ENOSHIMA DREAMING (2017)
It goes without saying–although it’s constantly said–that Tokyo is a dense and sprawling city. This is obvious in its more crowded moments, like when squeezing through the jam-packed streets of Kabukicho, but its present in the smaller details, too. When I first moved to Tokyo, I was amazed when a building’s elevator opened not into a hallway but directly into a store or restaurant. While these incidental moments barely figure into the big picture, they’re a reminder just how much space is at a scarcity in a city of over 13 million and growing.
But another of Tokyo’s remarkable attributes it that it’s surprisingly easy to escape the city. Serene Mt. Takao is only 30 kilometres to the west, perennially picturesque Nikko only a couple of hours north, and a mere hour down the coast is my own favourite refuge from Tokyo: Enoshima.
The island of Enoshima is located in Sagami Bay, alongside the city of Fujisawa and connected to the mainland via the Bentenbashi Bridge. It’s a small island (just under half a square kilometre), but packed full of enough must-see spots to make it worthy of a day trip all its own. If you’re counting your coins, the ¥1970 Enopass covers round-trip travel from Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line as well as access to the island’s escalator system (who’s got time for stairs?), Sea Candle observatory (which boasts solid views of Mt. Fuji on clear days), Samuel Cocking Garden, and the must-see Enoshima Iwaya caves. It also entitles you to discounts at the Enoshima Aquarium, Enoshima Island Spa, Enoshima Shrine and a handful of the island’s gift shops and restaurants.
But the island’s oldest amenity is its supernatural backstory. Benzaiten, the goddess of music and entertainment, came down from heaven to vanquish a five-headed dragon who’d been running amok along the Shonan Coast. Defeat left the dragon smitten with her and he proposed, though she refused to marry such a troublemaker–even one who could appreciate a strong woman. Instead, Benzatien decided to settle down solo, and raised Enoshima from the ocean to serve as her new home (note: some versions of the tale end with her giving in to the dragon's request, but that’s so much less interesting).
Regardless of her decision, visitors can find three main shrines across the island dedicated to her honour: Hetsunomiya, Nakatsunomiya, and Okutsunomiya. Make a wish at the first before continuing on in pilgrimage to the remaining two and legend says your wish will be granted. You’ll also get knockout calves, as there’s plenty of steps along the way.
Shrines aside, there’s lots more to see atop the island. Samuel Cocking Garden, named for the British merchant who bought land atop Enoshima during the Meiji era, isn’t just made for warmer weather–although it’s beautiful in spring and summer. Though the original greenhouse that once stood there has long since burned down, flower boxes are flush all year long with seasonal arrangements like winter tulips in the colder months.
Only steps from the garden is LON Cafe. Its recently renovated patio boasts picturesque views of Sagami Bay and the sweet spot is locally-known for its delicious french toast (available as part of a drink set for ¥1000).
If you’ve come to the island with your significant other, pay a visit to Ryuren no Kane, the “love bell” of Enoshima’s aforementioned casanova dragon. Couples who ring the bell while wishing for romantic bliss will be rewarded, but be warned: this bell is *loud.* If you have any declarations of love left unsaid, best get them out of the way before you pull the bell’s rope and go temporarily deaf.
The tip-top of Enoshima is high above the island’s summit–60m, in fact. For ¥500 (¥250 for children, or free if you opted for the Enopass), visitors can take an elevator to one of two observation decks. Bring your camera: both offer beautiful views of the Shonan Coast and, if the weather’s in your favour, Mt. Fuji.
Once you’ve enjoyed the heights, head back down–way down–to of the island’s hidden treasures: the magnificent Iwaya Caves, whose tunnels burrow deep beneath the island. On your way there, you’ll pass long rock ledges populated with both sunbathers and fishermen, and a favourite of visitors. The views are spectacular (especially at sunset), but keep going. The winding wooden passageway takes you straight into the Iwaya Caves, renowned as a supernatural “power spot” and an ancient site of religious training. Tall folks may need to stoop to avoid the low ceilings, but the caves shouldn’t be missed. They’re unforgettable–especially in winter, when fairy lights are strung along the caves rocky ceilings.
As a trip to Enoshima isn’t light on cardio, you’ll likely work up an appetite along the way. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for snacks, including an always-busy takosenbei stand near the island’s summit.
If that’s not enough, there’s plenty of more substantial options, too. Most of Enoshima’s restaurants are found shortly after arriving on the island on Nakamise Street (including a recently opened Hello Kitty cafe, if that’s your thing) or on Oiwayamichi, a path on the far side of the island near the Iwaya Caves. If you can wait, the latter offers much better views. During our visit we stopped at Enoshimatei, a spacious restaurant serving delicious set meals of tempura, sashimi, and shirasudon (multitudes of tiny sardines served over rice, and one of Enoshima’s local delicacies).
Well fed and well tired, round out your visit at Enoshima Island Spa–but only if you’re uninked, as they have a strictly enforced “no tattoo” policy. This modern onsen has over 15 pools (gender-separated and co-ed), including open-air tubs with great views of Fuji-san. The extravagantly named Sunlight Spring Pool features the “Water Pearl Show,” an aquatic spectacle that lets bathers paddle around beneath an orchestrated laser-light show while sprinkling jets of water shoot above like tiny glistening pearls. Part-pool and part-planetarium, it’s not nearly as kitschy as it sounds and a surprisingly modern way to end your day in such a historical spot (there’s also a seriously refreshing coffee soft serve for sale on your way out).
Walking back towards the twinkling lights of Fujisawa across Bentenbashi, I felt refreshed, exhausted, and completely satisfied–and a world away from Tokyo. Scenic and rich with history, Enoshima is a must-see destination that more than lives up to its myth.