Sugimoto-dera Temple is the oldest temple in Kamakura, which is roughly 20 minutes on foot from JP Kamakura Station. When you arrive at this temple, you are greeted by many white flags on both sides of a long staircase going up to the temple. This is one of rare temples where you can actually go into the main hall of the temple and worship kami, deities, at a very close proximity. This is also the first temple where people begin the pilgrimage of 33 Kannon (Ito 33 Kannon Pilgrimage).
Take a walk and visit Sugimoto-dera Temple
Sugimoto-dera Temple is located on the east side of JR Kamakura Station. If you are walking from the station, it is roughly 20 minutes on foot to get there. You can follow Komachi-dori, pass Kamakura’s symbolic shrine, Tsugurgaoka Hachimangu, and then follow the Prefectural Road 204 to get to Sugimoto-dera Temple. It is all a flat land so you can choose to walk or even rent a bicycle to enjoy the scenery on the way to the temple.
Close to Sugimoto-dera Temple, there are two other temples, Hokoku-ji Temple and Myoren-ji Temple, so even it is little away from the center of Kamakura, you see people walking along the streets to and from these temples. Many people choose to visit all three temples since they are located within just a few minutes of each other, so you may like to do that as well.
The oldest temple in Kamakura
The most well recognized fact of Sugimoto-dera Temple is that it is the oldest temple in Kamakura. It is said that the temple was created even 500 years before the rise of Kamakura Shogunate in the Nara Period in the 8th century. The temple’s principal objects of worships are the three statutes of the eleven-faced Goddess of Mercy known as Jyuichimen Sugimoto Kannon in Japanese. The temple is also known as the first temple to start the pilgrimage of 33 places sacred to Kannon (Ito 33 Kannon Pilgrimage), therefore, when you visit Sugimoto-dera Temple, you often see worshippers with pilgrimage books in their hands.
The first stop of the pilgrimage of 33 places sacred to Kannon
When you think of a pilgrimage, the most well-known pilgrimage in Japan is the one in Shikoku where you visit 88 places. It is one of dreams of many Japanese to try it once in their lifetime, but it is quite intimidating to visit all 88 places. If you are just curious about a pilgrimage in Japan and have become fascinated by Japanese culture and tradition, why not try the pilgrimage of 33 places sacred to Kannon starting at Sugimoto-dera Temple instead?
This pilgrimage is officially called Ito 33 Kannon and the total distance of the pilgrimage is 1,300 km (roughly 808 miles). On this pilgrimage, you are allowed to visit 33 places randomly without thinking too much about the order. If you decide to try this pilgrimage from Sugimoto-dera Temple, there are 2 other places in Kamakura along with 6 other places in Kanagawa, thus maybe you can visit some of these places as well. If you are visiting other prefectures on your trip, there are pilgrimage sites in Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and other surrounding prefectures so you have more reasons to explore Japan!
Close contact with Japanese deities
At Sugimoto-dera Temple, you are allowed to get very close to Japanese deities, called kami in Japanese, in the main hall. As soon as you step into the main hall, you feel the sacred feeling even more clearly than when you passed the main gate, torii, which is said to be the gate to divide this world and the other world. The main hall has tatami mats so please take off your shoes when you worship the deities. At the side where you take off your shoes, there is a box where you drop off your ticket, which you previously got at the ticket booth. Please also make sure to be as quiet as possible when you are at the main hall. Furthermore, you are not allowed to take photographs inside so photograph only the outside, not the inside.
Feel the long history of Kamakura at Sugimoto-dera Temple
At any temple you visit in Kamakura, you can sense the deep rooted history of Kamakura from the architecture of the buildings, beautifully arranged gardens, and sacred statues. Of these temples, Sugimoto-dera Temple is the oldest temple in Kamakura, so it is certainly quite special visiting this temple. Walking around the temple, you see many amulets pasted all over the place. This practice is prohibited today, but by the number of amulets remaining, you can see the long history of Sugimoto-dera Temple and feel that many people have visited this place of worship for hundreds of years. The entry fee is only 200 JPY (1.75 USD) for adults and 100 JPY (0.88 USD) for children. The temple is open from 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM and August 10th is the festival day for the temple where the temple attracts more worshippers than usual.
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