Sunday, September 2, 2012


Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja (Zeniarai Ugafuku Jinja)         UC

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Tunnel entrance of Zeniarai Benziten Jinja
(all photos Joseph Cali)
Date founded: Founded around 1185 at the behest of Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99).  Present buildings from some time after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
Address: 2-25-16 Sasuke, Kamakura City, Kanagawa 248-0017
Tel/Information: 0467-25-1081
How to get there: JR Yokosuka Line to Kamakura Station. Then about 25 minutes on foot or 5 to10 minutes by taxi.
Enshrined kami: Benzaiten also known as Ugafukujin.
Prayers offered: Pray to increase your money, prosperity, success in business, success in artistic endeavors, and safety on the sea. 
Best time to go: As with many popular shrines, it is best to go early or on weekdays to avoid crowds.

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Through the tunnel and into the shrine
Important physical features: The shrine is reached after a walk up a steeply inclined road that leads to a tunnel passing through a sort of natural cliff of stone, topped with trees. At the entrance to this short tunnel stands a stone torii pressed up against the rock, and a large, stone marker with the name of the shrine carved into it. If one were not told, "It's okay to enter," not many would have the courage to do so. The shrine itself is not visible until one passes through this dark tunnel. Exiting the other side again brings you into the light and to another tunnel of sorts; this one made of wooden torii donated to the shrine by worshippers. The shrine has scores of torii concentrated within a relatively small multi-level space, surrounded by cliffs. But the next surprise in this series of surprises is the presence of a large incense burner of the type normally found at Buddhist temples, busily spouting fragrant smoke. Zeniarai Benzaiten is an example of the fusion of Buddhism and Shinto elements (Shinbutsu shūgō) that was the norm in Japan before the Meiji era forced separation of the religions. Directly behind the incense burner is a cave which is the main destination of the worshipper. Here, at a small trough fed by a stream that flows through the rock, is where people come to wash their money in hopes of seeing it grow through the blessings of the kami. In other words the most important physical property of this shrine is the natural spring water that is said to make money double after being washed here. Exiting the cave and walking to the opposite side of the clearing, one finds a small spring and pond with a small shrine accessed by a bridge. While there are a number of wooden shrine buildings, this cave is essentially the main shrine (although the small wooden shrine next to the cave is designated as the honsha). The cave itself is considered the okumiya or "inner shrine" usually thought of as the place where the kami originally manifested.There is another entrance to the shrine nearer the cave, which is the original entrance (the tunnel was built in the modern era). The map below gives a clear idea of the layout of this remarkable little shrine.

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
The cave and honsha
Important spiritual features: The god enshrined at Zeniari Benzaiten is identified as both a Shinto kami and a Hindu god brought to Japan by way of Buddhism. Shrine legend records that in 1185 (coincidentally the year that his younger brother Yoshitsune destroyed the rival Taira clan at Dan no Ura to end the Gempei War), Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199) ordered the construction of a shrine at this location after an old man—who identified himself as the kami Ugafukujin—told Yoritomo that if he would use the pure water of a holy spring that flows from among the rocks of a valley northwest of Kamakura as an offering whenever he prayed to the deities, that the country would have peace and prosperity. The dream occurred in the hour of the snake (about 10am), on the day of the snake (the 12th or the 24th), in the month of the snake (August of September) of the year of the snake (1185). The shrine was originally dedicated to Uga no kami, an obscure kami possibly derived from Uka no mitama, a spirit of grain mentioned in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, often depicted as a snake with or without a human head. This is the principle kami of Inari, originally considered the kami of the rice grain. However, for complex reasons, Inari’s animal familiar is a fox not a snake. At some point in the tenth or eleventh century, this god became identified with the Hindu goddess Sarasavarti—known in Japan as Benzaiten. Both gods were associated with snakes and water and the association—like so many others—may have first been made by the Tendai monks of Mt. Hiei. Early Benzaiten belief centered on Chikubujima in Lake Biwa. I go into detail on the history and associations of Benzaiten in entries for Chikubujima and Itsukushijima. in "Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion." Here, I will focus only on the associations at Zeniari Jinja.
Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Inside the cave with water trough
            The water was originally used to wash rice seed as a prayer for a good crop. It was only later, during the reign of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-63) that the custom of washing money in the stream as a way of gaining prosperity was begun. This is when the name zeniarai no mizu (literally money-washing water) begins to occur. It is less clear exactly when this kami came to be identified with Benzaiten, but it was probably as a result of the general identification of native and imported gods prevalent throughout the Heian and Kamakura periods. It is also perhaps the influence of one of Japan's most famous shrines to Benzaiten, the nearby Enoshima Jinja. It was also Yoritomo who invited the deity to this (much older) shrine, which was originally dedicated to the Munakata deities. As I mentioned previously, both gods were identified with water and the snake. In addition, Benzaiten who is considered a goddess of the arts, especially music and literature, also came to be identified with prosperity. This may have been partly the result of a change in the use of the characters for “benzai” from ones reflecting this meaning, to ones reflecting the bestowing of property. The main object of worship (shintai) of this shrine is a stone sculpture of a snake with a human head, said to have come from Izu. A wooden representation of it is on view next to the spring inside the cave. As with other shrines where the snake is considered a manifestation of the kami—such as Omiwa in Nara—eggs (the serpents favorite food) are on sale for offering to the deity.

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Layout of Zeniarai Benzaiten
Description: The hills that surround three sides of Kamakura—a city which is often considered the "Kyoto of the East"—contain many narrow mountain passes, old caves and waterways. The city thrives within these tight confines, culminating in a basin that faces Sagami Bay to the south. The great Wakamiya Oji Avenue that was built in imitation of Suzaku-oji in Kyoto runs from the bay to Kamakura’s most important and popular shrine; Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Of the many caves and springs  Zeniarai Benzaiten's are the most popular and the shrine to be the second most visited in Kamakura, drawing over 900,000 visitors a year (compared to Hachimangu's 8.35 million). The shrine's grounds are surrounded with cliffs, making it easy to understand the area’s ancient name kakuresato (“hidden village”). The atmosphere is somewhat akin to the “kamikakushi” of the 2001 animation “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki, where a passage through a tunnel leads surprisingly to a small, hidden town. While not exactly of the same scale there are a number of buildings including the honsha, upper and lower mizusha (dedicated to a water kami), a bridge, shrine office, etc. And then there is the cave in which the spring creates a small rivulet. The water that flows here is called one of the “Five Pure Wells” of Kamakura. The cave is lit with candles and a platform made of bamboo that stands above the water holds a number of ladles and baskets. Money is placed in a basket and water from the stream is ladled over it. While Zeniarei literally means “coin-washing” (zeni is an expression for money from a time before paper bills) worshippers will wash anything of value including bundles of 10,000-yen bills and credit cards. Benzaiten (also called Benten) is a kami known as a fukujin—a kami that bestows good luck. She is the only female member of a group known as the shichifukujin (seven gods of good fortune), a grouping that perhaps originates from the 16th or 17th century. The group is thought to be influenced by popular stories of the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove” of Chinese Taoist iconography and constitutes the most popular group of kami in Japan. The Japanese grouping is a mix of imported and amalgamated gods, typically depicted riding on a treasure boat (takarabune) and bringing good fortune.

Festivals: Benten Matsuri on the first Serpent Day of February.

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