Photo/IllutrationTourists shop in the busy, little shopping street of Enoshima. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Darkness changed to light and Japan was born when the fun-sounding commotion outside got the best of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and she slid open the cave door to peer out.

OK, right. What a crazy story, I thought when I first read it. I put the many questions I had aside and let it go, storing it deep inside the recesses of my mind.

Fast-forward several years later on a beach in South America, I witnessed a total solar eclipse. Lightning flickered in my mind, and thoughts of Japan’s creation mythology overlapped with the celestial show happening above--the sun disappeared and darkness set in. With the Earth’s rotation, a sliver of light shone again, and ta-da!

Since this revelation, I have been fascinated by ancient creation myths and how they may have come about based on actual geological and astronomical events.

I recently went to Enoshima for the first time in eons, and when I saw the dragon motifs on Benten Bridge that you must cross to reach the island, I knew that there had to be an intriguing story.

I was right, of course.

According to legend, a five-headed dragon wreaked havoc on the area, causing torrential rainfall and floods, droughts and plagues, and fires that rained from above that swallowed children.

In A.D. 552, the beautiful Benzaiten, goddess of music and entertainment, made Enoshima rise from the sea, and she made it her home. The dragon fell in love with her, and when he confessed his feelings, she shamed the dragon for all the suffering he had caused people and said that unless he cleaned up his act, “ain’t nothin’ gonna happen between us.”

He mended his ways, and the natural disasters quieted down. At the end of his life, he laid down facing Enoshima and turned himself into Tatsu-no-kuchi-yama, Dragon’s Mouth Mountain.

The dragon symbolizes the turbulent rivers, and geologists have confirmed that earthquakes and coastal uplifts have repeatedly occurred in this area.

After the appearance of a meteor-like object falling from the sky--Benzaiten descending from the heavens--calamities ceased. There’s a similar story in India about divine falling celestial bodies.

Enoshima is most known for its aquarium, lighthouse, beach, botanical garden, cave and tako-senbei (octopus-flavored rice crackers). There are many shrines and temples on the island, and most are connected to dragons and Benzaiten.

So on your next visit, take note of all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) references, and enjoy Enoshima on a more profound and spiritual level.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Sept. 2 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.