The wonderful tiny Goryo Shrine in the city of Kamakura to the southwest of Tokyo is dedicated to the 11th century warrior Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa, born in 1069 A.D. He was a samurai of the might Taira clan, and his first claim to fame was in 1085 during the Gosannen War when he fought for the Minamoto clan. During the early part of the battle his eye was shot through by an enemy arrow, piercing his visor. From his point on the stockade he quickly pulled out his own bow and slew his attacker with a single arrow. Despite having the arrow lodged in his eye socket he continued fighting until his side finally won. Safely back in camp one of his friends volunteered to pull the arrow out by putting his foot Gongoro’s forehead, a huge insult to any self respecting samurai. After having berated the poor fellow for his lack of manners Gongoro had the arrow removed in a more honorable fashion. To commemorate his bravery the shrine to this day is marked with a crest showing two arrows fletchings and people with eye problems traditionally comes here to pray. Naturally, his physical bravery and good reputation proved to be a hit with the ladies and he sired not one but two mighty samurai clans, the Nagae and Kagawa clans. By enshrining his spirit in this shrine it is hoped that his soul will find rest and that it won’t be back to haunt his former enemies.
Another peculiar thing with this shrine is how close it is to the train line of the Enoden Line, which runs barely a couple of feet from the front gate of the shrine, making it a popular spot for trainspotters and photographers alike. The shrine is also the home of many famous trees and even more Gongoro memorabilia which I will talk about later. Among locals, the shrine is often called Gongoro-san, to show respect and familiarity with the great samurai.
One of my favorite shrines in the city of Kamakura southwest of Tokyo in the neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture is the Goryo Jinja (with the name meaning roughly “a shrine dedicated to a honorable soul”). The shrine was founded sometime in the latter half of the 12th century when Kamakura was the capital of Japan to honor and appease the spirit of a great warrior. The shrine is easily accessible from Hase Station on the Enoshima Line or by a rather long walk from Kamakura station, but it is well worth the visit as there are two great temples in the same area, the Hasedera and the Big Buddha of Kamakura. More photos of the shrine, the trees and the story behind the man who inspired it to come!
This year I visited the famous Kanda Myojin Shrine near Akhibara for hatsumode – the first visit to a shrine of the year – pretty early in the day. Lots of people and the obligatory new year’s lion dance. I have seen dozens of lion dancers throughout my years living in Tokyo but the dancers of this troupe is by far the best so far. The most endearing part of this tradition is when they hold up the little kids to have their heads “bitten” by the lions, which is supposed to make for strong healthy children. The bravest ones go through it with a smile but the smaller kids often cry fiercely at the prospect, obviously these kids get the biggest cheers of approval from the sympathetic audience.