Destinations / Japan

Kamakura’s Zeniarai Benten: a grotto-sanctuary

Zeniarai Benten sanctuary is one of my favorites in Kamakura, probably because I discovered it completely unexpectedly. It’s dedicated to money-making and welcomes visitors in search of good fortune to grow their wealth.

At first, the tunnel serving as the entrance to Zeniarai Benten strongly reminded me of the one crossed by Chihiro in Spirited Away, just when the family enters the magical universe where their adventure begins. When I unexpectedly came across it during my first trip to Kamakura, I was under the impression that I, too, was going to live a great adventure after crossing to the other side of the huge stone torii.

The tunnel that serves as an entrance to Zenniarai Benten temple in Kamakura

A temple made of stones

As a matter of fact, it might not have been as spectacular as Chihiro’s story, but it was an interesting journey in this sanctuary nestled in the middle of a stone circle. I was welcomed by hundreds of paper wishes displayed on “boards,” as is customary around shrines and temples. Long winding stone stairs then lead you on a jungle-like trip through basins and waterfalls, guarded by large rock lions.

The main shrine is located inside a large cave that can be reached after a few twists. Long garlands of senbazuru (origami cranes) hang from the cave ceiling, and at its back, there’s a sacred spring famous for its ability to multiply coins and banknotes when washed in it. This tradition apparently dates back to 1257, and that’s how Zeniarai Benten became known as “the temple to multiply coins.”

Zeniarai Benten, or the temple to multiply coins

In this temple, the syncretism between native Shintoism and foreign Buddhism is still visible: it is indeed a Shinto shrine, where people come to “wash their money to multiply it,” hence the term “Zeniarai.” However, the temple is also associated with the Buddhist goddess Benten, or Benzaiten. This goddess is part of the Japanese divine pantheon and one of the “Seven Lucky Gods.” She is supposed to be “the patron of all that flows” (music, arts, wisdom, fortune). Hence, it’s understandable how she became closely associated with money.

To bring good fortune and a lot of money, you’re supposed to wash some money in the water flowing inside the grotto. Attention! You’re not supposed to plunge your hands in the source: after lighting a candle and incense to pay your respects, you place the money in a small basket that you then put into the water. If you perform the ritual, let me know if you’ve become rich afterwards!

Zeniarai Benten grotto in Kamakura

Actually, the grotto where you pay your respects to Benten almost looks like it’s been arranged as a home. I am not sure if the whole space is supposed to be dedicated to her (I wish I spoke Japanese to be able to learn more about these places!), but it does look like it would be comfortable for a deity, I guess! Either way, it is a beautiful shrine and a place where you can feel the calm and quietness of the sacred site. After making a wish, I left, admiring one last time the original setting of this temple hidden behind a curtain of rocks.

Zeniarai Benten grotto in Kamakura

Zeniarai Benten sanctuary: practical information

How to get to Zeniarai Benten?
From Kamakura train station, you will need to walk for a good 30 minutes to reach the temple. It is located near Genjiyama Park, where you can see the statue of Tokugawa, Japan’s first Shogun. You will go through the park and through a path in the forest, which are rather pleasant in summer.

I shouldn’t have to mention it but don’t forget that you’re in a sacred place and that people come to pray there so ensure you adopt discreet, respectful and appropriate behaviour.

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