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5 Zen Temples and Big Buddha in Kamakura

Kamakura is an ancient city that was established in 1192, located about 60 minutes by train from Tokyo, and is a seaside town home to great scenic beauty and many historical sites that are well worth a visit. While it is an easy day trip, with all that there is to do and see in Kamakura, you may want to consider an overnight stay.

In ancient times, the Kamakura Gozan, five great Zen Buddhist Temples, more commonly know as the Five Mountains, were identified and utilized to promote Zen Buddhism throughout Japan. The Kamakura Gozan, ranked first to fifth are as follows:

The Kenchoji Temple was founded in 1253, shares its precincts with 10 smaller temples, and is the first monastery in Japan devoted solely to Rinzai Zen practice. Kencho-ji’s temple bell, hung in a thatched belfry not far from the Buddha Hall, dates back to the founding of the temple, is inscribed by the founding priest and is designated as a National Treasure.

Engakuji Temple, founded in 1282 to commemorate the deaths of both Japanese and Mongolian soldiers killed during the Mongols’ attempted invasions of Japan in 1272 and 1281, is home to largest bell in Kamakura, measuring 2.6 meters in height and 1.42 meters in diameter which was cast in 1301 and is also a national treasure.

Jyufukuji Temple was constructed in 1180 and it’s founding priest, Eisai, is famous for introducing green tea into Japan from China. The temple is also home to a number of caves called Yagura, in which ashes of all the chief priests are buried.

Jochiji Temple, founded in 1281, features a two-story main gate with a bell, cast in 1340, on the second floor, and windows on four walls that resemble a bell. The roof tiles bear the crest of the Hojos, the family who founded the temple. The Jochiji temple is also well know for the moss covered steps leading towards the temple itself.

Jyomyoji Temple, founded in 1188, is famous for the massive roof over its main sanctuary that creates a dignified atmosphere. You can also partake in Kisenan, a tea ceremony, at this temple overlooking a serene Zen garden.

These five temples make up the Kamakura Gozan, but no trip to Kamakura would be complete without a visit to the Daibutsu, or great Buddha Statue, which was cast in bronze in 1252, stands over 11 meters tall, weighs approximately 121 tons and was originally covered in gold leaf. The Daibutsu is located on the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple and is a very impressive sight.

While the ancient city of Kamakura is famous for its temples and shrines, it has a lot more to offer visitors. In fact, the city has put together 11 different walking courses that include a tour of geographical features unique to Kamakura and a literary walking tour to Hase among the routes that take from 1-2 hours to complete. If you need a break from all of the culture and history that Kamakura has to offer, why not take a stroll along one of the local beaches or stay the night and enjoy the fireworks that are scheduled for August 11th this year. If you are planning an overnight stay, you may want to consider the Hotel New Kamakura, which was recently reviewed by the Japan Times.

To get to Kamakura , take the JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station or the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku Station to Kamakura Station. Some of the sights listed above are also convenient to Kita-Kamamura which is one stop after Kamamura Station on the JR Yokosuka Line. (area map PDF, see page 5)

Image Credit: Wikimeida, Kencho ji BuildingII.jpg, Engaku-ji,-Kita-kamakura Garden.jpg, Jufuku-ji Cemetery.jpg, Jochi-ji Entrance Kita-kamakura.jpg, Jomyo-ji,-Kamakura-Sand-Garden.jpg, and KamakuraDaibutsu4049.jpg