Kamakura's Zen Temples   鎌倉五山

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Kencho-ji temple in Kita-Kamakura, the oldest Zen temple in Japan.

Kencho-ji temple in Kita-Kamakura, the oldest Zen temple in Japan.

The rock garden at Jomyoji

5 Steps to Enlightenment

Kamakura, along with Kyoto, is considered the capital of zen. It foundations are based on five pillars and five temples.

The Gozan, the five temples of the Rinzai school in Kamakura, were built in the thirteenth century when the city was the capital of Japan.

They had to compete in power and wealth with the five temples of Kyoto. These temples all follow the doctrine of Zen introduced by the monk Eisai who founded some of them.

All five temples are found in the northern part of Kamakura between Kita-Kamakura Station and the slopes of Gionyama. Most are placed at strategic locations in the city, with views of the whole of it. They are ranked in order of importance.

Kenchoji

It is the first and oldest of the five temples. It was founded in 1253 by Hojo regents to show the world their piety and wealth. Although the temple is not as extensive as in the past, its Hatto (Dharma Hall) remains the largest in eastern Japan.

Its main door, Sanmon, and the temple's bell, the bonshō, are just as impressive with their size and understated elegance. The temple is decorated with a garden designed by the Zen master Muso Kokushi.

At the back of Kenchoji is the start of a trail in the mountains, the Tenen hiking trail, which leads to several viewpoints overlooking Kamakura and its forest. If you follow this wooded path you will arrive to Jomyoji temple on the other side of town in an hour.

Engakuji

Ranked second in the list, the Engaku Ji temple rivals the Kenchoji by its size and beauty of its buildings. It was built to commemorate the memory of the dead Japanese soldiers during the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century. It is believed to possess a tooth of Buddha, his most precious relic. It is the Japanese' favorite temple in autumn when they go to admire the koyo foliage.

Jufukuji

The Jufuku-ji temple is the third in the list and the only one to have been founded by the monk Eisai itself. However, it is also the only one to remain closed to visitors, as it is focuses entirely on the search of satori.

Jochiji

Jochiji is a smaller temple and close to Engakuji. We go there to simply admire its wooden statues of the thirteenth century and its garden dotted with caves and tombs. The place is also calm and full of charm, as tourists visit less often. At the back of the temple is the start of the hiking trail that leads to the Daibutsu, the Big Buddha, in one hour.


Jomyoji

The last temple on the list is also the smallest. At the mouth of the Tenen trail visitors will rest and meditate in front of its dry garden. Visitors will also stop to eat in the vegetarian restaurant at the rear of the temple, which is part of the temple.

Note that Engakuji and Kenchoji also offer meditation activities for visitors. It is possible to take part in this experience without reservation by visiting at 10 in the morning for a spiritual exercise that will last an hour.

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