Enoshima: Tokyo's favorite summer escape

Enoshima: Tokyo's favorite summer escape

A summer tradition in Japan since the days of the shogun, Enoshima is the shadier, greener alternative to Shonan's famous beach culture
From this view, the distant Mt. Fuji steals Enoshima's thunder - but maybe the Fuji view is half of the appeal.

Enoshima is a core sample of Japanese summer culture, a mini-mountain of rock, stone and wood rising steep and green from the Shonan surf.

Legend has it that the goddess Benzaiten raised the island from the ocean floor in the year 552 to use as a home base for dragon patrols. (Unfortunately, there are few dragons on the island now.) Centuries later, pilgrimages to the island by Japan's growing merchant class evolved into straight-up holidays, where what happened at Enoshima stayed at Enoshima.

Today, Enoshima has settled down into one of Eastern Japan's favorite summer destinations, visited by families, courting couples and visitors to the area looking to get away from the beach for a while.

Riding the quaint Enoden

The "Enoden" railroad (est. 1900) is the best and easiest way to get to the island. The little line has major JR East stations -- Kamakura and Fujisawa -- at either end, with Enoshima station located towards the middle. The trip from Kamakura is longer, but offers better beach scenery. The ride from Fujisawa is closer and cheaper.

From Enoshima station it's a pleasant walk to the bridge that leads to the island proper. During summer, the road to the bridge is thronged with Japan's famous gyaru girls, who love the Shonan summer so much they stay tanned, bleached and ready for it all year round. (Don't expect to see too many of them on the island itself, though -- they're here for the beaches.)

Strolling around the isle

Enoshima island is marked by two peaks, joined by a narrow rock bridge known as Yamafutatsu ("[between] two mountains"). The mainland half is more densely packed with things to see and do, but the side facing the ocean has more sit-down restaurants with better views

The first shady break on the mainland side of the island is Enoshima Shrine, home to the famous "naked Benzaiten" and "eight-elbowed Benzaiten" statues. Benzaiten is the patron goddess of eloquence and music -- the "naked Benzaiten" is actually preserving part of her modesty with a four-stringed biwa -- so these statues have been venerated by musicians in Japan for centuries. Undiscovered hopefuls still come to pay their respects today.

Enoshima's culinary experience

The local delicacy is shirasu -- baby sardines -- and they come anyway you like, even on a pizza.

If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to visit Aburaya (the "island teahouse") for a bowl of azuki-gōri: sweet red bean paste over crushed ice.

The main tourist drag on the mainland side starts right off the bridge and is crowded with stores selling souvenirs and snacks. Particularly noteworthy is Asahi Honten, halfway up the slope on the left, next to the working electronic replica of the Mouth of Truth (as seen in 1953 film "Roman Holiday"!). Here, they press-grill octopuses into delicious cracker-like sheets for a few hundred yen a pop. Don't worry: the octopuses are whole, but not live, and those faint screams are just the steam escaping.

Gardens and natural beauty

The Samuel Cocking Garden is an organized sprawl of colors and fragrances situated around the lighthouse at the top of the island, complete with the ruins of Cocking's Meiji-period greenhouse (alarmingly abbreviated on the map: "The Remains of Cocking").

This is also where Fujisawa keeps its sister city showcase, including the surreal "Miami Beach Area," where a key is kept under glass in a paved plaza overlooking jagged, wave-swept rocks.

The far edge of Enoshima is raw cliff and open sea, a dramatic and contrast after the tree-lined streets and steep stairways above. From here you can go right down to the waterline, or visit the famous grottoes (iwaya) that extend deep into the cliff face (though not all the way to Mt Fuji, as the townies used to claim).

The modern hand-rails and PA systems inside the grottoes diminish the spookiness, but the old sculptures are still inside and you still get issued your own candle for the last hundred feet. If you don't want to walk back to the mainland, this is also where you can pay a couple of hundred yen for a scenic boat ride to the main bridge.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Enoshima from Tokyo is to take the JR Tokaido line or the Odakyu Odawara line to Fujisawa and then transfer to the Enoden.