Kencho-ji Temple Temple is the first ranked of the five great Zen temples in Kamakura, and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. It was constructed by order of the Emperor Gofukakusa during the regency of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-3). Work was completed in the fifth year of the Kenchō Era (1253) from which the name of the temple is taken.
The founder of Kencho-ji Temple was Rankei Doryu (Lan-hsi Tao-lung, 1213-78), 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 found Kencho-ji Temple. 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.
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 phenomena bring you nothing but annoyance. If you discover your essence of mind, you can follow nothing but the true path.
Hojo Tokiyori, the fifth Kamakura regent, was the principal patron of Kencho-ji Temple during its early years. His support was and his spiritual as well as financial: as a devoted follower of Rankei Doryu and his successor Gottan, he practiced Zen for many years and approached the state of master himself.
Kencho-ji Temple originally comprised seven main buildings and 49 subtemples, but most of these were destroyed in a series of fires during the 14th and 15th centuries. In the Togukawa Era, however, the Zen master Takuan (1573-1645) succeeded in restoring Kencho-ji Temple to much of its former splendor.
At present the Kencho-ji Temple complex contains about 10 subtemples and the following main buildings.