Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is the largest and most important Shinto shrine in Kamakura, located at the geographical and cultural centre of the city. It is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of war, patron of the Minamoto family and protector of Kamakura’s samurai clans.
The shrine was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063, after the suppression of a rebellion started by clans in the north-east of Japan. The shrine, for the Hachiman kami (Shinto deities) was originally built by the sea to give thanks for success in suppressing the rebellion.
In 1191 Minamoto Yorimoto, founder of the Kamakura government, moved the shrine to its present site, enlarging it and making it more magnificent. He also designed the pine-flanked central promenade, which leads from Kamakura’s waterfront, through the entire city centre to the shrine, with multiple Torii (gates) along the way. When Minamoto developed Kamakura as his capital city, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu played an important part, not only as a religious authority where the shogunate held many majestic rituals, but also as the political centre of the realm.
The approach to the temple runs between two ponds; the Genji pond with three islands (in Japanese san means both three and life) and the Heike pond with four islands (shi means both four and death). These ponds are said to depict the rift between Minamoto’s Genji clan and the rival Heike clan.
The path continued towards the Maiden stage, which is used for dances and music, and the main building is located at the top of a stone stairway. Within the main hall is a small shrine museum, which displays various treasures such as swords, masks and important documents. The grounds are often filled with pigeons that are said to be the helpers of the deities.
Close to the Main Hall is the Kamakura National Treasure Museum, home to remarkable Buddhist statues from the 12th to 16th centuries.
The shrine is a popular place for locals to usher in the new year, as well as being the most visited tourist spot in Kamakura. During the New Year holidays the shrine can receive over two million visitors, as hatsumode (the year’s first visit to a shrine) is celebrated. In mid April and mid September horseback archery is performed along the promenade.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is situated 10 to 15 minutes on foot from Kamakura Station.
Opening hours: 5:00 to 21:00 (6:00 to 21:00 from October to March), admission ends 30 minutes before closing. Open 24 hours from the 1st to the 3rd of January. Admission is free – entrance to the shrine museum costs 200 yen.
- DK Eyewitness: Japan
- Lonely Planet: Japan