Enshrined deity: Tenjin (天神) is the deification of Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真, 845-903), a leading court scholar, poet, and political figure in the Heian period (794-1185/92)
Location: One and a half kilometers northeast of Kamakura Station. The closest bus stop is Tenjin-mae on the route between JR Kamakura Station and Daito no Miya Bus Stop.
History: The founding of this Tenjin Shrine dates back far earlier than the setting up of the Kamakura government by Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝). Legend says that one day in the 12th century the area was hit by a strong storm. Among the black clouds appeared a scroll bearing the portrait of Michizane. It fell from the sky onto a field where egoma (荏, a type of beefsteak plant) grew. The event was regarded as a manifestation of Michizane's desire for a shrine to be built there in his name. The shrine name Egara is derived from "egoma."
As the shrine was located northeast of the government offices in Okura (大蔵), this came to be regarded as the guardian shrine of the government The northeast direction was considered as an ominous one, so the shrine guarded the bakufu's kimon (鬼門), demon's gate, and kept evil spirits at bay. The shrine was so important that Yoritomo himself is known to have visited here.
Thereafter, other influential warriors came to pray for military victory, including the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉, 1593-1615). He was in the process of unifying the country and made an expedition into the Kanto region. Victory came in 1590 when he captured Odawara Castle, defended by the Go-Hojo (後北条). He then handed over the Go-Hojo domain in Kanto to Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, 1543-1616), who had been a major ally. Hideyoshi visited not only Egara Shrine but also Hachimangu Shrine and requested Ieyasu to reconstruct the shrines.
After Ieyasu established his own bakufu (幕府) in Edo, he and the successive Tokugawa shoguns continued to make contributions to both shrines in the form of donations and repair work. Until the end of the Edo period (1603-1867), Shinto and Buddhism coexisted within the Egara Shrine compound. But in the early Meiji period (1867-1912), all Buddhist structures were removed following a government order to separate Shintoism and Buddhism. Thus, only the main hall was retained. In the early Showa period (1926-89) it was restored into its present form.
There are many Tenjin shrines around Japan dedicated to Michizane. Egara Tenjin Shrine is counted among the three most famous Tenjin, the others being Dazaifu Temmangu (太宰府天満宮) in Kyushu, and Kitano Temmangu (北野天満宮) in Kyoto.
Grounds and structures: At the entrance, by the shrine gate, stand two old juniper trees. They attest to the coexistence of Shintoism and Buddhism in the olden days, because trees of this kind are usually found in the grounds of temples.
On a plateau stands the main hall beyond the Shimmon Gate (神門). The main hall consists of two structures: a haiden (拝殿, worship hall) in front and a honden (本殿, main hall) behind.
The shrine houses a number of treasures: a seated wooden Tenjin with an inscription of the era name 弘長元年 (corresponding to 1261); a standing wooden Tenjin, popularly called Ikari Tenjin (怒り天神, "Angry Tenjin"); and paintings and documents. Most of these treasures are now on loan to the Kamakura Kokuhokan (鎌倉国宝館) in the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
Some old plum trees create the Tenjin Shrine atmosphere, attesting to Michizane's fondness for these trees. When he was in exile, he composed a poem expressing his regret at parting from the cherished plum trees in his garden.
Each year on January 25, a memorial service called fude-kuyo is held within the grounds. The service is to express appreciation to writing brushes that have outlived their role and to pray for writing skill improvement.
In connection with this event, Shimizu Kon (清水崑, 1912-74), a cartoonist famous for his drawings of kappa (*), proposed the creation of a stone monument to express his gratitude to the paintbrushes he had used for many years to draw them. He further suggested that he draw a kappa figure on the face of the stone. Kawabata Yasunari (川端康成, 1889-1972), a Nobel laureate in literature, supported this undertaking and his words "かっぱ筆塚," kappa Fudezuka, are inscribed on the back of the stone. The monument was set in place in 1971 and lies to the left of the main hall.
(*) Kappa is an imaginary creature from folklore. It is depicted as a short and two-footed amphibious animal, with a pointed face, a dish-like depression on the top of its head, and shell-covered body. While kappa are usually cruel to humans, in cartoons they are depicted as cute, friendly, and attractive.
A later contribution to the monument was made by Yokoyama Ryuichi (横山隆一, 1909-2001), a widely-known cartoonist and man of culture. In 1989, he had a 3.2-meter-tall bronze monument built on raised ground behind the Kappa Fudezuka. It is in the form of a stylized writing brush, and cast on its surface in relief are 154 kappa figures created by many popular cartoonists.
Story: Sugawara no Michizane was so learned and capable that he was promoted to high position in the imperial court. This, however, presented a challenge to the monopolistic control of the Fujiwara (藤原) family. The Fujiwara lured Michizane into a difficult situation, by rumoring that he was plotting against the emperor. Michizane was defeated in the political battle, then demoted, and exiled to Kyushu. After his death, many misfortunes befell the court. They were thought to be the work of his resentful spirit. To placate it, shrines dedicated to Michizane were built in Kyoto and Dazaifu in Kyushu. Deified as Tenjin, Michizane soon came to be worshipped as the god of literature, calligraphy, and all other kinds of learning.
Today, countless students pray to Michizane for success in their entrance examinations and offer votive tablets called ema (絵馬). Layers of ema adorn the walls and pillars of the hall, evidence of the popularity of this shrine.
A tall ginkgo tree, the second oldest in Kamakura after the one at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, stands by the stairway and is said to have been here since the shrine's founding.
Enshrined deity: Prince Oto no Miya Morinaga (大塔宮護良, 1308-35), a.k.a. Moriyoshi.
Oto no Miya (大塔宮) is also called Daito no Miya, from another pronunciation of these characters.
Location: 1.7 kilometers northeast of Kamakura Station. The Daito no Miya Bus Stop, the last stop from Kamakura Station, stands at the entrance to the shrine grounds.
History: The Shrine, dedicated to Prince Morinaga, was built in 1869 by order of Emperor Meiji (明治天皇, 1852-1912). Emperor Meiji was very much moved when he learned of Prince Oto no Miya Morinaga's devotion to the imperial cause and of his tragic death in this neighborhood. This is the only shrine ever constructed by imperial order.
Prince Morinaga was the third son of Emperor Go-Daigo (後醍醐天皇). He supported his father and fought bravely when the emperor rose up in 1331 against the Kamakura government. Following his father's success in restoring their rule in 1333, Morinaga was appointed supreme military commander, but soon had a falling out with a powerful supporter, Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏). Takauji had Morinaga arrested and exiled to Kamakura. He was confined at Tokoji Temple (東光寺) near the place where the present Kamakuragu Shrine stands.
Meanwhile, Hojo Tokiyuki (北条時行, ?-1353), the second son of Hojo Takatoki (北条高時, 1303-33, the last ruler of the Kamakura bakufu), was waiting for a chance to regain his own rule after the Hojo clan was destroyed. In 1335, Tokiyuki took up arms and marched east to recapture Kamakura. At that time, Kamakura was in the hands of Ashikaga Tadayoshi (足利直義, 1306-52), younger brother of Takauji. Tadayoshi was defeated by Tokiyuki and forced to leave Kamakura. Amid all the confusion, Tadayoshi was unsure about what to do with the prince and, in the end, ordered a subordinate Fuchinobe Yoshihiro (淵辺義博) to kill him. The Prince was 28 at the time.
Grounds and structures: The main structures consist of three halls: a haiden, or oratory, a Noritoya (祝詞舎, a hall for ritual prayers offered to a Shinto deity), and the main hall.
To the right of the front hall is a newly created wooden statue of a warrior, Murakami Yoshiteru (村上義光, ?-1333). He fought with Prince Morinaga against the Hojo forces at Mt. Yoshino (吉野山) in Nara. When Morinaga was in danger, Yoshiteru, disguised as the prince Morinaga, fought in his place and met a violent death.
Behind the main hall is an area where some historic monuments are preserved. The first is a cave some four meters square, in which the prince is said to have been confined. Further inside the precincts are tall camphor trees and beside them is a marker called Gokobyo (御構廟), or Okamae-dokoro, which indicates where the prince's executioner, Fuchinobe, threw away the prince's head out of fear the eyes would continue to stare accusingly, even after death.
Nearby are several monuments: a tahoto-type stupa (多宝塔) dedicated to Nikken (日賢) by his disciple, Nichiei (日叡), son of the murdered prince; and a kencha-no-to stone monument (献茶の塔, "Tea-Offering Monument").
The Treasure Hall houses many items related to Prince Morinaga, including some of his belongings, a seated image of himself, his image on horseback, and a painting of the prince in confinement in the aforementioned cave. A large head part of a lion on display is a symbolic protector peculiar to the shrine. It is said to devour evil spirits and ward off calamity. Miniature ones are on sale as amulets, along with other talismans at the booth.
Events: The shrine's annual festival is held August 19 and 20. Takigi-Noh (薪能), open-air Noh, is performed by the light of firewood, on the nights of September 21 and 22.
Full name: Jubusen (鷲峰山) Kakuonji
Denomination: Shingon sect (真言宗)
Location: Two kilometers northeast of JR Kamakura Station, and 600 meters from Daitonomiya Bus Stop.
History: The temple started as a hall dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai. The hall was built in 1218 by Hojo Yoshitoki (北条義時, 1163-1224), the second regent, in memory of the Hojo family. This was called Okura Yakushido (大倉薬師堂). Later, in 1298, Hojo Sadatoki (北条貞時, 1271-1311), the ninth regent, constructed a full-scale temple in the hope that disasters such as the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281 would never be repeated. He appointed Shin'e (心彗) as the founding priest of the temple. From then, the temple became a place of worship for the Hojo family.
Even after the fall of the Kamakura government, the temple prospered. Shortly after the fall, the temple was designated chokuganji (勅願寺) by Emperor Go-Daigo, who offered prayers there. The Ashikaga family also designated this place as their own prayer temple.
Grounds and structures: (A tour of the grounds is conducted at appointed times by a temple guide. Taking pictures is prohibited.)
1. Yakushido Hall and Yakushi Nyorai （薬師堂と薬師如来）
The thatched Yakushido Hall, the main hall, is said to have been reconstructed at the end of the 17th century, while some of the materials are from the 14th century. The hall is designated an Important Cultural Property by Kanagawa Prefecture.
Handwriting by Ashikaga Takauji, done when he had the temple repaired in 1354, is still visible on one of the ceiling beams. It says, in essence, that under the emperor's rule the world would know peace and that it is the hope of Takauji that the people believe in Buddhism and be safe and sound all the days of their lives. The circular painting of a dragon amidst white clouds was depicted by Kano Michinobu (狩野典信) in the 18th century.
Three imposing Buddhist images occupy the center on the altar. Together, they are called Yakushi-sanzon (薬師三尊) and consist of Yakushi Nyorai, Nikko Bosatsu (日光菩薩, the Solar Bosatsu), and Gakko Bosatsu (月光菩薩, the Lunar Bosatsu), and are designated Important Cultural Properties. They are made of joined woodblock construction and the eyes are gyokugan, (玉眼), inlayed crystal orbs. Seated, with their robes draped over a Chinese-style pedestal, the sculptures constitute one of the largest images in Kamakura. The central image is Yakushi Nyorai, the Healing Buddha. The head portion was supposedly made in the late-Kamakura period (1185/92-1333) and the body in the Nambokucho Period (1336-92).
Standing on either side are wooden statues of the Twelve Guardian Generals (Juni Shinsho, 十二神将). They were believed to have been made in the 1400s, except for Inu Shinsho, (戌神将, the Dog Guardian General). The latter is said to belong to the earlier Kamakura period. The statue of Amida Nyorai is enshrined in the rear and to the right, and popularly called Saya Amida (鞘阿弥陀), literally, "Sheath Amida," because it contains a smaller image within the hollow of its body. The decorative style of the robe is rare because it was executed with painted clay, a technique called domon-soshoku (土紋装飾).
Legend: Temple legend says that Hojo Yoshitoki saw a dream that inspired him to construct a hall dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai. It occurred on the night after Yoshitoki had followed the third shogun, Minamoto no Sanetomo (源実朝) on a ceremonial visit to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. In the dream, Inu Shinsho, one of the Twelve Guardian Generals, appeared to him and said, "Though the ceremony this year was free of trouble, next year you must not attend." Yoshitoki interpreted the dream to be an oracle from Yakushi Nyorai, whom he fervently worshipped every day. He thereupon decided to build a hall dedicated to the deity. Upon completion of the hall, Yoshitoki held a grand service in honor of Yakushi Nyorai.
The next year, on January 27, Yoshitoki was reluctant to attend the ceremony at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu because of the previous year's dream, but nevertheless, he joined the procession. When he entered the gate, he caught a glimpse of a white dog similar to the one he had seen in his dream, and he suddenly felt ill. He asked another attendant to take over his role, and left the grounds. Hours later, Sanetomo, the third shogun, on his way back from the ceremony, was assassinated by Kugyo (公暁, 1200-19), the shogun's nephew and son of Minamoto no Yoriie (源頼家, 1182-1204), the second shogun. Kugyo blamed Sanetomo and Yoshitoki for the earlier death of his father, the former shogun Yoriie. Had Yoshitoki stayed in the procession, he too would have lost his life.
One month later, when Yoshitoki visited Yakushido Hall, a priest there told him that a strange thing had happened on the night of January 27. The Inu Shinsho (Dog Guardian) in the hall had gone missing from midnight to dawn. Yoshitoki immediately remembered the warning he had received in the dream. He was so deeply impressed that his faith in Yakushi was strengthened even more than ever.
2. Kuro Jizo (黒地蔵)
A statue of Jizo Bosatsu, popularly called Kuro Jizo, "Black Jizo," or Hitaki Jizo, "火たき地蔵, Fire-Burning Jizo (an Important Cultural Property), is housed in Kuro Jizodo Hall. The wooden plaque at the entrance reads "無尽蔵," (mujinzo, literally "inexhaustible store of merit").
The statue is 1.8 meters high. Legend has it that this Jizo was so merciful that he could not bear to simply stand by and watch criminals in Hell being tortured in boiling water. He, therefore, assumed the role of a guard and worked hard to control the fire in order to lessen the pain suffered by the condemned. This deed made him black with soot and smoke. Each time the statue was re-painted to restore its original beauty, it turned black again very soon. There is a belief that Kuro Jizo is highly responsive to prayers for, among other things, a safe birth, the blessings of many, healthy children, recovery from illness, protection from misfortune, and above all, happiness.
A large number of small Jizos stand on both sides of the black one and are called Sentai Jizo (千体地蔵, "One Thousand Jizos"). When local people borrow one of these "One Thousand Jizos" to hold a memorial service at home and their prayers are answered, they paint the statue anew or have a new one made, and then return it here. It is said that if you have deep faith in Kuro Jizo, you will be able to find among the thousand statues one that resembles a person you miss and desire to see again.
3. Aizendo Hall (愛染堂)
Aizendo Hall houses images of Aizen Myoo (愛染明王), Ashuku Nyorai (阿しゅく如来, designated an Important Cultural Property by Kanagawa Prefecture), and an iron Fudo Myoo (designated an Important Cultural Property by Kanagawa Prefecture) made by Gangyo (願行), a 13th century priest.
Gangyo was extremely virtuous and founded several temples: Dairakuji Temple, Richikoji Temple, and Chorakuji Temple (長楽寺). He also rebuilt Oyamadera Temple (大山寺）.
4. Munetate no I Well (棟立ノ井)
At the foot of the hill behind Yakushido Hall is one of the ten famous wells of old Kamakura, although it is not open to the public. Because the top is in the shape of a ridge, mune (棟) and has a tate (立, a framework), the well is popularly known as Munetate no I. It was supposedly dug by Kukai (空海, a.k.a. Kobo Daishi, 弘法大師, 774-835).
5. The former abode of the Utsumi (内海家)
This old thatched-roof house (designated an Important Cultural Property by Kanagawa Prefecture) was moved here to preserve it. It stood originally in Tebiro (Now a western part of the city) and was the home of a large farming family, the Utsumi (内海).
6. Kaisanto (開山塔, Stone Stupa for Founding Priests) and Daitoto (大燈塔)
In the graveyard behind Yakushido Hall are a number of gorinto-type tombstones of successive chief priests. Entry is prohibited. Among the tombs are those of Chikai Shin'e (智海心慧) and Daito Genchi (大燈源智), erected in 1332 and designated Important Cultural Properties. Both stand as high as four meters and are typical of the style that developed in the Kanto area.
Location: 1.8 kilometers northeast of JR Kamakura Station, and 200 meters from Daitonomiya Bus Stop.
History: The long-vanished temple Yofukuji was built by Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-99), and was among the largest in Kamakura. The grandeur of the temple has been brought to light by recent excavation work.
Yoritomo, during his military campaign to conquer the Fujiwara clan in Oshu (奥州) in the northern part of Japan, visited Chusonji (中尊寺) and Motsuji (毛越寺) Temples in 1189. He was so impressed with their imposing structure and splendor that upon his return to Kamakura, he ordered a great temple to be built. He wished to pray for the souls of those who had been killed during the expedition: his brother, Yoshitsune (義経, 1159-89), the conquered Fujiwara no Yasuhira (藤原泰衡, ?-1189) and the several thousands killed in battle there.
The temple modeled on the two-storied Nikaido Daichojuin (二階堂大長寿院) at Chusonji. The main hall was completed in 1192 and the Amidado (阿弥陀堂) and Yakushido (薬師堂) Halls were soon added. The grounds also contained several other structures: a tahoto-style pagoda (多宝塔), a bell tower, connecting corridors, living quarters for priests. In the garden, a large pond was created in front of the halls. Many trees - willow, cherry, and plum - were planted along the waterside. An island in the pond was reached by a bridge, and a fishing pavilion was added at the end of one of the corridors. Successive Kamakura shoguns and kubo (公方) often visited here. A fire in 1405, however, consumed the temple, after which it became inactive, then eventually abandoned toward the end of the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
The term, "nikai" (two-story), for the two-storied Main Hall gave birth to the name for this area.
Site: Recent excavation has revealed the outline of the temple. The main hall was 19 meters wide at the front and 18 meters deep. The following data suggest the great size of the temple. The foundation stones are approximately 1.65 meters in diameter and those for the pillars 60 centimeters.
The excavated foundation stones give an idea of the layout of the structures: the Main Hall, the corridors attached to it, flanking halls thought to have been Amidado and Yakushido Halls, and fishing pavilions. Excavated objects include pieces of roof tiles bearing the characters 永福寺 (Yofukuji), Buddhist ritual implements, metal fittings from which Buddhist ritual banners (幡, ban) were hung inside a hall, parts of objects with mother-of-pearl inlay, and a large porcelain jar for the storage of Buddhist sutras in the ground. The site is now designated a Historic Site by the government and is due to be restored as a historical park where visitors will be able to enjoy the atmosphere of the once-prestigious temple and learn about the Kamakura period.
Location: Two kilometers northeast of JR Kamakura Station, and 300 meters from Daitonomiya Bus Stop.
Site: At the top of the hill, beyond the open space, is the tomb of Prince Morinaga, alternatively called Moriyoshi. It is surrounded by stone hedges at the top of a steep 120-step stairway.
Story: The Taiheiki (太平記, Chronicle of the Great Peace), a story of the wars between the Northern and Southern Courts during the period 1318-1367, relates in detail the death of Prince Morinaga (a.k.a. Moriyoshi, 1308-35). (More details in the "Story" under Kamakuragu Shrine)
Fuchinobe Yoshihiro (淵野辺義博), the man who had killed Prince Morinaga, was due to take the head to his master, Ashikaga Tadayoshi, but he hesitated, feeling that the victim's eyes continued to glare as if he were still alive. So, instead, he threw the head into some bushes. Upon hearing of this, a priest from Richikoji Temple (理智光寺) retrieved the head and buried it here. This area falls within the jurisdiction of the Imperial Household Agency.
Location: On the mountain lane halfway between Kakuonji Temple (覚園寺) and Ten'en (天園).
Site: The hills surrounding Kakuonji Temple are called Jubusen (鷲峯山) and their name is used as the sango (山号) of Kakuonji Temple. A number of grottos here contain tombstones thought to be for monks and warriors from the Kamakura to the Muromachi periods. Already starting to weather and crumble, and damaged by vandalism, the tombstones are in dire need of preservation.
Location: On the mountain lane halfway between Hansobo (半僧坊) at Kenchoji Temple (建長寺) and Zuisenji Temple (瑞泉寺).
Site: There is a huge rock called Juo Iwa with three weathered Buddhist images depicted in relief: From left to right they are believed to be the Kannon, Jizo, and Emma (閻魔).
Story: The wind here sometimes blew hard and the sound of it whirling around the rock sounded as if Emma, one of the Kings of Hell, was reprimanding a criminal in a roaring voice. In the past, parents would warn badly behaving children: "Listen to the voice of Emma-san. He knows what you've done and is going to scold you."
Location: On the mountain lane halfway between Hansobo (半僧坊) at Kenchoji Temple (建長寺) and Zuisenji Temple (瑞泉寺).
Site: Along the way is a weather-beaten stone Jizo called Kaifuki Jizo.
Legend: The origin of the name goes back to 1333 when Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞, 1301-38) attacked Kamakura as part of Emperor Go-Daigo's main force and destroyed the Kamakura bakufu. Hojo Takatoki, the de facto head of the Kamakura bakufu, committed suicide along with many followers. One retainer survived and escaped with Takatoki's head. Desperate to avoid the dishonor of surrendering his master's head, he cast about for a place to conceal it, whereupon a Jizo appeared and guided him to a valley located between Henkai Ichirantei and Ten'en. The retainer was then able to bury the head safely in the place indicated by the Jizo. Later, the man enshrined a Jizo statue on the ridge of the hill above the valley to express his gratitude. The story is typical of those told by Jizo believers.
Location: A little more than one kilometer northeast of JR Kamakura Station.
Site: A stone marker at the corner of a small street close to Wakaremichi Bus Stop identifies the site of Sekitoriba Checkpoint.
History: In the 16th century, Hojo Ujiyasu (北条氏康, 1515-71), the Lord of Odawara Castle (小田原城, in the western part of Kanagawa Prefecture) built a barrier, or checkpoint, around here. Nearby Egara Tenjin Shrine was in need of funds for its structural maintenance. He imposed a toll on merchants who passed by and worshippers who visited Egara Tenjin on horseback. But others such as priests and laymen who only passed through and local people were exempt, say the records at Egaratenjin Shrine.
Location: A little over one kilometer northeast of JR Kamakura Station.
Legend: This bridge was once made of wood and counted among the ten famous bridges of old Kamakura. The "uta" in Utanohashi means "poem." There is a reason why this nondescript bridge got its poetic name. The stone marker next to the bridge tells the story of its construction.
It happened in the time of Minamoto no Sanetomo (源実朝, 1192-1219), the third shogun. A warrior, Shibukawa Kanemori (渋川兼守), was charged with conspiracy and given the death sentence. He pleaded his innocence at the Egara Tenjin shrine by composing ten poems that expressed his loyalty to the shogun. Hearing of this, Sanetomo was so moved that he pardoned Kanemori. Kanemori, in return, had the bridge built as a token of his gratitude to the shogun. The bridge, in time, came to be called Utanohashi, or "Poem Bridge."
Full name: Taizozan Sugimotodera (大蔵山杉本寺)
Denomination: Tendai sect (天台宗)
In Kamakura, only two temples, this and Hokaiji (宝戒寺), belong to the Tendai sect.
Location: A little more than one and a half kilometers northeast of JR Kamakura Station.
History: The origin of the temple dates back to 731, when a venerable priest Gyoki (行基, 668-749) visited here and found it a suitable place to dedicate to the bodhisattva Kannon. Accordingly, he carved a life-sized wooden image of Kannon and set it here. Gyoki undertook various kinds of projects across the country, such as the construction of dams, bridges, and irrigation facilities. He is said to have contributed to the creation of Todaiji Temple (東大寺) in Nara.
Legend also has it that, in 734, Empress Komyo (光明, 701-760), the consort of Emperor Shomu (聖武天皇, 701-756), had a dream in which she was informed of the devastated conditions in the eastern region. Immediately, the Empress requested Gyoki to build a temple dedicated to Kannon who would pacify this area.
After Emperor Kazan (花山天皇, 968-1008) retired and joined a Buddhist order, he designated this temple as the first in the Kannon Pilgrimage of eastern Japan. Since then, countless pilgrims have visited here.
In 1189, the temple was completely destroyed in a fire. It was feared that the temple's many Kannon statues were lost in the fire, but later, they were found at the base (moto, 本, in Japanese) of a big cedar tree (sugi, 杉, in Japanese), hence the name of the temple, Sugimoto Kannon.
Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝) had deep faith in the Kannon here. In 1191, he visited the temple and contributed many bolts of cloth.
Grounds and structures: The temple is the starting point of the Thirty-three Kannon Pilgrimage of the Kanto Region (坂東観音霊場三十三番札所の第一番). From the main road, there is a steep, well-worn stone stairway lined with white banners emblazoned with Juichimen Kannon (十一面観音菩薩, Eleven-faced Kannon) leading up to the temple.
Halfway up is a Niomon Gate (仁王門) where two Nio (仁王) statues stand guard; the statue on the right (as you face it) is Misshaku Kongo (密迹金剛), with his mouth open, and on the left is Naraen Kongo (那羅延金剛), with his mouth closed. In a clearing to the right of the gate is a shrine dedicated to Taizo Benzaiten (大蔵弁才天).
Within the main area on the hillside stands a weathered, thatch-roofed main hall, surrounded by Japanese cedar trees. The hall, housing many Buddhist statues, is open to worshippers. (This openness is not so ubiquitous in Kamakura.)
The main objects of worship are three Eleven-faced Kannons in the innermost sanctum behind the latticed partition. In the dim light the statues are hardly visible, but embody a suitable atmosphere of their own. The Kannon on the left (right as you face it) is said to be Gyoki's work. The center one, carved by the celebrated priest Jikaku Daishi (慈覚大師, a.k.a. Ennin, 円仁, 794-864), in 851, is designated an Important Cultural Property. The one on the right is said to have been carved in 985 by Eshin Sozu (恵心僧都, 942-1017). This is also designated an Important Cultural Property.
Many other statues can be viewed up close in the sanctum. Among them are an Eleven-faced Kannnon in the center. On the left side an Eleven-faced Kannon, newly carved in 1963 by a head priest here, and two statues of Jizo Bosatsu. On the right are Bishamonten (毘沙門天), Fudo Myoo (不動明王), and rows of images of the thirty-three reincarnations of Kannon.
Numerous slips of paper can be seen pasted all over the pillars and beams in the Hall. They are printed with the names (actual or otherwise, sometimes whimsical) of the worshippers (mainly pilgrims on the Thirty-three Kannon Pilgrimage) and are said to have the same effect as actually confining oneself in a temple for prayer.
On the right is a bell tower, and at the foot of the hill to the right is a shrine dedicated to Hakusan Gongen (白山権現), along with many stone images of Jizo and gorinto-type stupas (五輪塔).
On the hill behind the temple are the remains of Sugimoto Castle (杉本城). This was built in the 12th century by Sugimoto Yoshimume (杉本義宗), son of Miura Yoshiaki (三浦義明, 1092-1180) and also father of Wada Yoshimori (和田義盛, 1147-1213). The castle played an important role in the defense of Kamakura in the early 14th century.