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1. Pre-Kamakura Period ( Kamakura before the 12th century )

Kamakura was a traffic centre by land and water that connects the east and the west of the Japanese islands. For this reason, a keyhole-shaped tumulus which shows the connection with the Yamato Imperial Court of Kinai was built on a ridge line at the border of Zushi City and Hayama Town in the late 4th century.

It has been identified that a provincial administrative office of the ritsuryo system which followed the Chinese Tang Dynasty was set up in Kamakura from the 8th century to the 10th century.

From the 11th century, it became a strongpoint of the Minamoto clan and Minamoto no Yoriyoshi built Tsurugaoka Hachiman Wakamiya in Kamakura-GoYui in 1063. In addition, after the mid-12th century, Minamoto no Yoshitomo set up his residence in Kamegayatsu, on the site of the present-day Jufukuji Temple.

2.Kamakura Period ( 1180 ~ 1333 )

Establishment of the samurai government

After the Heiji Disturbance (1159), Minamoto no Yoritomo ( a son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo), who had been exiled to Izu (present Shizuoka Prefecture) got into Kamakura in 1180, rallying the samurai forces surrounding Tokyo Bay. Yoritomo immediately visited Tsurugaoka Hachiman Wakamiya (the residential site of his father Yoshitomo ) and announced that he was the legitimate successor of the Minamoto clan. Subsequently, he chose Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine as the tutelary god of the samurai and his power. In order to make Shintoism a pillar of his religious policy, he placed the shrine in its present location, at the centre of the seat of the government. In addition, to the north-east of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, he placed Egara Tenjinsha Shrine as a god to guard the inauspicious direction. Then, Yoritomo established a master-servant relationship with the samurai who obeyed him and established his political power different from the Imperial Court, having the assembled military power of his followers as his power base.

In this manner, development of Kamakura as a seat of the samurai government started and Wakamiya Oji Avenue the main approach to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, was constructed as the central axis ofKamakura in 1182. In 1185, Yoritomo destroyed the Taira clan power and he conducted the first Hojo-e life-saving festival (for the atonement of hunting down and killing the Taira Clan) at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and dedicated yabusame mounted archery in 1187.

In 1189, Yoritomo destroyed the Oshu Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi and for the souls of war dead of the enemy,he constructed Yofukuji Temple in 1192. When Yoritomo died in 1199, a memorial service was held at Hokkedo Buddha Hall and the first Zen Buddhist temple in Kamakura, Jufukuji Temple, was built on the residential site of Minamoto noYoshitomo in 1200.

Birth of the Kamakura Shogunate

In 1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo extended his power steadily and was appointed as a “barbarian-subduing generalissimo (Shogun) ” by the Imperial Court. Since then, the samurai government, headed by the Shogun, became a political structure called the “shogunate”, independent from the Imperial Court . Although “Shogunate” continued as a traditional domination and governmental structure of the samurai government, as Minamoto no Yoritomo was from the Minamoto clan, a ritual was formed where only the samurai who belong to the Minamoto clan lineage could become the barbarian-subduing generalissimo. Ashikaga Takauji (1305 - 1358) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 - 1616), progenitors of Muromachi Shogunate, which held the power in Kyoto from the 14th century to the 16th century, and the Edo Shogunate, which held the power in present-day Tokyo from the 17th century to the late 19th century, respectively, became barbarian-subduing generalissimos as samurai who, belonging to the lineage of the Minamoto clan, and established the Bakufu (shogunate).

Establishment of the sovereignty of the shogunate

After the shoguns of the Minamoto clan of direct kindred to Yoritomo ceased after three generations, the Hojo clan, the family of Yoritomo’s wife, Masako, took over the control of the shogunate. The Hojo clan inaugurated the regent position in combination with the director of shogunate structures and took the lead in politics by succeeding to the position over the generations (regency government). On the other hand, as the lineage of Yoritomo, who had tremendous influence in leading the samurai as the progenitor of Shogunate, became extinct, the retired emperor Go-Toba (1180 - 1239), who had been aiming to rehabilitate the Imperial Court from before, took this opportunity and raised an army to overthrow the shogunate in 1221. However, the Imperial Court’s side was put down by the shogunate force which rather strengthened its unity through this crisis (Jokyu Disturbance). From that time onward, the Shogunate confiscated the territory of aristocrats and Samurai who supported the Imperial Court and distributed the land to the influential direct vassals known as Gokenin as a reward; thus the supremacy of the Kamakura Shogunate over the whole country was strengthened even more. Having this intensification of the executive power as a background, the third regent Hojo Yasutoki, enacted the original law of the samurai, Goseibai Shikimoku (The Formulary of Adjudications).

Development as the seat of the government

In order to strengthen its power and supremacy further, the Kamakura Shogunate planned to add Zen Buddhism into Shintoism and make them the two foci of religious policy. As for specific measures, full-blown introduction of Zen Buddhism of Song Dynasty China led by the Shogunate began from the mid-13th century and Kenchoji Temple (a Zen Buddhism specialized ashram) was built by the fiifth regent Hojo Tokiyori in 1253. Furthermore, accompanying the enrichment of the samurai government, the functional development of Kamakura as the seat of the government was implemented: land routes and sea routes were prepared, including the construction of Wakaenoshima Port, Asaina Kiridoshi Pass, Kamegayatsuzaka Pass, Kewaizaka Pass, Daibutsu Kiridoshi Pass, and Nagoe Kiridoshi Pass. In addition, as a specific policy based on the idea of spiritual protection of the state, seeking peace for the shogunate and the people, the casting of Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kamakura was initiated in 1252.

In addition, in the vicinity of Buddhist temple compounds and “Kiridoshi ” passes ,numbers of “yagura” caves which show the funereal style original to Kamakura were developed by cutting off valleys and mountain foot; including Shudaruki “yagura” caves in Kenchoji Temple Compound, One-Hundred-Eight “yagura” caves in Kakuonji Temple Compound, and Mandarado “yagura” caves

Decline and fall of the Kamakura Shogunate

Japan was attacked by the Mongolian Empire twice, in 1274 and 1281 (Genko incidents). The eighth regent Hojo Tokimune, who succeeded in fighting off the attack, built Engakuji Temple, the second Zen Buddhism specialized ashram in Kamakura in 1282 for the souls of the war dead on both sides in the Mongolia battle. In addition, the ninth regent Hojo Sadatoki constructed Kakuonji Temple in 1296 praying for the victory over re-invasion of the Mongolian Empire.

On the other hand, in regency politics, power was gradually concentrated on the Seigneurial (Tokuso) family of the Hojo clan and the specific branch households who supported the family. Thus, the discontent of each class who suffered from the continuous overload of the war burden for defense against Mongolia etc. focused on the Hojo clan who were leading the shogunate. When such discontent reached its peak, Kamakura was attached in 1333 by the Nitta and Ashikaga clans, who rallied the discontent to revolt against the shogunate.

The Kamakura side repulsed the attacking forces at Kamegayatsuzaka Pass , Kewaizaka Pass, etc. as the “kiridoshi” passes demonstrated their function as defensive strongpoints for the seat of the government. However, the Kamakura side was defeated around the seacoast on the south-west and retreated. The Hojo clan subordinate to the 14th regent Hojo Takatoki (1304 - 1333) committed suicide at Toshoji Temple and the Kamakura Shogunate collapsed.

Birth of the Samurai Culture

Reflecting the religious policy put forward by the Kamakura Shogunate, the samurai believed in Shintoism and Buddhism faithfully. As an expression of their belief, the Hojo clan, in particular, which took charge of power built Buddhist temples in the vicinity of their residences which had been placed in various locations in their base, Kamakura. In 1251, Hojo Tokiyori and Nagatoki built Jokomyoji Temple as a multi-sect ashram. In 1258, Hojo Sanetoki built Shomyoji Temple and actively conducted research on Buddhist teachings. In 1275, Kanazawa Library was established to the temple. In addition, Gokurakuji Temple was established by Hojo Shigetoki in 1259. These Buddhist temples not only became the places to conduct memorial services of the family, but also as the places for obtaining soul discipline of the samurai, learning, and acquiring cultures; cultural elements such as paintings, sculptures, tea were fostered.

From the mid-13th century, as Japan-China trades was revitalized, together with Zen Buddhism of Song Dynasty China, Chinese culture was actively brought into Japan and Kamakura developed greatly as a capital city of a remarkably international character. This is expressed accurately in Chinese goods from that time that have survived in large quantities in Shomyoji Temple and Kanazawa Library; including Chinese classics, Buddhist scriptures written and printed during the periods of Song Dynasty China and Yuan Dynasty China and works of arts and crafts such as ceramic ware.

During this period, Buddhist priests who were the intellectual class of Japan at that time, particularly a large number of Zen Buddhist priests, took passage in trading vessels and frequently traveled between Japan and China. Through these Japanese Zen Buddhist priests, Chinese culture at large from literary works, calligraphy, painting, printing, and the tea ceremony to everyday food, clothing, and shelter were introduced to Japan. During the process of preparing the political structure and strengthening their power, the samurai who established the Kamakura Shogunate actively took in Chinese culture, with Zen Buddhism as a core, and gradually produced the samurai culture.

"Kamakura, Home of the Samurai" Chronological Table of History
(The number shows the generation of the Shogun or Regent.)
YearShogunRegentOther Important PersonMain Incident
1180   Minamoto no Yoritomo, who entered Kamakura , relocated Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine to the present place.
1180   Minamoto no Yoritomo constructed Egara Tenjinsha Shrine.
1182  Hojo Masako
(Mother of Yoriie & Sanetomo)
Minamoto no Yoritomo constructed Wakamiya Oji Avenue also in prayer for the easy delivery of a child by his wife Hojo Masako.
11911 Minamoto no Yoritomo  Due to the big fire in Kamakura, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and other constructions were burnt down.
11921 Minamoto no Yoritomo  Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed as a barbarian-subduing generalissimo (a commander who was provisionally appointed to conquer different tribes who did not obey the Imperial Court, the aristocratic government).
 |  Minamoto no Yoritomo constructed Yofukuji Temple.
11992 Minamoto no Yoriie  Minamoto no Yoritomo passed away and the memorial service was held at Jibutsudo Hall in Okura (later: Hokkedo Buddha Hall).
1200| Eisai (Founder of Rinzai sect in Japan)Hojo Masako invited Eisai and founded Jufukuji Temple.
 3 Minamoto no Sanetomo1 Hojo Tokimasa  
1218|2 Hojo Yoshitoki Hojo Yoshitoki constructed Yakushido Buddha Hall in Okura (later: Kakuonji Temple).
1219(4 Kujo Yoritsune)| Minamoto no Sanetomo was killed by his nephew, Kugyo.
1221|| Jokyu Disturbance occured. The retired emperor Go-Toba banished to Okinoshima Island.
1224|3 Hojo Yasutoki Hojo Yoshitoki passed away. Hokkedo Buddha Hall was constructed for the repose of his spirit.
12314 Kujo Yoritsune| Wakaenoshima Port was constructed by a Kanjin Priest Ouamidabutsu with assistance from Hojo Yasutoki.
1232|| The Kamakura Shognate enacted “Goseibai Shikimoku.” (The Formulary of Adjudications)
 || Hojo Yasutoki constructed Toshoji Temple.
1241|| Hojo Yasutoki started reconditioning Mutsuura-road and constructed Asaina Kiridoshi Pass.
 5 Kujo Yoritsugu4 Hojo Tsunetoki  
1251|5 Hojo Tokiyori Jokomyoji Temple was built by the wish of Hojo Tokiyori and Nagatoki.
12526 Munetaka Shinno| The casting of the Daibustu (Great Buddha) began.
1253||Rankeidoryu(Rinzai sect Daikaku group)Kenchoji Temple was constructed by Hojo Tokiyori receiaving Rankei Doryu, as a founder.
 || 'Hojo Masamura's 'Tokiwa residence' was built. (Hojo Tokiwa Residence)
1258|| Kanjo ceremony (mainly celebrated in Esoteric Buddhism) was held at Amida Hall in Hojo Sanetoki's Kanazawa Residence (later Shomyoji Temple).
1259|6 Hojo NagatokiHojo Shigetoki bakufu rensho(assistant to regent)Gokurakuji Temple was constructed by Hojo Shigetoki receiving Ninsho as a founder.
 ||Ninsho(Priest of Ritsu sect Saaidaiji group) 
1259||Hojo SanetokiShomyoji Temple was constructed.
1267|| Priest Sinkai changed the sect of Shomyoji Temple to Shingon Ritsu.
 7 Koreyasu Shinno7 Hojo Masamura  
1274|8 Hojo Tokimune First attack by mongolian Empire. (The battle of Bunei).
1275|| Hojo Sanetoki opened a Library in Kanazawa Residence
1281|| Second attack by mongolian Empire. (The battle of Koan).
(Founder of Engakuji Temple)
Engakuji Temple was constructed by Hojo Tokimune receiving Mugaku Sogen as a founder.
1285|9 Hojo Sadatoki Downfall of Adachi clan as a result of Shimotsuki riot.
12938 kyumei Shinno| Jufkuji Temple, Kenchoji Temple and other constructions were collapsed by the big earthquake.
1296|| Hojo Sadatoki constructed Kakuonji Temple.
 9 Morikuni Shinno10 Hojo Morotoki  
 |11 Daibutsu Munenobu  
 |12 Hojo Akitoki  
 |13 Hojo Mototoki  
1324|14 Hojo Takatoki Shochu Disturbance occurred.
 |15 Kanazawa Sadaaki  
1327|16 Akahashi MoritokiMuso Soseki
(Founded Tenryuji and Rinzenji Temple)
Zuisenji Temple was constructed receiving Muso Soseki (Japanese Zen priest) as a founder.
1331|| Genkou Disturbance occurred.
1333|| Hojo Takatoki and his clan committed suicide at Toshoji Temple. Fall of the Kamakura Shogunate.

* Names in gothick letters are persons who are related to the shrines or temples as important component parts.

3.After Kamakura Period

Muromachi Period and Edo Period
( from the early 14th century to the late 19th century )

After the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate, in Kamakura, the Ashikaga clan, Kamakura Kubo of Muromachi Shogunate, actively protected and restored Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. In addition, embracing Zen Buddhism, it established the Five Mountains system in Kamakura, which was different from that of Kyoto.

However, after 1455, as the Ashikaga clan abandoned its supremacy over Kamakura, Kamakura declined and the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Kamakura gradually became desolate; after this, the Great Buddha hall that sheltered the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kamakura was never to be rebuilt. In this situation, the warlord, the Go-Hojo clan, repaired Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and relocated Butsuden (Buddha Hall) of the Taiheiji Temple as Engakuji Temple Shariden (Relic Hall) , etc. Full-scale restoration work was conducted by the Edo Shogunate, the last samurai government.

In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who established the shogunate in Edo (present-day Tokyo), respected Kamakura as the sacred birthplace of the samurai government and conducted restoration of major Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

Kamakura became known widely during the Edo Period through the articles in the Azumakagami etc. and also as a scene of kabuki and became a place for sightseeing (from Edo). In addition Western people began to visit Kamakura from Yokohama, which opened its port in the late 19th century.

Modern Period ( from the late 19th century )

In 1868, the Edo Shogunate was defeated and the Meiji Government was established; the samurai supremacy and the samurai society from the Kamakura Period came to an end. From then, Japan began to walk along the path of modernization by the Meiji Government.

Influenced by the movements to abolish Buddhism based on the decree to separate Shintoism and Buddhism by the Meiji Government, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Kamakura lost their economic foundation and were desolated temporarily. However, with the opening of Yokosuka line in 1889, residences and villas of aristocrats, military personnel, politicians, businessmen, etc. were built in Kamakura and it prospered as a resort for sea bathing etc. and as a sightseeing area. Furthermore, as the housing environment got ready as a railway was laid, people such as writers and artists began to gather and reside in Kamakura where the historic heritage has been succeeded well.


In the Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 (locally called Kanto Daishinsai), Kamakura in particular suffered devastating damage; many of the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples collapsed due to the earthquake, tsunami, etc. However, recovery measures were taken immediately. In addition, as a part of the restoration project from the earthquake damage, in order to protect Cultural Properties owned by the shrines and temples of Kamakura from earthquake and fire, Kamakura National Treasures Museum was constructed, mostly funded by the contribution from the citizens and Kamakura Coterie. In addition, monuments were built at historic places by the Kamakura TownYouth Group and awareness-raising activities for the historic heritage of Kamakura were conducted.

During World War II, Kamakura escaped war damage as well as Kyoto and Nara. During the process of postwar reconstruction, cultural uplifting of Kamakura was promoted. For example, writers, academic people, etc. came together and opened a citizens’ university, Kamakura Citizens’ Academia and Kawabata Yasunari, Ozu Yasujiro, etc. produced works of literature and films staged in Kamakura.

On the other hand, a plan of a large-scale development in the mountain area behind Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine came out in 1964, which led to the enactment of the Ancient Capitals Preservation Act in 1966 and the designation as a Preservation Area of Historic Landscape so as to protect the mountain area from being developed and thereby destroyed. As a result, the original landform dating from the Kamakura Period was safeguarded. In addition, in parallel with the formation of the law, designation of the compounds of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and archaeological sites contained in the Component Parts and the monuments contained in the compounds of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as Historic Sites, Places of Scenic Beauty, or Important Cultural Properties was promoted under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. Thus efforts have been made to take all possible protective measures for the Component Parts in unity with the mountain area.