Engaku-ji, one of the most important Zen Buddhist temples in Japan, is considered by some to be an almost-perfect example of Chinese-inspired Zen architecture. It was founded in 1282 by a Chinese monk and is now classified as a Japanese National Treasure. Located in Kamakura, it’s a convenient place to visit on a day trip from Tokyo.
Engaku-ji is nestled in a peaceful spot beneath Kamakura’s forested hills. Although its founding dates back more than 700 years, many of the buildings are newer than that. As well as being notable for its remarkable architecture and highly prized 8.5-foot (2.6-meter) temple bell, Engaku-ji is important because one of the Buddha’s teeth is believed to be housed in the reliquary. The temple has long been very important to Japanese Buddhism: during the Meiji era (1868-1912), it became the center of Zen teaching in the Kanto region. Zen meditation (zazen) sessions are still held here daily.
Tokyo visitors usually come to Engaku-ji on a day or overnight trip to Kamakura, a town dense with temples, shrines, and monasteries. You can also get there independently on the local train or with an organized guided day tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Engaku-ji is ideal for religious architecture and history enthusiasts.
- There is a small entrance fee to enter the temple.
- Beside the temple is a teahouse where you can enjoy Japanese tea and sweets with a view.
- Not all of the 18 temples within the complex are open to visitors, as this is a working monastery.
- While some ramps have been added for wheelchair users, there are many uneven surfaces and steps, so comprehensive access is difficult.
How to Get There
Engaku-ji is just beside Kita-Kamakura Station on the JR Yokosuka Line, an easy 90-minute train journey from central Tokyo.
When to Get There
The temple is open every day from 8am to 4:30pm March to November, and 8am to 4pm December to February. Fall is perhaps the prettiest time to visit Engaku-ji, as the colorful autumn leaves—most stunning in early December, especially the maples—liven up the simple buildings.
Visit the Daibutsu, the Giant Buddha
While Engaku-ji is not normally packed with visitors, the Daibutsu at nearby Kotoku-in temple is. The 37-foot (11.4-meter) bronze Buddha statue, sitting outside in a meditative pose, is one of the most iconic sights of Japan and shouldn’t be missed when visiting Kamakura. You can easily combine visits to Engaku-ji, the Daibutsu, and other Kamakura sights in one day.