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The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine of Kamakura

By Nahoko Sato |

If you’re planning to go to Japan, add Kamakura and the temple of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu to your must-see attractions.

THE BEAUTIFUL LITTLE CITY OF KAMAKURA

Are you planning to go to Japan? In your travel destinations you must include Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and… what about Hokkaido? These cities are very famous and worth visiting, but today, DINKtravelers would like to add the charming little city of Kamakura to your travel list.

WHY VISIT KAMAKURA?

Many people know that Kyoto is a famous place because it ruled Japan for many centuries, but it turns out that Kamakura also ruled Japan for over a century. Actually, the Kamakura shogunate was a Japanese feudal military government that was established in 1192 by Minamoto no Yoritomo and lasted until 1333 (it’s called the Kamakura period). During this period there were lots of wars to expand or protect their territories. However, even after those conflicts, in the area there is a shrine called Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, which is beautiful and has a story of sad romance behind it.

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF TSURUGAOKA HACHIMANGU

This shrine is a symbol of Kamakura. Minamoto no Yoriyoshi, ancestor of Minamoto no Yoritomo, conquered Ohshu (in the northern part of Japan) and then came back to Kamakura. Before this battle, he worshipped the guardian god of the Minamoto clan, Iwashimizu Hachimangu, in Kyoto. Then, in 1063, after he came back from the battle, he built Moto Hachiman as a branch of Iwashimizu Hachimangu. Later, Yorimoto moved it to its present location.

MAIN SHRINE – FANTASTIC VIEW OF TSURUGAOKA HACHIMANGU

In Tsurugaoka Hachimangu there are several sub-shrines. Once you reach the site, go first to the main shrine. You’ll need to climb 61 steps, a challenge that is not so easy, but you will have a fantastic view from the top. If you have good eyesight you might be able to see these characters on the name plate 八幡宮 (Hachimangu in Japanese) of the main gate. Following tradition, at that moment, pray for your good fortune!

THE MINAMOTO BROTHERS

When you go back downstairs, you will find a beautiful Maiden (hall of Shinto music and dance) in front of you. This is a place for dance and performance and where a sad romance story begins…

The founder of the Kamakura shogunate, Minamoto Yoritomo, had a brother named Minamoto Yoshitsune. They were brothers but they hadn’t meet until Yoritomo was 33 years old and Yoshitsune was 21. Yoshitsune was a really talented warrior and he made great contributions to help Yoritomo win. At the beginning Yoritomo appreciated his brother’s help, but then Yoshitsune made a huge mistake for which Yoritomo never forgave him. In the end, Yoritomo decided to wage war against Yoshitsune but the result was almost predictable.

Yoritomo was the head of the Minamoto clan, which was the strongest clan at that time. On the other hand, no one backed up Yoshitsune. Disappointed, Yoshitsune ran away to Kyushu (in the south of Japan) to organize his troops, but his ship wrecked and, given his disgrace, Yoshitsune committed a suicide at the age of 30.

SHIZUKA-GOZEN DANCING AT MAIDEN HALL

Yoshitsune had a beloved mistress named Shizuka. She was a traditional dance performer or Shirabyoshi and she was very beautiful. Shizuka and Yoshitsune loved each other very much, and they were together on the way to Kyushu when their ship wrecked. Because of that, she decided to return to Kyoto. However, before she reached the city she was seized by a monk and sent to Kamakura. After that, Yoritomo, her lover’s brother, kept an eye on her because she was pregnant. One day, Yoritomo forced Shizuka to dance in the Maiden Hall at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Although she gave in to his request, she also composed and recited a Tanka (poem of 31 syllables) which she dedicated to her beloved Yoshitsune. This made Yoritomo furious. After a while, Shizuka gave birth to a baby boy whom Yoritomo killed because he didn’t want his late brother’s blood to live on through his son. Shizuka left Kamakura after that, but no one knows what happened to her.

After your visit to this temple, there are lots of other places you can also visit in Kamakura. For example, the Big Buddha, traditional restaurants, more shrines and several other temples.Don’t miss the chance to add Kamakura to your travel list!