Originally, I wanted to take my mother and brother to the busiest parts of Tokyo — Shibuya and Harajuku. However, since they’ve already been to the city of Yokohama, I thought that taking them to another modern city would be redundant. Instead, I took them to Kamakura for an authentic history experience of Japan. Besides, I’ve never been to Kamakura!
It was almost 2 p.m. when we arrived in Kita-Kamakura Station. (I blame my brother for washing his pants before we left. Of course, it took ages to dry. We ended up leaving the house five hours later than we planned.) I actually didn’t know which temple to visit first, but just few steps away from the station, we saw the entrance of Engakuji Temple situated deep in the forest. Lots of Kamakura travel guides recommend a visit to the temple grounds of Engakuji, so we didn’t hesitate to have this as our first destination in Kamakura. After paying the 300 yen admission fee, we were given pamphlets with information about the temple, as well as information about Zen meditation sessions. (I’ve been wanting to experience Zen meditation but work keeps getting in the way!)
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The Sanmon Gate
As we entered the Engakuji temple grounds, we saw this HUGE structure, which, according to the pamphlet, was the Sanmon Gate rebuilt in 1785, the 5th year of the Tenmei Era. Its second floor houses the statues of the Bodhisattva and Saints. We stood under there for like 20 seconds with a big WOW on our faces. Just entering the Engakuji temple complex made me feel relaxed and peaceful.
Butsuden Main Hall
Next is the Butsuden, rebuilt from the original building that collapsed in the Great Kanto Earthquake. “It felt like I’m really in Japan now…” said my brother when he saw this building. The Butsuden is dedicated to the principal object of worship of Engakuji Temple, Hokan Shaka Nyorai.
The Hojo or Abbot’s Quarters was one of our favorites in the Engakuji Temple grounds. It was a lounge for the abbot of Engakuji, but is now used for numerous functions, such as religious rituals, Zen meditations, sermons, and treasure exhibitions. The one that really caught our attention was the typical but cunning Japanese garden beside it. I also spotted a sweet couple having a moment in Hojo.
Shariden National Treasure
This beautiful and absolutely tranquil sacred hall holds a tooth of the Buddha. It was built in the sixteenth century in Kara style from the Chinese Song dynasty. The beauty of the building’s architecture has led it to be a National Treasure. There was an ongoing ritual when we were there. My mother and brother were too loud while taking pictures, and I had to stop them from creating noise.
This place wasn’t in the pamphlet, so I don’t know much about this place. Another admission fee of 100 yen if you want to go inside and an additional 500 yen if you want Japanese tea. The entire place is enclosed by a white wall and could easily be seen from the Hojo or Abbot’s Quarters because of its unique structure, which was stunning in the midst of the forest.
Kojirin is a Zen meditation hall for Koji, meaning a lay Buddhist. It was a drill hall for kendo, or Japanese fencing lay trainees of Zen.
Engakuji Temple is a huge temple complex with Zen meditation halls. It is one of the leading Zen temples in Japan and is ranked second in Kamakura’s Five Great Zen temples. Engakuji was founded in the 5th year of the Koan Era in the year 1282 by the ruling regent Hojo Tokimune.
We toured the complex for nearly 2 hours and we felt that there’s still so much to see inside. It was nearly getting dark and we were afraid that our next must-see destination would be closed by the time we get there, the Great Buddha. We had to hurry, so we took the train to Hase Station instead of going there by foot. The tour to the Great Buddha deserves a separate post, so please watch out for that.
As mentioned in the beginning, a half day tour to Kamakura was not enough. To explore Kamakura at its best requires more than a day or two. There’s a lot of walking involved when exploring Kamakura so wear comfortable shoes!
Engakuji is a few steps from Kita-Kamakura Station. Admission fee is 300 yen. It is open every day and is open from 8:00 to 16:30, and until 16:00 from December to February.