Kōmyō-ji (光明寺, "Temple of the Shining Light"), officially known as Tenshōzan Renge-in Kōmyō-ji (天照山蓮華院光明寺) or Jōdo-shū Daihonzan Kōmyō-ji (浄土宗大本山 光明寺), is a Buddhist temple of the Jōdo School located in Zaimokuza, a southeastern part of Kamakura. It is one of the five largest temples of in the city and the head temple of the Jōdo sect in the Kantō region. It is remarkable for two peculiarities: its close proximity to the sea and its architectural features that are more reminiscent of a Zen monastery than a Pure Land temple.


The temple was founded around 1240 by Hōjō Tsunetoki (北条経時, 1224-1246), the fourth regent of the Kamakura shogunate under the priest Ryōchū (良忠, 1199-1287). Ryōchū, also known as Nenna (然阿) and by his posthumous name Kishū Zenji (記主禅師), was born in Iwami Province (石見国, modern-day Shimane Prefecture), studied at the venerable Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei and was later ordained by Hōnen (法然, 1133-1212), the founder of the Pure Land school of Buddhism. In 1240, Ryōchū came to Kamakura to spread the Jōdo-shū teachings in eastern Japan. Tsunetoki showed great interest in his teachings and supported him financially. Ryōchū built a small temple in Sasukegayatsu, a valley in western Kamakura, close to Sasuke Inari Shrine, and named it Renge-ji (蓮華寺). Three years later, Tsunetoki renamed the temple Kōmyō-ji and moved it with all subtemples and auxiliary buildings to its current location. Under Ryōchū, the Jōdo sect gained a lot of popularity in Kanto. When he died at the age of 89, Emperor Fushimi (伏見天皇, 1265-1317) granted him the posthumous title Kishū Zenji.

The Hōjō regents continued to extend their patronage to Kōmyō-ji: Hōjō Tokiyori (北条時頼, 1227-1263), the fifth regent, and his successors expanded the structure and created a shichidō garan (七堂伽藍), a "seven-building temple compound". Later, the temple was patronized by Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado (後土御門天皇, 1442-1500) who was so impressed by the teachings of its abbot Kan'yo Yūsō (観誉祐崇) that he elevated Kōmyō-ji to the rank of chokuganji (勅願寺), on par with other temples built by imperial decree, such as the Todai-ji in Nara. During the Muromachi Period, the temple continued to thrive under the protection of the Ashikaga shōgun.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, 1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868), established the Kantō Jūhachi Danrin (関東十八檀林), a group of eighteen Jōdo temples in Kantō dedicated to the study of Buddhist doctrine, and made Kōmyō-ji the first among the eighteen. With land donated by Ieyasu and the Naitō (内藤) clan who hailed from Hyuga Province (日向, modern-day Miyazaki Prefecture) and who had chosen the temple to be their family gravesite, Kōmyō-ji prospered throughout the Edo period.


The entire complex of Kōmyō-ji is vast and consists of the outer gate (総門 Sōmon), the inner gate (山門 Sanmon), the Main Hall (本堂 Hon-dō), and, when facing the Main Hall, a bell tower to the right and the Founder's Hall (開山堂 Kaisan-dō) to the left, as well as the Guest Hall (客殿 Kyakuden), the living quarters (庫裏 Kuri), the lodgings (本坊 Hombō) and the Study Hall (書院 Shōin). On the left side of the Main Hall lies a Jōdo-style lotus pond named Kishuteien (記主庭園), on the right is Sanzon Goso Raigo no Niwa (三尊五祖来迎の庭), a dry landscape garden (枯山水 karesansui).

Sōmon Gate (総門) is the outer gate of Kōmyō-ji. Outer gates are also called gemon (外門). The gate carries a plaque with the letters 勅願所 (chokuganshō), referring to a temple built by imperial decree. To the left and the right of the outer gate are two subtemples, Senju-in (千手院) and Renjō-in (蓮乗院). Sōmon was originally constructed in 1495 and restored in the 1620s.

Sanmon Gate (山門), one of the biggest two-storied gates (二重門 Niju-mon) in Kantō, was constructed in 1553 at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It was renovated in 1847 and later relocated to Kōmyō-ji when the Meiji government forcefully segregated Buddhism and Shintoism (shinbutsu bunri). Sanmon was last restored in 1998.

The upper part of the gate is built in the Zen-style (禅宗様) and the lower part in the Wayō style (和様, Japanese style). The panel on the gate bears the inscription 天照山 (Tenshozan), said to have been written by Emperor Go-Hanazono (後花園, 1419-1470), with the year name 永享八年 (corresponding to 1436) on its back. The second floor holds sanzon (trinity) statues of Shaka Nyorai (釈迦如来), Monju Bosatsu (文殊菩薩) to its left and Fugen Bosatsu (普賢菩薩) to its right, both attendants of Shaka Nyorai, Shitenno (四天王), and Juroku Rakan (十六羅漢).

The Main Hall was reconstructed in 1698 and is an Important Cultural Property. The main objects is a statue of Amida Nyorai (阿弥陀如来) enthroned in the centre and flanked by statues of Kannon Bosatsu to its left and Seishi Bosatsu to its right. The Amida Nyorai statue dates back to the early Kamakura Period as it has inscription affixed reading that it was repaired in 1363. Also enshrined in the left-hand recess are statues of Hōnen, the founder of Jōdo Sect, and of Nyoirin Kannon created in the late Kamakura Period. In the right-hand recess, two other statues are enshrined: the Priest Zendō (善導, chin.: Shandao, 613-681), an influential teacher of Pure Land Buddhism in China under the Tang Dynasty, and a colourful effigy of Benzaiten, the Goddess of Fortune.

The bell tower

The Kishu Garden (記主庭園 Kishi-teien) is located at the northwest side of the Main Hall. Its name refers to the posthumous name of the founding priest, Kishū Zenji (記主禅師). It was designed by the famous architect and garden designer Kobori Enshū (小堀 遠州, 1579-1647). Enshū was also a reputed tea master who instructed Tokugawa Iemitsu in the tea ceremony. The pond is held in in typical Jōdo-style, representing the Pure Land in the West where Amida Buddha resides.

The rock garden, Karensansui (枯山水), displays landscapes that consist of stone arrangements, white sand, and shrubs to symbolize a sea, ponds or streams. The stones represent three Buddhist images and five great priests of the Jōdo sect.

The Founder's Hall (開山堂 Kaisan-dō) was constructed in 2002 to commemorate the 800th birthday of Ryōchū. It houses a statue of the founding priest dating back to the Muromachi Period and other statues of abbots and priests.

The interior of the Hon-dō.

Statues of Priest Hōnen, the founder of Jōdo Sect, and of Nyoirin Kannon (如意輪観音) created in the late Kamakura Period.

A statue of Priest Zendō (善導, chin.: Shandao, 613-681), an influential teacher of Pure Land Buddhism in China under the Tang Dynasty.

A statue of Benzaiten (弁才天or 弁財, Skt.: Sarasvatī), the Goddess of Fortune.

A stone statue of Zendō and a stone monument inscribed with the characters 善導塚 (Zendozuka) in front of Kaisan-dō Hall. Between the two characters 導 (do) and 塚 (zuka or tsuka) is a square opening that holds a small statue of Zendō.

The graves of Hōjō Tsunetoki and the chief abbots. The tomb in the centre is the one of Kishū Zenji, the founding priest of Kōmyō-ji.

The gravesite of the Naitō family.

Between 12 and 15 October, Kōmyō-ji holds a religious ceremony called Ojuya (お十夜, "Ten Nights") or Jūya Hōyō (十夜法要, "Ten Night Memorial Service") that started according to one account by decree of Emperor Go-Hanazono in the middle of the 15th century when Taira no Sadakuni (平貞国) confined himself in its Shinnyo-dō Hall (真如堂) and held a Buddhist service in which he chanted sutras for ten consecutive days or, by another account, in 1495 by decree of Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado who invited the ninth abbot Yushu Shōnin to Kyōto and granted him permission to hold a rite lasting for ten days and ten nights. Nowadays, the ojuya service is only held for three nights, a festival-like event that draws thousands of visitors every year.

Kōmyō-ji is also famous for its pet cemetery (動物霊堂, Dōbutsu Reidō) where animals are cremated and laid to rest every month and biannual memorial services are held for the souls of the deceased pets.

More pictures in the Kōmyō-ji album.



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


A 25-minute walk from JR Kamakura Station (JR Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line), about 1,800 metres south of the station.
Address: 6-17-19 Zaimokusa, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0013; phone: 0467-22-0603.
Admission: free; open daily 07:00-16:00 (07:00-17:00 in summer).


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