Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

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A view of Tsurugaoka Hachimangû, with the main worship hall visible above the maiden.
The massive ginkgo behind which Minamoto Kugyô hid before springing out to assassinate Shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo in 1219. The tree fell over in a storm in 2010, but is being regrown from cuttings
  • Founded: 1063
  • Japanese: 鶴岡八幡宮 (tsurugaoka hachimanguu)

Tsurugaoka Hachimangû is a Shinto shrine in Kamakura, the family shrine of the Minamoto clan.


The shrine got its start in 1063, as an extension or branch of Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine, when Minamoto no Yoriyoshi prayed to Hachiman for victory against Abe no Sadatô. Yoriyoshi's son Minamoto no Yoshiie repaired the shrine in 1081 and moved it from the village of Yui (today the neighborhood Yuigahama) to the village of Kobayashi. Minamoto no Yoritomo moved it again, to its current location in 1180, making it the center of the city of Kamakura. The main street, Wakamiya-ôji, runs directly southwest from the main entrance to the shrine.

Yoritomo made it his family's tutelary shrine, a site for official Kamakura shogunate ritual events, as well as a shrine dedicated to protecting the shogunate, the Minamoto clan, and its vassals. It was made into a syncretic Shintô-Buddhist site, and twenty-five Buddhist monks, along with a head monk, were assigned to the shrine. A head priest was chosen from the Ôtomo clan, but was subordinate to the monks' authority.

In addition to Hachiman, the shrine is also dedicated to Emperor Ôjin, his mother Empress Jingû, and his wife Himegami.

The main worship hall burned down in 1191, and in the rebuilding, the shrine was transformed. A new Upper Shrine was constructed halfway up the mountainside, while a branch Lower Shrine called Wakamiya Shrine was constructed down below. Having become strongly associated with the warrior administration, even after the fall of the Kamakura shogunate, Tsurugaoka Hachimangû continued to be revered by prominent samurai leaders. The Ashikaga kubô, Hôjô Ujitsuna, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were among the many who organized renovation, restoration, or rebuilding efforts at Tsurugaoka over the centuries. The shrine burned down on a number of occasions, including on 1280/11/14, in 1296, and by attacking forces in 1526.

In the Meiji period, the shrine was designated a national shrine. Its Buddhist elements were torn away, and for a time the shrine fell into ruin. However, in the 1960s-1970s, it became an extremely popular site for hatsumôde (the first shrine visit on or after New Year's), at one point seeing the largest crowd in the entire country for eight years straight.

Today, the shrine remains an extremely popular site for hatsumôde, weddings, and tourists. It celebrates its chief annual festival on September 15 every year, and is known for its yabusame tournaments held every September 16.


A series of torii mark the approach to the shrine, both along Wakamiya-ôji, and the smaller pedestrianized Komachi-dôri street which runs parallel to it. The "first" or ichi-no-torii is located a distance from the shrine, near the shore. When his wife was pregnant, Minamoto no Yoritomo built a walkway, lined with cherry trees, and called dankazura, as part of his efforts to pray for a son. When his son was born, he dubbed the street Wakamiya-ôji ("Young Prince Street"). The dankazura begins with ni-no-torii, a massive torii gate flanked by two stone lions, and ends at the massive red san-no-torii which marks the entrance to the shrine.

Just past the torii, three taikobashi (curved bridges) begin the walkway which leads straight towards the main part of the shrine. The middle bridge was traditionally reserved for shogunal use, and is curved higher than the other two. To either side of the pathway is a pond, one representing the Minamoto, and one their rivals, the Taira clan. The Minamoto, or Genji, pond is said to have originally held only white lotuses, the color of the Minamoto, and a symbol of purity. Three islands in the pond represent birth (the words for "three" and "birth" both being pronounced san). The Taira, or Heike, pond, meanwhile, originally had only red lotus flowers, the red being the color of the Taira, and here representing blood or death. Four islands dot the Heike pond, the word for "four", shi, being a homophone for the word for "death." A shrine to Benten stands on one of the three islands in the Gen (Minamoto) pond, one of three Benten shrines in the area to claim to represent Benten in the Kamakura Seven Lucky Gods - a collection of shrines and temples each of which represents one of the Seven Lucky Gods.

The main path leads eventually to the maiden, or dance stage, where Shizuka Gozen is said to have once danced, and where today various rituals are often performed. Down a path to the right is Wakamiya Shrine, built on the site of the smaller original shrine around which the larger grounds eventually were built. Beyond the maiden, a large set of stone steps lead to the main hall. To the left of these steps stands the oldest gingko tree in Kamakura; though it is said that Minamoto Kugyô, who assassinated Shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo on the site in 1219, hid behind this tree immediately before doing the deed, older sources make no mention of the tree. After supposedly standing here for nearly one thousand years, the tree fell over in a storm in 2010; however, pieces of the tree were replanted and are regrowing.

The Haiden, or main worship hall, stands atop the steps, next to a Treasure House. A pair of sculptures of Heian period courtiers, fashioned in 1624, serve as guardians at the entrance to the haiden. Among the treasures contained in the treasure house are a set of three late 16th century mikoshi (portable shrines).

A sort of proxy shrine for the original shrine in Yuigahama stands nearby as well, allowing shoguns and other prominent figures to pray to the gods of the Yuigahama shrine without traveling the distance. Another small shrine within the grounds is Shirahata ("White Banner") shrine, dedicated to Shoguns Minamoto no Yoritomo and Minamoto no Sanetomo.

The Kamakura Museum of Modern Art is also located on the grounds.


  • Reznick, Ron. "Tsurugaoka Hachimangu." Shrines of Japan. www.digital-images.net.
  • "Tsurugaoka Hachimangû." Dare demo yomeru Nihonshi nenpyô 誰でも読める日本史年表. Yoshikawa Kôbunkan.
  • "Tsurugaoka Hachimangû." Digital Daijisen デジタル大辞泉. Shogakukan.
  • "Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine." Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha.
  • "Tsurugaoka Hachimangû." Nihon daihyakka zensho Nipponica 日本大百科全書(ニッポニカ). Shogakukan.
  • "Tsurugaoka Hachimangu." Sekai daihyakka jiten 世界大百科事典. Hitachi Solutions, 2012.

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