Kaizō-ji (海蔵寺), officially known as Senkokusan Kaizō-ji (扇谷山海蔵寺), is a Buddhist temple that belongs to the Kenchō-ji school of the Rinzai Zen sect (臨済宗). It is located in the Ogigayatsu district of Kamakura.


In 1253, Prince Munetaka (宗尊親王, 1242-74), the sixth shōgun of the Kamakura shogunate, ordered Fujiwara no Nakayoshi (藤原仲能) to erect a temple at the location of the present-day Kaizō-ji. That original temple belonged to the Shingon sect but went up in flames when the forces of Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞, 1301-1338) marched on Kamakura in 1333.

In 1394, under the Ashikaga shogunate when the capital had moved back to Kyōto, the second Kamakura kubō (governor-general), Ashikaga Ujimitsu (足利氏満, 1359-98) ordered Uesugi Ujisada (上杉氏定), the vice-governor, to reconstruct the temple. Gennō Zenji (源翁禅師, 1329-1400), also known as Shinshō Kugai (心昭空外), was invited to serve as its founding priest.


Gennō Zenji

Kugai was not only a wise and pious priest, but history also ascribes to him the invention of a tool that is used by Japanese carpenters to this day. A gennō (玄翁) is a hammer with (usually) two flat faces that are often, but not always, round or octagonal and used in wood processing.

Kugai is also linked to the legend of Sesshōseki (殺生石), the "Killing Stone" that took place in the days of Emperor Toba (鳥羽天皇, 1103-1156). A mysterious illness had plagued the emperor, and his court physicians were unable to find the cause of his sickness. A divine was summoned who blamed the symptoms on the sorcery of Tamamo-no-Mae, one of the emperor's favourite courtesans.

When her true identity was revealed, Tamamo-no-Mae turned into a white fox and escaped from the palace. The emperor sent his best warriors, Kazusa-no-suke (上総介) and Miura-no-suke (三浦介), in pursuit. They tracked the fox spirit down in the eastern province of Shimotsuke, in what is nowadays known as the Nasu Plains in Tochigi Prefecture. The moment they went to kill it, the spirit turned into a stone. It is said that whoever touched the stone would die immediately.


Years later, Emperor Go-Fukakusa (後深草天皇, 1243-1304) asked Gennō to exorcise the evil spirit. When the priest arrived at the stone, he found piles of bleached skeletons and bones surrounding it. After a Buddhist memorial service that included invocations, recitals from sacred books and offerings of pure water, meadow flowers and incense, he struck the stone with his staff. It crumbled into a thousand pieces; the spell was broken, and the spirit was finally at peace.

From the days of Gennō Kaizō-ji was under the patronage of the Ogigayatsu Uesugi who held the office of Kantō kanrei until it was abolished in 1552. In 1577, the temple came under the control of Kencho-ji.


Ryūgoden (龍護殿)




The main hall of Kaizō-ji was rebuilt in 1925 after it had been destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. Some wood carvings from the early 19th century have been preserved. The main hall enshrines a statue of Shaka Nyorai (Skt.: Sakyamuni) and an Eleven-Headed Kannon Bosatsu (Skt.: Ekadasamukha, 十一面神呪心經 Jūichimen-jinshushin-gyō). It also houses a seated image of Gennō.

Yakushi-dō (薬師堂)




To the left of the entrance lies Yakushidō Hall, transferred here from Jōchi-ji Temple (浄智寺) in 1776. It houses a wooden statue of Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来), the Buddha of Healing. Sitting on a lotus flower pedestal, surrounded by his two attendants, Nikkō Bosatsu (日光菩薩) and Gakkō Bosatsu (月光菩薩), they form the Yakushi Trinity (薬師三尊 Yakushi sanzon).

Next to them are the Twelve Guardian Generals (十二神将 Jūnishinshō), standing in columns of six on either side of the Buddha. Other statues include Garanshin (伽藍神), a temple guardian, Daruma Daishi (達磨大師), and Kobo Daishi (弘法大師).

The wooden image of Yakushi Nyorai is also known as Naki Yakushi (啼薬師, "Weeping Yakushi") or Komori Yakushi (児護薬師, "Child-guarding Yakushi"). According to legend, Kugai heard the weeping of a child from behind the temple every night. He located the source of the sobbing and found out that it was coming from beneath a gravestone. The crying abated after he had chanted a sutra to soothe the spirit. When he opened the grave the next day, he found the head of Yakushi Nyorai. He carved a new statue of Yakushi that was large enough to hold the unearthed head in its body. The wooden image created by Kugai can still be seen today.

Other buildings


Kuri (the priests' living quarters)



The belfry


The Zen garden and its pond are not open to the general public.


Hibiscus syriacus (ムクゲ or ハチス)


Kikyō (桔梗, Platycodon grandiflorus)

Yagura and the Sixteen Wells

Behind Ryūgoden is a cliff with four yagura (やぐら), artificial caves used as graves or cenotaphs that are so typical of Kamakura. The third yagura has a torii gate and holds a stone image of the Shintō deity Ugajin (宇賀神) or Ugafukujin (宇賀福神) with a snake coiled around its body and depicted either as an old man or a woman. In Tendai Buddhism, Ugajin was fused with the Buddhist goddess Benzaiten (弁才天, 弁財天) who originated from the Hindu goddess Saraswati. Ugajin is a kami of fertility and harvest.

A narrow footpath that starts just south of the Ryūgoden leads through a residential area and to a cliff with another yagura. The cave holds the Juroku-no-i (十六ノ井), literally the "Sixteen Wells" and is said to have been dug by the celebrated priest Kūkai (空海, 774-835), the founder of the esoteric Shingon sect. Legend has it that the cave was buried after several natural disasters and later excavated by Kugai. There are sixteen pools in the cave, four by four, each about 70 centimetres in diameter and about 40 centimetres deep. They are all filled with clear water and said to represent a Bosatsu each. In a niche of the rear wall are a stone statue of Kannon Bosatsu (観音菩薩), the Goddess of Mercy, and a statue of Kūkai in front of it. On the left side used to be a stone tablet carved with an image of Amida Sanzon Raigō (阿弥陀来迎), a triad that consists of Amida Buddha sitting in the centre and surrounded by two chief attendants (脇侍 kyōji) as they descend to welcome a believer on his deathbed. Nowadays, the tablet is exhibited in the Kamakura Museum of National Treasures.



Sokonuke-no-i (底脱ノ井), the "Bottomless Well" is one of the Ten Celebrated Wells of Kamakura and not bottomless at all. It is located to the right of the entrance to the temple. Legend has it that one day a lady of the Uesugi family who served as a nun at the temple tried to draw water at the well. Suddenly the bottom of her bucket broke off and soaked her to her bones. This incident seems to have triggered spiritual enlightenment in her and prompted her to write a tanka about her experience. In any case, the "Bottomless Well" seems to be the only legendary well in Kamakura that has not run dry yet.

Iwafune Jizō


Iwafune Jizō does not stand on the temple ground but is part of Kaizō-ji. It is located a few hundred metres south of the temple, at a road junction close to the JR train tracks. The road leads up to Kamegayatsu Slope on one side and the temple on the other. The small hall holds a 90-centimetre tall wooden image of Jizō, flanked by two standing images of child-like attendants and is said to be the guardian deity of Ohime (大姫, d.1197), the beloved daughter of Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-99).

Ohime's tragedy goes back to the days when the Minamoto led by Yoritomo waged war against their arch-enemies, the Taira. Yoritomo was supported by his cousin Yoshinaka, who had his stronghold in Kiso (present-day Nagano Prefecture) and was also known as Kiso Yoshinaka (木曾義仲, 1154-1184). Despite Yoshinaka's victory over the Taira forces in Kyōto in 1180, conflicts soon began to arise between the two cousins. Yoshinaka sent his 11-year old son Yoshitaka as a hostage to Kamakura to prove his loyalty. Yoshitaka and Ohime fell in love and got engaged.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Yoritomo and Yoshinaka deteriorated further and resulted in open warfare. Yoritomo ordered his brothers Yoshitsune and Noriyori to kill his cousin. He was defeated in Ōmi (modern-day Shiga Prefecture) in 1184. Yoritomo's wife, Masako, tried to save the life of Yoshitaka and helped him to escape to Kiso. However, he was caught and executed. Ohime never forgave her father's cruelty. She fell sick with grief and never recovered. Despite all the prayers and chants for her recovery, she passed away in 1197 at the age of 20.

More photos in the Kaizō-ji album.



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


A 1.5-kilometre walk from Kamakura Station (JR Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line).
Address: 4-chōme-18-8 Ōgigayatsu, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0011; phone: 0467-22-3175.
Admission: open daily 09:30-16:00; 100 JPY (honour system).
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