Enoshima, a rocky outcrop off the Shonan coast, is just over an hour from Tokyo, the perfect distance for a day trip escape from the big city. The island is home to gorgeous vistas, shrines and temples, myriad restaurants and shops, several traditional inns, a marina, a spa and a 59.8-meter observation tower -- so much to see and do that you may want to stay more than one day.
According to legend, a thousand years ago this area was terrorized by a dragon that caused widespread death and destruction. In answer to the prayers of locals, the goddess Benzaiten (more commonly known as Benten) appeared. The dragon fell in love with her and was tamed, becoming her guardian by making himself into a hill on the mainland overlooking Enoshima, the island she created for her home. This hill is now known as Ryuko, or Dragon's Head.
Things to do on the mainland
Ryukoji Temple: Nestled in the Dragon's Head Hill, this Nichiren sect temple is just a five-minute walk from Shonan Enoshima monorail station or Enoshima Enoden station (see below on "Getting There"). The site of the temple was once an execution ground and in 1271, when Buddhist reformer Nichiren was scheduled to be executed there, the executioner's sword was struck by lightning, causing Nichiren to be spared. Features to look for here include the cave where Nichiren was imprisoned awaiting execution, the dragon painting on the temple's ceiling, the five-storied pagoda on the hillside above the temple, and the sonorous temple bell (you can ring it for a small donation).
Ogiya, Japanese sweets shop: This little shop sits on the road approaching Ryukoji, just where the Enoden train becomes a street car. Besides its traditional Japanese sweets heavy on sweet bean paste, the shop boasts the front of a vintage Enoden train car, retired from service in 1990, as part of its store front.
Beaches: Enoshima Eastside Beach, to the east of the causeway leading to Enoshima Island, and Shonan Kaigan Park, extending along the seaside for about a kilometer to the west of the mouth of the Katase River, both offer fun in the sun and surf.
Enoshima Aquarium: Situated in Shonan Kaigan Park, just three minutes from Katase-Enoshima station or 10 minutes from the other two Enoshima stations, this large -- and popular -- aquarium has particular displays on jellyfish, the flora and fauna of Sagami Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and the research undertaken by Emperor Akihito--an established marine biologist. It also has penguin and seal shows and opportunities to shake hands with a dolphin or touch sea turtles. The aquarium takes pains to assert that it handles and treats all its creatures responsibly. Open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from July to November (closing earlier during winter months). Admission is 2,100 yen (adults), 1,500 yen (high school students), 1,000 yen (elementary and junior high students), and 600 yen (pre-school).
Causeway to the island: Since the island is at the mouth of the Katase River, silt build-up has long made the island accessible via a causeway at low tide. Such access is a frequent subject of Edo Period wood-block prints. In the Meiji Period a wooden bridge provided regular access. This was replaced in 1958 by two concrete bridges, one for pedestrians and the other for vehicles. When the sky is clear (i.e., not in the summer months), the causeway is an excellent venue for viewing Mt Fuji. In the first week of April and September, the sun sets almost exactly behind the mountain, creating the popular "Diamond Fuji" phenomenon.
Benten-maru: About halfway across the causeway bridge is the boarding site for the Enoshima ferryboat, Benten Maru. This boat takes passengers to the windward side of the island, from which it is easy to explore the Iwaya Caves (see below) and then walk back across the island (recommended). Or catch the boat from the windward side back to here after you've walked across the island. The boats run back and forth on no fixed schedule (less frequently during winter months) but usually finishing about an hour before sunset. One-way fare is 400 yen (junior high students and older) and 200 yen (elementary students).
Things to do on the island
Benzaiten Nakamise-dori: The entrance to this narrow shrine approach road is marked by a bronze torii gate that is nearly 200 years old. The road is lined with souvenir shops and eateries, as well as a couple of traditional inns with longstanding histories: Ebisu-ya and Iwamotoro. Iwamotoro, in particular, has a long history of housing pilgrims to Enoshima's shrines.
Enoshima Island Spa: Just to the right before passing through the torii gate, this day spa offers a traditional Japanese bath, as well as multiple hot pools. Mixed bathing, so you need a swimming suit. The most interesting pools are on the lower level, in a grotto-like environment, but with some outdoor pools overlooking the sea accessed through a waterfall. There is also a restaurant on the top level, and a cafe just outside the entrance. Sauna, massage and other services are also available. It's easy to relax here for a few hours -- perhaps best at the end of the day when you're tired from your exploration. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer months; a day pass is 2,742 yen, with discounts for afternoon or evening only as well as for elementary school students. Two-day passes are also available.
Enoshima Escar: This series of three covered escalators will take you up to the top of the island with stops at the two mid-levels where you can visit the shrines (see below). You can buy rides on segments only, buy a ticket for all three, or, for 1,000 yen buy the Enoshima one-day Passport, which allows you unlimited rides on the Escar as well as entry to the Samuel Cocking Garden, the Enoshima Sea Candle, and Iwaya Cave, as well as discounts at the aquarium and several shops and restaurants on the island.
Fukuishi: If you skip the Escar and walk up the stairs to the shrine instead, at the first landing you'll find "fukuishi," the lucky stone. According to legend, in the early 17th century a blind man named Sugiyama Kengyo came on a pilgrimage to Enoshima to pray for success in his studies to become an acupuncturist. He stumbled over this large stone and wound up with a pine needle stuck deep into his leg. As he assessed the situation he realized that the pine needle had penetrated so deeply because it was housed in a reed. This gave him the idea of putting acupuncture needles in tubes to facilitate inserting the needle. This method of acupuncture is in common use today.
Hetsu-no-miya (the lower shrine): Founded in 1206, the central shrine for offering prayers is an unpainted wooden shrine building at the top of the stairs; pilgrimage inscriptions are available in the shrine office on the right. Near the Escar landing is a small pond fed by a waterfall. This is a money-washing shrine where it is said that if you wash your money, it will grow. Small baskets are provided for that purpose. Next to the central shrine is an octagonal red and white building called the "hoanden" or Hall of Holy Objects. It houses the shrine’s treasures, two very unique and very beautiful statues of Benten: one nude with pale white skin and the other with a thousand arms. Entry costs 150 yen. Also on these grounds is a satellite shrine of Kyoto's Yasaka Jinja.
Nakatsu-no-miya (the middle shrine): Dating to 853, this vermilion shrine is particularly popular among kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers. Many of the amenities of the shrine have been donated by them -- look for the plaque where you can compare your hands to those of two famous wrestlers.Just below the shrine approach is a landing with wonderful views of the Enoshima Marina, which was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and will also host the yacht racing of the 2020 Olympics.
Street Performers: In the paved plaza outside the entrance to the Samuel Cocking Garden, street performers entertain visitors several times a day during warm weather with a variety of skills ranging from clowns and jugglers to magicians and storytellers.
Samuel Cocking Garden/Enoshima Sea Candle: In 1880, Samuel Cocking, an early British trader in Japan, built huge steam-heated greenhouses here in which he produced a wide variety of plants both for use in Japan and for export. The greenhouses were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but their brick foundations and some signs of the steam plant have been excavated and can be viewed. Also on the site is the Enoshima Sea Candle (so named for its shape like a traditional Japanese candle), a 59.8-meter-tall lighthouse/observation tower with excellent 360 degree views. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission (if you don't have the Eno-Pass): Garden only: 200 yen (children: 100 yen); Tower and garden 500 yen (children 250 yen).
Enoshima Daishi: The temple that originally occupied this site was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration when Buddhism fell from favor. The current temple was built in 1993 and houses a 6-meter statue of Fudomyo. Perhaps more interesting are the temple's circular structure and the two red guardian statues at the entrance.
Yama Futatsu: At one point the laneway leading across the top of the island heads downhill and then up again. This "break" in the island is said to be caused by erosion, creating dramatic views. Notice the laneway leading in the direction of the mainland. If you've crossed the island on foot and plan to also walk back, this is a leafy shortcut.
Okutsu-no-miya: The third of the Enoshima shrines, notice especially the turtle painted on the ceiling of the outer shrine structure, from which prayers are offered. The turtle has a way of looking straight at you, no matter where you stand in the room. It is said that the goddess of this shrine stays in her cave during the winter, only emerging on the first Snake Day (in the Chinese zodiac) in April. The stone torii at the entrance to the shrine ground is said to have been donated by Minamoto Yoritomo in the 12th century after his prayers here for intercession by the goddess Benten. It bears the scars of having been damaged and repaired over the years, most recently in a typhoon in 2004.
The Bell of the Dragon's Love: A small wooded park overlooking the sea plays host to racks of small padlocks left behind by lovers to "lock in" their love. The practice is to ring the bell together just before affixing the lock. The views are great, too.
Windward view eateries: Several traditional restaurants sit atop the island offering beautiful views and traditional dishes, particularly featuring "shirasu" (dried baby anchovy) and "sazae" (turban shell). Whether you have walked across the island or climbed the stairs from the Benten Maru boat landing, by this time, you may just be ready to rest and have a cool drink.
Iwaya Caves: These two caves on the windward side of the island are the product of erosion, but are thought to be the original home of Benten and her dragon guardian, and therefore Enoshima's "power spot." Although both caves have electric lights, in the first cave, visitors are given a candle to also light their way. At the back of the second cave, strike the drum and awaken the dragon. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (4 p.m. in winder months). Admission (if you don't have the Eno-Pass): 500 ye (children 200 yen).
Other special tourist amenities on the island include camera stands, so that you don't have to take selfies, and QR codes on various notice boards, providing links to additional tourist information in multiple languages.
On various signs and structures across the island you may also notice a small symbol: two side-by-side triangles with a third triangle on top of them. This is the family crest of the Hojos, who served as regents from 1203 to 1333 during the Kamakura Bakufu. Hojo Tokimasa, father-in-law of Minamoto Yoritomo, Japan's first shogun and founder of the Kamakura Bakufu, is said to have made a pilgrimage to Enoshima, praying for the success of his offspring, during which he dreamt a large green dragon who told him that his descendants would be rulers of Japan. As a token of this prophesy, the dragon left behind three of its scales, which were stylized into the Hojo family crest.
Enoden Line: The immensely popular Enoshima Dentetsu, or Enoden, runs back and forth on a single line of rails between Kamakura and Fujisawa, with interlocking stations to allow trains to travel in both directions simultaneously. It’s been running since 1902 and still retains its early 20th century feel. The station closest to Enoshima is called Enoshima and is about 500 meters inland from the causeway.
Shonan Monorail: The Shonan Monorail, opened in 1970, runs between Ofuna Station (one stop before Kita-Kamakura on the Yokusoka line) and Shonan Enoshima Station, which is just a couple of dozen meters inland from Enoden Enoshima Station. The entire trip of 6.6 kilometers takes less than 15 minutes, passing through some interesting neighborhoods and affording views of Mt Fuji in some places. The train’s unique design (the cars hang from a rail rather than sitting on a rail) makes it simply fun to experience. This is a great way to get to Enoshima if you're travelling on JR from Tokyo; just change at Ofuna.
Odakyu Enoshima Line: Running from Fujisawa and terminating at Katase-Enoshima, this line is particularly handy for visitors leaving Tokyo via Shinjuku; express trains make the trip in 65 minutes. The Katase-Enoshima station building is an interesting structure, reminiscent of a Chinese temple. Ask about the Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass; depending on your itinerary this may provide some savings.© Japan Today