Enoshima shrine at night

Enoshima After Midnight – A Night-time Island Adventure

Enoshima is a small island off the coast of Shonan in Kanagawa prefecture around 70km from Tokyo. It is a popular tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike; a weekend getaway with beaches, caves and shrines.

Legend has it that once, the mainland area was terrorized by a monstrous five headed dragon for a thousand years. As a savior to the people, the goddess Benzaiten forged the island of Enoshima as her home. Mesmerized by her beauty, the dragon fell in love with her. Benzaiten refused to reciprocate his love, instead using her powers of persuasion to convince him of his wrong doings. Changed and ashamed, the dragon vowed to be devoted to the goddess and to do so, faced south toward her island and turned himself into a hill. A hill which is now known as Dragon's Mouth Hill (Japanese: Tatsu-no-kuchi yama).

These days, the epic sagas on the island are a little lower scale; rather than goddesses descending onto the earth, families, couples and friends flock to the island for a little escape from the concrete, some good food and the quintessential beauty of an island. And despite the allures of visiting such a place when the sun is out and the shutters are up, my friends and I decided it would be more of an adventure to visit it under the moonlight.

1:30 am on a Friday night, we packed our picnic supplies, rented out a car from the closet Times Car rental and headed south. It took about an hour on the empty streets before the signboards read Enoshima. Google Maps did its best to get us on the island in our four wheeler, however we discovered that at 2:30am we would have to park on the mainland and embark on the rest of our journey by foot.

In mid-December, the nights can get pretty cold. But we had managed to pick a day with clear skies and a full moon, its reflection rippled yet perfect in the waters below; hypnotic enough for us to brave the cold.

Right across the bridge is an old Japanese street, slanted uphill, with both sides having charming little stores, mostly handcrafted products sleepily waiting for the morning rush to arrive to be sold.

an artistic owl lamp

a shop window display at night

An empty alley in Enoshima

As the street of souvenirs ended we went up a flight of stairs, eventually arriving at the shrine for the goddess Benzaiten. Thanking her for saving the people and taming the dragon, we made our offerings, clapped our hands twice and each asked for a little something for ourselves.

A shrine chozuya with dragon head at night

Unsure of whether to take a left or a right, we used Enoshima's famous sea candle lighthouse as a giant location pin to follow. The route we took was stunning — it could have been a painting. The silhouettes of branches framed the picture of the moon, stars and waters below, only the hum of the waves, smell of nature and the cold air convinced me that it was real. Something about a setting like this always creates a comfortable silence, each person's mind running in a different direction. And that's how we walked to the top — in a dazed silence.

We went as far up as we could in the night, and had our picnic at the rest stop. Butter rolls to fill the stomach and soup to warm the hands.

On our way down, we came across some fellow midnight travelers, including an old man out for a run. We took the other route down, making a full circle of the island.

Our little adventure ended at 4:00am — we’re back in the warmth of our car, and on our way back to our beds.

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