Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine 鶴岡八幡宮

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮), is the most important shrine in Kamakura. Its extensive grounds contain a number of sub-shrines and several museums.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu can be approached along the picturesque, cherry-tree lined Wakamiya-Oji leading from Yuigahama Beach south to the shrine.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu History

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu was founded in 1063 on another site by Yoriyoshi Minamoto (998-1075), dedicated to the Minamoto clan's deity, Hachiman, the kami of samurai and war.

The shrine was moved to its current location by his descendant, the shogun Yoritomo in 1191, at the beginning of the Kamakura Period of Japanese history to celebrate his 1180 victory over the rival Taira clan.

From the beginning, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine was as much a Tendai Buddhist temple as it was a Shinto shrine, blending the two on the basis of the old Shinto gods being manifestations of the Buddha.

However, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the two religions were forcibly separated by government decree at the expense of Buddhism, when Shinto was made the official state religion. This policy was known as shinbutsu bunri. The giant Nio guardians of the shrine-temple complex were sold off and are now at Jufuku-ji, other important Buddhist buildings were destroyed or lost.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu's fortunes took a nosedive but following the Second World War, the Shrine was restored as an independent institution, and has regained its former importance.

A number of historical events are connected with the shrine including the murder of the third Kamakura shogun Sanetomo by his nephew Kugyo in 1219, supposedly after Kugyo hid behind the huge ginkgo tree that once stood on the grounds (see below).

The Wakamiya (若宮) sub-shrine is associated with Shizuka, a famous dancer and the mistress of Yoshitsune (1159-1189), a brother and rival of Yoritomo. After Yoshitsune fled to Hiraizumi in the north of Japan, Shizuka was questioned about her lover's whereabouts and forced to dance to entertain the shogun and his wife. This story became a favorite theme of writers and artists.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Layout & Buildings

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine occupies a very large area and is characterized by a grandiose geometrical layout (based on geomancy) that reflects its very political beginnings.

Once you pass under the third of three torii gates, you will see the arched Taiko-bashi (Drum Bridge) going over a lotus pond. This bridge used to be reserved for the shogun.

Beyond that is the Mai-den Dance Hall used for performances and the venue for Shizuka's dance (see above), and beyond that the main shrine building (Hongu): a gaudy vermilion and green construct of huge bulk.

The two lotus ponds on the approach to the shrine are the Genji Pond, which has three islands (san - three in Japanese - also means life) and the Heike Pond (so called after the rival Heike or Taira clan), which has four islands (shi means both four and death). According to legend, the ponds were designed by Masako, the wife of Yoritomo and herself a Taira.

Other references to the Genji-Heike feud in the ponds are the white lotuses planted in the Genji Pond - the color of the clan's banner and red lotuses in the Heike Pond - the color of blood.

The steps up to the main shrine were once flanked to the left by a massive ginkgo tree, a replanting of the original one that the nephew of the third Kamakura Shogun, Sanetomo, lay in wait behind for his uncle to enter the shrine on New Year's Day 1219, and killed him on the shrine steps. Unfortunately this 1,000 year old tree was blown down by a winter storm in 2010, though the stump and a replanted section of the trunk have begun to flower again.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura.
Ginkgo tree stump, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Sub-shrines

There are a number of smaller sub-shrines in the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. These include the previously mentioned Wakamiya, the buildings of which date from 1624. The shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Nintoku, the son of Emperor Ojin and three other deities.

Shirahatasha (White Flag Shrine) was built in memory of Yoritomo and Sanetomo, the two godfathers of the Minamoto clan.

There is also an Inari Shrine dedicated to Inari - a kami variously associated with fertility, sake, rice, industry and agriculture and the Hataage Benzaiten Shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods.

The Kamakura National Treasure House Museum

The Kamakura National Treasure House Museum (Kamakura Kokuhokan; 鎌倉国宝館 ) contains the many treasures of Kamakura's various temples as well as items that originated in China. The museum was opened in 1928 to protect the many statues, paintings, ritual objects, calligraphy scrolls, documents, masks, samurai armor and weapons after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The museum contains five National Treasures and its architecture is based on the Shosoin repository at Todaiji in Nara.

The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura

Also within the precincts of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura. Designed by the internationally acclaimed Japanese architect, Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969), it overlooks the Shrine's Heike Pond. The museum's buildings include the original main building and an annex. The museum's collection of over 13,000 exhibits includes western and Japanese-style paintings, prints, craft-works, sculptures and photographs.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Festivals

The main shrine festival takes place on September 15-16 with the Ritai-sai, a ritual involving the chief priest, offerings and shrine maidens on the 15th. This is followed by the colorful Shinko-sai, a procession of a portable shrine (mikoshi), dances, horses and music.

A demonstration of yabusame (horse-back archery) by riders in Kamakura Period costume takes place on the 16th.

An estimated 2 million worshipers come from all over the Kanto area during the New Year Period for the hatsumode ritual (first shrine visit of the year)

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Hours and Admission

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is open from 5am to 8.30pm (gate closes at 9pm) April - September; from 6am to 8.30pm (gate closes at 9pm) October - March and 24 hours from January 1-3.

Admission to the grounds is free; 200 yen for the shrine museum in the Hongu (Main Hall).

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
Kaguraden, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura, Japan.
The ancient ginkgo tree uprooted by the storm of March 10, 2010

Access - how to get to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a 15 minute walk from the East Exit of Kamakura Station along the Danzakura, the cherry-tree lined center of Wakamiya-Oji avenue or along the Komachi-dori shopping street.

Kamakura is located in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo and under an hour by a JR Yokosuka train from Tokyo Station.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (in Japanese & English)
2-1-31 Yukinoshita
Kanagawa Prefecture

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