Eishō-ji (英勝寺), officially known as Tōkōzan Eishō-ji (東光山英勝寺), is a temple of the Pure Land School of Buddhism. It is located in the Ogigayatsu District of Kamakura and is the only remaining nunnery in the town.


The tiny side entrance to Eishō-ji that makes visitors bow on entering the temple grounds.

History


The temple was built on the grounds of the former residence of Ōta Dōkan (太田道灌, 1432-1486). Ōta Dōkan, an ordained Buddhist monk, was a famous warrior of the Muromachi Period and the builder of the original Edo Castle. The temple was founded by Eishō-in (英勝院, 1578-1642), the daughter of Ōta Yasusuke ( 太田康資, 1531-1581), a descendant of Dōkan, in 1636. Eishō-in, formerly named Okaji no Kata (お梶の方), was one of the many concubines of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, 1542-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Eishōin was favoured by Ieyasu because she had shown great courage when she followed him on horseback into the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Ieyasu called her Okatsu no Kata (お勝の方), roughly translated as "Lady Victory", as he believed he would be victorious with her on his side. She also accompanied Ieyasu in the Siege of Osaka (1614/15).


The main hall of Eishō-ji

In 1606, she followed the eleventh son of Ieyasu, Yorifusa (徳川頼房, 1603-1661), to Mito and assumed the role of his foster mother. Yorifusa was only three years old when he became the first daimyō of Mito (Hitachi domain), one of the three Tokugawa cadet branches. When Ieyasu passed away in 1616, Okaji decided to enter nunhood to pray for the repose of her former master and lover. In 1636, Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光, 1604-51). Ieyasu's grandson granted her the land where her descendant Ōta Dōkan had lived 150 years earlier when he served as a senior retainer of the shugodai ( 守護代, vice-governor) of Kamakura and the right to build a convent. Eishō-in invited Sarahime (小良姫), a daughter of Yorifusa, to serve as the founding nun of the new temple. Sarahime adopted the Buddhist name of Gyōkuho Sei-in (玉峯清因) and was the first of many Mito ladies to occupy the position of a head nun at Eishō-ji.


Sanmon Gate

Buildings

Main Hall


The main hall (仏殿 Butsuden) is an Important Cultural Property of Kanagawa Prefecture. In spite of its appearance, it is a single-storied structure. The lower roofs are called mokoshi (裳階), each of the three supporting struts ( 蟇股 kaerumata) on all four sides of the hall has animal carvings of the Chinese zodiac. The sliding windows on the front side (visitors usually approach from the rear) reveal the treasures inside the butsuden.


Butsuden (Main Hall)

In the centre of the altar are statues of the Amida trinity (阿弥陀三尊 Amida-sanzon): Amida (阿弥陀仏 Amidabutsu) flanked by Kan'non Bosatsu ( 観音, Skt.: Avalokiteśvara) to its left and Seishi Bosatsu (勢至, Skt.: Mahāsthāmaprāpta) to its right. The paintings on the ceiling depict colourful scenes from the Western Paradise (Skt.; Sukhāvatī, Japanese: 極楽 Gokuraku).



The images on the ceiling show a dragon in the centre bounded by celestial maidens, musical instruments and flowers, along with the kamon (家紋, family crests) of the Tokugawa (three hollyhock leaves) and the Ōta (a balloon flower) clans. The lower parts of the front doors are decorated with small cicadas made of metal, hinting at the brevity of life as well as the fact that, especially at a nunnery, things should be undertaken quietly.

Sanmon Gate


Sanmon Gate (山門), another Important Cultural Property of Kanagawa Prefecture, was constructed in 1643 but was destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. It was acquired by a banker from Yokohama by the name of Majima Otohiko (間島弟彦, 1871-1928) who restored it at his residence using mostly original material taken from the temple. In 2007, reconstruction at the temple was started, in 2011 Sanmon was formally reinaugurated, 88 years after its destruction.



Other buildings


Other notable buildings are the Karamon Gate (唐門) next to the Butsuden, the entrance to the Shidō Hall (祠堂), both of which are Important Cultural Properties. Shidō holds memorial tablets of Eishō-in and was ornamented with black lacquer and gilding. Quite sadly, the whole structure is covered by an unremarkable and rather decrepit building that is locked, allowing visitors a very limited view of its unique beauty.



The belfry (鐘楼) of Eishō-ji is located next to Somon Gate, the actual main entrance to the temple which is closed. The belfry has a very unusual style called hakamagoshi (袴腰), as the lower part of the bell tower is reminiscent of a hakama (袴), a formal dress of pleated trousers. The bell was cast in 1643. Next to an idyllic bamboo grove stand the nuns' quarters as well as a study and tea house which sometimes opens for visitors.


The picturesque bamboo orchard at Eishō-ji


The nuns' quarters


The graveyard of Eishō-ji with six cenotaphs for the head nuns

More pictures in the Eishō-ji album.

Link:


References:

  • Baldessari, Francesco, Kamakura: A Historical Guide, 2016
  • Mutsu, Iso, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Tuttle 2012

Access:

A 10-minute walk from Kamakura Station (JR Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line).
Address: 1-16-3 Ogigayatsu, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0011; phone: 0467-22-3534.
Admission: open daily 09:00-16:00; 200 JPY.


Map: