Enoshima Shrine – Hetsumiya
The biggest tourist attraction on the picturesque Enoshima island on the Pacific Island coast is probably the Enoshima Shrine. The shrine is one of the big three Benzaiten shrines, the other two are in Lake Biwa and in Hiroshima. Benzaiten is an interesting goddess, in that she came to shinto via Chinese buddhism from her original indian hindu origins. She is the goddess of everything that flows, like music, water, eloquence, words and even knowledge. Since her home is traditionally on the island in the center of the world she is also associated with islands, hence all her three main shrines in Japan are located on islands. Actually the entire island is devoted to her, not only the three shrines that make up Enoshima Shrine.
The legend is quite interesting, since it tells that the island was created by the goddess Benzaiten on May 31st 552 A.D., when she made it rise from the ocean in order to chastise a terrible five headed dragon that had made life miserable for the local villagers for a long time. The dragon fell in love with the beautiful goddess and agreed to stop bothering the villagers and turned itself into a hill. Modern scholars think that the dragon is a metaphor of a local river prone to flooding and that the goddess descent to earth could have its origin in various celestial phenomena.
The Shrine covers most of the island but the most famous and popular part is the Hetsumiya (辺津宮), the middle part. Especially many young couples and singles looking for a partner go to Hetsumiya to pray, as well as people who want to get rich (since Benzaiten is one of the seven Gods of luck), hence the interestingly shaped treasure box of the shrine (in the shape of a money bag). The ema makes for fun reading, as the two examples I photographed. One man, a young Mr. Akihide prayed for success in getting together with his idol, the young singer Atsuka Maeda from the very famous AKB48 girl group. Good luck! Another young woman, Ms. Rie, prayed for luck in getting together with a “tall and kind handsome guy”: I think the Goddess Benzaiten will find it easier to grant her wish but shame for not trying, right?
Behind the shrine, quite well hidden, is a small suikinkutsu (水琴窟), or a water harp (see the last photo). Since the island is so far removed from traffic and busy streets, it was easy to hear the wonderful sound even without using a bamboo hearing aid. You can read more about suikinkutsu in an earlier blog post here.