The ancient capital of Kamakura is one of the most popular day-trip destinations for both Tokyoites and tourists. And rightfully so—the beautiful city is dotted with historic sites, one of the most prominent being the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
Its brilliant vermilion color is breathtaking even from afar and once you’ve started exploring its vast shrine grounds, you’ll make one fascinating discovery after another. We’ll guide you around to show you some of the shrine’s most impressive spots that you absolutely cannot miss when visiting Kamakura!
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, a Prominent Landmark and Remnant of the Kamakura Shogunate
Indeed, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is representative for Kamakura itself. Its history can be traced back to 1063 and begins with the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in Kyoto’s Yawata, which Minamoto no Yoriyoshi worshiped as his patron deity. He first established a branch of the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine at Kamakura’s Yuigahama area. After that, the shrine was transferred to its current position in 1880 by Minamoto no Yoritomo. That further establishing Kamakura as the undeniable center of the Kamakura Shogunate, founded in 1191 by the same Minamoto no Yoritomo.
While the shogunate faded, the shrine persisted, playing a central role in daily life, religion, and various other aspects of Japanese culture. To this day, numerous people flock to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu for various reasons—to worship, to participate in festivals, to sink into the lush nature on the premises. We highly recommend visiting the shrine first thing in the morning, when the shrine grounds are comparatively empty, and you can explore the enigmatic place leisurely.
Walking Dankazura, the Stone Path Shrine Approach
Long ago, this beautiful stone path called Danzakura was built straight from Yuigahama to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu as a prayer to bless the shogun’s wife with a safe and easy delivery of their child. The most traditional way to worship at the shrine is to walk Danzakura in the center of Wakamiya Oji. As you approach Ninotorii, the vermilion gate that marks the entrance to the shrine grounds, the path becomes narrower and the banks lower, making the rest of the way appear longer than it actually is.
Through Sannotorii Gate To Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
A large vermilion torii gate rises up in front of you. This is Sannotorii, the entrance to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and a wonderful spot for a commemorative picture. By the way, the first of the three gates is called Ichinotorii and made out of stone. If you have time, simply walk the Danzakura shrine approach back towards the sea.
After cleaning your hands at the temizuya basin, proceed along the main approach and you’ll get to the majestic maidono stage, painted in a beautiful red.
According to legend, the beautiful building was built where Shizuka Gozen, one of the most famous women of Japanese literature, danced and composed a poem while thinking of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a beautiful piece about her longing for her beloved. During the Kamakura Matsuri festival in spring, this building will be the venue for performances of Shizuka’s Dance, while you’ll often see weddings taking place there as well.
Further ahead is a large ginkgo tree that is 1,000 years old and was once designated as a national monument of Kanagawa Prefecture. To the left are the large stone steps leading to the main shrine. It is said that this ginkgo is where the third Minamoto shogun was assassinated by his nephew who hid behind that very tree. Unfortunately, it had to be felled in 2010. However, a young bud started sprouting from the remaining roots, promptly being called the old tree’s child. This parent-child connection has become symbolic for approaching the future with hope in one’s heart.
Up the Stone Steps to the Shrine’s Main Hall
The main hall is appearing before you with every step you climb. The gold-on-black sign says “Hachimangu” and with a bit of imagination, the first character 八 looks like a pigeon. White pigeons are often used as messengers by the deity Hachiman and you will find several around the precincts.
Looking back at the stone steps, you can see the entire shrine approach stretching all the way to Yuigahama. The air was clear on our visit, so we could even spot Izu Oshima in the distance. The scenery of Kamakura sprawling at your feet and the ocean in the back is magnificent.
The main shrine enshrines three deities in total: Emperor Ojin, Himegami, and Empress Jingu. The current shrine was built in 1828 by the Shogun Tokugawa Ienari. Shining in vermilion red, the majestic building is designated as important cultural property. If you want to worship, bow twice, clap twice, say a quiet prayer, and bow once more in front of the main hall.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine is deeply connected to Japan’s samurai culture and is also home to numerous national treasures, such as tachi long swords, archery-related items, a robe, a lacquered inkstone case, and more. They’re stored in the Treasure House just next to the Main Hall, don’t miss out on the opportunity to see them from up close.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., irregular holidays
Admission: 200 yen for adults, 100 yen for children
*The exhibits change at the end of the year.
After praying at the shrine, Japanese people often go buy an omikuji, a fortune slip. They’re available at three different locations: in front of the main hall, at the bottom of the stone stairs, and next to the maidono. Tsurugaoka Hachimango offers two kinds of omikuji, with the standard one being available for 100 yen and the ones with a little pigeon charm cost 200 yen.
Should your fortune slip show misfortune or even great misfortune, there’s no need to worry. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine has unique “bad omikuji boxes” that let you exchange your misfortune slips to great fortune slips! You simply put the fortune slip into the box and then put your hand around the arrow in the middle for a moment.
Why not take a short break after worshiping at the main hall? There are three free resting areas on the precincts at Yanagihara, Oyatsu, and Genpei Pond. Each offers a variety of light snacks and tea. It’s a great opportunity to rest one’s feet and take in the scenery and atmosphere of the shrine.
Exploring the Shrine Grounds and Its Many Smaller Shrines
The is the Maruyama Inari Shrine. Inari is the deity of fertility and prosperity. In the past, people prayed at this shrine for a bountiful harvest, now it is success in business. It is also the oldest shrine on the precincts, dating back to the Muromachi era, and it is designated as a national important cultural property.
Each of the smaller shrines on Tsurugaoka Hachimangu’s grounds is known for bestowing different blessings upon its parishioners. There are also different lucky charms, wishing plaques, and stamps, in case you’re interested in collecting different souvenirs.
Head back towards the main shrine and you’ll find the beautiful Yanagihara Shinchi Pond to the left, surrounded by lush green in summer and adorned with vivid colors in autumn. In June, the Firefly Festival sees numerous fireflies illuminating the night, while the Cricket Festival in September is a stunning concert of nature.
These two mysterious stones are on the way to Shirahata Shrine.
The flag of the Minamoto clan was white, so this shrine was given the literal name of “White Flag Shrine.” It is dedicated to Minamoto no Yoritomo and Minamoto no Sanemoto, his son, and said to bring fortune for academic achievements and other sorts of victory.
Heading back via the shrine approach of Shirahata Shrine, a large, beautiful pond spreads in front of you. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu’s grounds have two ponds called the Genpei Pond on the east and the Heike Pond on the west. The Genpei Pond represents the Minamoto Clan while the Heike Pond represents the Taira clan. Their rivalry ended with the triumph of the Minamoto and the establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate.
There are three islands in the Genpei Pond and the character for “three” is pronounced like the character for “birth.” The Heike Pond, on the other hand, has four islands, and “four” sounds just like the Japanese word for “death.” This ominous connection is what gave these ponds their respective names.
The scenery of dense cherry blossoms in spring and lotus flowers blossoming in red and white during summer make for stunning sceneries.
The Peony Garden (admission: 500 yen) is also near the Genpei Pond. It is open between January and February, as well as April and May when the peonies blossom beautifully. The well-maintained garden creates a wonderful atmosphere together with the many lotuses.
In the middle of the Genpei Pond stands the Hataage Benzaiten Shrine. It is said to have been built by Hojo Masako, a prominent female leader of the time. Oeyo, the wife of second shogun Tokugawa Hidetada is said to have worshiped to Benzaiten here. It’s also one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Kamakura and the white flag fluttering over the pond is a sight refreshing both heart and mind.
Last but not least, the path takes us to Café Kazenomori looking on the Heike Pond. The scenic seats offer a wonderful opportunity for an elegant break.
Sip some tea, try some sweets, or indulge in a full meal while gazing upon the pond spreading before you. You can see the old Museum of Modern Art from inside the café. It is being renewed right now and will reopen in spring 2019 under a new name.
- Address 2-1-31 Yukinoshita, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 248-0005
Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (changes by season)
Closed: open every day
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Deeper Into History: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine’s Many Events
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is an old and important shrine, thus boasting a plethora of festivals and events throughout the year.
Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the year), Setsubun, the Iris Festival, the Firefly Festival, Tanabata, and the Grand Festival in September are only some of the examples. The lush nature that thrives on the shrine grounds offers a treasure trove of seasonal experiences as well, including cherry blossoms, irises, wisteria, lotus flowers, and autumn leaves.
No matter when you visit the shrine, you’ll immediately be engulfed and calmed by its tranquil, enigmatic atmosphere, stepping back in time and experiencing a very old part of Japanese culture.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine isn’t only a must-see spot for history buffs. The ancient site, nestled in an equally ancient city, offers a unique glimpse into Japanese history and culture while casting an enigmatic spell on you with lush nature and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Take your time exploring the vast shrine grounds—there are many discoveries to be made.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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