During my first month in Japan, a colleague of mine offered to take us to Kamakura, the Kyoto of the East. Kamakura is littered with all sorts of historical and cultural goodies, the most famous of which is the giant Buddha. While visiting, I did not see the big man himself, but did manage to visit the second-most popular Buddhist temple, Kencho-ji.
The temple itself was founded by a Zen master of the Sung dynasty, Rankei Doryu. Construction was completed in 1253 in the Kencho Era, which it takes its name from. Kencho-ji is also the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. The main building on the temple grounds, Butsuden, used to be a mausoleum, but now serves as a prayer hall for those visiting the temple. You can also see the beautiful Chinese-style gate, Karamon, towards the back of the main grounds. The monastery here is still active and in use, so there are parts blocked off to the public so the monks there can train in peace.
The temple also contains a pretty smooth but exhausting hike to the top of the mountain, where a small gift shop and overlook appear. Near the shop, you can see tons of statues perched above the fountain where you wash your hands before entering. You usually wash your hands one at a time and then rinse out your mouth as a means of purifying yourself before entering the temple. Past the fountain and the guardians are some truly stunning views of the city and ocean below. It’s also insanely windy up there. While taking pictures, the wind was so strong that I felt it pushing my phone out of my hands a few times! Best to hold onto your valuables at the top!
If you’re in Kamakura, I’d give Kenocho-ji a visit! Make sure you have comfortable shoes if you hike the mountain: the way up is paved to a certain point but it is very steep and narrow.