The Japanese island of Enoshima is only tiny, but it’s packed with points of interest – from ancient Shinto shrines to modern Buddhist temples, and mysterious cave grottoes to hilltop viewpoints. It’s especially famous as one of the best places in Japan to enjoy beautiful sunset views over iconic Mount Fuji. The island can be reached by train from Shinjuku, Tokyo in under one hour, with travel covered by the economical Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass. Keep reading for our top tips on what to do on Enoshima Island.
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Mount Fuji is beautiful at any time of day – there’s a reason why its strikingly symmetrical cone is among the most iconic images of Japan. At dusk, though, with its snow-covered peak and smooth slopes rising into the setting sun across Sagami Bay, it’s an absolute showstopper. There are many beautiful places on Enoshima Island where you can watch the Fuji sunset, but one of the best is the Enoshima Sea Candle. This lighthouse stands at 351ft (107m) above sea level, boasting gorgeous views over the bay and Fuji beyond from indoor and outdoor observation decks.
If you haven’t got a head for heights, that doesn’t mean you need to miss out on Enoshima’s gorgeous sunset views. In fact, the best place to watch dusk over Fuji is down by the shoreline, at Chigogafuchi Abyss on the island’s west coast. This is considered the most photogenic spot on the island, a plateau of flat rock jutting out into the sea which affords great views out to Mount Fuji.
For an extra spectacular Fuji sunset, visit Enoshima during early April or early September to witness a phenomenon known as “Diamond Fuji” – the setting sun lines up perfectly with the peak of the mountain, scattering the light like a precious stone.
On the southern coast of Enoshima Island lie two atmospheric caverns known as the Enoshima Iwaya Caves. To reach them, you need to head to the top of the island – either up a series of stairs or by escalator. To get to the entrance of the caves from the top, it’s a steep walk down some cliffside steps for around 20 minutes. Once you’re there, you’re given a candle to light your way in the darker corners and sent off to explore the caves yourself – although this service has been temporarily suspended as of 31 January 2020. The first chamber contains beautifully rendered statues of the Buddha, reflecting the cave’s association with En no Ozunu. This 7th-century ascetic monk was the originator of Shugendo, a Japanese religious tradition which blends elements of Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism. In the centuries since, scores of Buddhist monks undertook training in this cave, which became a popular pilgrimage site in the samurai era.
Keep walking to reach the second cave, where you’ll be greeted by a dramatically lit dragon statue.
You might also want to check out the Love Bell, which sits high on a hill to the east of the Enoshima Iwaya Caves. Couples climb the gentle hillside trail to the bell, which they ring while making wishes for their future. Then, as if on a bridge over the Seine, they affix padlocks, decorated with romantic messages, to a nearby fence overlooking the sea.
The protective goddess of Benzaiten – a Japanese version of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom and art – is commemorated at three shrines across the island. The main shrine complex can be found surrounded by forest on a hill in the middle of the island. It includes a building called Hoanden, an octagonal hall topped with a pavilion roof and painted a striking shade of vermilion. Inside are some of the most sacred Benzaiten statues in Japan. Benzaiten – or Benten, as she’s known for short – is also the goddess of the sea and water, as well as inviting happiness and treasure – so it’s not uncommon to see visitors washing their money in a pond at the shrine.
Despite Benten’s Hindu origins, she has a dual role in Japan: as a Shinto deity, or kami, and a Buddhist goddess. This reflects the nature of religion in Japan, where the majority of the population combine aspects of Shinto and Buddhist practice, visiting both shrines and temples. During the Meiji period from 1868–1912, however, the government adopted a strong anti-Buddhist stance, and attempted to eradicate it from the country and adopt Shinto as the state religion. As a result, Enoshima’s three Buddhist temples were destroyed during this period. A new Buddhist temple, Enoshima Daishi, was finally built in 1993. You’ll find it just five minutes’ walk south of the main Shinto shrine complex. With a cylindrical central chamber and supported by Greek-style columns, it’s very different from the ancient shrines and temples you’ll see across Enoshima and the rest of Japan, but no less atmospheric.
British merchant Samuel Cocking arrived in Japan in 1869, not long after the Edo Period ended and Japan re-opened to the outside world after centuries of isolation. After Enoshima’s Buddhist temples were destroyed in the following decades, Cocking purchased the land on which they sat in 1885 and established the green houses and large garden. Today, this botanical garden is home to some 10,000 plants from across the South Pacific, and makes up a beautiful garden which surrounds the landmark Enoshima Sea Candle – the perfect place to rest after walking up the hill to the shrines.
If the mere thought of visiting all Enoshima’s attractions on foot is tiring you out, don’t despair – the Enoshima Escar whisks you to the hilltop shrines in a mere five minutes. If you’re still in need of a rest after that, visit the Enoshima Island Spa, which sits on the north coast and has natural hot spring baths looking out to Sagami Bay and Mount Fuji. Finally, don’t miss the chance while on Enoshima Island to try the local delicacy, shirasudon. This tiny fish thrives in Sagami Bay and is found in restaurants all over the island, usually sliced raw or served cooked with a bowl of rice.
Header image: sunset over Enoshima Island © Karen Colon/Shutterstock