Kamakura’s Wild Rock Garden: Zuisenji

Date: 28th June 2018

I was back in Kamakura. I’ll post about my summer trip to Meigetsuin later, and will think about whether to actually post about my trip to Hasedera. Lets now look at Zuisenji (Kinpeizan Zuisenji / (錦屏山瑞泉寺), a Buddhist temple belonging to the Rinzai sect. of Zen Buddhism located in eastern Kamakura, and also a branch temple of Engaku-ji. This is not my first time here, I actually visited this temple in autumn last year after completing the Tenen hike from Kencho-ji.

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Stairs leading to the temple

Founded in 1327 by Nikaido Doun with the famous Rinzai sect. monk and garden designer Muso Kokushi (Muso Soseki) as its founding priest, Zuisenji is famous for its Zen rock garden, designed by none other than Muso Kokushi himself.  Examples of famous gardens designed by him are Saiho-ji (Koko-dera), Tenryu-ji, and Engaku-ji. Located in a valley called Momijigayatsu (Valley of Autumn Leaves), the surrounding mountains of the valley are natural backdrops for the garden.

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The rock garden

The huge cave Tennyodo was used as a meditation hall in admiring the moon reflected on the surface of the pond, Choseichi. In the western side of the pond, you can see two bridges, which connects to routes leading to the mountains behind the pond. Behind the pond is Ichirantei, a teahouse on the peak of Kinpeizan, overlooking the surrounding mountains. It is closed-off to visitors.

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Tennyodo

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Muso had the support and favor of various leaders, including Emperor Go-Toba, the Kamakura shikkens Hojo Sadatoki and Hojo Takatoki, and later the Muromachi first shogunate Ashikaga Takauji and his brother Ashikaga Tadayoshi. During the Muromachi period (or Ashikaga period), Zuisenji was also the family temple of Kamakura’s Kanto kubo. Four of five of the Kanto kubos were buried here, though the cemetery is closed to the public.

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Stroll around the garden

The original temple consisted of a Kannonden, the Ichirantei and the rock garden. Zuisenji is also one of the Kanto Jissetsu, a second tier of the Five Mountain System. The temple used to have several subtemples though none survived to this day, including one dedicated to Ashikaga Takauji’s mother Uesugi Kiyoko and another to Ashikaga Motouji, the first Kanto kubo.

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Tokugawa Mitsukuni (Mito Komon) ordered the reconstruction of the temple during the Edo period and donated a wooden statue of the Senju Kannon (Thousand-armed Kannon), which is now enshrined in the main hall. The guide book to Kamakura, Shinpen Kamakurashi was instructed by none other than Mitsukuni himself, written in Zuisenji by Kawai Tsunehisa, Matsumura Kiyoyuki and Rikiishi Tadakazu.

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Reconstructed in 1935, Zuisenji’s main hall enshrines the Shaka Nyorai, with the Senju Kannon on the right and a statue of Muso on the left. On the left of the main hall is Kaisando, the founder’s hall which also houses a wooden statue of Muso, Ashikaga Motouji and Ashikaga Ujimitsu.  The temple is also one of the temples of the Kamakura 33 Kannon Pilgrimage.

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Main Hall

Behind Kaisando is a Jizo Hall, enshrining the Dokomoku Jizo. The strange name (which literally translates to “hardship everywhere”) originates from the story of a priest of a no-longer existing temple, Chiganji, who tried to run away when the temple was at its final days of decline. He had a dream of the Jizo Bosatsu, voicing “dokomo, dokomo”, which meant that it will be the same no matter where he went, thus making the priest stay at the temple.

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Jizo Hall

The temple is also known as the Temple of Flowers, attributed by the many flowers blooming in Zuisen-ji almost all-year-round. The plum blossoms here are especially famous, usually at its peak in mid-March. The autumn leaves here are the last to reach its peak in Kamakura, around mid-December.

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Photo taken in autumn 2017

Info

Admission fee: 200 yen

Official website

Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (last admission 16:30)

No closing days

Access

From Kamakura Station, the temple is a 40 minutes, 3.8km walk. Zuisenji is also the starting point or final stop of the Tenen hiking trail which starts or ends at Kencho-ji, reachable between 60-90 minutes.

If walking is too much, there are several buses that you can take from Kamakura Station which shorten this walking distance.

  • Bus no. 20 to Daitonomiya (大塔宮) (8 mins, 200 yen), 15 mins 1.1km walk to temple
  • Bus no. 23, 24 or 36 to Wakaremichi (岐れ道) (5 mins, 180 yen), 20 mins 1.5km walk to temple

Or you could also take a taxi like I did – 1,090 yen from Kamakura Station, although walking back is recommended. The autumn colors in late November / early December and hydrangea during the rainy season at the residential area towards the temple are feast for the eyes.

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Hydrangea while walking back

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Autumn 2017

 

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Author: Jennifer

Hi! I am Jennifer. I enjoy planning my own travels and love traveling in Japan - for the history, nature, temples, and the food! Read more for travel guides of places I have visited.

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