Date: 1st December 2017
Tokeiji (東慶寺) was founded in 1285 by Kakusan Shido-ni, a nun widowed by Hojo Tokimune, who was the 8th shikken (or Regent of the Shogunate) of the Kamakura Shogunate. The temple is also the only surviving Amagozan, five nunneries in Kamakura.
Known as Kakekomi-dera, for 600 years, Tokeiji has served as a sanctuary for women escaping from their marriages until they could obtain a divorce in the feudal era where women generally could not request for a divorce. This stopped in 1871 when haibutsu kishaku (expulsion of Buddhism from Japan) was at its peak during the Meiji Restoration, and Tokeiji subsequently turned into a monastery in 1902.
Yodo-ni, daughter of Emperor Go-Daigo (who brought about Kenmu Restoration, bringing an end to the Kamakura Shogunate) became the 5th chief nun at the temple. She entered Tokeiji to pray for her brother, Prince Moriyoshi (once head abbot at Hiezan Enryakuji) who had his untimely death at the hands of Ashikaga Tadayoshi, brother of Ashikaga Takauji, the first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. Yodo-ni is known for shortening the required residence duration to obtain a divorce from 3 years to 2 years.
Another famous chief nun is Tenshu-ni, daughter of Toyotomi Hideyori and granddaughter of Japan’s second great unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tenshu-ni entered Tokeiji at the age of seven after the Siege of Osaka in 1615, under Tokugawa Ieyasu’s order since she was also the adopted daughter of Senhime, Ieyasu’s granddaughter who was married off to Hideyori.
Soyen Shaku, who was chief abbot at Engakuji at the young age of 34 became abbot in Tokeiji in 1905. Dr. D.T. Suzuki, a Buddhism scholar, studied Zen Buddhism under Imakita Kosen (Soyen’s predecessor) and Soyen. Taking advantage of Suzuki’s English proficiency, they went on to lay a foundation of spreading Zen Buddhism to the rest of the world. Matsugaoka Bunko library situated on a hill behind Tokeiji was founded by Suzuki as per Soyen’s wishes to create a centre for Buddhism studies.
The main hall, Taihei-den enshrines a seated statue of Shaka Nyorai (Shakyamuni Tathāgata) in which the statue’s head contains records of Tokeiji’s past reparation works. This includes the fire in 1515 where Buddhist sculptor painted on the face of the rescued sculpture, repairs made by Buddhist sculptor Kaga in 1670 and repairs made by Goto Kokei in 1926 following the damages from the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
The Matsugaoka Hozo (Matsugaoka Museum) houses a number of artifacts including a standing image of Sho Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). The treasury is open for exhibition in spring for its Buddhist images and in autumn for their heirloom lacquer works. The Suigetsu-do hall enshrines a statue of Suigetsu Kannon (Water Moon Kannon), however requires advance reservation to view.
Further back is a cemetery for the previous heads of the temple, including Kakusan Shido-ni (founder), 5th chief nun Yodo-ni, and 20th chief nun Tenshu-ni. Dr.D.T. Suzuki is also buried here.
The temple is also home to a number of flora varieties and despite it being autumn, I was happy to find some beautiful flowers in the temple.
- 08:30 – 17:00 (Mar to Oct)
- 08:30 – 16:00 (Nov to Feb)
Admission fee: 200 yen
Opening hours: 09:30 – 15:30
Closed on Mondays except for National Holidays when the museum will be closed on the following day instead.
Admission fee: 500 yen for special exhibition and 400 yen for permanent exhibition
Tokeiji is just a 2-minutes walk from Kita-Kamakura station (roughly an hour from Tokyo station on the JR Yokosuka line, 800 yen). It makes a good combined visit with neighboring Jochi-ji and/or Engakuji.