Monday, January 13, 2014

Shichifukujin 七福神 (Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage)

 One of the Facebook groups I belong to invited all of its members to join one of three tours this month (January) to complete the Shichifukujin Pilgrimage.  Apparently, this is a popular thing to do, and I was way too slow in trying to join, so I missed getting one of the thirty spots for the pilgrimage.  So, I decided, as a birthday present to myself, that I would do it on my own.  How hard could it be??  Ha!

Okay, so a little explanation here...(and, please know that I did not come up with most of this information on my own.  It took a lot of research on the internet for me to understand what this is, why it is done, how it is done, and where in the world to go....the main website I used was .)  Google Maps was also my friend, but only on five of the seven.  Two addresses didn't quite match up to the actual shrine/temple sites and required a bit of wandering for me.

A few days before I set out I started to read onmarkproductions' website to get a little understanding of what it was I was embarking on.  First, what does Shichifukujin mean?  七福神    Shichi means seven.  Fuku is lucky.  Jin is gods.  This is a pilgrimage that used to be done in a specific order, walking to the seven temples/shrines in Kamakura, and praying to each one of the seven lucky gods.  Most people do not follow the original order of visitation, and instead start at one end of the circuit then move to the other end.  This is what I did.  I started in the north and headed east then southwest.  Since I'm not Buddhist I didn't really think it mattered which order I did it in.  After some major anger and frustration with Google Maps synching between my devices, I finally got all my location pins on my phone the night before.  Total 'mapped' distance:  3.7 miles.  My total mileage was much more because of two things....1 - I got lost a few times (I know, I know....Kris is rolling his eyes right now and laughing, I'm sure) and 2 - I couldn't help myself from going into a few shrines and temples in between the seven on my circuit.  Ok (or, as Garytt says, Oak), off I go!

After a banana and some coffee I grabbed my bag and headed out the door around 1000.  I drove the car to Main Gate and parked it, then walked to Yokosuka JR station.  I hopped on the 1034 train toward Kita-Kamakura, about 210 Yen.  I've been to Kamakura several times now, but I still manage to confuse myself on whether or not I'm supposed to get off at Zushi or if I'm supposed to stay on, and if I'm supposed to get off, which train do I get on?  I think I've been three different ways to Kamakura now.  Anyway, I got lucky enough to have a monk get on the train at Taura station...I figured, if in doubt on your way to the Buddhist pilgrimage, just follow the monk!  He didn't get me lost!  I made it to Kita-Kamakura by about 1100.  After a short walk from the train station I arrived at the first temple.

My first stop:  Jochiji Temple

This temple has a statue of Hotei, the god of contentment, happiness, bartenders, and all classes of people.  Many people know Hotei as the fat, happy buddha.

This temple is set in the trees and up on a little hill.  It is a very pretty space.  The trees make it feel very calm and serene.  So far a lot of the temples and shrines we, as a family, have visited are very congested...TONS of tourists...this place was nothing like that.  It was quiet and virtually empty.

The entrance, left, is up several very old stairs.  The bridge and surrounding water is part of a well, called Kanro, that is supposedly one of the Ten Celebrated Wells in Kamakura.  The water in this well used to have some of the best water in the city.  Now, it's muddy and gross looking water is not pretty at all.  It has a little stone bridge over it, but it's been blocked off.

The main gate, below left, is the only one in Kamakura that has a second story with a bell in it.  It is hard to see from my picture, but the window (mado, in Japanese) is shaped like a bell.

 The picture above shows the main hall, Donge-den.  It has several wooden statues inside.  I wasn't able to look inside because the doors were closed while people inside were praying.
 What would a tour in Japan be without pictures of flowers? :)

Below left is a picture of yagura, which is a cave dug into the foot of the hills.  There are many of those here.  There is a graveyard to the left of that yagura as well as running along the hill to the right.  The picture below and right is the bamboo forest on the temple grounds.

 Below left, a shot of a birdhouse dug into the wall.

 These three were quite a site.  Not sure what their meaning is, but they were tucked away in a little corner of the graveyards.  I'm not even sure what they were...the guy on the left looked like a falcon.  No clue about the guy in the middle, maybe some kind of small wood creature.  Then, there is the bear on the right.

Thanks for the arrow!  I'm so glad Hotei is waiting for me!  On the right, the entrance to Hotei's area.

 Here it is, Hotei.  The couple in front of me walked to it, put change in the bucket in front of it, clapped their hands twice, bowed, said a prayer, clapped again, then walked up and rubbed his belly.  Then, the guy took a picture of the girl standing next to Hotei flashing a peace sign.

After I left Hotei's area I walked back out to the entrance/exit.  I found the office for the temple so I could buy a kinen-shikishi, which is a very heavy paper, almost like cardboard, with a printing of the seven lucky gods on it.  I also wanted a nokyo-cho, which is a book to collect shu-in, or stamps, from each site visited.  I've wanted one of these books for a while, but haven't been to a temple or shrine lately to purchase one.  I had heard that there were special books made just for this pilgrimage.  I went into the office and they had a book and the poster laid out on the counter.  So, I got one of each. The lady behind the counter took my money and handed me each.  I was confused because she didn't do the printing or the stamping in the book.  I went outside and opened up the book.  I saw the temple's stamp on the inside of the book, but all the other pages had stuff printed on them.  I had no clue what any of it said, or what it meant.  So, I thought I bought the wrong thing.  Frustrated with myself, I put it all in my bag and just proceeded to the next site.

Okay, here was my first wrong turn.  But, I didn't get too far before I realized it was wrong.  I left the temple exit and headed right, mainly because that's what the group of tourists in front of me did.  Well, when I saw the sign that said, "Mt. Genji" I figured I was going the wrong way.  I didn't exactly come prepared to hike up a mountain.  So, I turned back around and actually looked at my map to figure out where to go next.

Somon:  General Gate
According to Google, the trek from Jochiji to the next site, Hachimangu, was a good 25 minute walk. On my way I saw Kencho-ji temple.  The entrance was so beautiful that I just had to go in.

Welcome to Kencho-ji Temple: this temple is ranked number one of the five great Zen temples in Kamakura and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan.  It was completed around 1253.  Most of the main buildings were destroyed by fires during the 1300's and 1400's.  But, it was all rebuilt in the 15-1600's.

Sanmon:  Main gate.  Also called Tanuki Gate because, as a thank you to the people of the Kanto region of Japan for their donations to build this gate, a badger, tanuki in Japanese, transformed himself into a monk to repay the kindness the priests showed him.

This gate is beautiful!  The pictures do not do the woodworking justice.  I could not find an angle that could show off the beauty of this gate.

 Not a clue who this guy is.  He is sitting at the entrance to the Sonmon gate, so he must be important.  Maybe it's Bansetsu, the chief priest when this gate was made.

Here is my best attempt at getting a shot of the woodwork inside the gate.

The temple grounds of Kenchoji is huge compared to most temples/shrines I have been to.  There was quite a bit of space to wander around in.  Below is the Butsuden, or Buddha Hall.

 I think this is a lotus flower fountain.

 Again, WOW!  The woodwork was amazing!

 I'm always confused about whether or not I can take pictures in certain places.  So, I tried to be quick with my first few shots, then I saw other Japanese people taking pictures, so I got myself into better position to take shots inside the Hall.

This is a representation of Jizo Bosatsu.  What I can tell from what I've read....A bosatsu is an enlightened being whose goal is to help the living find salvation.  A Jizo Bosatsu grants salvation to those suffering, to stillborn and aborted children, expectant mothers, firemen, travelers and pilgrims.  There are so many layers to the Buddhist ideology that I'm sure what I've summarized above isn't even close to the exact explanation.  But, I'm not writing a book or trying to convert, so that is my little summary.

This is a wood carving, one of a pair, one on each side of the statue above.

 This looks like the same bird as above.  It was painted into the ceiling tiles.

 For some reason I didn't get a picture of the outside of Hatto, Dharma Hall.  Below are shots from inside the hall.  In the back of the room is a statue of Kannon.  In front of that is a fasting buddha and what I think is a dog/dragon/lion - thing....not sure.

I guess after reaching a certain level of enlightenment there is a period of fasting to show complete control over one's body.

Closer shot of the Kannon - many heads (to be able to give attention to the many people who need salvation), many arms (to reach out to all sufferers), elongated ears (all hearing), bump on top of head (all knowing), and an extra eye (all seeing).  There are several lotus flowers in there too.

This painting of a dragon, called Unryu-zu, was painted on the ceiling of Hatto in 2003, as a celebration of Kencho-ji's 750th anniversary.

 This is the Bonsho, Temple Bell.  It was cast in 1255 and is a National Treasure of Japan.  

There were a few more halls at the back of the temple grounds, but I didn't venture back there.  Apparently, there is also a beautiful Zen garden back there and a short hiking course up to another shrine that was built to protect the temple below.  I guess there are some amazing views of the city from up there, and on clear days Fuji-san can be seen.  I spent so much time at this temple that I was worried I would run out of time to make it to all the others that were actually on my list for the day.  So, for now, this one is saved for another time.

On my way out of this temple I happened to glance at the little store and noticed that they had the little books that I was looking for.  So, I bought one.  It even has my name written in Katakana on the front and she stamped the Kencho-ji temple stamp in it for me.

Okay, so back to my list of seven....

Number two:  Hachimangu Shrine

The lucky god at this shrine is Benzaiten, the goddess of music, fine arts, beauty, eloquence, and literature.  She is the only female in the group of seven.  The crowd was so insane that I just waved at where she was least I think that's where she was.

I think this is my fourth time to this shrine.  So, it was a quick visit and I have a better description in another post.  I don't think I've ever entered through this torii though.  We usually come up the main road and then up all the steps.  These steps brought me in right near the foot of the steps, and in the middle of the tremendous crowd!

 There were oodles of little girls dressed in kimonos.  The crowd was so thick that it was hard for me to get a good shot...hence, the back of the little girl below.  Notice the hamaya, lit. demon breaking arrow, on the Tower gate.  These are bought at the new year, as evidenced by the throngs of people lined up at the counters purchasing them, and they are used to ward off misfortune and to draw in good luck.  I also noticed many people buying narrow sheets of paper at these counters, I think they are called o-inori.  I read somewhere along the way that they have prayers on them.

 This shrine is so colorful.  Much different from the first temple, Jochi-ji.

The crowded stairway...this was nothing compared with all the people jam-packed into the lines to purchase the lucky goods.  On the right is a shot of what is left of a 1,000 year old gingko tree that was knocked over during a storm in 2010.

 Below is a shot of people returning their hamaya (arrows) from last year.  You are supposed to return it so that any bad luck it saved you from can be taken away.  I think they make big burn piles on the beaches around here and have big bon fires.  Maybe next year I'll be able to catch one of those.  On the right is a shot of the shrine's stamp and signature.

 The third stop on the pilgrimage:  Hokaiji Temple, built in 1335

When I left Hachimagu I walked out to the main road and then took a left.  I walked down this little road for a few small blocks and then walked across the street and into the Temple.  What a change, from the hustle and bustle, all the colors, and the crowds desperate for good-luck trinkets, to the quiet and calm Hokaiji Temple.

Bishamonten is the third of the lucky seven.  Bishamonten is the god of treasure, scourge of evil doers, defender of buddhist faith, and patron of warriors.  I can't find where a statue of Bishamonten is actually here.  Maybe I'm missing something (probably would have learned the answer if I'd made it into one of those dang tours...oh well).  So, I just walked around and took pictures.

The entrance

 I had to take my shoes off to go into Hondo, the Main Hall.  I also was not allowed to take pictures inside.  There were many statues inside here.  Also, there were a lot of tapestries hung from the ceiling and walls.  Jizo Bosatsu is the main object of worship, and is a guardian of children.  There are several Devas inside, they are guardians of the temple.  There is also a Kannon statue in here that is on the list of 33 Kannons pilgrimage.  Below, left is Hondo.

Inside this hall I sat on the floor while I watched them stamp and sign my book.

 This is a shrine in the middle of the temple grounds.  I don't think this is very common.  According to the info sheet, there is a legend telling of the ghosts of the Hojo martyrs haunting the area after a tragedy in 1333.  After a fierce battle in Kamakura in 1333, the Shogunate was falling.  So, the 870 or so samurai that lived and fought for the shogunate here committed suicide at a Zen temple just down the street, called Toshoji - these are the Hojo martyrs.  The samurai also burned down Toshoji.  I will have pictures of the site in just a bit.

 This was over the door of one of the side buildings.  Not quite sure of the meaning, but there is a lobster in there, along with pine.  ?
 I think this is Kangiten Hall.  No one is allowed inside.  I liked the shape of the roof.

 Here is a shot of where Toshoji used to be.  I found this place by accident.  I was actually looking for the fourth stop on my list.  But, the pin I dropped on my map wasn't quite accurate.  I should have known that I was supposed to follow the groups of people who were all heading in a different direction than me.  So, I'm walking up, yes, up this hill.  I'm starting to suck wind from speed walking up this hill.  It was getting late and I still had four places to visit, the last two of which were about a thirty minute walk from where I was.  I got to the sign explaining this site and noticed that the road turned into a hiking trail....probably not the direction I want to go.  So, I look at this site, read the sign about it and then head back toward the main road.

I did finally get my brain straight, and just started following people.  This was a good idea, except that they did lead me into an extra shrine.  I didn't take any shots, just walked around the grounds like I knew what I was doing, then turned around and went back out to the street where I finally found a sign directing me down the street a little further.

Fourth stop:  Myoryuji Temple, it was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and then rebuilt the next year.  

Jurojin is the god of wisdom and longevity and the fourth god of the pilgrimage.  I'm guessing he was in the main hall, but the doors were closed so I didn't go in.

Entrance on the left.  On the right is the main hall.  The pond in front of the hall is where the second priest, Nichiren was said to have undergone a hundred day discipline.  It's gross, if you want to know more you can probably google his name and the temple name.

 I found this guy on the grounds.   And, here is my stamp for Myoryuji.

I walked out of Myoryuji and followed the crowd toward the next stop.

Number five on the list:  Hongakuji, Ebisu is the god of ocean, fishing folk, sailors, commerce and fair dealing.  I didn't see this statue either.  My paperwork describes Ebisu but says that there is another statue in the main hall, a statue of Priest Nichiren.  There are a lot of red fences along the property because the day before there was a big Ebisu festival where merchants come to pray for wealth and prosperity for commerce.

The entrance gate.  This temple is on a sharp corner in the road.  

Ebisudo-hall.  This is where Priest Nichiren's statue is located.  It's roof has 8 sides to it, four big and four smaller sides.  On the right is the actual statue.

This is the place where you wash your hands before you pray.  And, the little dragons that spray the water into the fountain.

(Left) What else would you expect to see on the temple grounds in Japan, but a Honda van??
(Right) incense burning in front of the main hall.

This looks like a fancy gutter
There's my stamp for this temple.

The bell on the right is said to have been won in a wager between Priest Nichiren and another priest.  After he won the wager he had to find someone to help him carry the heavy thing home.

Here is another point where I got lost.  I did find another shrine, but did not go in because now I was really thinking I wouldn't make it to all of the seven in one day.  So, I turned back around and went back the way I came, took a left turn, decided that wasn't the way I wanted to go, turned back around and went back to Hongakuji.  Decided that I was going the right direction, and turned around for the fourth time.  Finally, I just walked toward the main road and then my map made sense.  After about 25 minutes of walking I made it to Hasedera.

The sixth stop:  Hasedera Temple, Daikokuten is the god of agriculture, farming, wealth and commerce.  He is also listed as the god of 5 cereals.

This is another temple that I have visited several times, so I'm not going to repost many of the same pictures.  It's not as pretty in the winter as it is in the spring and fall anyway.

Here is the entrance to the temple.  One of my favorite entrances.  It's so pretty.  I've seen shots at night and it's absolutely beautiful!
 I've seen these statues so many times, not only here, but at other temples as well.  I've just recently learned that they are called Sentai Jizo, which means one thousand Jizo.  They are here mostly for aborted fetuses, but some are also for miscarried children.  Jizo is believed to be a guardian of children, dead and alive.  Having that information brings quite a different feeling to me standing there looking at so many lined up on the ground, then in rows behind those and then around the corner there is row after row after row.  It was pretty sobering this time around.

I could not get a picture of Daikokuten because no pictures were allowed in Homotsukan (Treasure Hall).  But, he is a chubby fella with a hood and a bag full of goodies tossed over his shoulder.  He is also holding a mallet in one hand.  My stamp and signature is below.

This is the view from the temple grounds, overlooking Kamakura. more stop to go.....and, guess whaaa-aaattt....I got lost again!  Oh man, I was so tired and the sun was starting to go down so it was getting a bit chilly.  I was starting to think, "Ok, I'm not buddhist, who cares if I don't get all of these done in one day?"  But, then I thought, "If I don't do it now I might not come back to finish the circuit."  So, on I the wrong direction.  Now, in my defense, the address on the website dropped my pin in the wrong spot on my map.  So, it wasn't totally my fault that I ended up at Kokuzodo.  I can't find anything about this place on the internet.  But, as you can see, it is up quite a few stairs, and offered a beautiful view.

 This must be the main hall.  It was blocked off, so I couldn't go in.

So, I headed back down the stairs, back onto the street, and I just wandered around a little bit until I saw a small group of people heading down a side street.  Yay!  I found the last place on the pilgrimage!!

Goryo Jinja Shrine:  Stop number seven!  Fukurokuju is the god of wealth, happiness and longevity.  This shrine is dedicated to a samurai who was said to have great strength.  During a battle he was shot in the eye with an arrow but continued to fight and win.  When he got back to camp someone tried to pull the arrow out.  When he started to pull, he put his foot on Fukurokuju's face, which is a great disgrace for a samurai.  The colleague apologized and the arrow was eventually pulled out.  Fukurokuju's eye healed in time and because of this eye healing it is believed that those that pray to this shrine will have their eye ailments healed.

Left....the entrance to the shrine.  On the right is the hand washing area and behind that is the office where I got my stamp.  I made sure to get my stamp on entry, just in case it closed while I was in there.

 I really had no clue what most of the things I was looking at were.  This shrine didn't have a pamphlet and the website didn't have much explanation for it either.  So, I'll give ya what I could find...

This is the main hall.  Inside is a round mirror in the center of the room.  I guess this is a Shinto thing.

As I was walking around looking at this building a nice older gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and motioned me to follow him.  So, I followed.  He first showed me what I think is a lion, left and below.  First he pointed out the face and then he pulled me to the side and showed me the body that was connecting the columns to the building.

I found this on the front of the building.  

Next, he brought me out in front of the hall and showed me the lion below.  I had already taken a picture of this guy, so I just started smiling and nodding at him to let him know that I had seen it (he did not speak much English, only one word that I recognized).  He pointed to the creature under his front paw, something I didn't notice when I took my initial pictures, and he said "baby".  I can't quite understand why he has his paw on the baby though.  He brought me to the other side of the building to show me another one with a "baby" under his paw.

 The story with the rocks is this:  One is "Tamoto-ishi", meaning sleeve stone.  The other is "Tedama-ishi", or stone in one's hand.  There is a legend that says the larger stone was in Kagemasa's sleeve pocket and the smaller one, Tedama-ishi, was in his hand.  This was to show how strong he was.
The masks below are in the storage house.  

A few more masks...some kinda creepy.

 This was a relief picture inside the treasure house.  Apparently many people rub that belly.

 I think the mask in this box is that of the final diety on this pilgrimage, Fukurokuju.

This is the outside of the building.
 Here is a shot of the back "door" to the shrine grounds.  On the right is my final stamp of the pilgrimage.  

I think I made it back home by around 1730.  So, a seven and a half hour that definitely won't be forgotten!

For those of you that are still with me in this massive posting...thanks!  :)  I promise, I only have a few more things to say.  So, I mentioned at the beginning the kinen-shikishi that I bought.  Well, here's the story with that....after I bought it I just glanced at the top of it and saw some kanji with the 7 lucky gods poster that I was looking for.  Turns out, if I had pulled it out further I would have noticed that the temple's stamp was on it.  And, there was room for me to get the stamp at each of the other shrine/temples as well.  Doh!  So, I have the poster with just one stamp on it.  Also...the stamp book that I bought to collect my stamps (the first one, not the next one that I actually collected stamps in) well, it was actually the special book for this pilgrimage.  It already has the temple/shrine signatures in it, I just needed to present it for the stamp.  Ha!  So, I did get the stamps and the signatures, just not in the place that I planned.  Oh well!  That is something that I probably would have known if i had made it onto the tour.  Now I know!  Maybe I'll just get the poster filled up at another time.  :)

Here is the sad poster, with only one stamp

Here is a shot of my whole book....starting with Kenchoji on the right and ending with Goryo Jinja on the left.


  1. So enjoyed walking with you! Love the beauty of the shrines too. Glad you shared in such wonderful detail.

  2. As a Havens you are never lost. Just exploring new places. So don't let Kris tell you different.