Encounter The History And Charms Of Buddhism At Engakuji Temple, Kamakura

Encounter The History And Charms Of Buddhism At Engakuji Temple, Kamakura

Kanagawa 2014.05.17

Engaku-ji Temple is one of the oldest and most important Zen Buddhist temples in Japan, and the ideal place to learn more about the history and practices of this uniquely Japanese sect of Buddhism.

Translated by MATCHA_En

Written by Marina Wada

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Just under a minute's walk from Kita-Kamakura Station will bring you to Rinzaishu Daihon-zan Engaku-ji Temple, or Engaku-ji Temple, a famed historical Zen Buddhist temple visited by some of Japan's most noted historical figures, including internationally known author Soseki Natsume.

The World of Japanese Buddhism Through Temple Precincts

Engaku-ji is one of the largest and most important temples belonging to the Rinzai Sect of Buddhism, most commonly known as the Zen sect of Buddhism.

Here you will find numerous well known aspects of Zen Buddhism in practice, such as their intricate and meaning rich gardens. The calm air from this temple is sure to make you forget which era you are living in.


Photo from: greenlake

If you are lucky, you may see people practicing kyudo (Japanese archery) in the grounds. Kyudo is sometimes referred to as 'standing meditation', and as such, it has a deep relationship with Zen Buddhism as well. It's almost as if time stops in the moments between the bow being drawn and the arrow being released.

Further along, you will come across the Sanmon Gate. It is said that, by passing through this gate, you will rid yourself of all earthly desires.

Then you will arrive at the main hall of the temple, where the principle images and statues of Buddha are venerated. While these statues are all quite amazing, it's important to look up. There's an incredible painting of a valiant dragon overhead!

There are many other works to see at Engaku-ji Temple, including Shari-den the reliquary hall, and the Ogane or Great Bell, which are National Treasures and of course, many simple yet impressive carvings of Buddha as well.

It's common to place a one yen offering within or near these carvings, so I did my best and managed to include one of my own. If you have plenty of time to spare, then by all means take a closer look around and see if any statue in particular really draws your attention.

Take a Peek into the World of Zen

Engaku-ji Temple is also well known for their Gyoten Zazen Meditation course which is available from 6:00-7:00 in the mornings. Everyone, from beginners to experts, are invited to attend this meditation session wherein you will learn how to perform zazen, or traditional seated meditation for yourself.

Zen meditation requires you to fully empty your mind, which is much harder to do than you may think. It's quite easy to get distracted by thoughts of "What do I do next?" "How long have we been sitting here?" or by every day worries.

Plus, sitting in the proper zazen position causes pins and needles, and you aren't permitted to change position, or to make any noise during meditation, which can be hard for beginners to manage.

But, after 30 minutes of concentration, you will slowly find that all those meaningless thoughts just start to drift away, the sensations in your legs subside, and ultimately, your worries seem to just disappear.

Many people also note that they never realized just how constantly bombarded they were with noise and information, via advertisements, cell phones, social media, etc, until spending some time in silent meditation.

After completing the meditation portion of the zazen session, you will then read the Hannya-shin-kyo, or Heart Sutra, out loud. Booklets with the sutra written in them will be given to you by the head priest, so please give it a try - even if you aren't as good at reciting it as the other participants.

If you would like to immerse yourself in the world of Zen Buddhism and learn more about the philosophies of this distinctly Japanese belief system, then by all means, please pay a visit to Engaku-ji Temple in Kita-Kamakura.


Rinzaishu Daihon-zan Engaku-ji Temple
Address: Kanagawa, Kamakura, Yamanouchi 409
Hours: 8:00-16:30 (Mar.-Nov.) 8:00-16:00 (Dec.-Feb.)
Closed: Irregularly
Nearest Station: Kita-Kamakura Station, JR Yokosuka Line
Entrance fee:Adult 300 yen, Children 100 yen
Phone: 0467-22-0478
Website: http://www.engakuji.or.jp/top.html

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