Friday, September 19, 2008


Hasedera Temple in Kamakura has many treasures including a stone image of Buddha’s feet, toes inscribed with swastika sun signs.

look, a gecko
reads a poem
with his feet

You can walk to the lookout platform on Kanno Hill and see Yuigahama and the coast of Zaimokuza and the hills of the Miura Peninsula which plunge into the Pacific. Azalea, hydrangea, rose of Sharon, wisteria, St. Johns Wort, Crape myrtle and trumpet creeper are in bloom. The rainy season is ending and the heat of summer hangs heavy.

Zeniarai Benten’s shrine is located here. Originally the temple was a Shinto shrine to worship Uga no kami. According to legend the shrine dates from the Yoritomo Minamoto era (1147 – 1199). One night after a series of battles an old man appeared to Yoritomo, the warrior leader, in a dream saying, “I am the god of Ugajin. There is a spring in the gorge northwest of Kamakura. Worship Ugajin with the water of the spring and peace will be restored.” It was the day of the serpent, the month of the serpent in 1185.

Yoritomo searched for the spring and ordered a cave dug for the god of the rice—Uga. Farmers washed rice seed at the spring and later Uga became known as the god of wealth since rice equaled wealth. Deep in the cave is the statue of a serpent with a human head, a depiction of Uga-jin.

Later one of the Hojo shoguns visited the shrine and washed coins in the spring water saying that now they might be doubled. And so began the tradition of washing money in the spring waters hoping to increase it.

The cave is dark and damp and there is not much headroom, especially for gaijin. It is not a place for claustrophobes. According to a survey conducted by a magazine publisher, 2/3rds of the visitors who come here to wash their money are women. Probably because in Japan women usually control the money.

Candles make dull clusters of light in the intense darkness. The walls of the cave seem damp and glittery. Bamboo baskets and ladles are placed on a shelf. You put your money in the basket and ladle the water over it. About as much chance of increase as investing in the stock market, I think cynically, but at least you won’t lose it here.

Before Lady Benten
they assemble and chant—
the croaking frogs


Benzaiten, goddess of wealth, is represented as a small eight armed figure enshrined at Benzaiten Hall. No doubt she has eight arms to grab all the dollars she can. She is also the goddess of feminine beauty which may account for the many women visitors. She undoubtedly knows how to get their attention—and given the state of women in today’s Japan, Benten’s gifts may be the way to equality.

And I am not above murmuring a little prayer to Benten:

Benten Fortunate
make me rich and beautiful
make me young

by Helen Ruggieri
Olean, New York

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