Feeling the world of Zen
Kencho-ji Temple is located between Kamakura and Kita-Kamakura Stations, surrounded by trees and nature in a quiet place. From the 12th century going into the 13th century, Kamakura was going through an age of control by the warrior and a time when learning, culture and religion were flourishing. It was in this region that numerous temples were being constructed. Among these temples, Kencho-ji is famous for being the first Zen temple in Japan to be built and is ranked the first among Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples. Tokiyori Hojo, who was the most politically powerful figure during that time, was also the founder of the temple. Hojo enthusiastically worshiped Buddhism and he tackled the still-new learning of Zen religion with a passion. At the time, he met Lanxi Daolong, a Buddhist monk who had come over from China and Hojo requested that a temple be founded, so Kencho-ji was started in 1253. Daolong admonished the practicing monks to place priority on the rituals based on strict regulations. The “Rules of Zen” are still importantly preserved as a National Treasure. Later, due to the 1293 Kamakura Earthquake and fires in 1315 and 1416, the original structures of the temple were almost all lost, but with repeated reconstruction, the temple has managed to survive and even now, Kencho-ji continues as a central presence in Zen Buddhism. There are a number of buildings upon the large temple grounds built upon the hilly mountain. Thanks to reconstruction, Japan’s first Zen temple has continued to be praised for its majesty. The placement of its structures: the outer gate, the main gate, the main hall, the lecture hall and the chief priest’s chambers were placed in a straight line as would be the case in Chinese Zen Buddhism and have been preserved in that state since the temple’s founding. In addition, the beautiful garden of the chief priest which was transported from Kyoto is a must-see. The story behind this garden is that it was designed by Soseki Muso. Muso had been behind the design of many famous gardens such as those for Kyoto’s World Heritage sites of Saiho-ji and Tenryu-ji Temples, and as a Zen Buddhist monk himself, he was known as a genius garden designer who revealed the world of Zen in his creations.
Zazen sessions for foreigners in English
The world of Zen blossomed in Kamakura. If you have an interest in Zen, it’s recommended that you try participating in zazen (Zen meditation) sessions that are held for foreigners in English. At the sessions which last up to about 2 hours, you learn the basics from the monks of Kencho-ji after which you can experience a true zazen session. Since prior application is necessary, please check the details on the homepage for Kencho-ji before participating.