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Kanto Region

Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

Beyond the torii gate, you are already in the Shrine. Go over a bridge (there are three small bridges. One in the middle is arched and called "drum bridge"), and you will find a pond both sides. They were made by Masako, and are called -Genpei-pond. "Gen" stands for Minamoto family and "Pei" Taira family, meaning the right-hand pond -obviously larger than the other- is for the Minamotos, and the left-hand one for the Tairas. In summer, immense expanses of lotus leaves cover all over the ponds. The right-hand pond used to have white -Minamoto clan's symbol color- flowers, whereas left-side pond blood-red ones -Taira clan's symbol color-. But, today, each pond has both red and white flowers mixed. In winter, the scene completely changes with lotus leaves and flowers nowhere in sight as shown in the photos.

Also, the Minamoto pond is dotted with three islets, and Taira pond with four. "Three" is pronounced "san" in Japanese which also denotes birth or creating, while "four" is called "shi", homonym for death. Masako wished creativity for the Minamotos and death for the Tairas. These ponds are good evidence to remind us of the two-warlord clans who waged fierce battles more than 800 years ago.

Dance stage

Walk straight ahead for about 200 meters or so and there is a red-colored, square, roofed 1.5-meter-high stage in the center of the courtyard. This is the Ritual Dance Stage to commemorate Lady Shizuka {she-zoo-kah} (birth and death years unknown), a sweetheart of Yoshitsune Minamoto (1159-1189), Yoritomo's half-brother. She had unwillingly to perform the historic dance in the Shrine in 1186 to entertain Yoritomo as well as his family. Back at the time, Yoshitsune's behavior angered Yoritomo to the point that Yoritomo ordered to kill Yoshitsune. While Yoshitsune was fleeing, Lady Shizuka was unfortunately caught and brought to Kamakura. She had grown up in Kyoto, beautiful and elegant with lots of refined Kyoto culture. She was also known as an excellent dancer. Yoritomo tried repeatedly to make her dance but she always turned down. Persuaded by Masako, she finally and reluctantly accepted to dance in front of Yoritomo. On the dancing stage, she sang a song expressing her deep feeling of love toward estranged and fugitive Yoshitsune, which infuriated Yoritomo badly.

A Ginkgo tree

After the Dance Stage is 61-stone-steps. At the left-hand side, there was a huge gingko tree of more than 1000 years old and 30.5 meters high with the root-diameter approx. 15 meters. However, the great gingko tree was knocked down by the strong winds on March 10, 2010.After the certain research was done by the specialists, the diagonosis was made that there might be a slight possibility for the old tree to revive. So, the root still in the ground was left there and the broken trunk was cut in certain length and replanted nearby place. As they are now watered with special care, the young buds were seen from both, the original root and the replanted trunk in Spring 2011.

This is exactly the place where Sanetomo Minamoto (1192-1219), the Third Shogun and the second son of Yoritomo, was stabbed to death in 1219 by his nephew Kugyo Minamoto (1200-1219), then the chief of the Shrine, who hid behind the tree and attacked Sanetomo with a sword when Sanetomo was about to enter the Main Hall to attend a ceremony for his receiving one of the highest official titles conferred by the Imperial Court in Kyoto.

Why on earth did Kugyo assassinate his uncle Historians analyze this way. Sanetomo paid too much attention to Kyoto culture and played up to the Imperial Court, which had authorization to grant official court titles. As a result, Sanetomo was promoted too quickly and his promotion made Kugyo jealous. Secondly, Kugyo thought that had not there been for Sanetomo, Kugyo himself would have succeeded to the Shogunate chair as the first son of Yoriie. Another jealousy. However, the exact cause of the assassination is not necessarily clear. Some says it was an conspiracy plotted by the head of the Hojo clans, or the father of Masako to be exact. Right after the assassination, Kugyo himself was also killed by Sanetomo's guards.

Tower gate

The double-decked, red-colored tower gate you will see after climbing the 61 steps is similar to those of Nio {nee-oh} gates of Buddhist temples and is reminiscent of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism. Unlike the temples' Nio gates, which have the Two Deva kings with threatening aspect, here are two statues of Court Nobles wearing formal costumes. The Tower Gate was rebuilt in 1828 but the statues are of 1624 make. In winter with leafless trees, this spot affords a good view of the Wakamiya-oji main street toward the south.

Main Hall

The building is made of two parts- Haiden or the oratory hall in front, and Honden or the inner sanctum, which is the most sacred part of the entire Shrine. Haiden is the place where all kinds of ritual ceremonies and worships are performed.

Hachimangu Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Ojin (?-310), the Fifteenth Emperor in the early 4th century (current emperor is said to be 125th) together with Empress Jingu (different Chinese ideograph from the one meaning a shrine), and is widely worshiped as the god of warriors.

The Minamoto clan was descendants of imperial family. To be more specific, they were the descendants of the 56th Emperor Seiwa (850-880), and Hachimangu was Emperor Seiwa's tutelary deity. Thus, Yoritomo as a descendant of Emperor Seiwa became an pious adherent of Hachimangu. Initially, the Shrine had been built by Yoriyoshi {yo-re-yo-she} Minamoto (985-1078), Yoritomo's great-great-grandfather, near the beach of Kamakura in 1063, and it still exists as Yui Wakamiya {you-e wah-kah-me-yah} Shrine as noted earlier. It was too small, however, to show off Minamoto clan's muscles. Yoritomo built a new Hachimangu shrine here and named it Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

The vermillion main sanctuary was rebuilt in 1828 by Ienari Tokugawa (1773-1841), the 11th Tokugawa Shogun. (The Tokugawa family claimed they were offspring descended from the Minamotos, and protected the Shrine). Vermillion color dominates the whole wooden structures making a beautiful contrast with verdure of the surrounding trees. Glittering decorations and carvings are spectacular.

The style of architecture is called Gongen Zukuri {gon-ghen zoo-koo-re}, or consisting of two structures, or two gable-roofs in tiers, the oratory in front and the sanctum at the rear, which convey an extraordinary sense of majesty and power. The sanctum does not contains any statues like those of temples. It is adorned with symbolical objects of worship such as a mirror made of polished metal, a sword (both are regalias of the imperial family), a tablet, zig-zag cuts of white paper called Gohei {go-hay} being placed on the altar.

There is a traditional manner to pray before the Haiden of Shinto shrines: Bow twice, clap hands twice and bow once again. Money offering is also needed before the pray. The rich throw a 10,000-yen bill or two, but most people toss in a 10-yen coin into the offertory box. I don't think any gods ever discriminates worshipers depending upon the amount of money they offer. Inside the oratory, some people may be sitting on the tatami-mat floor. They are here to ask Shinto priests to pray to the Shrine god for their well-being such as family safety, business prosperity, recovery from illness, etc. A busy season for the Shinto priests is early to mid-November, when family having children whose ages reach seven, five or three usually visit the Shrine clad with beautiful kimonos or dresses coupled with their parents, and have the priest pray for their good health and bright future. The ceremony is called Shichi-go-san, or Seven-five-three.

On the left-hand side of the Main Hall is an entrance to the corridor-type Treasure House where the Shrine's valuable objects are exhibited.

Included among them are: Seven portable-shrines made in 17th to 18th century, ancient swords, two Yoritomo's sedentary statues, a folding screen on which various stages of war between the Minamoto and Taira clans are painted, a twelve-layered robe for court ladies, a suit of armor, ancient brush-writings and various wooden masks.

A notable art work is a lacquered inkstone case decorated with laminae of mother-of-pearl depicting chrysanthemum flowers with flying birds. The case was a gift conferred on Yoritomo by Emperor Goshirakawa(1127-1192). Gold lacquered quivers of mother-of-pearl work and black-lacquered arrows are also renowned.

In New Year Days, the Shrine sells Hamaya, or exorcising arrows, as good-luck amulets, which originate in this black arrows. It is a good seller and 250,000 of them are sold out during the days.