Zeniarai Benten Shrine – Kamakura, Japan - Atlas Obscura

Zeniarai Benten Shrine

It is said that coins washed in the waters here will miraculously multiply. 


In the medieval city of Kamakura, Zeniarai Benten (officially Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine) is one of the most popular spots in spite of its relatively small scale. This is largely due to the belief that coins will miraculously multiply when washed in the spring waters in the shrine’s cave.

Zeniarai Benten was allegedly founded in 1185 by the order of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shōgun of the Kamakura shogunate. Legend has it that on the Day of the Snake, in the Month of the Snake, in the Year of the Snake, Yoritomo had a dream that led him to a mystical spring, after which he established a shrine dedicated to Uga-jin, the mysterious deity (kami) often depicted in the form of a human-headed serpent.

Some shrines, like this one, traditionally merge Uga-jin and Benten or Benzaiten, the Buddhist-Shinto river goddess known as Sarasvati back in India, creating a syncretic god. Both deities are associated with money and fortune, and Benzaiten is said to be the master of snakes, perhaps inspired by the serpentine flows of rivers and streams.

Surrounded by steep cliffs, the grounds are accessible only by a tunnel dug during World War II today. A few small shrines and dozens of tori’i arches stand there, but most visitors will sooner or later be drawn to the okumiya, or inner shrine, founded in the aforementioned cave. There are wicker bowls and wooden dippers inside, which the visitors are free to use to douse the contents of their wallets in sacred water. Some people wash not only coins but banknotes, lottery tickets and even credit cards, wishing to receive good luck. In such cases, a little drop of the water is said to be sufficient.

After one has washed their money in the cave, some recommend keeping it in the wallet for good luck, inspired by the folk belief that coins can’t stand loneliness and that they need company or a guardian. According to the shrine, on the other hand, spending the cleansed money will bring more fortune. Whichever suggestion you believe, and whether you believe the whole thing in the first place or not, it won’t hurt to visit this charming shrine and try the miraculous money-washing when you’re in Kamakura.

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April 4, 2020

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