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Head Temples

Temple Name: Engaku-ji 圓覺寺

Mountain Name: Zuirokuzan 瑞鹿山

Address: 409 Yamanouchi, Kamakura-shi, 247-0062 Japan
Tel: 0467-22-0478; Fax: 0467-23-3027



Engaku-ji is number two of the Kamakura Five Mountain Zen temples, and the head of the Engaku-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It was founded in 1282 by the eighth Kamakura regent Hojo Tokimune 北条時宗 (1251–1284), who wished both to spread the Zen teachings and to bring peace to the spirits of all those, both Japanese and Mongol, who had perished during the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281. Tokimune invited his Zen teacher, the Chinese priest Wuxue Zuyuan 無學祖元 (J., Mugaku Sogen; 1226–1286), to serve as the first abbot. It is said that the temple was named Engaku-ji, “Temple of Perfect Enlightenment,” because a copy of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment 圓覺經 was unearthed during construction. The mountain name, Zuirokuzan, “Auspicious Deer Mountain,” derives from the legend that at the time of the opening ceremony for the Buddha Hall a herd of deer came to listen to Wuxue Zuyuan’s sermon.


Wuxue was suceeded by his disciple Koho Ken’nichi 高峰 顕日 (1241–1316), and Koho by his disciple Muso Soseki 無窓疎石(1275-1351). The temple flourished as a center of Gozan literature and Muromachi culture during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although It has suffered earthquake damage and destruction by fire on a number of occasions, support by the imperial court and the shogunate have enabled it to rebuild on each occasion. During the Edo period there was a time of decline, but the master Seisetsu Shucho 誠拙周樗 (1745–1820) restored the temple's important buildings and revived its Zen training, laying the foundations of Engaku-ji as it is today.


Engaku-ji in modern times has been blessed with a succession of eminent masters, notably Imakita Kosen 今北洪川 (1816‐1892) and Shaku Soen 釋宗演 (1859–1919). Owing to their efforts and those of their successors, the temple has remained active in teaching Zen to both ordained and lay practicers. The temple maintains the classical Chinese Zen monastic design, with a Sanmon (Mountain Gate), Butsuden (Buddha Hall), Hojo (Abbot’s Quarters), Yokushitsu (Bath House), Tosu seki (Toilet foundations), and Sodo (Meditation Hall). Of the seven classical monastic buildings it lacks only the Hatto (Dharma Hall) and Kyozo (Sutra Library).

Engaku-ji’s bronze temple bell, a National Treasure, was cast in 1301. It is the largest bell in Kamakura, measuring 2.6 meters in height and 1.42 meters in diameter. The Shariden (Reliquary), first built in 1285 and restored after a fire in 1563, is also a National Treasure, and is said to contain a tooth of the Buddha brought from China.