Benzaiten originally is a Goddess of Hinduism in India, named "Sarasvati".
The word "sarasvati"means a "holy river",
and the Goddess Sarasvati has been worshiped for the blessing of the water. There are three
biggest Benzaiten statues in Japan and they are in "Enoshima", "Chikubushima"
and "Itsukushima". These Benzaiten statues are often
located near the waterside and the Inokashira Benzaiten also stands in the center of
its large pond.
This "Goddess of river" Sarasvati
was also worshipped for music, art and the general scholarship because the sound of water going reminded
people of words in rich vocabulary and music of some kind. Moreover,
she sometimes was a symbol of blessing for rich grain and was therefore worshipped
together with other god like "Ugajin"(a god of agriculture / grain).
Later the Japanese letter "才"(talent) in the name of Benzaiten was
replaced with "財"(property).This shows what and how much people anticipated from their
goddess at that time.There is a Dragon-shaped statue, Benten at the back of the
main shrine in Inokashira and washing your coins here will bring you some
wealthiness and luck.
Talking of one of those gods of agriculture, the above mentioned "Ugajin"looks like a white snake with a head of an old man.
A votive picture(of a horse) for him is also shaped like a white snake disregarding the Twelve Zodiac Signs and the statue of "Ugajin" can be found
on the left side upon the stone-steps with red handrails in front of Benzaiten.
Ugajin often is identified with a god "Inarishin" as they both are symbolic
of grain/agriculture, and as a result of that, there also is a small shrine
built for "Inarishin"on the opposite side of Inokashira Benzaiten. In a day
time, when it seems even darker than midnight, there is a space with perfect
silent as if it were beyond the time and isolated from any other sites around it. We
recommend you should visit it once.
The Benten that is often recognised as one of the Seven Gods of Good
Fortune, is a shape of a woman holding a lute with her 2
arms/hands. But the principal image of the Inokashira Benzaiten has 8 arms and
on the top of her head there is Ugajin with a sacred arch. Her mystical face
appears to be ever so gentle but the statue is kept secret usually and
not exhibited to the public unfortunately. Once in 12 years, on the year
of the Snake(in the Twelve Zodiac Signs years) it can be seen for a public visit
so the chance is never to be missed. In addition to Benzaiten, Bisyamonten (the
god of the defense) and Daikokuten (the god of wealth) are located together
in Inokashira main shrine and you can visit three of those
Gods of Good Fortune at once.
*Visiting and watching them is absolutely free to do, but please be kind to give staff a notice before you climb upon the hall of the
The sutra of the Benzaiten;
During the period of Tenkei Years (938-946), Tsunemoto Minamoto
who is the ancestor of the Kanto Minamoto Lineage, brought
a "Benzai Tennyo" portrait ("tennyo" is a celestial nymph)
here, in Inokashira. This was the beginning of the whole story
and later Yoritomo Minamoto decided to build a shrine to pray
for the peace on "The East"(the area that was under his control
at that time).The shrine was completed in Kenkyu Year 8 (1197).
It is said that in Shokei Year 2(1333), Yoshisada Nitta had
his prayer for the victory of his war against Hojo from Kamakura.
In the Edo period, Ieyasu Tokugawa started the maintenance of waterworks. The source was the Inokashira pond to lay water on and that waterwork is now known as Kanda river. Ieyasu visited this place often and one day in Kencho Year 11 (1606), he made tea with the water taken from Inokashira pond, and the tea millstone he used then is still conserved in Benten shrine.
The 3rd Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu kept this area for hunting location and when he visited here in Kanei Year 6 (1629), for the first time he named it as "Inokashira" from the fact that the pond was the head/top point of the waterworks for drinking water in Edo ("Kashira" can mean "head/top" in Japanese). It is said that on a tree at the border of the pond, he inscribed that name "Inokashira". But that tree had been burnt down unfortunately and a stone monument has been built instead.
After that Iemitsu re-built the Benten shrine, which also had been burnt down earier.Thus the Inokashira pond had been the source of all the Edo citizene's life. Then people started to have religious belief towards Benzaiten. They thanked it for the water, general property, and sometimes it even symbolized entertainment and music. As a result of all that happened, Benzaiten greatly gained a major popularity during the Edo period.
The place kept having visitors from the central of Edo without a break and signposts were made on the way to Benzaiten.
Still now, we can recognize some of them in Koshukaido and various other spots.
There is a sign stone made in Enkyo Year 2(1745) at the entrance
of the approach to the shrine and if you look at listed names
of who have devoted for Benzaiten on it, you can see names
such as Kikunojo Segawa (a great actor at that time), Junzo
Kouraiya(later becomes the fifth Koshiro Matsumoto), Kanzaburo
Nakamura, Nakamura theatre, Hizen theatre, Satsuma theatre
and so on. This is such an important primary source for the
theatriacal history of Edo and it shows how much faith citizenes
had towards Benzaiten.
In addtion to the above, all the stone-made important cultural properties (that are recognised by Mitaka city) such as a pair of stone lanterns at the entrance of Benten island, stone gardian dogs and a basin are all contributed by citizenes in Edo down town. The plate on which the name of Nihonbashi Kofune town was inscribed, is still safe kept and that was used for Hyakumi-Onjiki memorial service (a traditional procedure for memorial service. Usually people serve seasonal vegitables and fruits etc).
A famous landscape Ukiyoe artist Hiroshige Utagawa(Ando) drew some scenes of Benzaiten. One is an autumn scene and it's known as "Benzaiten Shrine" in his series of "The famous hundred views of Edo",
other is winter evening scene from the series of Four Seasons "Snow"and is known as "Benzaiten Shrine Covered with Snow".
Again these facts show how important Benzaiten had been, and how closely Benzaiten had existed for the citezenes/culture of Edo.
Still now the nearest train staion "Kichijoji" and the surrounding town can be described as a town of an ideal mixture of culture and life.
It has been a quiet residential area as well as the culture-leading spot, where many artists and those young artists-to-be live along.
This unique place filled with live houses, playhouses and movie theatres may be blessed by Benten God for its development still.