“Zeniarai Benten shrine.” I said. “The money-washing temple, one of the few places of worship that survived the nationalist Meiji-enforced separation of Buddhist-Shinto fusion. Here, in the last of her roles, Benten reconnected love with water, and her popularity grew from a trickle into a flood. Here, she was the Goddess of Wealth, the sole female among of the prosperity-bringing Seven Gods of Good Fortune who sailed their treasure ship, the Takara-bune. A picture of the Takara-bune under your pillow on New Year’s Eve, would bring a lucky dream.
Zeniarai Benten was founded by Yoritomo, in 1185, on the day of the Snake in the month of the Snake, after his own lucky dream, of Benten’s husband companion. The human-headed Shinto spirit snake spoke to him.
‘In a valley to the northwest, there is a miraculous spring that
gushes out of the rocks. Go there and worship Shinto kami and
Buddhist hotoke, and peace will come to the country. I am the
kami of this land, Ugakufujin.’
Yoritomo found the spring, built the shrine, and dedicated it to Benten.”
Robyn and I entered the Okugū cave, and found the working cliff face of the money-washing ceremony. Water flowed in a channel along a rock face, and small baskets were provided to prevent coins from slipping out of our hands as we doused them.
“This is supposed to double our money.” I said, dunking the sieve in the stream.
“Too bad the large denomination bills aren’t waterproof.” Robyn said. I stood up with our basket of cleaned coins.
“Why did Yoritomo really think of doing this?” Robyn asked.
“Maybe it was as the legend provides.” I said. “But there were other forces at work 800 years ago. The Year of the Snake in 1185 was the year of the Samurai crab Battle of Dan-no-ura, and the final act of the Genpei War. Yoritomo may have defeated the Taira clan and established his Kamakura shogunate, but he still had to pay for the war. The ‘Iron Rule of Currencies’ inevitably lure all governments into covering these costs via inflation. By having his subjects wish to double the number of their coins, he could double the number in circulation. Twice as much money fooled his courtiers into thinking they were twice as rich, and still does. Since more than the Lost Decade of Japan’s economic bubble collapse began in 1991, every day, on the Day of the Snake, no one can move for the busloads of supplicants that come to wash their sins, and double their silver.”
We left Zeniarai Benten uphill again, through Genjiyama Park, with its old-growth trees and crisscross trails and Kuzuharagaoka shrine, built on a Kamakura Period execution ground. It was here that Toshimoto Hino, a loyalist of Emperor Godaigo’s attempt to overthrow the shogun, was decapitated on June 3, 1332, after reading a farewell tanka.
‘I will die and vanish here like a dew, but,
the bitter feeling of the dew will never disappear.’
If Zeniarai Benten had been the fulfillment dream of Yoritomo, further downhill, almost at the end of the trail, we arrived at what was left of the great Hōjō temple that had been one of Kamakura's Five Mountains, on the occasion of the premature death of a son. Pink cherry blossoms and hanging strips of diagonal folded paper framed the entrance of the Jochiji, partially concealed by the tall cypresses and green lushness greenery that lined the stone steps of the temple’s approach. Inside the gate were a pond, a stone bridge, and the ‘Well of Sweet Dew,’ one of the once-famous Ten Kamakura Wells. Above the gate were carved four characters. The treasure you are looking for is next to you. And she was.
A flight of uneven large stone stairs took us up to the Shōrōmon, a two-storied tower hosting a bell made in 1340. We sat on one of the wooden benches facing the front of the main temple, so quiet and small and calm. But at its peak, after its original construction, it consisted of 11 buildings containing 500 residents. The only three inhabitants now were the Amida, Shaka, and Miroku Buddhas, guarding the past, the present and the future, respectively.