Engakuji is the second most important temple out of Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples and was founded by regent Hojo Tokimune in 1282 to commemorate both the Japanese and Mongolian soldiers who lost their lives when Mongolia attempted to invade Japan in 1281 (the Battle of Koan).
In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed many, but not all, of the original buildings. Therefore, some of the structures today are relatively modern reconstructions.
This principal temple is the head branch school of the Rinzai-sect of Zen Buddhism and some areas of the complex are not open to the public. Even so, the historical structures, ubiquitous nature, and educational atmosphere make for a soul-rejuvenating visit. Engakuji’s bell tower and Shariden Hall are designated as national treasures.
For a truly immersive experience, join the temple’s morning zen meditations or enjoy traditional Japanese food and drinks at its tea house, which sells vegetable curry, dumplings, azuki bean sweets, matcha, and amazake (sweet sake).
Sanmon is the main gate to the temple and is meant to expel worldly desires from visitors. The commanding wooden structure was rebuilt in 1785 and enshrines the Eleven-Faced Kannon, Twelve Heavenly Generals, and Sixteen Lakan on its upper floor.
Just past Sanmon is the shrine’s main building, Butsuden, which houses Engakuji’s principal image of Buddha—a wooden statue of Shaka Buddha. Butsuden was reconstructed in 1964 after the Great Kanto Earthquake.
Shariden, located toward the back of the temple complex, is designated as a national treasure and enshrines a tooth of Buddha. The hall features architectural mastery in its curved roofs and wooden facade.
The picturesque scenery of nature and temple buildings, plus the collection of Japanese maple trees, make Engakuji a popular spot to enjoy the changing foliage. The leaves are usually at their most vibrant in early December.
Engakuji Temple is a 1 minute walk from Kita-Kamakura station.
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