The shrine dedicated to money-making in Kamakura
Zeniarai Benten is a shinto shrine located in north-western Kamakura, in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. This place of worship, a mix of Shintoism and Buddhist cult, is nestled amongst rocks. People visit it in great numbers in hope of increasing their wealth after washing their coins in the holy water springing in a sacred cave.
Despite its remote location, Zeniarai Benten is the second touristic destination in Kamakura. Public transportation don’t serve the shrine which is hidden deep in the mountain and only accessible via the hiking trail connecting Kita-Kamakura Station and the famous Great Buddha.
The entrance is quite unusual: an underground tunnel in the mountain opens on a succession of wooden torii ⛩️ gates outside. The shrine is indeed almost entirely built from the rocks, high stone walls circumscribing the place and hiding it from outside. The second exit at the rear of the shrine leads back to the walking trail through a narrow passage.
Zeniarai Benten was built by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of Kamakura, in 1185, the opening year of Kamakura period, when the city proudly became the capital of Japan. The kami Ugafukujin was first worshipped in the shrine, and Benten, a Buddhist deity associated with snakes was later enshrined.
The small shrine is thus one of the last examples of successful syncretism between Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan.
A temple to multiply money
In the sacred grounds, several modest shrines are scattered over a several levels environment, which also encompasses a small pond inhabited by koi carps. The visit is filled with the perfume of incense.
The most important part and the attraction for most visitors, is however located underground. According to a 13th century tradition, washing coins (the literal meaning of "zeniarai") or banknotes in the shrine’s natural spring 🌸 will multiply said coins or notes.
The ritual consists of immersing a small bamboo basket containing coins a few seconds in the water. If you visit during a colder season don’t forget to bring a towel to dry your money. Meanwhile, you can also admire the beautiful multicolored senbazuru, origami garlands made of thousand paper cranes, dangling from the ceiling and providing a pleasant decoration to the cave.