Sugimotodera Temple is the oldest temple in Kamakura, that has been situated here since the year 734 AD, over 1200 years ago. Despite its history in Kamakura, surprisingly this temple is not very famous, so you won’t find a lot of tourists as you walk around the temple.
The distance from Kamakura station probably keeps it from becoming more popular, as you may need to walk for about 20-30 minutes to reach this temple. Buses are available from Kamakura station and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, which is better if you want get there quick. Sugimotodera Temple can be found on the way to Houkokuji Temple, so I recommend you visit both of them if you’re going around there.
The entrance fee of Sugimotodera Temple is 200 yen for adults and children over the age of 13, and 100 yen for children under 13.
The temple is built on a side of a hill, so visitors should be aware that the stairs can get quite steep at some parts. The temple is situated high up these stairs, which could be a quite long walk, but it is definitely worth it.
At the end of the first staircase, you’ll find a gate, the Nioh-mon, with two statues, one on each side.
The faces of these statues might seem unwelcoming at first glance, but these are the statues of the Nioh, which is said to be the guardian of the temple, and are found in many temples around Japan. Their fierce facial expressions are for this, to scare away the evil that tries to enter the temple.
The name of the gate Nioh-mon simply comes from Nioh + Mon(gate in Japanese).
You’ll also find another staircase that reaches up to the temple, which is seen in the image above.
Visitors can’t walk up these stairs and must take a different path to go up, but the old stairs with overgrown moss creates a feeling of decadence and an ancient atmosphere around the place.
The scent of dirt, trees and flowers, the sound of birds and the wind, and the view filled with greenery would surely be a priceless experience.
It’s a great place to feel the integration of religion into nature, which is a quite common theme in Buddhism and Shinto, and is also something that I personally like and appreciate about these two religions.
In contrast with most temples around, you get to actually go inside the temple. Taking photographs is strictly prohibited inside, so you would have to see what’s inside yourself.
More information on Sugimotodera Temple is here (sadly, it seems like the site is only available in Japanese).