The Goddess, the Dragon, and the Island

A Study of the Enoshima Engi

(History of Enoshima Temple/Shrine): Part 1

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The core of this study is my translation of the first part of the Enoshima Engi (江嶋縁起), the first in a western language. The Enoshima Engi is a history of the temples/shrines on Enoshima Island, which lies in Sagami Bay about 50 kilometers south of present-day Tokyo. Written in Chinese by the learned Buddhist monk Kokei (皇慶) in 1047 AD, this segment of the Enoshima Engi relates an apparently fabulous story of a destructive five-headed dragon that lived in a large, swampy lake along the course of a local river in the period prior to the sixth century AD. The dragon plagued the inhabitants of the low coastal hills in the vicinity of Enoshima, causing floods and swallowing children.

This segment of Kokei's history has long been dismissed as myth. However, many details related in the history are accurate for the time frame covered by the story (a period of 1,000-some years ending in 552 AD according to traditional, unconfirmed dates used by Kokei), when much of the area was still emerging from under the water of Sagami Bay. This study assembles evidence and/or documentation to support the view that:
  • The large lake and the villages not only existed but were at precisely the locations described in the history. Related details are also supported.
  • The destructive five-headed dragon represented the violent local river and its four major tributaries as seen from the hills where the ancient inhabitants lived. As such it was a deification of water — the waters of the river and the estuary — which was the dominant threat to the lives and livelihoods of the local inhabitants.
  • Flooding was a problem, caused in part by a local river that is still notorious for its violent floods and in part by storms.

The extensive correspondence between the details of this segment of Kokei's history and the supporting evidence and documentation suggests that Kokei had access to fairly accurate information on the "proto-history" of this region of Japan. Thus Kokei's Enoshima Engi may contribute to our knowledge of conditions in early Japan in the area around Enoshima.

Further research (here) suggests that the spectacular aerial and terrestrial phenomena described by Kokei actually occurred.

  • The phenomena included dark clouds covering the sea for almost two weeks, a swarm of earthquakes, the appearance of a bright goddess above the clouds, great stones falling from the sky, lightning bolts, rocks and sand spurting up from the bottom of the sea, and the descent of the goddess onto the island. These phenomena resemble (note the similarities between here and here) phenomena mentioned in a Purana as having occurred around the Sarasvati River. Also see this article.

Key words: Enoshima Engi, Kokei, dragon, proto-history Japan, Benzaiten, goddess, catastrophe, geomythology, comet, bolide


I-A. Translation of Segment 1 of the Enoshima Engi: The Destructive Dragon  

This segment describes the destructive activities of the dragon before AD 552.

I-B. Translation of Segment 2: The Emergence of the Island and the Descent of the Goddess 

This segment describes the spectacular aerial and terrestrial phenomena at Enoshima in the early summer of 552, the descent of the goddess, and the subduing of the dragon.

II. The Local Setting

III. The Dragon

IV. Conditions before the 6th Century

V. Summary and Conclusions

VI. Further Research:

  • Read a bare-bones outline of the story without footnotes and long-winded explanations; includes a photograph of one representation of the goddess.

Acknowledgments: I wish to thank the staff of the public libraries of Fujisawa and Kamakura for their courteous and extensive help in locating reference materials.

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