Tōkei-ji (東慶寺), officially known as Shōkozan Tōkei-ji (松岡山東慶寺), is a temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, located in Kita-Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture. It used to be part of a system of nunneries called the Kamakura Amagozan (鎌倉尼五山) and is the sole remaining temple of this former network. Tōkei-ji is famous for its historical role as a sanctuary for women who sought to divorce their husbands.


The temple was founded in 1285 by Lady Horiuchi (1252-1306), the wife of Hōjō Tokimune (北条時宗, 1251–1284), the eighth regent of the Kamakura shogunate. Lady Horiuchi, who would later be known under her Dharma name Kakusan-ni, hailed from an influential family, the Adachi, allies of the Hōjō who were almost wiped out when Adachi Yasumori was accused of usurping power from Hōjō Sadatoki (北条貞時, 1271-1311), the ninth regent and the son of Tokimune and Lady Horiuchi. Following the custom observed by widows of ruling families at that time, Kakusan-ni ("ni" is a suffix for nuns) used her family's wealth and her son's power to establish a temple to pray for her husband's repose, who had passed away at the young age of 34, and to provide a refuge to battered women.


Kakusan-ni and Sadatoki petitioned the emperor to grant them the right to set up the temple as a refuge for women who were victims of clan warfare or suffered under abusive husbands. In the Kamakura Era , husbands only needed to write a formal divorce letter (三行半 mikudarihan), a "three-lines-and-a-half notice", to dissolve their wedding without giving any reasons.

Women, on the other hand, had no such right. All they could do was to escape to the convent. After living three years at Tōkei-ji, they were allowed to sever the marital relationship with their husbands. That period was later reduced to just two years. The temple was therefore often called "Temple of Separation". Men were denied access, and the temple enjoyed the status of extraterritoriality.


Tōkei-ji attracted daughters of ruling families to enrol in the nunnery: the fifth abbess, Yodo-ni, was the daughter of Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339) and the older sister of Prince Morinaga (1308-1335). The prince was put to death in the conflict between the emperor and Ashikaga Tadauji and was later enshrined at Kamakura-gū, a shrine built at the location of the cave where he was held captive. Yodo-ni took Buddhist vows to console her brother's soul and came to the temple from Kyōto to hold religious services for her ill-starred brother. Hence, Tōkei-ji was often called "Kamakura Palace" or "Matsugaoka Palace", according to the name of the local area.


The twentieth abbess was Naahime, known under her Dharma name Tenshū Hotai, the daughter of Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi's son. She was the last survivor of the Toyotomi clan. Her stepmother Senhime had sent Naahime to the convent at the age of seven after Osaka Castle had fallen in 1615. Senhime, Ieyasu's granddaughter, had pleaded to spare Naahime's life after her eight-year-old brother had been ruthlessly beheaded. At the temple, Tenshū-ni was instructed by the Abbess Naizan. In 1616, Richard Cocks, the head of the British East India Company trading post in Hirado, reported that William Adams and Captain Sarris travelled through Kamakura when they were on their way to visit Ieyasu in Edo. Cocks was a witness of the events at Osaka Castle and knew that Naahime was safe at Tōkei-ji. His diary stated: "It is a sanctuary & no [one] may take her out."


In 1642, Katō Akinari, then the daimyō of Aizu, sent troops to the convent to take the women of the Hori clan who had sought refuge at the temple. Tenshū-ni refused to hand them over and threatened that she would rather kill herself than surrender the women. Akinari's men had to leave empty-handed, and Tokugawa Iemitsu later relieved him of his 430,000-koku domain (Akinari's adopted son Akitomo was later reinstated and appointed daimyō of Minakuchi Domain). Tenshū-ni's resolve had saved the lives of the Hori women. Subsequently, Tenshū-ni appealed to the shōgun to confirm the temple's status as a sanctuary and its customary right of divorce, a request graciously granted by Ieyasu.


In the Edo Period (1600-1867), thousands of women from all social classes sought shelter and divorce at Tōkei-ji. They lodged in one of the three inns that had been established around the temple. In 1873, the Meiji government divested Tōkei-ji of its right to concede divorces, and Courts of Justice took over divorce cases. After the Meiji Restoration, the temple not only lost its financial support but the government's anti-Buddhist policies contributed to the demise of the former nunnery. The temple had been a nunnery for over six hundred years, but in 1902 it became a branch temple under the supervision of Engaku-ji.


Monument for Ida Russell, the first female American student of Zen in Japan

The Taiheiden (太平殿, Main Hall) is in the Hogyo Zukuri-style, characteristic of the Zen-style architecture, while the Suigetsudō Hall (水月堂) constructed in 1959 contains a rare 34.5-centimetre tall Kannon statue, the Suigetsu Kannon, which is only on display during the Kamakura Festival and temporarily in the Treasure House of the temple. The Treasure House (松ガ岡宝蔵 Matsugaoka-hōzō) was completed in 1978 and contains various temple treasures, such as a wooden statue of Shō Kannon from the Kamakura Period and a Spanish hostia box from the Jesuits. The original Butsuden (Main Hall), an Important Cultural Property, had been bought by businessman Tomitaro Hara (原富太郎, 1868–1939) in 1907 and is now displayed at Sankei-en Garden in Yokohama. In the picturesque and peaceful cemetery behind the temple several famous personalities are buried, such as
  • Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (鈴木 大拙 貞太郎, 1870-1966), author and Zen master
  • Kitarō Nishida (西田幾多郎, 1870-1945), a famous Japanese philosopher
  • Reginald Horace Blyth (1898-1964), a British author specialising in Zen and haiku poetry












  • Baldessari, Francesco, Kamakura: A Historical Guide, 2016
  • Lee, Nicolette, Tōkeiji's Business: The Agency of Nuns in the Early Modern Period, thesis at the University of British Columbia, August 2013
  • Morrell, Sachiko Kaneko, Robert E. Morrell, Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan's Tokeiji Convent Since 1285, State University Press 2006
  • Mutsu, Iso, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Tuttle 2012


A 4-minute walk from Kita-Kamakura Station (JR Yokosuka Line, Shōnan–Shinjuku Line).
Address: 1367 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0062.
Admission: open March to October 08:30-17:00, November to February 08:30-16:00; adults 200 JPY, children 100 JPY.
Next article in the series 'Kamakura Travel Guide': Jochiji Temple
Previous article in the series 'Kamakura Travel Guide': Jomyoji Temple