The oldest Shrine in Kamakura dating back to the early 8th century, its origin is not very clear. According to the ancient documents titled History of Amanawa-ji Shinmei-gu (ji means a temple and gu is a shrine) kept by the Shrine, Priest Gyoki, a famous priest in Nara Prefecture, who helped build various temples across the country including the well-know Todaiji in Nara and Sugimoto-dera in Kamakura, was also the founder of the Shrine. Back at the time, there was a powerful and rich man named Tokitada Someya in Kamakura. With the help of Priest Gyoki, he built a temple called Entokuji near here, and simultaneously erected a shrine called Shinmei-gu at the top of the hill behind Entokuji.
When Yoriyoshi Minamoto (985-1078), ancestor of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate), was sent here as a lord of manor, he married a grand-daughter of Tokitada Someya, and prayed to the Shrine god for birth of a baby boy. The couple's prayer was answered and Yoshiie Minamoto (1039-1106), was born, who was great-great-grandfather of Yoritomo. Since then, the Shrine has gone tutelary for the Minamoto family. Yoritomo Minamoto, his wife Masako (1157-1225), their son Sanetomo (1192-1219), and their suite used to repair to the Shrine. Later, it was revered by many people, by the locals in particular, as their guardian deity, calling it "Shinmei-sama" (sama is an honorific, politer than san.)
The Shrine reminds Kamakuraites of the bloody power struggle broke out in November 1285. Here once lived an influential samurai, Morinaga Adachi (1135-1200) by name, an immediate vassal of Yoritomo Minamoto. When Yoritomo rose in arms against the Taira Clan in 1180 at Ishibashiyama of the Izu Peninsula, Adachi was one of his loyal retainers, and greatly contributed to Yoritomo's victories. (A woodblock print of Ishibashiyama battle on view at MFA.) Soon afterward, Yoritomo settled in Kamakura in view of its strategic advantage and established the Shogunate office. Morinaga followed Yoritomo as his aide and built the residence right here adjacent to the Shrine. It is recorded that Yoritomo and his family often stopped by Morinaga's at the time of their visit to the Shrine.
After Third Shogun Sanetomo was assassinated in 1219, the Hojo family took the reigns of Kamakura government and it lasted for more than a century until 1333. During the Hojo era, however, there were a series of power struggles waged between the Hojos and its rival families. Hojo defeated them one by one with every conceivable means, each resulting in bloodbath battles. The Adachis were the last one, and Morinaga's descendants were doomed to be exterminated in the end.
The Adachis had had close matrimonial relations with the Hojos and both were once solidly united. For example, the wife of Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), the Eighth Hojo Regent, was a member of Adachi family and gave birth to Sadatoki Hojo (1271-1311), the Ninth Hojo Regent. She also helped erect Tokeiji. Given their kith and kin, it was quite natural for the Adachis to side with the Hojo should there be any struggles between the Hojos and other families. The situation suddenly changed in 1285, however, as Yasumori Adachi (1231-1285), great-grandson of Morinaga, had to confront the Hojos over the issue of government policy. Sadatoki became the Ninth Regent in 1284 at age 14. Too young to be a real Regent, he was put under the guardianship of Yoritsuna Taira (?-1293), a high-ranking officials as his wife had been Sadatoki's wet nurse. Yasumori Adachi was also powerful in the government since he was grandfather-in-law of Sadatoki. Yasumori often clashed with Yoritsuna over the decision-making process in the government. Exhausting patience, Yoritsuna plotted a conspiracy and made a false charge against Yasumori that he was trying to topple the Hojo regime. Upset by the charge, Sadatoki ordered his military forces to make a sneak attack against the Adachis and their members. A civil-war type battle erupted at and near the Adachi residence in November 1285. In this bloodbath, the death toll reached over 500, and the Adachis were almost eradicated. Historians call the battle "Shimotsuki (old name of November in lunar calendar) Incident" as it occurred in November.
Today, this area is surrounded with private houses and there is nothing reminiscent of Adachi residence, except for a stone monument telling "This is the site where the abode of Adachi stood."
Also near the Shrine stands the old house of Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), a Nobel Literature Prize (1968) laureate. He moved here in 1946 from Nikaido (in Kamakura) and lived until he killed himself in 1972, In this house, he wrote The Sound of the Mountains, one of his novels staged in Kamakura. Unfortunately, the Kawabata residence is not open to the public.
The Shrine consists of two structure; the oratory in front and the sanctum at the back. As the old structures was wrecked by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, it was rebuilt in 1936. With the lapse of more than half a century, the roofs of the rebuilt structures became leaky. In an effort to preserve the Shrine, parishioners and volunteer groups helped finance necessary funds to repair the roofs. It was completed in 1998, and now we can view the fine copper-roofed Shrine standing quietly in the woods.
Sacred to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu is same as that of the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, the mother shrine of the Imperial Family and serves as the mecca of Shinto. Amanawa Jinja is a miniature version of the Ise Grand Shrine. Take a closer look at the roofs. Both the oratory and the sanctum have horn-like cross-boards called Chigi extending above the roofs at both ends. Also five poles are placed on top of the roof horizontally, that is called Katsuogi . This is a typical Jinja architecture called Shinmei method.
Being less famous in Kamakura, the Shrine is usually deserted and quiet. Locating the Shrine may be somehow difficult. Half way through the main road leading to Kotoku-in (Great Buddha) from Kamakura Station, there is a three-story building
of Fire Station on right hand (north) side. Turn right (to the north) at
the Fire Station, and you will see Torii gate straight ahead. (Meanwhile, in case you need to call for an ambulance
in Japan, dial 119 anywhere in Japan at the Fire Department, not 911)
Annual Festival takes place from September 14 through 17. Portable shrines called Mikoshi parade the streets near the Shrine.
There is a good chance to see this chigi and katsuogi style roof on TV when professional Sumo wrestling is held. Sumo is Japan's national sport and is closely associated with Shinto. The grand tournament by professional wrestlers takes place six times annually, or in January, March, May, July, September and November, each 15-day long, and is telecast by NHK, the state-owned TV network, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. every day during the tournaments. The roof on the ring hanging from the ceiling, has a perfect set of chigi and katsuogi. Chances are high for foreign visitors to watch this roof on TV because the tournaments are telecast 90 days a year in both English and Japanese.