If any flower would ever be able to give the Plum blossoms a run for the title of The Flower of February here in Japan, it would be the botan, the humble peony. Right now in any number of gardens, temples, palaces and flower shops around Japan the peony is in full bloom. I saw these beautiful flowers at the entrance of the annual botan exhibition in Kamakura’s Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
Like most shrines in Japan the Goryo Jinja has a lot of trees, and most of them have a story to tell. The most important tree is a mere stump these days, the Yumi-tate-no-matsu (弓立の松) which features in the story of the samurai warrior to which this shrine is dedicated, Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa. It is said that he once visited the spot where his shrine stands today, and during he visit he leaned his bow against this matsu tree (pine tree). Although the tree is long gone, the story lives on and the tree stump is today protected as part of the heritage of the shrine.
The following three photos are of the large tabunoki which has protected and shaded the shrine’s entrance for about 400 years. The tabunoki is often used in Asia as ingredient in the production of incense. After 400 years the tree is absolutely massive at over 20 meters in height! Another old tree that didn’t make it is an old peach tree that finally felled under the weight of the snow in last year’s February snowstorm.
Also standing strong at 400 years of age is the Meotoicho, or husband-and-wife-gingko tree, a twin trunked giant gingko tree. The left is a male, representing the husband, and the right is female, representing the wife. Due to the large amount of fruit produced by this tree it has come to represent a very fruitful married couple and those newly weds who wish for a large family often comes to tree to pay their respects and pray.
There are also a couple of plum trees inside the shrine grounds that were blooming on my visit, and even a Kawazu Sakura tree, the earliest blooming sakura tree variant, even in the Kanto region it starts blooming in February, almost two months before the other sakura trees, as you can see in the last two photos of this blog post.
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.