: 500 JPY, only in Japanese, photographs strictly forbidden). Yakushidō, the thatched main hall of Kakuon-ji, enshrines the Yakushi trinity, Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing, flanked by Nikkō Bosatsu at its left and Gakkō Bosatsu to its right. The head of the Yakushi Nyorai statue was created in the Kamakura period, while its body dates back to the Muromachi period. Also on display are the Jūni Shinshō (十二神将), the Twelve Heavenly Generals of Yakushi Buddha.



The Jizō-dō holds a 170cm-tall statue of Jizō Bosatsu, known as Kurojizō ("Black Jizō") or Hitaki Jizō (火たき地蔵, Fire-Burning Jizō), an Important Cultural Property. According to legend, this clement Jizō could not stand seeing the poor souls boiled in the cauldron of the netherworld and controlled the temperature of the fire so that those tortured by the heat might suffer less. This is how the Jizō turned black. Every year on 10 August special services and prayers are held from dawn to worship Kurojizō.



Other places to see are the Sentai-Jizō Hall, a modern hall that enshrines hundreds of Jizō statues, the yagura (cave) with the Thirteen Buddha and Bodhisattvas and the Hundred and Eight Yagura with, in fact, 177 small caves carved into the tuff that served as graves for local nobility and samurai.



Links:


References:

  • Baldessari, Francesco, Kamakura: A Historical Guide, 2016
  • Mutsu, Iso, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Tuttle 2012

Access:

A 30-minute walk from Kamakura Station (JR Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line), 10 minutes by bus from Kamakura Station (600 metres from Daitonomiya bus stop).
Address: 710 Nikaido, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0002; phone: 0467-22-1195.
Admission: for the Yakushidō Hall 500 JPY (adults), children 200 JPY (the tour takes 50 minutes).


Map: