Enoshima: the Maiden and the Dragon


Japan is the land of the mystic, the country where tradition and legend become one to create a unique and incomparable atmosphere, weaving reality and fantasy together. An excellent example of this mixture of tradition, reality and myth can be found lost in the warm south of Tokyo, in Kanagawa prefecture: Enoshima.

About an hour by Odakyu Enoshima Line train from Tokyo central Shinjuku station, there is an adorable and welcoming small offshore island bathed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean in Kanagawa prefecture: the Enoshima Island. About 4 kms. in circumference, near the mouth of the Katase river, of sandy beaches liked by the salty waters of the Sagami Bay. Enoshima island is a part of the mainland city of Fujisawa. The island was originally connected to the mainland when the tide was low. Nowadays, it is connected to the eponymous Katase section of the city by a passable bridge with a length of about 600 metres, the Enoshima Benten-bashi bridge.

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After crossing the long and beautiful bridge, the adventure begins. Enoshima island is a blend of tradition and innovation, a combination between nature, shrines and stairways. The island contains three different and well-known shrines: Hetsunomiya shrine, Nakatsunomiya shrine and Okutsunomiya shrine. All of them are known with one name: “Enoshima Jinja”. According to the origins of the region, it is said that these three temples were originated in a single shrine built in 552, in a cave near the south of Enoshima. After walking for about 20 minutes up a slope from a bronze Shinto shrine archway or “torii”, the lower grounds can be seen at the end of the slope. In order to continue the way up, visitors can choose two different ways to reach the top, their own feet or taking Enoshima Escar on the way and changing escalators.

Enoshima Jinja

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The way up is bedecked with the three shrines known as Enoshima Jinja. The first shrine to greet and welcome the visitors is Hetsunomiya shrine. Originally founded in 1206 by the 3rd Kamakura shogun Sanetomo Minamoto, it was reconstructed in 1675 and was renovated in 1976. The legendary figure of Hadaka Benten, the naked Saraswati or goddess of music is situated here. It includes three structures: Haiden (the oratory), Heiden (the hall to dedicate votive offerings to the sanctum) and Honden (the sanctum).

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Walking about 3 minutes deeper and upper, the visitor will spot the second shrine, the red and vivid construction of Nakatsunomiya. Founded in 853, this shrine is unmistakable for its vivid red colour and characteristic decoration. Last but not least, a further 12 minutes walk will take one to the furthest of the three shrines on Enoshima island: the Okutsunomiya shrine. Originally known as the Saraswati shrine, the original building was lost in 1841 and reconstructed in the following year. It can be identified easily by the mean-looking dragon that protects the small altar carved in a rock and the large turtle painting on the ceiling of the shrine. This shrine is in a more secluded section of the island compared to the other two shrines. The surrounding area is naturally scenic and offers a significant Zen setting.

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Together with visits to all the amazing shrines it is recommended to visit and enjoy a bird’s eye view from the lighthouse, to enjoy the flavours of the characteristic local food from the region, as well as the mystic charm of its caves.The tradition of Iwaya caves and its myth goes back to around 552.

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According to a legend (“A Heavenly Maiden and A Dragon with Five Heads”, the Legend of Enoshima), once upon a time a fearful dragon with five heads lived in a bottomless lake in Fukusawa, Kamakura, and tormented the villagers. People were scared and called this land Koshigoe (Ko: child, Shi: death, Goe: over the mountain) as they sacrificed their children to the dragon. One day, thick clouds rose up in the offing and a strong earthquake shook the earth for days. When it stopped, a heavenly maiden appeared. When the clouds cleared, an island appeared at the surface: Enoshima. The dragon being attracted to the beautiful heavenly maiden soon proposed marriage. But she would not accept the proposal until the dragon stopped all its evil-doings. It is said that the dragon mended its ways and finally gained her hand. The heavenly maiden in this legend is the goddess Benzaiten who is worshipped on Enoshima Island. The dragon is enshrined at Ryuko-Myojinja (shrine) in Koshigoe, Kamakura.

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Myths, legends and Japanese traditions to galore, undoubtedly Enoshima Island is an amazing location to explore and satisfy the curiosity of even the most sceptic travellers.

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Pack your bags for a day trip to Enoshima!

For more information→http://www.odakyu.jp/english/deels/freepass/enoshima_oneday/