Perfect Guide to Kenchoji Temple in Kamakura – Japan’s First & Leading Zen Temple

TDD has been featuring Kamakura in May. After Hokokuji Temple and Jomyoji Temple, the biggest zen temple in Kamakura is on this article.
It is Kenchoji Temple, Japan’s first Zen temple.

Kenchoji Temple, the leading zen temple in Kamakura, Japan


Kenchoji Temple was built in 1253 by Tokiyori Hojo from powerful Hojo clan at Kamakura samurai government. He is a very well-known politician who is on Japanese history textbook at school.
A honorable priest introduced pure and strict zen culture from China, and today Kenchoji Temple is the biggest of “5 Big Zen Temples in Kamakura” and the leading temple of Rinzai Sect.

The Entrance – “Rinzai Sect, the First of 5 Big Temples, Kenchoji”

Let’s start from a casual story. Souvenir Zen T-shirts are available at the entrance.

Zen T-shirts for souvenir (2000 yen – )

Warmed up?
Then, you are ready for solemn stories.

The Main Buildings

When I visited this temple, my impression was written in 3 letters – Old. Of course, it is a good meaning. There are many temples in Kamakura, and in Tokyo as well, but there is few where we can fell deep traditions lasting from the medieval times.

Jizo Statue at the Main Hall of Kenchoji Temple

Here is a casual story that is NOT on normal travel guidebooks.
In May, the very old wooden temple roof is full of bird families. Parents are going in and out to feed their young. You’ll hear hungry kids singing “Pipipipipipipipipi!” all the time.

Young and round birds living in the temple roof

It was so heartwarming that the temple is living with lives in nature.

As a leading zen temple, Kenchoji Temple holds regular zen sessions for common visitors in Hojo Hall. (*)

Hojo Hall, where zen sessions are held.

Not only 17:00 – 18:00 on Friday and Saturday, they sometimes offer zen sessions in English. If interested, check out the schedule here.

Zen Garden

Hojo Garden is Japan’s first zen garden. If I choose just one must-see in Kenchoji Temple, this is the most iconic.

Hojo Garden, Japan’s First Zen Garden

It is a typical zen garden with a pond placed at the center. Simple and quiet. Did you know that famous zen gardens in Japan are originated from this?
(* This “Hojo” means a house of zen temple. It has nothing to do with Hojo samurai clan. The pronunciation is same by accident.)

Hojo Garden from another angle

Zen gardens are beautiful especially in May when fresh green sprout.

I’d like to share one more thing to see at Kenchoji Temple.
It is Hansobo Hall – We can meet the great landscapes of Kamakura there.

The Way to Hansobo Hall & The Landscapes

But first of all, please let me warn you. The signs in the temple say that it is a 15 minutes walk. It really takes 15 minutes because many stairs slow down my legs.

Torii Gates and Stairs to Hansobo Hall

Many stairs, right?

Now I’m at a higher place than trees…

It’s a pair of koma-inu! In Japan, they are at the entrance of halls of temples and shinto shrines. The goal is near!

Koma-Inu (= guardian dogs)

You have seen interesting statues like this somewhere in Tokyo Direct Diary, haven’t you?
Yes. They are tengus, Japanese goblins!

Tengus, Japanese goblins with beak, long nose and wings

I was pretty surprised to see them here because Kenchoji Temple is not a shugen temple.

Tengu statures in Kenchoji Temple

According to the official leaflet, they are guardians of the temple here.

Our mind gets so satisfied when we finish going up many stairs and meet great landscape!

A Beautiful View From a Deck

It is said that Mt. Fuji becomes a great addition when the air is clear (in winter, I think.)

Mt. Fuji seen from Kenchoji on a clear sunny day

Fronting the stunning views, we can learn how geographically interesting Kamakura is. You’ll find the temple roofs in the green. Then, can you find the sea far over there? Sagami Bay is seen up-left from the roofs in this photo.

The Views of Main Halls of Kenchoji and Sagami Bay

Kamakura was the capital of Japan established by Minamoto samurai clan in late 12th century.
They were warriors. When choosing the location of their central city, they needed to choose a good place for battling. There is not any place where mountains and sea are so close to each other. The geographical characteristics of Kamakura was very convenient for samurais because they had two ways to run – to the mountain on horses or the sea on ships in case they were attacked by other samurais.

Hansobo Shrine in Kenchoji

There is a small and cozy temple hall. It is a good idea to leave your wish on a wishing board (ema). Don’t you feel that your wish will come true?

A Tengu guarding the Temple

I talked about two other Zen temples in Kamakura in May – Hokokuji Temple and Jomyoji Temple.
The last Kenchoji temple was the biggest and most serious temple to explore the culture and traditions.
Which of them do you like the best?

Want to see MORE of Kamakura?

All About Hokokuji Temple, Kamakura, Japan – A Zen Temple with Bamboo Garden

5 Things to Do & See at Jomyoji Temple, Kamakura, Japan

A Trip to Kamakura, Japan – Hydrangeas in June & All the Travel Info

Kamakura, Samurais’ Old Capital with The Great Buddha – Top Places for Autumn Leaves in Japan #02


Visitor Information on Kenchoji Temple

How to Get to Kenchoji Temple
Get off at Kita-Kamakura (= North Kamakura) Station, and it is a 15 minutes walk to Kenchoji Temple.
From Kamakura Station, it is a 30 minutes walk or take a bus from Bus Stop No. 2.

How to Get to Kamakura
From Tokyo Station: Catch a JR Yokosuka Line train. It is a 60 minutes ride.
From Shinagawa Station: Catch a JR Yokosuka Line train. It is a 50 minutes ride.
From Shinjuku: Catch a JR Shonan Shinjuku Line train. It is a 53 minutes ride.

See The Easiest JR Train Map of Tokyo by Tokyo Direct Guide

Admission Fee: 300 yen for Adult, 100 yen for Child
Opening Hours: 8:30 – 16:30

Useful Links
Kenchoji Temple Official Website

Schedule of English Zen Sessions

Google Maps