Zuisen-ji (瑞泉寺, "Temple of the Spring of Good Omen"), formally known as Kinbyōzan Zuisen-ji (錦屏山瑞泉寺), is a temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism located in the Nikaidō area of Kamakura. It is closely related to the Kamakura branch of the Ashikaga family and its Kantō kubō. In 1853, Yoshida Shōin spent time at Zuisen-ji, where his uncle, the priest Chikuin, officiated as head priest. It is one of the ten most important temples of Kamakura and second only to the Kamakura Gozan (鎌倉五山), the Five Great Zen Temples of Kamakura.

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Zuisen-ji was founded in 1327 by Zen master Musō Soseki (夢窓疎石, 1275-1351), who was also a renowned poet, calligrapher, and garden designer, with the support of his sponsor Nikaidō Dōun (二階堂道蘊, 1267-1335), a former shugo (military governor) of Kai Province (modern-day Yamanashi Prefecture). Dōun, at that time an officer of the Mandokoro (政所) in Kamakura and a devout Zen practitioner, made Soseki the first abbot of the temple. Soseki was the maternal grandson of Hōjō Masamura (北条 政村, 1205-1273), the seventh regent of the Kamakura shogunate.


A memorial slab for Musō Soseki at the entrance of the temple precinct.

While establishing Zuisen-ji, Musō Soseki doubled as the head priest of Engaku-ji, where he oversaw a sub-temple, the Oba-in. His influence on Zen teaching in the Muromachi Period was so vast that priests who enrolled at the Oba-in were called followers of the Musō school. Soseki founded several other eminent temples in Kyōto, such as Ryōan-ji and Rokuon-ji, better known as Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion, and designed the gardens of the Moss Temple, Saihon-ji, and Tenryū-ji.


The stairs leading up to Sanmon Gate (山門).

During his lifetime, Soseki received support from powerful quarters: he served the ninth and the eleventh Hōjō regents, Sadatoki and Takatoki, as well as the emperors Go-Toba and Go-Daigo, After the failure of Go-Daigo's Kemmu Restoration, he switched sides and became a spiritual advisor to shōgun Ashikaga Tadauji and his brother Tadayoshi. He was a confident and counsellor of Ashikaga Motouji (足利基氏, 1340-67), the first Kamakura kubō, who selected Zuisen-ji as his gravesite. It is said that it was Soseki who devised and implemented the Gozan system in Kamakura.



Zuisen-ji houses the gravesites of four of the five Kamakura kubō, but unfortunately, they are not open to the general public. Originally, another temple, Yōan-ji (永安寺), dedicated to the memory of Ashikaga Ujimitsu (足利氏満, 1359-1398), the second Kamakura kubō, stood close to Zuisen-ji. It was here that Mochiuji, the ill-fated fourth Kamakura kubō, committed suicide in February 1439 with thirty of his closest retainers after their last stand against the forces of shōgun Ashikaga Yoshinori.

Under Soseki's disciple Gidō Shūshin (義堂周信, 1325-1388), a master of poetry and prose in Chinese, Zuisen-ji became a centre of Gozan literature but later fell into decline. Later, in the Edo Period (1600-1867), priests of Engaku-ji brought the temple back to monastic life. Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the grandson of Ieyasu and daimyō of the Mito Domain compiled his Shimpen Kamakurashi (新編鎌倉誌, "New Records of Kamakura Culture and Geography") here.

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Musō Soseki (夢窓疎石, 1275-1351)

In the late Edo period, Zuisen-ji provided shelter to Yoshida Shōin, whose uncle, a celebrated scholar named Chikuin (1796-1867), officiated as the 25th head priest of the temple. Shōin, a patriot and imperial loyalist, tried to stow away on Commodore Perry's Black Ships in 1854 but was arrested by shogunal forces. In 1859, he was sentenced to death and executed in Edo. Near the entrance of the temple is a stone monument (吉田松陰留跡の碑) inscribed with verses inspired by Shōin's visits to his uncle.



The interior of the Main Hall (above) shows a statue of Shaka Nyorai (釈迦如来), the historical Buddha, a statue of Senju Kannon (千手観音像), the Thousand-Armed Kannon, donated by Mitsukuni, to the left, and a seated image of Musō Soseki. The latter is designated an Important Cultural Property. The Main Hall was rebuilt in 1935 and is held in the typical Zen style called Hōgyō zukuri (宝形造) with its roofs curved upward and rafters spread radially. On top of the roof sits a peach-shaped hōju (宝珠).

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(Photo credit: Yamagata Kenzo)

The Zen garden was designed by Musō Soseki. It was restored in 1969/70 based on original manuscripts and is not open to the public. On an overhanging cliff just above the pond used to be a small pavilion called Henkai Ichirantei that allowed visitors to enjoy the vision of the world below and of Mount Fuji to the west. The pavilion was reconstructed by Mitsukuni but again destroyed in a storm. It is said that Soseki took great delight in contemplating in this spot, gathering there with his disciples. According to legend, the sun stood just above the cliff when Soseki died on 30 September 1351.



A small wooden hall nearby contains a statue of Dokomoku Jizō (どこもく地蔵. lit. "Hardship-Everywhere Jizō"). It dates back to the Kamakura Period and was moved to Zuisen-ji from another temple, Chigan-ji, that does no longer exist. The unusual name is attributed to the story of a priest who lived in abject poverty and hoped to find a better life in another place. As he set out he heard a voice of Jizō calling out "Dokomo, dokomo" (どこも、どこも) which means as much as "life is dire wherever you settle so you might as well stay where you are". And that is what the priest did realising the futility of his desire.



The bell tower is relatively new. The bell was cast in 1965 by artist Katori Masahiko (香取正彦, 1899-1988), a Living National Treasure famous for designing and producing the Peace Bell at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The bell is said to reverberate for a minute and a half.

Other buildings include the Kaisandō Hall (開山堂), the Founder's Hall, a repository for valuable assets and the statues of a sitting Musō Soseki (120 centimetres tall, wood, and carved soon after Soseki's death) and two statues of the first two Kamakura kubō, Ashikaga Motouji and Ashikaga Ujimitsu. The Kaisandō is not open to the public either.


A historic map of Zuisen-ji at the Sanmon Gate.

Links:


References:

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

Access:

A 45-minute walk from Kamakura Station (JR Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line), 10 minutes by bus from Kamakura Station. It can also be reached via the Kamakura Tenen Hiking Course starting at Kenchō-ji (around 60 minutes, hiking shoes recommended).
Address: 710 Nikaido, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0002; phone: 0467-22-1191.
Admission: open daily 09:00-16:30; adults 200 JPY.


Map:


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