Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, in Kamakura

A stay in Japan would not be culturally complete without a visit to a Shinto shrine, and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu is just one of the more famous of those, located in Kamakura City, near Yokohama (and not far from Tokyo).  Kamakura was an easy day-trip for us as we were staying near Tokyo.

Hachiman-gu is the Shrine of the Samurai deity, named Hachiman.  Turugaoka is the name of the location - meaning the Hill of the Crane.


The Hachiman-gu Shrine complex at this location was built in 1191 and historically was both a Shinto Shrine and Buddhist temple, and also used as a Shogun (Samurai leader) Parliament.  Kamakura City was a Samurai Capital from 1185 until the end of the Shogun rule in 1867.  The buildings you see today were built in 1828 and 1624.
There is a 1000-year old Ginko tree to the left of the stairs, which is now a couple of stumps sprouting new branches, as the giant tree collapsed in a storm in 2010.


From the top of the stone steps, looking down you can see the 1.8km Wakamiya Ouji, the main street in Kamakura leading from the ocean on the south, all the way to Hachiman Shrine.



Wakamiya Ouji has three Torii gates (which you can see in the photograph above) 
and the section closer to Hachiman Shrine has a raised walkway in the middle of the street, lined with Sakura (cherry blossom) trees.  Wakamiya Ouji also happens to be the pathway from Kamakura Station to  Hachiman Shrine, so you can enjoy the historic walk (about 15 min) on your way to the shrine.
I'd love to see this street in the first week of April - Sakura blossom week.


The ponds in Hachiman-gu also have historic significance, dug in 1182, with white lotuses planted in the east pond and red in the west, signifying the warring Samurai clans.  The Minamoto clan (who built the shrine) were represented by the white lotuses, and the Taira clan (who they warred against) were the red lotuses.

Purification is very important when visiting a Shinto Shrine.  You should wash your hands in a certain way which is described here, before proceeding into any shrine.  
I am not a Shinto follower but I like the symbolism of this ritual.

On the day we visited Hachiman-gu, There was a flock of doves circling near the base of Tsurugaoka mountain. 


This is one of the scary-looking Samurai which you see at the Hon-gu 
(Main Shrine at the top of the stairs)

Wakamiya (Lower Shrine):

Stone lanterns line the pathway toward Hachiman-gu.

More information and how to get there here.

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