Sugimoto-dera (杉本寺), officially known as Daizō-zan Kannon-in Sugimoto-dera (大蔵山観音院杉本寺), is a Buddhist temple of the Tendai denomination in Kamakura. It was founded in 734, over four-hundred years before the Kamakura shogunate was established by Minamoto no Yoritomo, and is considered to be the oldest temple in Kamakura when the town was not more than a sleepy fishing hamlet.

sugimotodera09.jpg

The Hon-dō (Main Hall) of Sugimoto-dera.

The temple's annals claim that Sugimoto-dera was built by decree of Emperor Shōmu (701-756), the 45th emperor of Japan, fulfilling the wish of his consort, Empress Kōmyō (701-760). It was founded by Fujiwara no Fusasaki, minister of the Imperial Court, and the priest Gyōki (行基, 668–749) and enshrines three statues of the Eleven-Headed Kannon. The ten supplementary faces of the Kannon represent the ten stages of enlightenment.

The first statue is said to have been carved by Gyōki himself who was traversing the Kantō area and enshrined it there before the temple was even planned. Ennin (圓仁, 793-864 ), better known as Jikaku Daishi (慈覺大師), visited the temple in 851 and created a second statue for the temple. The third and most prominent statue was made by the priest Genshin (源信, 942-1017), a famous sculptor and son of Minamoto no Mitsunaka on the order of Emperor Kazan (968-1008). The statues contributed immensely to the fame of Sugimoto-dera and made it the first temple of the Bandō Sanjūsankasho (坂東三十三箇所), a pilgrimage circuit of 33 temples in Kantō dedicated to Goddess Kannon. All statues are Important Cultural Assets, even though their authenticity has never been verified.

In November 1189, a fire broke out and destroyed most of the temple, but the three statues were saved and placed under a nearby cedar tree. Since then the temple, previously known as Ōkura Kannondō, was called Sugimoto no Kannon, the Kannon under the Cedar Tree. The temple was visited by shōgun Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1191 who ordered the Kannon Hall to be reconstructed.

sugimotodera01.jpg

The entrance to Sugimoto-dera as seen from Kanazawa-dori.

sugimotodera02.jpg

A narrow flight of stairs leads up the Niōmon. Niō are the guardians of Buddha and protect the entrance of Buddhist temples. Note the thatched roof of the gate. The niō are said to be created by Unkei (運慶, 1150-1223), a famous sculptor in the Kamakura Period.

sugimotodera03.jpg

Naraen Kongō (那羅延金剛), also called Agyō (阿形), has his mouth open as if he uttered the letter "ah" meaning birth.

sugimotodera04.jpg

Misshaku Kongō (密迹金剛), also called Ungyō (吽形) on the left holds a sword and has his mouth closed as if he uttered a 'un' or 'om' sound meaning death. 'Ah' and 'un' represent Alpha and Omega, thus the beginning and the end.

sugimotodera06.jpg


Just behind Niōmon Gate to the right is one of the temple's two shrines. It is dedicated to the Goddess Benzaiten (弁才天, 弁財天) or Benten, a Japanese Buddhist goddess derived from the Hindu goddess Saraswati who is also worshipped as a Shintō kami named Ugajin (宇賀神).

sugimotodera07.jpg


Benten's shrines (Benten-dō), just like Saraswati's, are associated with water and rivers, and Sugimoto-dera has a small pond with a yagura-like cave.

sugimotodera08.jpg

A small figurine of a priest.

sugimotodera10.jpg


The Hondō (Main Hall) of Sugimoto-dera with its beautiful thatched roof. It is not allowed to take photographs inside the hall.

sugimotodera11.jpg


In 1335, two years after the fall of the Kamakura shogunate, supporters of the Hōjō staged a rebellion which was eventually suppressed by the Ashikaga. Some of the skirmishes took place right on the grounds of the temple where some 300 samurai lost their lives. The gorintō (五輪塔, stone stupas) were erected to commemorate the souls of those slain in battle.

sugimotodera12.jpg

The belfry at Sugimoto-dera.

Access:

10 minutes by bus or a 20-minute walk from JR Kamakura Station (Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line).
Address: 903 Nikaido, Kamakura, 248-0002; phone: 0467-22-3463.
Admission: open 08:00-16:30; 200 JPY (adults), 100 JPY (children).


References:

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

Links:


Map: