Enoshima: Lanterns Light the Way

by special guest blogger:  Evan M. FitzGerald

When the lights go down in the city, escaping the hustle and bustle to lantern-lit Enoshima is a welcome relief. Located about an hour south of Tokyo, this island situated between Kamakura and Fujisawa is a haven for surfers, lovers, and even families.  Right now its beauty is enhanced by its lantern festival.  For the entire month of August, the Enoshima Toro Lantern Festival includes most of the walkable areas on Enoshima Island and even extends to part of the mainland.

There are two choices to get from Tokyo to Enoshima.  Perhaps more conventional is taking the JR train to Kamakura and then the Enoden on to Enoshima, but catching the Shonan Monorail from Ofuna is the more fun and scenic route. This suspended monorail, or Flying Train, leaves Ofuna station every eight minutes and whisks travelers from Ofuna to Enoshima in 14 minutes. The monorail ride is quick but memorable, with great views on either side all the way.  Mt. Fuji is sometimes even visible–if it’s clear enough.

The monorail’s terminus at Shonan-Enoshima station stands just 150 meters from the historic Ryukoji temple. Much quieter but just as grand as its Kamakura brethren, Ryukoji is nestled at the base of a hill.  The complex features a belfry where visitors are permitted to ring the bell, an elaborately carved five-story pagoda and a scenic overlook of Enoshima Island and Sagami Bay. Ryukoji is an ideal place to start a walk through the lantern-lit festival areas. The illumination of its beautiful wooden buildings covered in dragon motifs bathed in different colored lights whets the appetite to continue onto Enoshima Island.

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Indeed, the lanterns are among the most noticeable features upon crossing the causeway bridge onto Enoshima island. Starting around sunset and lasting until 20:30, lanterns with different themes bathe the streets in warm light. Notwithstanding the late hour, visitors are free to wander through the island’s lanes, visiting its temples, shrines and restaurants and generally enjoying the ambiance created by the lanterns.

For those who arrive before sunset, the view from Enoshima over Sagami Bay to Mt. Fuji in the distance is a spectacle to behold, rivaling the lantern festival for its beauty.

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The lanterns are evocative of the lanterns used at the mid-August o-bon festival to return the spirits of the ancestors to their world.  In fact, that was once the focus of the festival.  But about a decade ago, locals decided to expand the festival beyond o-bon and shifted the focus to drawing attention to the need for environmental protection.

Lanterns are not all there is to see. For more about the sights of the Enoshima area, check this article.  For another option, plan ahead to make a short stop in Ofuna before proceeding on to Enoshima.  On the hillside above the station’s south gate stands an enormous bust of Kannon, a white-robed Bodhisattva, known in China as Guanyin. Completed in 1960 and dedicated to world peace (work on the monument was commenced in 1929, but interrupted by World War II), the bust sits on the grounds of Ofuna Kannon-ji, a Zen temple of the Soto Sect.  After a short climb up a shady walkway from the station, it is pleasant to wander the grounds and enjoy views of the city beyond.  It is also possible to step inside the 25-meter-tall Kannon, which is itself a temple.

© 2018 Jigsaw-japan.com and Evan M. FitzGerald
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