There is no shortage of beautiful, historic shrines and temples in Kamakura. So much so that it’s easy to forget that they aren’t merely tourist attractions. They’re actual places of worship where people come to pray and ask for divine guidance, making Kamakura one of the most spiritual locations in all of Japan. It’s also, unsurprisingly, home to many “mystical” places, i.e. spots supposedly overflowing with mysterious energies. They include…
Despite its small size, Hokoku-ji is a hidden gem among all the other Kamakura temples because of the bamboo grove found behind its main hall. Composed of over 2,000 stalks, the garden has earned Hokoku-ji the nickname of “the Bamboo Temple,” as well as a few comparisons with the famous Arashiyama grove in Kyoto. However, perhaps because the Kamakura temple is more secluded or maybe because its grove is thicker, the Hokoku-ji bamboos have a more… otherworldly feel to it. Walking among them, you feel a sense of serenity and calm, almost as if you were transported to the realm of the gods, which some people have claimed to be evidence that the temple is a “power spot.”
A lot of the history of this Kamakura temple is shrouded in myth and legend. According to local lore, around the 13th century, a Daigyo-ji priest encountered the ghost of a woman holding a baby, both of whom died during childbirth. To help her cross to the other side, the priest recited a Buddhist sutra and set the spirit free, after which the temple changed its object of worship to the goddess of childbirth. Even today, hundreds of years later, women from all over Japan come to Daigyo-ji to pray for help during childbirth and for their unborn children’s health.
Hojo Takatoki’s Harakiri Yagura
Tosho-ji was the family temple of the Hojo clan, which for more than a century effectively ruled over Japan during the time of the Kamakura shogunate. The temple doesn’t exist anymore, however. It was burned down after the entire Hojo clan, about 870 people, committed ritual suicide there during the city’s invasion by Nitta Yoshisada. The Hojo clan’s remains were later laid to rest in a yagura tomb dug into the foot of a nearby hill, but different stories also say that the artificial cave is where the head of the clan, Hojo Takatoki, disemboweled himself after the rest of his family committed harakiri. Today, the Hojo yagura is a fairly unassuming place at first glance, but not many people are brave enough to visit it after dark.
There aren’t many shrines that combine the stress-relieving magic of breaking things with actual magic of exorcising evil from your life. But then again, not all shrines are the Kuzuharaoka Jinja. Within it, you’ll find the masaruishi, or the stone of departing evil. It’s actually more of a boulder surrounded by hundreds of broken clay dishes which people smash on the rock, thus clearing up all the “disruptions of energy” that were holding them back in life. And for just ¥100, you can do the same, ridding yourself of all malignant influences for less than the price of an onigiri rice ball while getting to break something 100% consequence-free. All in all, not a bad deal.
Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku
Most people, if they’re being honest, probably only ever ask the gods for money. The Zeniarai Benten shrine not only doesn’t discourage it, it outright promises very real monetary results. The “Zeniarai” part of its name literally means “coin washing,” and it is said that any money washed in the shrine’s natural spring will cause it to double over time. And it doesn’t only have to be coins. People have been known to wash banknotes and even entire wads of paper money, all for the chance of doubling their fortunes at literally no risk. Interestingly, although the Ugafuku is a Shinto Shrine, it’s in fact dedicated to the Buddhist goddess Benten (whose apparition apparently told Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, to build the shrine in the first place). So by going there, you’re in fact getting financial help from two faith systems, and those are some pretty good odds.