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(kämä`ko͞orä), city (1990 pop. 174,307), Kanagawa prefecture, central Honshu, Japan, on Sagami Bay and at the base of the Miura Peninsula. It is a resort and residential area but is chiefly noted as a religious center, the site of more than 80 shrines and temples. Kamakura is especially famous for its daibutsu [Jap.,=great Buddha], a 42-ft-high (12.8-m) bronze figure of Buddha, cast in 1252, and for a 30-ft-high (9.1-m) gilt and camphor statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Kamakura was splendid as the seat of YoritomoYoritomo
(Yoritomo Minamoto) , 1148–99, Japanese warrior and dictator, founder of the Kamakura shogunate. After a prolonged struggle he led his clan, the Minamoto, to victory over the Taira in 1185.
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 and his descendants (1192–1333); under the Ashikaga Shogunate (1333–1573) it was the government headquarters of eastern Japan. An earthquake in 1923 severely damaged the city.
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The Giant Buddha in Kamakura is an enduring legacy to the history of this Japanese city that was the center of Zen Buddhism from the late-twelfth through early fourteenth centuries. Fortean Picture Library.

Kamakura (Japan)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Today but a small town, Kamakura does not immediately reveal itself as once the capital of Japan or a key site in the development of Japanese religious life. However, the many temples and shrines in the town and its immediate environs speak to its designation as one of Japan’s holiest sites. Kamakura is home to some sixty-five Buddhist temples, nineteen Shinto shrines, and one of the most famous statues of the Buddha in the world.

The sleepy village of Kamakura emerged out of obscurity at the end of the twelfth century, when the Minamoto family took control of Japan and established their government in the city. Although power was centered in Kamakura, the emperor continued to reside in Kyoto, and the Minamoto shogun paid him due respect. What little power remained in Kyoto was lost in 1221, when the shogun’s army defeated the imperial forces, although the emperor and his court remained in place. The shogunate ruled until 1333, when the imperial rule was reestablished.

A number of the most famous Japanese Buddhist leaders lived during the Kamakura Era: Honen (1133–1212), Shinran (1173–1262), Eisai (1141–1215), Dogen (1200–1253), Ippen (1239–1289), and Nichiren (1222–1282). Honen founded, and Sinran and Ippen expounded upon, Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. In an age in which Buddhism was seemingly in decline, the trio offered the public the opportunity to end the cycle of rebirth for a new home in the Pure Land (Heaven) by the regular recitation of the nimbutsu, the name of Amida Buddha. Pure Land Buddhism went on to become the largest Buddhist community in Japan.

Although Zen arose early in the seventh century, it did not gain a real foothold until the early Kamakura period (1185–1333). Eisai became the instrument of introducing Zen Buddhism into Japan, and today he is considered its founder. Turned out by the Buddhist leadership ensconced in power in Kyoto, the emergence of the Kamakura shogunate provided a fortunate opportunity. In 1200 Eisai established Jufuju-ki, the first Zen center in Kamakura, and found strong support among the warriors (the samurai) that were the basis of the shogunate’s power. In 1214 he also wrote a treatise on tea and its healthful qualities that would become the source of later Japanese adoption of the beverage and its practice of the tea ceremony.

Eisai’s later contemporary, Dogen (1200–1253), established the Soto school of Zen in Japan. Soto placed more faith in long periods of meditation and is best known for its practice of zazen, or sitting meditation. Dogen’s stay at Kamakura was very brief. He moved there in 1247, but he found Rinzain practice so firmly established that he moved on to more fertile territory. Today, Engakuji and the four other Rinzai temples in Kamakura maintain the Zen base in the region.

Engaku-ji has even greater importance to Western Zen students. Soyen Shaku (1859–1919), the Zen teacher who attended the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, was from Engaku-ji, and this center was among the first to open its doors to Westerners.

Eisai followed a form of Zen called Rinzai, whose practitioners believed they would find enlightenment through spontaneous flashes. They became best known for their use of the koan, questions whose answers seem to defy logic. In the realization of the answer, one is pushed toward enlightenment.

In Kamakura, Pure Land Buddhism would become visible in the Giant Buddha. Weighing approximately 121 tons, it is 43 feet in height and about 30 feet wide from knee to knee. Originally constructed of wood, it was significantly damaged in a storm and in 1252 was reconstructed in bronze. It was cast in several pieces and assembled in its present resting place. Several hills built over the statue were destroyed, and since 1495 it has remained in the open. Although it is a statue of an enlightened one, it is not of Gautama Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) but of the bodhisattva Amida Buddha, around which Pure Land Buddhism is focused.

As Pure Land Buddhism spread across Japan, the youthful Nichiren, ordained as a priest at age fifteen, began his quest for spiritual truth. He asked why people who put their faith in the nembutsu still experienced the spectrum of painful conditions. This and other equally puzzling problems motivated his studies after he settled in Kamakura in 1238. Four years in Kamakura and eleven years roaming the countryside visiting the different Buddhist groups led him to one firm conclusion: that in the writing known as the Lotus Sutra, the essential teachings of the Buddha were summarized.

In 1253 Nichiren announced his conclusions to his fellow Buddhists. He attacked faith in the nembutsu and in its stead he called for the chanting of the “Great Title” of the Lotus Sutra—”Namu Myoho Renge Kyo”—as the practical way by which everyone could realize the deepest truths of Buddhism. The reaction was intense and negative. Feeling his life threatened, Nichiren fled to Kamakura and lived in a hut. He worked the streets preaching to whoever would listen. His anti-elitist message took hold among common people.

Nichiren’s efforts aroused active opposition from both Buddhist leaders and government authorities. His house was burned down in 1260, and the following year he was arrested and exiled. He returned to Kamakura in 1263. After years of the government more or less tolerating him, in 1271 he was again formally exiled. Returning to Kamakura in 1274, he again tried to gain government backing. When he failed, he moved permanently to Mount Minobu. Today the several Nichiren-shu temples at Kamakura recall Nichiren’s adventures there.

Apart from the spread of the several new forms of Buddhism during the Kamakura period, several of the temples have some individual characteristics that continue to attract special constituencies. Tokeiji, for example, is famous for attracting women. Since the thirteenth century it has served as a refuge for battered wives who could get a divorce by serving as nuns at the temple for a few years. The Hase Kannon Temple boasts the tallest wooden statue in Japan, an eleven-headed carving of the bodhisattva Kannon (aka Kuan Yin), the bodhisattva of mercy.

While Buddhism dominated the Kamakura period, the presence of Shinto should not be forgotten. Among the oldest temples in Kamakura is the Amanawa Jinja, dating to the eighth century. This shrine was protected by the shogun, though otherwise distinctly favoring Buddhism, as one of the shogun’s relatives’ wives believed she received help in bearing a son from her activity at the jinja.

When the shogunate fell in 1333, the power once again shifted to Kyoto, and Kamakura lost its place on history’s stage. The once-bustling city again became a quiet town. Rediscovered after World War II, today Kamakura draws visitors from around the world—pilgrims and tourists, believers,students of religion, and those who merely appreciate the artistry of the buildings and gardens.


Kasahara, Zazuo, ed. A History of Japanese Religion. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 2001.
Saunders, E. Dale. Buddhism in Japan with an Outline of Its Origins in India. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964.



a city in Japan on the island of Honshu, in Kanagawa prefecture, on Sagami Bay. Population, 139, 000 (1970). Kamakura is a city of great historical interest. It was founded on the site of the ancient Japanese capital of the period of the first shogunate (“the Kamakura era”). Articles of fine and applied art (luxury items and souvenirs) are produced in the city. There is a museum of fine arts and a huge bronze statue of Buddha dating from 1252. The site of Buddhist pilgrimages, Kamakura is also a tourist center and a seaside health resort.

The climate is humid and subtropical, characterized by monsoons. Winters are very mild, with average January temperaturesof 3°C. Summers are hot, with average August temperatures of26°C. Annual precipitation totals 1, 600 mm. The principal ther-apeutic remedies are heliotherapy, aerotherapy, and sea bathing(from June to the middle of October). Patients with functionaldisorders of the nervous system and diseases of the respiratoryorgans and patients suffering from anemia, overfatigue, andother complaints are treated in Kamakura. There are sanatori-ums, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy clinics, various sportsfacilities, hotels, boardinghouses, and comfortable sandybeaches.


a city in central Japan, on S Honshu: famous for its Great Buddha (Daibutsu), a 13th-century bronze, 15 m (49 ft.) high. Pop.: 169 714 (2002 est.)
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