Myōhō–ji (妙法寺, the "Temple of the Marvelous Law"), officially known as Ryōgonzan Renge-in Myōhō-ji (楞厳山蓮華院妙法寺), is a Buddhist temple of the Nichiren sect in the Ōmachi area of Kamakura. It is located in Matsubagayatsu, or the Valley of Pine Needles (松葉ヶ谷), where Nichiren was said to have built his first hermitage in 1253.

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The Somon Gate (総門) with its copper-plated roof.

According to legend, another temple called Honkoku-ji (本圀寺) stood at the location of Nichiren's hut. After the temple was transferred to Kyōto, The fifth abbot of the temple called Nichiei (日叡, 1318-1400) constructed the temple to commemorate his father, Prince Morinaga, also known as Moriyoshi Shinnō (護良親王, 1308-1335), the son of Emperor Go-Daigo (後醍醐天皇 Go-Daigo-tennō, 1288-1339), the 96th emperor of Japan. In fact, three temples, Ankokuron-ji, Myōhō–ji, and Chōshō-ji, all claimed to be built on the site of Nichiren's first hermitage in Kamakura.

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The entrance to Myōho-ji.

In 1787, a shogunal tribunal rendered the verdict that Ankokuron-ji was the location where Nichiren settled when he first arrived in Kamakura and that Myōho-ji was the place where he lived after he had returned from his exile in Izu in 1263.

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The main hall of Myōho-ji is said to contain bone fragments of Nichiren and artefacts belonging to Prince Morinaga. It was built in the late Edo period with zelkova wood donated by the Hosokawa family of Kyūshū.

Myōho-ji was also the location of what became known as the "Matsubagayatsu Persecution" (松葉ケ谷の法難): enraged by his criticism of their teaching followers of other sects set Nichiren's hut afire and forced him to flee. According to legend, Nichiren escaped into the forest and was saved by a white monkey that fed him with ginger. The temple claims that the path to Nagoe leading up the hill behind Myōho-ji is the very same route Nichiren's used to escape.

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The Niōmon (仁王門) behind the main hall. Niō gates are guarded by two wooden warriors called Niō (仁王, lit. "two kings").

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Misshaku Kongō (密迹金剛) on the left has his mouth closed. He represents the last letter of the Sanskrit alphabet,


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Naraen Kongō (那羅延金剛) has his mouth open and represents the first letter in the Sanskrit alphabet.

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Myōhō–ji, also called Koke-dera (苔寺, "moss temple"), is famous for its ‘mossy stairs’. The stairway is not open to visitors.

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The Niōmon as seen from the top of the flight of the mossy stairway.

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Visitors have to use a new stairway to climb the hill.

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The Hokke-dō, or Hall of Scriptures, was constructed by the Mito family in the late Edo Period and houses a Buddhist statue that was allegedly sculpted by Nichiei himself, the Joyaku Soshizō (除厄祖師像). Unfortunately, like most other buildings at the temple, it is closed all the time.

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Further up the hill are the temple's belfry, the remains of Nichiren's hut, yagura (graves carved into stone), as well as Prince Morinaga's cenotaph.


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Yagura are stone-carved tombs dating back to the 1200s and still used for worship and memorials.

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The cenotaph of Prince Morinaga and his wife.

Access:

A 12-minute walk from JR Kamakura Station (Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line).
Address: 4-7-4 Ōmachi, Kamakura 248-0007, phone: 0467-22-5813.
Admission: 300 JPY, children 200 JPY.


References:

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

Map: