Kamakura Hanami・ The Cherry Blossoms of Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine — Standing Guard Over Kamakura

Designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan, this majestic shrine was first built almost a millennium ago, in the year 1063, as a shrine to the legendary Japanese Emperor Ojin. The original location was slightly south of the current grounds, but Kamakura shogunate founder Minamoto no Yoritomo moved Tsurugaoka Hachimangu a century or so later in 1191, and in doing so he asked the shrine’s gods to watch over his new government.

Minamoto no Yoritomo’s political moves set off momentous developments in Kamakura’s political and cultural scenes, and the period became an important point in Japanese history, giving Tsurugaoka Hachimangu new renowned as well. Future political figures continued to value and maintain the shrine, including those from the Ashikaga and Tokugawa Clans, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. To this day, the shrine is not only a must-see sightseeing destination for those visiting Kamakura, but it’s also a cultural repository, hosting a number of storied events, like horseback archery festivals where participants release “bell crickets.”

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (鶴岡八幡宮)
2–1–31 Yukinoshita, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Access: 10 min from Kamakura Station (JR/Enoden)
Official Website (en)

Wakamiya-oji Street & Dankazura — At the Heart of Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, once moved to its current location in 1191, could in many ways be called the starting point for Minamoto no Yoritomo’s construction of Kamakura. And leading south-west from the shrine’s entrance, Wakamiya-oji Street was start of the city’s spread. Wakamiya-oji Street stretches from Tsurugaoka Hachimangu’s third torii gate all the way to Yuigahama Beach, 2 km away on the coast — a layout reminiscent of Kyoto’s Suzaku-oji Street, which once ran south from the Imperial Palace. To this day, Wakamiya-oji is an important central axis for the city of Kamakura.

But those aren’t the only reasons why Wakamiya-oji Street is so historically important. Drawn along the center of the road, a well-preserved historical path called the Dankazura is a little oasis for pedestrians making their way to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. This raised trail in the middle of the street sits like a crest along the spine of Wakamiya-oji Street, and some say the that Minamoto no Yoritomo gathered servants to build it in hopes that his prayers might be heard, particularly when it came to safe childbirth for his pregnant wife. Constructed a step above the road on either side, the name Dankazura (段葛) refers quite simply to the raised path and the stones used in construction.

Only about 500 m of the Dankazura path remains these days, resting at the center of Wakamiya-oji Street between the second and third torii gates of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, but even this shorter stretch is a sight worth seeing. In Japan’s Taisho period (1912–1926), cherry trees were added to grassy patches on either side of the paving stones, and the line of trees was refreshed with new plantings in 2014 ~ 2016. The long lines of cherry trees blooming along Dankazura are a magical sight, and the magic lasts into the night, when lights along the road illuminate the flowers.

Top-Tier Cherry Blossoms & Historic Sightseeing in Kamakura

Perhaps, when I first visited Kamakura, it was just a matter of timing. Or perhaps I just didn’t pay much attention to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, its history, and its surroundings. But somehow, it wasn’t until a work trip to Kamakura last year that I took note of Wakamiya-oji Street, Dankazura, and the fabulous cherry blossoms that float above the path in the spring. The trip just happened to be during the peak of cherry blossom season, and little did I know, this little path has been selected as one of the top 100 cherry blossom spots in Japan! (An impressive feat, considering cherry blossoms are everywhere in this country.) For me, finding out about this little sakura spot and history surrounding it was an unexpected Kamakura surprise, but hopefully for you it can be a wonderful planned excursion on your next trip to the area. For lots more fun things to do in Kamakura, see here!

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