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The Guide Tour

As you walk towards the shrine from Kamakura station, you will pass a number of enormous red torii gates. These gates serve to delinate the sacred space of the shrine precinctx from the everyday world.

Stretching from the main torii gate directly in front of the shrine precinct all the way to the sea is the main approach to the shrine known as the Wakamiya-Oji. The old approach called Dankazura is the path still remaining in the centre of Wakamiya-Oji.  

Dankazura 段葛

This approach to the shrine was originally constructed on behalf of Minamoto Yoritomo's wife, Masako, to pray for a safe birth. In spring, cherry trees and azaleas in full bloom form a ‘flower tunnel’ leading to the shrine.

Minamoto Yoritomo was the first Shogun of the Kamakura military government which lasted from 1192 until 1333. Yoritomo lived from 1147 to 1199. His wife Masako came from the Hojo clan which was later to assume real power within the Kamakura shogunate after Yoritomo’s death. The Hojo clan acted as regents to the Shogun, and maintained effective control of the shogunate until it fell in 1333.

Before proceeding to the main shrine buildings, let us visit the Hata-age Benzaiten Shrine, the Peony Garden and the Genji Pond, which are to your right after passing through the main torii gate.

Taiko-bashi Bridge 太鼓橋

The original bridge at the entrance to the shrine precinct was wooden and red in colour, completed on May 15th, 1182. At that time, it was called the red bridge. It was thought that the bridge connected the world of people on earth and the world of the kami. When the Kamakura Shogun visited the shrine, he would walk from this point.

The wooden bridge was replaced with a stone bridge in 1697, and it was called the Taiko (drum) bridge, since its shape is similar to that of a Japanese large drum. However, that bridge was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1st, 1923, and rebuilt in 1927. The two red lacquered bridges to either side of the stone bridge were restored in 1990.

Genpei-ike Pond 源平池

There are two ponds just inside the main torii gate, the Heike pond to the left of the gate, and the Genji-ike pond to the right of the torii gate. They are named after the Heike and Genji clans and it is said that they represent the rise and fall of these two great clans. The Heike clan is another name for the Taira clan, and Genji is another name for the Minamoto clan. (The two ponds together are called the Genpei pond, taking the Chinese character Gen from the Genji clan, and the Chinese character for Hei from the Heike clan, and combining them together to form the composite word Genpei.)

The rivalry between these two great clans concluded with the victory of the Minamoto clan and the establishment at Kamakura of the first samurai-based Shogunal government.

There are three islets in the east called Genji Pond and four in the west part called Heike Pond. You can enjoy an excellent display of lotus blossoms in summer.

The two ponds came to be called the Genpei-ike ponds in the early 20th century, although the ponds themselves date from 1182. It is said that the name derives from the opposition of the two rival clans, mirrored here in the placement of the two ponds on either side of the main approach to the shrine, coupled with the placing of three islands in the Genji pond and the four islands in the Taira pond. In Japanese, the Chinese character for three is the same sound as the character for birth, whereas the character for four is the same as the reading of the character for death. Since the Taira went into decline and the Genji were in the ascendant, the three and birth and Genji were all linked together, and the four islands, and death and decline and the Taira were linked together in the Taira pond.

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