Within walkable distance from Kencho-ji and Hachiman-gu, you can find Ennou-ji Temple where you can meet the ruler of Hell in Kamakura, Japan. The entrance to Ennou-ji consists of stairs leading up to the temple with vivid red flags lining each side. It is almost like it is greeting travelers to the other world where their fate in the next world will be decided.
Say hi to Enma-sama!
When you visit other temples and shrines, you are usually meeting the gods who bring happiness or fortune, but at Ennou-ji, you are also meeting important gods, but those who decide your fate after death, including the ruler of Hell, Enma-sama, which is registered as Japan’s important cultural property. After walking from Kita-Kamakura station along the main road for 15 minutes, you will notice stairs where you can see many red flags lined up leading to the entrance of Ennou-ji. As you can see in the poster in the picture, you are about to meet the ruler of Hell, who make the all-important decision of where you go after your life has ended. Unlike the gods and goddesses in other temples and shrines, they are rather intimidating with scary facial expressions and body gestures, even though they are sitting.
Learn about the Japanese ideology of death
Going to Ennou-ji, you will be learning about the Japanese ideology of death.. Even for Japanese, the details covered at Ennou-ji are not something that we learn at school, so it is extremely educating and interesting for both domestic and international travelers alike. Unlike other temples in Kamakura, Ennou-ji is small in size, so it’s easy to walk around the entire space in few minutes. However, most of the travelers take a long time to read and learn about the life after death so even though it is a small temple, the price of entrance fee, which is 200 JPY (1.6 USD), is totally worth it.
As you know, Japanese are born in Shintoism, but die in Buddhism, and that Buddhism is a crucial part in understanding death for the Japanese. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to photograph the heads of Hades in the temple, and you must follow these rules, but just by stepping inside the temple where wooden statues are placed on three sides of the building, the scene is breath-taking. You just want to be quiet and read the descriptions of each statue and about what happens in life after death.
Pick an oracle and find what Enma-sama is telling you!
Like many other temples and shrines, you can also get an oracle at Ennou-ji. At Ennou-ji, it is from a red wooden box of oracles, conveying the temple’s long history and creating a funny sound of wood when you place your 100 JPY (0.8 USD) in the machine. If you have never done an oracle, it works like this: an oracle tells you a lot about you and your future, what you should watch out for, and what you can expect from the future. If you happen to get a good oracle, it is something you want to keep it close by, for example by keeping it in your wallet, but if not, you would be better to leave it at the temple you got the oracle at. In this case, my oracle was not so great, so I left it at Ennou-ji where I was indicated to leave it. Follow the rules for where you can tie your oracle so that your bad future will become a better one. After all, even though Ennou-ji enshrines gods who decide the fate of your life after death, it is also known as a power spot to Japanese people, so you are more likely to receive good energy from visiting the temple.
Take in the beautiful seasonal garden of Ennou-ji
As I said earlier, Ennou-ji is a small size temple, but that does not mean that it has no charm to it. At the time of my visit, it was the end of September and the temple had beautiful Osmanthus blooming in the middle of the grounds. Osmanthus is a traditional sign of autumn in Japan so the smell and the pretty orange colored flowers definitely added a seasonal touch to Ennou-ji. Like many other temples and shrines, even if it is small, the garden is neatly designed so that the visitors can appreciate the seasonal changes you can see in the flora of Ennou-ji when they visit. Osmanthus is pretty, but Ennou-ji is also known for its hydrangea during summer, so visiting Ennou-ji to see these hydrangea might also be a fun thing to do.
Enchanted by the head of Hades
Ennou-ji is very different from the other temples and shrines that you can visit in Kamakura. You just do not generally see such angry and scary looking gods in front of you elsewhere. They are quite intimidating since they surround you from three different directions in the dimly-lit wooden temple, so their eyes pop and the expressions they have make you want to just spill out the truth to make sure you are well-taken care of after death. Even though photography is prohibited in this temple, the impression left by visiting here should be enough to capture the vivid images of the ruler of Hell in your mind. It is a small temple so it would be a great addition to your Kamakura adventure, maybe after stopping at Kenchou-ji, which is right across from Ennou-ji.
Lastly, Ennou-ji operates shorter hours than other temples and shrines in Kamakura, so you want to be aware of the hours of operation. In March to November, it is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm, but in December to February, it is only open from 9:00am to 15:00pm.
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