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Kamakura history

Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate and the first Shogun in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), overwhelmingly defeated the rival clan of Taira in 1180 to become the military ruler of Japan and set up his home town in Kamakura. The first thing he did after his victory was to build a grand shrine of Hachiman, the tutelary deity of the Minamoto clan, and revere it as the God of War, to demonstrate his supremacy as a new dictator.

There was, and still exists, a small shrine established by his ancestor near the Kamakura beach. As a replacement of this old shrine, he constructed a new one at the present site in 1180. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1191. He immediately began reconstruction of the new shrine, and it is the origin of the present-day Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

Before the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868, the Shrine was a large complex of religious structures that mixed elements of Shinto and Buddhism under the concept that Shinto deities were manifestation of Buddhism divinities. Most important was the identification of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu with Buddha Mahavairocana, harmonizing the teachings of both religions. In other words, it was syncretized mixture of Shinto and Buddhism, Shingon sect in particular, and therefore, the Shrine had been called Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

In its golden days, the Shrine had as many as 33 structures including those for Buddhists. If anything, Buddhists had more power than Shintoists, as the Shrine was for most part managed by Buddhist priests.

The new government after the Meiji Restoration, however, purged Shinto of Buddhist elements, or ordered to clearly segregate Buddhism from Shinto, making the latter as the state religion. As a result, many of the valuable structures, statues and the likes in here associated with Buddhism were burned down, destroyed, sold cheap overseas, or thrown away. Some were fortunately moved to other Buddhist temples. The Deva King Gate, for example, was relocated to Jufukuji.

From the Restoration up until the end of the Second World War, the Shrine had been run by an agency of the national government. After the War, it became an independent religious institution. With its historic background, the Shrine is one of the three largest Hachimangu in Japan following Usa {woo-sah} Hachimangu in Oita Prefecture, and Iwa Shimizu {e-wah she-me-zoo} Hachimangu in Kyoto, drawing roughly 10 million visitors every year. On New Year Days, two million people visit here in just three days.


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