Manpuku-ji (満福寺), officially known as Ryūgo-san Manpukuji (龍護山満福寺), is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon Daikakuji School (真言宗大覚寺派) located in Koshigoe, Kamakura. Rather small and nondescript, it owes its fame to Minamoto Yoshitsune who was quartered at the temple for nine days in the summer of 1195 when his half brother Yoritomo forbade him to enter the city of Kamakura.

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According to legend, Manpuku-ji was founded in 744. It is one of the many temples attributed to Gyōki (行基, 668-749), a monk of the Hossō sect who was born into a noble family of Korean descent. Following the death of his mother, he travelled across Japan with his disciples and devoted himself to philanthropic activities and the building of temples. In 745, Emperor Shōmu bestowed on him the title Daisōjō (大僧正, "Great Vicar"); posthumously, he was raised to Bosatsu (菩薩 "Bodhisattva") and is often referred to as Gyōki Bosatsu.

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While the temple itself is unremarkable, it is renowned as the place where Minamoto Yoshitsune (源義経, 1159-1189) lodged with his troops for several days, waiting for his half brother Yoritomo to allow him entry into Kamakura. Yoshitsune had two high-ranking Taira prisoners with him. Yoritomo who had been jealous of Yoshitsune's military success harboured a deep distrust of his brother, not least because of Kajiwara Kagetoki's (梶原景時, d. 1200) intrigues against Yoshitsune. Kagetoki had served under Yoshitsune and fallen out with him in an earlier campaign; in Kamakura, he continued to plot against Yoritomo's brother and stoked his suspicions. Despite his pleas and declarations of loyalty Yoritomo steadfastly refused to receive Yoshitsune.

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A statue of Minamoto Yoshitsune dictating his missive to Benkei, the famous warrior monk who served Yoshitsune.

In desperation, Yoshitsune composed one of the most famous epistles in Japanese history and literature, the Koshigoe Letter in which he described the hardships he had endured and the services he had rendered to his brother and family. While the authorship could never be verified, it is said that Yoritomo was moved to tears when he read the letter. Ultimately, the appeal was in vain. For the rest of his life, Yoshitsune was a fugitive. In 1189, the son of his friend and protector Fujiwara Hidehira betrayed him, and he and his family committed suicide in Ōshu in northern Japan.

There were rumours that Yoshitsune had escaped to Ezo (modern-day Hokkaido) or even made it to China where he became none other than Genghis Khan whose grandson Kublai Khan would attack Japan twice (in 1274 and 1281) and thereby contribute to the demise of the Kamakura shogunate.

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The attempts of the small temple at capitalising on the legend of Yoshitsune are not surprising. Its premises resemble more a museum than a veritable place of worship. The spring behind the building is said to be where Yoshitsune used to wash. Supposedly, the Koshigoe Letter itself can be seen on request, but its authenticity seems more than questionable.

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A carved statue of Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the Seven Lucky Gods.

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References:

  • Baldessari, Francesco, Kamakura: A Historical Guide, 2016
  • Cooper, Michael, Exploring Kamakura, Weatherhill 1979
  • Mutsu, Iso, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Tuttle 2012

Access: A 3-minute walk from Koshigoe Station on Enoden Line
Address: 2-4-8 Koshigoe, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0033; phone: 0467-32-5689, fax: 0467-32-5637.
Admission: 200 JPY (adults), 100 JPY for children and junior highschool students; open daily 09:00-17:00.
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