If you're looking for a peaceful day trip from Tokyo, Enoshima is the ticket. This tiny little island off the coast is one of the most serene and beautiful places I had the chance to visit on my last trip to Japan. It was so perfect and quaint it felt like a cartoon seaside village from a Miyazaki film. Hiking up and down the island you'll be able to see stunning shrines, perfectly manicured parks, a secret garden, and if you're VERY VERY lucky, a wonderful view of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is known as the shy mountain so don't expect to see anything but feel lucky if you do. The island itself is inaccessible to vehicles, making it an incredibly quiet location, and walking up the hills, sometimes the only sounds which can be heard the birds and wind through the trees.
Enoshima is accessible by three train, each of which has its separate station. Depending on where you’re departing from will determine which line is best for your trip. If you're departing from Tokyo the best options is the express train from Shinjuku station which will take you to Fujisawa station. From here you can board a local train to Katase Enoshima Station. One way tickets for this route costs 630 yen and takes around 65-75 minutes. If you're planning on visiting Kamakura and other locations around the area, consider buying the Odakyu Railways Enoshima/Kamakura Free Pass which is 1470 yen and gives you unlimited use of trains between Fujisawa and Kamakura and Odakyu trains between Fujisawa and Enoshima.
The Legend of Enoshima
Understanding the legend which surrounds this island will help you understand the people and the history of this place.
There was once an evil dragon, with five heads, who settled in the bottomless swamp among the mountains of Fujisawa and tormented the people of the village. The peasants feared the dragon like no other as he would steal their children away in the middle of the night. Then, one day, an immense clouds enveloped the sea, and an earthquake erupted. From the clouds emerged a heavenly maiden, Benzaiten, and from the sea she brought with her an island, Enoshima Island. The dragon fell in love with the maiden and proposed to her but she refused him because of all the evil things he had done. The dragon spent the next few years trying to mend his evil ways. He even turned himself into stone to show her how much he loved her. Eventually, the maiden forgave the dragon for the things he had done wrong and freed him from the stone mountain which had formed around him. After he was set free, they were married. Today the maiden Benzaiten still guards Enoshima along with the dragon, who now also protects the Islanders.
If you're visiting Japan in the summer, the city can get pretty warm so escaping to a beach might be just what you need on one of those hot, humid days. Enoshima has some of the best beaches close to Tokyo and although they can get crowded, arrive early to pitch your towel and relax on the sand all morning long. Japanese crowds are so polite and organized, even if it's crowded when you arrive you'll find it easy to squeeze in.
Should I get the Enoshima Day Pass?
The Enoshima Day Pass (separate from the Odakyu Railway Pass) costs 1000 yen and gives you access to the Samuel Cocking Garden, observation tower and the caves as well as the use of the escalators used to get up and down the island’s hills. You can always buy individual tickets for the escalators but they cost 300 yen each way. The gardens with observation access and the caves each cost 500 yen to enter so the pass pays for itself in those fees alone. But that’s only if you’re planning on visiting this two sites. If not, the pass isn’t worth it. If you do end up with the pass and you're feeling a little tired by the time you near the top, you'll be able to ride the escalators free of charge! I still prefer the stairs myself but if you have a disability or just aren't feeling up to it that day, the pass is definitely a good choice.
Walking from the train station towards the island, across the causeway, is one of my favourite parts of visiting the island. The pedestrian walkways towards the island is wonderfully decorated with statues and fantastically manicured gardens, framing the ascent to the island perfectly. As you approach, you'll pass through the dragon-shaped stone lanterns which are the gatekeepers of the island. It’s amazing how different the landscape here is from Tokyo, you can smell the air blowing off the ocean.
The waterfront on Enoshima island on the north side is vastly different front the south, were the famed Iwaya caves are located. This part of the island has a steep drop off towards the waters looking out at Sagami Bay. There is a small park along the waterfront with a few dozen small sculptures to gaze at. This park is dedicated to both the Olympics, held here in 1964 as well as representations of the Goddess Benten whom the entire island is named after. I decided this was a great place to have a quick snack before my hike up the hill.
Nakamise Shopping Street
As you approached the staircase towards the first shrine you'll pass under a large set of bronze torii gates. Behind these gates are dozens of souvenir shops and small restaurants. These are all run by locals and have an immense charm to them. So even if the items their selling don't seem super bespoke to Enoshima, they are still a pleasure to browse inside.
Enoshima Torii Gates
At the end of Nakamise Street you'll find yourself approaching the bright vermillion Torii gates, before Enoshima Shrine. These torii gates symbolise the passing from the mortal realm into the realm of the gods. As you pass through, try to clear your mind, and connect with yourself in a deep and meaningful way. I find that when travelling sometimes things are so busy and hectic and this moment is a reminder to reflect and remember instead of just go, go, go.
Past the torii gates is a large wooden tower, this is the 'Zuishinmon Gate'. The design of the tower was based on a fairytale underwater palace called 'Ryugujyo'. On the underside of the structure are carvings of peonies and lions on the walls and ceilings. These symbolize a prayer to protect the Goddess and their worshippers.
Benzaiten Goddess statue
Behind the tower gate you'll meet face to face the Benzaiten goddess. Here she sits, carved in stone, nestled in with her follows, surrounded by the fabled dragon whom she defeated for the people. This statue was made in 1450 yet feels so fresh and new, despite its age.
Entering Enoshima Shrine
The Enoshima Shrine, is made up of three main buildings. The Hetsumiya, the Ho-an-den and the Nakatsumiya. Before entering any of the buildings, be sute to stop by the 'temizuya'. The temizuya or chōzuya is a Shinto water absolution pond for a ceremonial purification rite known as temizu. To perform the ritual, just fill the ladle provided with water and wash your left hand, then your right, and if you want, drink some of the water and spit it out to cleanse your mouth. If you're scared to do it wrong, simply watch others and you'll get the hang of it in no time. It feels nice to participate in this ritual as it connects you with the spiritual nature of the shrine itself.
The main building in one this level is the Hetsumiya. The original wooden building with a traditional copper winged roof, was built in 1620 by Minamono no Sanetomo, the third Shogun of Kamakura Shogunate. The current version was re-built in 1976 in the exact style as the original. Inside this buildings is where the Tagitsuhime-no-Mikoto are enshrined. The Tagitsuhime-no-Mikoto are three sister goddess who are known to control the seas, which feels so appropriate as you are surrounded by the sea on all sides on the island.
Inside the Shrine you'll see a large metal box where you can make an offering. If you've never made an offering at a shrine before here is how you do it. Stand in front of the offertory box, throw a coin into the box, bow twice towards the shrine, then clap your hands twice and think deep in your mind of the wish you want to come true. Then, finish the ritual by bowing deeply towards the offertory box once more. A little wish for luck never hurt anyone and you can feel good that your money is going towards keeping the shrine up and running.
Beside the Hetsumiya you might be puzzled by a green ring standing off to the side. This is the chinowa, an object used to cleanse your mind and body as you pass through the ring. It is said to remove all your wrongdoings and impurities.
The Ho-an-den is a small, bright red, octagonal building where you can see the famous statue of the deity Benzaiten. This building costs 200 yen to enter and is the only shrine on the island which requires payment to enter. Unlike many other statues of the Benzaiten, this one is nude, sitting on a pedestal playing a biwa. Benzaiten is very important to women, as she is the only female deity of the seven gods of fortune. If you are really interested in the statue it’s worth visiting but I personally prefer the statue you see on your way up the stairs and had a better time admiring the fantastical exterior architecture of the building instead of going inside.
If you're feeling unlucky in love, be sure to buy an 'ema'. An ema is wooden prayer plaque from the shrine where you can write your wish for love onto. Then hang it with the rest of the wishes, blowing gently in the wind atop the island. This shrine is fabled to be particularly good for matchmaking!
Before heading up to the next level, spend some time wondering around Nakatsunomiya Square. This little garden with a observation deck of the city below, is always full of seasonal blooms and if you're lucky enough to visit during Cherry Blossom season, you'll be in for a real treat. Since these trees and their blooms up here are perfectly hidden away from the crowds you have a much better chance of getting to experience Japan’s most popular symbol without fighting for space.
The second shrine site on the island is found just around the corner and up the hill from Enoshima Shrine. This is Nakatsunomiya, the oldest shrine on the island, established in 853 by the Buddhist monk En-nin. The frieze above the door to the shrine contains over 154 carvings of various real and mythological flora and fauna popular on the island. You could stand here for hours and never be able to find them all.
Samuel Cocking Garden
The Samuel Cocking Gardens were built in 1880 by British merchant Samuel Cocking. Cocking collected tropical plants from every corner of the world he travelled to but he settled in Japan after finding love on the island. Originally the Japanese government only allowed locals to purchase land but when the laws where changed, Cocking saw his chance to buy up some of the best real estate on the island.
After the couples passing, the title of the gardens was passed onto the city of Fujisawa who saw it's reconstruction after the great earthquake. Today, you can explore a variety of flowers found not only in Japan but all over the world. From February to March there are 250 different breeds of camellia flowers blooming and from May to October dazzling crimson roses from Canada begin to blossom. My favourite part of the gardens was the dynamic landscaping. There were archways created with hanging baskets, gazebos surrounded in blooms and beautiful mazes you could wander in dazzling colours.
Enoshima Sea Candle
In the middle of the garden stands the giant 200 foot tall Enoshima Sea Candle. From the observation tower you can see all across Enoshima, Fujisawa and beyond. On a rare clear day, you have an absolutely stunning view of Mount Fuji. The Day I visited the Mountain was unfortunately still in hiding, but the view just down to the lush green gardens was incredible and well worth the money to come up the tower. I loved looking out across the brilliant blue seas. Living in a city not near an ocean, there is something truly mesmerizing to me about the ocean and I could have stared at it for hours.
Past the Gardens, you’ll come upon the unmistakable Buddhist temple of Enoshima Daishi. During the Meiji Period, there was a governmental separation between Shintoism and Buddhism. Buddhist temples all over Japan were destroyed and it wasn't until the 1990's that Enoshima residents had the chance to rebuild one of their most important temples on the island, Enoshima Daishi. Standing in front of the steps into the temple are two huge, six-meter tall statues of Fudomyo, the protector of Buddhism. Staring up at them as you enter is an intimidating process and made me a little skittish when stepping down into the temple, but I guess that just means they're doing their job.
Inside the temple, there is a blend of modern and traditional Japanese architecture. But what continues to stand the test of the time is the peaceful feeling you get when you come inside the incense soaked temple. There was a man praying when I came inside who later told me he had come all the way from Kyoto just to pray here today, and it made the temple’s significance all the more powerful to me.
Enoshima Pilgrimage Path
Descending down from the top of Enoshima is almost as much work as climbing up. It's around 250 steps down to the bottom but the journey downwards provides so many different things to see along the way. This pathway is known as Oiwaya-michi or the Pilgrimage way. This pathway was taken by thousands of people over the year who made their way to the Iwaya Caves. Various houses found along the stairways are covered in beautiful seashells, a testament to the love of the sea which these residents have. As you descend, you'll get amazing views of the cliff side and the sea below. One of the views to the left of the staircase is down to Yama-futatsu, a vallery where the mountain to the east and west connect.
As you descend from the top of the island you'll come upon the last of the shrines, this is Okutsunomiya Shrine or "Shrine of the Deep". Inside this shrine it is said that the sea goddess rests during the winter inside a cave and when the summer returns, the goddess will emerge once more to protect the sea. The stone torri gate which welcomes you into the shrine is from 1138, a gift from the Shogun of Kamakura.
The two red lanterns on either side of the shrine depict Otohime (on the right) and Urashima Taro (on the left). Otohime is the princess of the undersea palace Ryūgū-jō and Urashima Tarō is the fabled fisherman who, after recusing a sea turtle, is rewarded for his good deed by being brought to the undersea palace. For this turtle was no ordinary turtle, he was the all-seeing turtle of the deep. The fisherman was entertained and cared for inside the undersea palace by the princess. If you look closely on the ceiling of the shrine, you'll see the All-seeing turtle from the story. The turtle is also called the one who watches all directions, since no matter which direction you look, the turtle appears to be looking right at you!
Set beside the temple you’ll see a large stone surrounded by the paper lightning bolts which also are hung from torri gates. This stone is the Chikara-ishi. A Chikara-ishi is a “stone of strength” which are often seen at shrines as they represent the strength which the gods bestow upon their followers. This stone weighing 320kg, which is said to have been brought to the shrine by the most power man in the nation.
Beside Okutsu-No-Miya-Jinja shrine you'll find Wadatsumi-no-miya. Unlike the other shrines, this one is more like a rock cave, with a bright green dragon perched on top. This is Ryujin, the dragon god of the sea, and it is said that inside is where he is enshrined. You can peek your head inside the cave during the day through a small screen, and in the deep, dank dark, there was moment where I thought I saw a small pair of eye in the darkness…
A few steps up from the shrines, there is a small, overgrown trail which will lead you to a little hill with an incredible view of the ocean. Atop this hill stands the 'Love Bell'. Since the legend of Benten and the dragon falling in love with her is so important to the mythology of the island, this bell was purchased and placed here by local couples who wished to express their undying love for each other, much like the dragon and the goddess. Each of the donors had their names engraved on the structure surrounding the bell. Every couple who now visits this site has their chance to ring the bell to announce their undying love to the dragon and maiden. Couples have begun leaving locks on the surrounding fence with the names engraved upon them. Every year the locks have to be removed so the fence does not collapse. So maybe the locks won't last a lifetime, but hopefully, your love will.
If I can suggest one place to eat on your tour of the island it HAS to be Uonemotei. This restaurant has been here for over 140 years. It has been serving locals and pilgrims alike delicious food, right from the sea. Sitting out on their patio you have a beautiful view of the ocean and can smell the refreshing sea breeze. The house special is the "Enoshima-don" which are young sardines served with turban shells and beaten eggs atop warm rice. This is the best thing you can eat to experience true Enoshima cuisine.
Unless you're a HUGE fan of caves or have the Enoshima Day Pass, I would skip this. The reason being they are hugely touristy and crowded and you'll have more fun exploring the rocky seaside around them instead. Inside the first cave you'll find Buddhist statues, and in the second you'll find a small pond dedicated to the dragon who used to terrorize the area. During the Nara era, Buddhist monks used to be trained here in the cave, so visiting the caves was somewhat of a pilgrimage for Buddhists all over the world. Overall though, it's a pretty simple cave and your time and money is better spent elsewhere on the island unless you have the day pass.
Around the caves, you'll see dozens of little reefs where local fisherman are almost always camped you trying to get the catch of the day. I had a relaxing time sitting out on the rocks, near where the waves would crash against the rocks, getting sprayed every time a huge wave would come in.
To head back to the train station, I recommend taking a ferry boat ride. Throughout the day there are little ferry boats which run back and forth from the mainland to the island. Head over to the Bentenmaru pier where you can board one of the little boats. The ride isn't very long but seeing the island from the water is a very unique perspective that gives you an idea of the scope and size of Enoshima. It’s a great opportunity to step back, literally, and see the place you just came from from afar. Look right up high and you can see the top of the Enoshima Candle and the Enoshima flag which flies high above.
Enoshima is truly one of the best place to go to take a break from the city and get a breath of FRESH air. If you have even half a day, or better yet a whole day, you NEED to make your way out here and experience another side of life in Japan.