Enoden: Beside the Seaside, Beside Benten

The first foreign residents and later “globe-trotters”1 to venture any distance beyond the Foreign Settlement of Yokohama in the 1860s and 1870s did so on horseback or on foot — and trod carefully. In September 1862, the British merchant Charles Lennox Richardson was slashed to death by samurai while riding along the Tokaido road. In October 1864, Major George W. Baldwin and Lieutenant Robert N. Bird of the British garrison based in Yokohama were murdered in cold blood on a sightseeing trip to Kamakura. 

When the writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) made his “Pilgrimage to Enoshima”2 in 1890, he and his Buddhist guide were able to begin their journey by train. At Kamakura, a town connected with the fledgling railway network only the previous year, the pair boarded rickshaws before heading “melancholy” through the “mouldering hamlet” to begin the day’s adventure. By now, Japan was warming to the inquisitive waves of foreign travelers, and Hearn could kick back in his chair and relax. Like the countless pilgrims over the centuries before him, however, Hearn had to complete the last stage of his journey from Kamakura to Enoshima on foot — over 400 meters of “damp firm sand.”

Our path turns sharply to the right, and winds along cliff-summits overlooking a broad beach of dun-coloured sand; and the sea wind blows deliciously with a sweet saline scent, urging the lungs to fill themselves to the very utmost; and far away before me, I perceive a beautiful high green mass, an island foliage-covered, rising out of the water about a quarter of a mile from the mainland — Enoshima, the holy island, sacred to the goddess of the sea, the goddess of beauty. I can already distinguish a tiny town, grey-sprinkling its steep slope. Evidently it can be reached today on foot, for the tide is out, and has left bare a long broad reach of sand, extending to it, from the opposite village which we are approaching, like a causeway.

Not long after Hearn’s trip to Enoshima, the first bridge would be built connecting the island with the mainland. Further easing access to the island just another few years later would be the opening, in 1902, of the Enoshima Electric Railway (Enoshima dentetsu), initially as a tramway connecting inland Fujisawa Station on the Tokaido Line with present-day Enoshima Station on the coast. 

The approach to the island of Enoshima today

Popularly known as the Enoden, the line today — still officially a “tramway” because it runs along a vehicular road between Enoshima and Koshigoe — connects fifteen towns on a 10-km stretch of coastline between Fujisawa and Kamakura. Two- or four-car trains run slowly along the line’s single track at 12-minute intervals in either direction. The Enoden serves local residents, of course, but most passengers, especially on weekends and in the summer, are day-trippers who have come to enjoy the beaches or explore the many cultural heritage sites along the route.

With its wooden station buildings and even some wooden-floored trains, the Enoden retains the tramway feel of the good old days. JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO

Anime pilgrims come to pay their respects to the opening scene in the classic “Slam Dunk” manga series.  JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO

In Praise of Benzaiten

Enoshima’s accessibility necessarily improved with the rapid rise of tourism at the turn of the twentieth century, but the island does not suffer unduly from over-commercialization or over-crowding, despite its proximity to Tokyo and Yokohama. The narrow shopping street that leads from the bronze torii gate to the shrines on the hill retains its trinkety charm, and the hand-weathered “lucky stone,” monkey-engraved monument, “pretty teahouses” and “Dragon cavern” can all still be found more or less exactly as Hearn described them 130 years ago. 

The bronze torii gate at the entrance to Enoshima with the narrow shopping street and gateway to the first shrine on the hill beyond JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO

Which is not to say the place was not once much grander still.

The Meiji Restoration of 1868, which catalyzed Japan’s modernization including the development of the railways, was accompanied by a government-enforced separation of Buddhism and Shintoism and, in the case of Enoshima, a purging of its Buddhist structures including its Benzaiten icons. Benzaiten, also known as Benten, is the preeminent muse of Japanese artists, an agricultural deity invoked for bountiful harvests, and the sole female among Japan’s Seven Gods of Good Fortune3. In the Edo-period (1603–1867), when the Tokugawa shogunate opened the island to ordinary folk, geisha, kabuki actors, samurai and farmers flocked to Enoshima to pay their respects.

“Pilgrimage of Female Entertainers to Enoshima to Pay Homage to Benzaiten,” by Utagawa Hiroshige, c. 1835. The Enoshima-Mount Fuji “view” from the mainland was captured by many of the great Edo-period ukiyo-e artists.

Kabuki actors were among the pilgrims who came to pay their respects to Benzaiten on Enoshima. Many left stone lanterns as gifts. 

Yet in Hearn’s account of his visit to Enoshima, we read that “Benten has been hidden away by Shinto hands.” Indeed a great deal was lost in the purge4. Still, religious reforms after World War II saw a resurgence in the free worship of Benzaiten, and two revered statues of the goddess dating from the Kamakura period (1185–1332), which had been closeted away and badly damaged5, can now be viewed, lovingly repaired, in the Hoanden hall. The white painted statue of a nude Benzaiten playing the lute is a thing of rare beauty.

The Hoanden forms a part of the second of three shrines which collectively make up Enoshima Shrine. These are visited in turn by an ascent and descent of the small, steep island. 

The first of the three shrines of Enoshima, Hetsunomiya. Note the lute to the right. Benzaiten is the goddess of music and the arts, among other things. JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO

At the top of the hill is a garden, known today as the Samuel Cocking Garden after the Anglo-Australian entrepreneur who once owned it. Cocking (1842–1914) is a surprisingly obscure figure in Japan today given his contribution to the nation’s modernization through all variety of innovative enterprises including electric lighting, bicycles, soap, pharmaceuticals, and the first goods and services for amateur photographers6. Cocking initially amassed a fortune through the sale of curios to the burgeoning foreign tourism trade, including Buddhist icons made available during the Buddhist-Shinto separation. According to historian Uchida Teruhiko, however, Cocking was motivated in his dealings by a spirit of preservation, and cites a remarkable episode in which the polymath businessman declines an offer to purchase the Great Buddha at Kamakura for practically no money at all.7

In 1880 Cocking purchased a large plot of land at the top of the island and began building a botanical garden including a huge greenhouse in which he grew tropical plants using boiler heat. The greenhouse would be destroyed in the earthquake of 1923 but the red brick foundations have been preserved and today are filled with roses. A new lighthouse and observatory was erected on the edge of the garden in 2003. Beyond the garden is the third of the three shrines and the “Dragon cavern” of the island’s folkloric origins on the shore below.



Preserved remains of the red brick greenhouse built by Samuel Cocking for his botanical garden

The “Sea Candle” lighthouse and observation tower viewed from the Samuel Cocking Garden. The Sea Candle was completed in 2003, replacing the original 1951 structure, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Enoden.

View over the yacht harbor at Enoshima. Enoshima will host the sailing event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO


To Hase and Kamakura

After a morning exploring Enoshima and a lunch perhaps of locally harvested shirasu (tiny baby sardines), most day-trippers will jump back on the Enoden and head to Hase or to the terminal station, Kamakura.

Hase-dera temple houses a huge gilded wooden statue of the eleven-headed Kannon, reputed to have been carved in 721. JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO


Images of Benzaiten are carved into the walls of the cave at Hase-dera temple and hundreds of tiny statues fill the crannies along its low, twisting pathway. JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO

Hase is the location of Hase-dera temple, which houses the huge, gilded eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Nearby is the aforementioned Great Buddha of Kamakura, the towering bronze statue of Amida Buddha. A visit to all these sites may leave the traveler weary of pressing on to Kamakura, where it’s a long, straight walk to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the center of the once great city of Kamakura, once also a Tendai Buddhist temple but now strictly a shrine.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, at the end of the Enoden line. Major George W. Baldwin and Lieutenant Robert N. Bird were murdered by samurai close to where this photograph was taken, in October, 1864. JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO

Hearn concluded his piece on his own day-trip to Enoshima and Kamakura still in melancholy mood, leaving “the void, dusty, crumbling temple” of Koshin with these words:

The whistle of a locomotive warns me that I shall just have time to catch the train. For Western civilisation has invaded all this primitive peace, with its webs of steel, with its ways of iron. This is not of thy roads, O Koshin!—the old gods are dying along its ash-strewn verge!

Maybe so. But Hearn made sure not to miss that train! 

Alex Hendy, The Japan Journal

Notes and acknowledgments: 

  1. The term “globe-trotter” originated in Yokohama in the 1870s to describe the new breed of tourist arriving at the treaty port.
  1. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, Lafcadio Hearn, 1894

3, 4 and 5. Mark Schumacher:

6. Luke Gartlan (2009); “Samuel Cocking and the Rise of Japanese Photography,” History of Photography, 33:2, 145–164, DOI: 10.1080/03087290902768073

7. Uchida Teruhiko, “Enoshima and Samuel Cocking”: (Japanese only)


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