Happy New Year!!
(left; Benzaiten, Kamakura period, 13th century, at Tokyo National Museum)＊２
by Utagawa Hiroshige （1797～1858）, Edo period
The photo you see below is of Enoshima Shrine. Located in Sagami Bay off Fujisawa, not far from Edo (Tokyo), the shrine and the island were a very popular pilgrimage destination during the Edo period (1603～1868). Interestingly, visits to Enoshima served to both meet religious demands and sightseeing touring desires of the people back then. It was a peaceful age so high and low alike could safely go on a pilgrimage + sightseeing trip to many pilgrimage sites.
Along the water front, you can explore deep caves called Iwaya which were created by erosion. In one of the caves there still remain many stone Buddhist relics that were carried there by ancient people. The religious history of Enoshima can be traced back as far as the seventh century. Going on further and further into the dark cave, you reach the spot where the original Enoshima Shrine was set up a long time ago. Legend has it that the cave path underground leads to the Narusawa ice cave at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
Iwaya by Utagawa Hiroshige, Edo period
Enoshima is also well known as a cat island. Many strays stroll and sleep here and there. Many of them are fat and look quite tame.There are many souvenir shops in the island.
Unike in the Edo period, the Shrine has officially held the three Munakata sea goddesses as its principal deities since the Meiji era (1868～1912）. This sea goddess triad has usually been identified with Benzaiten. I have no idea if this change happened for some spiritual reason or some political expedient due to the anti-Buddhist movement that occurred in the period, but the Benzaiten, the symbol of Enoshima, is still enshrined in a hall called Hoanden (奉安殿） and attracts lots of modern visitors.
In winter the top of the island is decorated with many lights.
kawaii earthen snake bell. Snakes are thought to be the messengers of Benzaiten. 2013 is the year of the snake.
The island also has a famous five-headed dragon legend but I don’t want to make the post long so if you are interested in the dragon, read the details on the website by Robert.Juhl.Ph.D.here.
*1 Enoshima Engi (江島縁起）
*2 from a private collection (photography permitted)