え is for Egara Tenjinsha

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Another え…

Egara Tenjinsha is in eastern Kamakura, just a few minutes from the larger and better-known Kamakura-gu. I had never been until January 2018, and had always thought it to be a rather small, minor shrine. You can imagine my surprise when I reached the top of the stairway to discover shrine grounds fairly overflowing with New Year’s visitors. The lineup to reach the main hall wrapped around the small plateau, and the lineup to receive… whatever it was everyone was filling out applications for, was equally as long.

Though the sando is pretty average now, once upon a time, it was quite extraordinary. In her book, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu writes that “a long and imposing avenue of ancient pines forms the approach, spanned by a large stone torii.”

Egara Tenjinsha’s main shrine building is a beautiful orange, reminiscent of the buildings of Heian Jingu in Kyoto. According to Guide to Kamakura, by Akemi Ohno, the main sanctuary — a National Important Cultural Property — was originally part of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Ohno writes that it is the only wooden building from the Kamakura period still in Kamakura.

う is for Windsurfing (trust me)

Say what?! You’re probably thinking along the same lines as the English teacher I had during a home stay in France: poor girl has forgotten her English. (Truth: I hadn’t then, and haven’t now.)

In Japanese, “windsurfing” is indeed spelled with a “う”, but with katakana—> ウインドサーフィン, and if romanized, would look like this: uindo saーfu(tiny “i”)n.

Kamakura is a great place to come to enjoy water sports. Year round, you’ll see surfers (regardless of whether the waves are any good), SUP-ers, kayakers, boaters, and windsurfers; and during warmer months, swimmers, and people enjoying personal water crafts like Sea-Doos. A handful or so of rental shops are within walking distance of Yuigahama beach, from the Zaimokuza side to the Sakanoshita side and beyond towards Shichirigahama and Enoshima, and offer lessons.

If you’ve got the time and inclination, Kamakura offers visitors the chance to experience more than just history. Make your trip an overnighter (or more!), and enjoy a wide variety of activities.

え is for Engaku-ji

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I almost chose “Enoshima”, but that would have been cheating, since Enoshima isn’t actually in Kamakura (though it’s a major destination for visitors to the city). That would also have been selling Kamakura short, since one of its most important temples begins with an え: 円覚寺 (Engaku-ji). Actually, I might have to revisit this kana, as there are plenty more え places and things connected to the city.

Located in Kita-Kamakura, right by the station there, Engaku-ji is a Zen temple, and the second of Kamakura’s five great Zen temples. It’s one of the larger temples in the area, and deserves a nice, slow stroll rather than a dash through.

The temple is notable for its Great Bell (a National Treasure), and for the zazen sessions it holds. It also has a good bon festival in mid-August.

Founded: 1282

Festival: Bon Odori is late August. Other events can be found on the Engaku-ji event calendar (Japanese only).

い is for Inari

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Inari, or O-Inari-san, is the Shinto god of rice. He’s often depicted with a few foxes — his messengers — so it’s not surprising that shrines dedicated to O-Inari-san overflow with fox statues and trinkets. Sasuke Inari Shrine, Kamakura’s shrine dedicated to O-Inari-san, is no different, with foxes here, there and everywhere; in every nook and cranny of the forested hillside shrine.

One of Kyoto’s best-known shrines — Fushimi Inari Taisha — is the head Inari shrine, famous for its many (many, many, many) vermillion torii leading to the main shrine grounds. While Sasuke Inari Shrine’s torii aren’t as numerous (according to An English Guide to Kamakura’s Temples and Shrines, there are “as many as 40”), they’re still quite something to behold.

As for its origins, Iso Mutsu wrote in Kamakura: Fact and Legend, “Legend relates that during the early days of the first shogun, while he was still in seclusion at Hirugashima (Izu) the fox messenger of Inari appeared to Yoritomo, predicting that the scene of his future glory lay at Kamakura; hence the erection of this shrine.”

Founded: ~1195

Festivals: Hatsu Uma Matsuri ・ 初午祭 (First Horse Zodiac Festival), to pray for a good harvest in the coming year, celebrated on the first horse day of February (2018 will be Feb 7)