Enoshima island is a popular tourist area in Japan, about an hour or so south of Tokyo. Although the island and the beaches around it are filled with surfers and bikinis in the summer (surfers almost year-round, actually), the island has an interesting and mysterious history – a story about a 5 headed dragon and a Goddess.
Before the Edo period in Japan, Enoshima island was considered a holy place and was under the protection of the Emperor. During the Edo period the island was restricted to people coming to worship at the shrine dedicated to the Goddess on the island.
The story of Enoshima and the dragon and the Goddess is called the “Enoshima Engi”, “engi” in this case meaning “origin” in Japanese. It starts out thousands of years ago when the villagers near the Sagami Bay were being terrorized by a 5 headed dragon. In particular, this dragon caused havoc by flooding villages and devouring children.
Most likely the 5 headed dragon was mythological. The 5 headed dragon is probably representative of the mouth of a river and its 4 tributaries. The river flooded quite often, causing tragedy in the villages. In fact, the Great Buddha of Kamakura, an 11 meter bronze statue, used to be enclosed with a wooden structure until it was destroyed by a tsunami in 1498.
The story continues that one day, accompanied with strange clouds and a powerful earthquake, a beautiful Goddess came down from the sky and raised the island of Enoshima from the sea to be her home. The 5 headed dragon watched her fall and fell in love with her. He proposed to her, but she knew about the dragon's actions in the past and refused.
She did, however, promise that if he changed his ways she would accept his proposal. Thereafter the dragon dedicated himself to protecting the villiges and the island. The dragon positioned himself facing south – towards the island. Depending on the story, he either turned himself into a hill, or he died naturally and became a hill in the Kamakura area very near Enoshima island.
Nowadays visitors to the island come to the beaches and the wonderful bars on the beaches, but they also come to see the shrine on the island dedicated to the Goddess and the statues of the dragon on the island. Enoshima (and the whole Sagami/Kamakura area) is a wonderful place to visit if anyone is considering coming to Japan, and thinking about the Enoshima Engi will certainly add a nice bit of history to your visit.