Tokyobling's Blog

Kenchoji Temple – Kamakura

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on July 2, 2010

Last week on a rainy Saturday I visited Kenchoji temple in Kamakura for the first time in five years. There’s been a lot of construction going on in the temple are since that and they opened up the temple park at the back which goes all the way up to the mountains (it was being remade when I was there last). It is famous as one of the five great zen temples in the world and certainly one of the oldest, being completed in 1253 the same year as Henry III’s Magna Carta in England. About 120 years ago a school was attached to the temple and it still functions as a junior high and high school for boys. When I was there the baseball team had running practice around the temple, giving for a rather unusual sight of stately monks with shaved heads walking in procession and calm while about 100 young boys also with shaved heads ran at full speed between the buildings, up the mountain and down again. Zen indeed!

Photographing temples is the most amazingly difficult thing you can do here in Japan, I almost never see photos of temples that make them justice, which is why I so seldom write about them here on Tokyobling. Most thing can be made to look better by a good photographer, but temples just seems to resist any attempt. It’s like they are too proud to pose. Of course, it’s the sizes, the constrained spaces around the buildings, the contrasts in lights and shadow, dark materials and bright skies, restricted areas and crowds of tourists that makes it so hard to get decent photos. But it almost feels mystical. After all these years in Japan I still haven’t got a single photo of a temple that I am proud of. These photos are no exception.

The main building, Hatto, of this temple is quite interesting because of it’s fierce statue of a starving buddha and because of the excellent dragon ceiling painting. Through the magic of photoshop I managed to get a shot to show you what the dragon would look like up close at a right angle even though you aren’t allowed inside the temple to get this kind of photo in a more natural manner.

This temple is rather famous abroad for being one of the few temples where foreigners can actually study zen. They offer classes and shorter education in English for visitors.

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  1. Julie said, on July 2, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Oooooh SO intricate! I ❤ the clouds swirling around the dragon, especially! I've been to Kamakura several times but don't remember this shrine. Can you tell me why the Buddha is emaciated unlike his usual pudgy self? 😥 (Maybe something about self-control?)


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