Kenchoji Temple is located in Kamakura district of Kanagawa Prefecture. It is situated on the path between Kamakura and Kita Kamakura. Kenchoji temple is most important of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura and is the oldest Zen training monastery in all of Japan.
This temple was constructed by order of the Emperor Gofukakusa during the reign of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-63). Work was completed in the fifth year of the Kencho Era (1253), from which the name of the temple (Kencho-ji) is taken.
Beautiful Kenchoji Temple Seal
The founder of Kenchoji was Rankei Doryu (Lan-hsi-Tan-lung), a Chinese Zen master of the Sung Dynasty. He left China in 1246 to teach Zen in Japan, spending several years in Kyushu and Kyoto before coming to Kamakura to establish Kenchoji. After his death the memorial title "Daikaku Zenji" (Teacher of great Realization) was conferred upon him by the Emperor Gouda. This was the first time in Japanese history that such a title was given to a priest of the Zen sect of Buddhism. Something of the nature of Rankei Doryu's teaching can be seen in the following quotation from his "recorded sayings".
"If you have lost your true self, all that will bring you nothing but annoyance and grief. If you discover your essence of mind, you can follow nothing but true path"
Hojo Tokiyori, the fifth Kamakura Shogunate was the principal patron of Kenchoji during it's early years. His support was both spiritual as well as financial: as a devoted follower of Rankei Doryu and his successor Gotten Funei, he practiced Zen for many years and approached the state of master himself. (Source: Temple brochure).
Here is a video of the beautiful and sprawling Kenchoji Temple:
The sprawling temple precincts of Kenchoji temple originally comprised seven main buildings and 49 sub temples, but most of these were destroyed in a series of fires during the 14th and 15th centuries. In the Tokugawa Era, however the Zen master Takuan (1573-1645) succeeded, with aid from the Shogunate, in restoring Kenchoji to much of its former splendor.
At present the Kenchoji temple complex contains about 10 sub temples and the six main buildings.