In 2017, we were thinking that Kamakura might be a nice place to retire some day when the time came. Miho was convinced that I would like it there, but I wanted to explore the neighborhoods to get a better feel. We booked an AirBnB for a few days, met with a realtor to look at some properties, and explored the place on foot as thorough as we could. That’s what we were doing in Zaimokuza the day we stumbled upon Komyoji. Most visitors will easily overlook this temple. It just doesn’t stand out on the tourist brochures or maps of Kamakura. Personally, I think that’s a good thing because it’s kept Komyoji about as quiet and humble as any place could be.
I’m not a spiritual person, but there have been a few times in my life when I have felt something mysterious trying to communicate with me. It happened again at Komyoji. As we entered the complex that day, I heard a pianist playing from the main hall. The temple doors and windows were wide open and we could see a small gathering of people in one corner. We removed our shoes and went inside, following the music. There we found a local woman playing a grand piano, giving a free concert to anyone wanting to stop and listen. A monk was there setting up speakers to project the sound. We sat down to enjoy her music and ambiance of such a grand hall. And that’s when it happened. That’s when something told me I was home. I will forever love Komyoji for giving me that experience. A year later we were living in its shadow.
If a Buddhist temple has ever given off a surfer vibe, this is it. There is a sign in the courtyard that encourages us to be human beings of compassion and to establish a world that is true and happy. Komyoji is as laid back and friendly as the beach in its front yard. I know that anyone with a pet would agree with me. You regularly see cats roaming around the complex, sunning themselves by the giant bell, or being fed by the monks. Dogs are welcome, too. One of my first memories of Komyoji was of seeing a mobile veterinary clinic set up in the parking lot to provide vaccinations for all the neighborhood animals. Komyoji also has a pet cemetery complete with a Buddhist ceremony to bless and honor your four-legged friends.
Both the main temple and sanmon gate are the largest in Kamakura. I believe it’s the only temple in Kamakura where you can remove your shoes and walk around inside with your camera. Photos are allowed. Please be respectful so that it stays this way. Most often you will be alone. It’s a wonderful place to meditate. Touring the sanmon gate is by appointment only and there is a small fee. You can make reservations to visit the sanmon as well as partake in a temple lunch by going to their website at http://komyoji-kamakura.or.jp/ but you will need someone who reads Japanese to help you.
Komyoji is of the Jodo sect, but there is a nice Zen rock garden off the south terrace. Follow the terrace north along the breezeway and you will see a quiet lotus pond with dragonflies and turtles. There is a wooden bench placed there where you can sit, enjoy the scenery and forget about the world. Each July they hold a lotus festival to celebrate the pond bursting forth in pink flowers. It is quite beautiful, as are the hanging lanterns at night.
The lotus festival is but one of many held each year at Komyoji. There is a jazz festival in October. They also host the ten Nights of Prayer, also in October. This celebration began here in 1495 by order of Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado. Jodo priests gather to recite the Nembutsu prayers of gratitude. The chanting continues day and night and the public is welcomed. Every June, the priests at Komyoji gather at the front gate to bless the mikoshi (portable shrines) as they are painfully carried on shoulders from the Gosho Jinja Shrine in northern Zaimokuza down to the ocean. This is one of the biggest and liveliest matsuri, or festivals, in the area, and it is interesting to note here the mingling of Shinto and Buddhist customs from the pre-Meiji era.
Finally, let’s not forget to appreciate the enormous green roof of Komyoji. It is so large that you can see it from Hase Dera on the opposite side of town. Circle around the south side of the temple. Follow the path between the temple wall and the kindergarten (which many locals here proudly attended in younger years). It will take you behind the temple and up the hill. At the top you will find two viewing platforms. On a clear day you can look down on the lovely green temple roof, across Sagami Bay, past Cape Inamuragasaki and Enoshima Island, and all the way to Mt. Fuji. It is spectacular. By the way, this is also the perch from which the filmmaker shot a scene from the latest Godzilla movie as the creature came ashore at Kamakura on its way to destroy Tokyo. Once you’ve soaked it in, continue south down the paved road. You will walk through a short tunnel after which you will see a field of ancient tombstones. This is the Naito Family Cemetery. It dates to the Edo Period (1603-1868) when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. It’s unique in its own way, albeit a little overgrown at times, but in June it is surrounded in colorful hydrangeas. The slope in the road will lead you back to Zaimokuza Beach. If you time it right, the sunsets seen near the Komyoji side of the beach will be memorable. I hope you enjoy it.