Kannon-sama Pilgrimage: Jochi-ji and Tokei-ji

At the end of the Daibutsu-Kuzuharaoka hiking trail, in Kita-Kamakura, sits Jochi-ji, temple number 31 of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kannon Pilgrimage. Not far down the road is Tokei-ji, temple number 32.

In Japan, Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimages are fairly common. According to Kamakura City’s webpage on its Kannon-sama pilgrimage, the first Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage — the Saigoku Sanju-San Sho — was established in the 12th century in the Kansai area, followed by the Bando Sanju-San Sho pilgrimage in the Kanto area in the 13th century. (NB – other sources suggest these pilgrimage routes were established many centuries earlier.) From there, Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimages took off, spreading around the country.

Why 33? Religious texts say that there are 33 manifestations of Kannon, so apparently, that’s why there are usually (but not always!) 33 stops on Japan’s Kannon pilgrimages.

The Kamakura pilgrimage doesn’t include all 33 manifestations, however — it’s just 33 important temples dedicated to Kannon-sama. I’m working my way around Kamakura, collecting stamps for the pilgrimage. This video is the second in what I hope will be a series to introduce the pilgrimage — as well as the city in general — to those outside of Kamakura.

か is for Kamakura 33 Kannon Pilgrimage

 

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If you’re looking to add a little zest to your temple- and shrine-hopping, including a pilgrimage in your itinerary is a good way to go. Called meguri in Japanese, Japan’s got plenty. Some are short, some long; some consist of various single-temple objects of worship, while others will take you across cities or regions; some are just temples, while others are a mishmash of temples and shrines: basically, there are all sorts of meguri, and you’re bound to find a few as you move from place to place.

Doing  a pilgrimage is also a great way to increase your motivation if you already collect stamps in a goshuincho (honourable stamp book), but are a little blah on filling your book up.

Goshuincho (or nokyocho, which are similar) can be purchased at medium- to large-sized temples and shrines, and at some stationery stores. Just be careful if you go the stationery-store way — I read that there have been cases where these books have not been accepted by temple or shrine staff.

There’s no need to be a devout Buddhist or Shintoist to hop on the meguri-train — anyone and everyone is welcome to purchase a goshuincho, and collect the goshuin (stamps). If you want to really look the part, you can even buy a special hakue — white pilgrim’s coat — to wear, though I’d only recommend that for the more devout pilgrim. Normal clothes, however, are perfectly acceptable on your quest. (Within reason — these are religious sites, after all.)

Kamakura is home to several pilgrimage routes, like the popular (and quick to finish) Seven Gods of Fortune pilgrimage, the Twenty-Four Jizo pilgrimage, and today’s focus, the Thirty-Three Kannon Reijo pilgrimage.

In Japan, Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimages are fairly common. According to Kamakura City’s webpage on its Kannon-sama pilgrimage, the first Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage — the Saigoku Sanju-San Sho — was established in the 12th century in the Kansai area, followed by the Bando Sanju-San Sho pilgrimage in the Kanto area in the 13th century. (NB – other sources suggest these pilgrimage routes were established many centuries earlier.) From there, Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimages took off, spreading around the country.

Why 33? Religious texts say that there are 33 manifestations of Kannon, so apparently, that’s why there are usually (but not always!) 33 stops on Japan’s Kannon pilgrimages. The Kamakura pilgrimage doesn’t include all 33 manifestations, however — it’s just 33 important temples dedicated to Kannon-sama.

I’ve only just started this pilgrimage, and I’ll update this post as I make my way around the city.

For a complete list of the 33 temples, and their number on the pilgrimage, see the map below. Temples don’t need to be visited in order, but do try to make Sugimoto Dera your first stop for an extra little “first stop” stamp.

 

 

 

 

 

す is for Sugimoto Dera

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Dating to 734 CE, Sugimoto Dera is considered Kamakura’s oldest temple — and it looks the part. The stairway going from the niomon to the hondo is uneven and moss-covered, and the grounds have an earthy, ancient feel to them.

The primary object of worship at Sugimoto Dera is Kannon-sama. The temple is home to three large statues of the Eleven-Faced (or Eleven-Headed) Kannon, which, legend has it, have escaped a fiery destruction on two occasions — once by their own power. As they sought refuge beneath a grove of cedar trees,  the temple came to be known as Sugimoto Dera — sugi meaning cedar.

Unusually for temples, it’s possible to enter the hondo and have a close-up look at many of the temple’s treasures. Hats and shoes must be removed, and photography is not allowed, but even if you have laced shoes, it’s worth taking them off to have a look around.

In a corner of the shrine grounds, next to red-bibbed Jizo-sama, visitors will find a collection of stone gorinto, or five-tiered stupas. These are to memorialize samurai who died in a battle between imperial forces and what was left of the Hojo clan — regents of the Kamakura Shogunate, which fell in 1333 — in 1337. Behind the temple was a fortress, from which the battle spread onto temple grounds. Over 300 samurai were killed in the battle.

The temple is the first stop on two separate Kannon pilgrimages, the Bando Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage and the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage. As a result, a number of pilgrim items are on sale in the hondo, including the white hakue coat that pilgrims often wear. More evidence of pilgrims is visible in the form of votive slips pasted like stickers all over the niomon and hondo. These are senjafuda, and they bear the names of pilgrims, as well as their place of origin and other information, as a record of their visit.

け is for Kencho-ji

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Temples in Kamakura always seem small and compact to me. Even if the grounds are large, there are hillsides and towering trees to make them seem not so. Not that I’m complaining, of course — I love Kamakura’s earthy little temples.

Kencho-ji, however, about 1km from Kita-Kamakura Station and 1.5km from Kamakura Station, is anything but small and compact. It’s open and sprawling — the largest in Kamakura, in fact. Its wide sando and grounds are airy and open, and it’s easy to see why it’s the first of Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples.

Founded in the mid-13th century, Kencho-ji is not a terribly old temple (for comparison, Kamakura’s oldest, Sugimoto Dera, was founded in 734 CE), though it does sit on the site of an older temple, Shinpei-ji. In ancient times, the valley in which Shinpei-ji (and now Kencho-ji) sits was known as Jigokugayatsu (or Jigokudani, depending on the source) — the Valley of Hell.*

With a name like that, it’s not terribly surprising that the valley was known for something a bit sinister. The beautiful cherry tree-filled grounds upon which you walk were once execution grounds.

To help the souls of the unfortunate, Shinpei-ji had as its primary object of worship the bodhisattva known in Japan as Jizo-sama. Jizo-sama protects those in danger and those who are lost, as well as those who fall down to hell. Nowadays, though, he’s perhaps best known as patron saint of travellers; expectant mothers; children; and babies, including those who die before or during birth. (Hasedera, in the Hase region of Kamakura, has an area dedicated to fetuses, babies and children, and the area is full of Jizo-sama.)

Kencho-ji continues the tradition of having Jizo-sama as its primary object of worship, and a large statue of Jizo-sama sits in the butsuden. In Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu writes that Jizo-sama is

enthroned upon a mighty lotus; it is carved in wood, lacquered, and originally gilded, but the latter has almost entirely disappeared leaving the dark lacquer, which invests the great figure with a somber and forbidding appearance. (p. 110)

Jizo-sama sits under an impressive ceiling, so make sure to look up when you’re there.

Behind the butsuden is the hatto, where you’ll find Senju Kannon, or One-Thousand-Armed Kannon. The ceiling above Kannon-sama is also pretty amazing.

Beyond the hatto is the hojo, where zazen practice takes place. (A glowing review of a zazen session — yes, there are special sessions in English — can be found here.) Kencho-ji is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, so anyone with an interest in zazen should definitely try to fit in a session. Behind the hall is a garden — a National Scenic Spot, and benches upon which to relax and enjoy the view.

The road to the left of the hojo leads towards Hansobo Shrine and Shojoken Observation Deck, located at the top of the hills behind Kencho-ji. The walk up involves a lot of stairs, but the view will distract you from your burning quadriceps: after the first set of steps, the remaining hill is studded with tengu, a supernatural creature often depicted with a very long nose. Most of the tengu at Kencho-ji, though, are a bit different — they’re beaked. These raven or crow tengu (Jisho.org calls them “crow-billed goblins”) are an older tengu, more animal than the more common red-faced, long-nosed tengu. They stand guard on the hill, wings on backs, weapons (kendo shinai swords?) in hands. (For more info on tengu, check out Tofugu.com‘s post on the demon/spirits.)

At the top of the hill is Shojoken Observation Deck, where on a clear day, Mt. Fuji is visible. If you hope to see the mountain, it’s best to visit in late fall or winter, as once the temperature rises in spring, Mt. Fuji disappears into a haze that lasts until late fall, bar a few clear early mornings.

The Ten-en hiking course runs past Kencho-ji, with a path leading to it to the right of Hansobo Shrine. It’s a fantastic course — about two or three hours, not too challenging but also not too easy, and runs to Kakuon-ji (shorter hike) or Zuisen-ji (longer hike), both much smaller but still fantastic temples.

*You’ll also find Jigokugayatsu/Jigokudani translated as Hell’s Valley and Hell’s Hollow.

お is for Ofuna Kannon

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We’re finally leaving え, though I’m guessing we’ll be back again eventually. So many え…

But onto お we go.

Ofuna is a funny city, half of it being in Yokohama-shi and half being in Kamakura-shi. Luckily for us and our kana series, the Ofuna Kannon is on the Kamakura side.

Kannon-sama is the goddess of mercy and lord of compassion (depending on whether s/he is being depicted as a female deity or male deity), and she comes in many forms, like the 11-headed Kannon, and horse-headed Kannon. The Kannon in Ofuna is a Byakushozon Kannon, or white-robed Kannon.

The Ofuna Kannon is a newer monument — construction started in 1929. Unfortunately, the lead-up to the war meant that construction was put on pause in 1934. After the war, construction recommenced, and the Ofuna Kannon was completed in 1960. The monument stands 25 metres tall and 19 metres wide, and you can even go inside, where there are several small alcoves containing various figurines, origami cranes, and drawings by children. There is also a small altar to Kannon-sama.

The grounds are home to a flame from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, housed in a stone lantern, as well as stones from ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The stones are in memory of those who died during the bombings.

On the 18th day of each month (except for May 18), the temple celebrates Kannon Day by offering a one-day Zen school. For more information, please see the website.

Festival: May 18 (観音五月大祭)  and September (Yume Kannon Asia Festival)