Blooming silently under the sunshine (Photo: Takako Sakamoto)

Lotus Flowers at Hachimangu Shrine

Enjoy beautiful lotus in a sublime shrine garden!

Blooming silently under the sunshine (Photo: Takako Sakamoto)
Takako Sakamoto   - 3 min read

In late July this year, I visited Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura to see lotus flowers. My short Internet search directed me to the two places, Sankeien Garden in Yokohama and here, Hachimangu in Kamakura.

When you pass the red torii gate at the shrine entrance, you'll find a lotus pond on each side of the pathway to the Main Hall. According to the shrine map, these ponds are both called, 'Genpei-ike' (ike means pond), and as far as I know people also call them by that name. However, during this visit I learned that the smaller pond on the left (west side), which has white lotus, is named 'Heishi-ike', and the larger one on the right (east side), which mainly has pink lotus, is named 'Genji-ike'. Hojo Masako, the formidable wife of Minamoto-no Yoritomo (the founder of Kamakura Shogunate and also this shrine), named them so for a reason. Since her husband was the head of Genji clan who was trying to destroy Heishi clan, she created the four small islands in the smaller pond and named it Heishi-ike. Number four is called 'shi (death)' in Japan and considered sinister. With these four islands she prayed for Heishi clan's death. On the other hand, in the larger Genji-ike pond she built the three small islands. Number three is pronounced '三 - sun (san)' in Japanese, which can be also written in the Chinese character as 産 (sun/san). 産 is a positive word that means 'bearing a child' or 'creating something new'. Thus, by creating three islands in Genji-ike pond she prayed for Genji clan's future prosperity.

With this history in mind I watched the smaller pond first. Only a few white lotus flowers were there fluttering in the wind and the pond looked as sad as the destiny of Heishi clan (they were destroyed). And for a moment I thought Masako's curse was still effective (I even stepped back!). But when I looked at the larger pond (Genji-ike, the winner's pond) there weren't many flowers there either. It was strange because lotus is supposed to be fully blooming in late July. According to the lotus expert of Japan Travel, in recent years there aren't many flowers in both ponds compared to what there were 5-10 years ago. Umm, maybe Masako's curse was too strong to be limited within Heishi-ike and now it's spreading to Genji-ike, too?!?

Anyway, although there weren't many flowers in either pond, when seen with graceful shrine buildings in the background even a small numbers of lotus flowers appealed to me. They were beautiful. Next year, I will visit here sooner, in the early morning.

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Find out more about Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

Takako Sakamoto

Takako Sakamoto @takako.sakamoto

I was born in and grew up in Tokushima prefecture, and have lived in many places since then: Nishinomiya, Kyoto, Nara, Mie, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Fukuoka and Fukui. I am currently living in Yokohama City. All the places I lived, all the places I visited, I have loved dearly. The histor...