Asahina Pass (朝比奈切通), also called Asaina Pass (朝夷奈切通), is one of the Seven Entrances (鎌倉七口, Kamakura nana-kuchi) or Seven Passes (七切り通し Nana-kiridoshi) of Kamakura. It connected the northwestern part of the city with the Port of Mutsuura (modern-day Kanazawa-bunko in Yokohama). It is said that one reason Minamoto no Yoritomo chose Kamakura to be the capital of the shogunate was its location: surrounded by steep hills, it formed a natural fortress that could only be accessed through footways so narrow that only one horse could pass. Those entrances provided safety but also allowed communication and trade with other parts of the country.

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The beginning of the path leading up to Asahina Pass. To the left, the Saburō Falls (三郎滝).

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A sign at the entrance of Asahina Pass.

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The Saburō Falls and a memorial slab.

In 1241, the third shikken (regent) of the Kamakura shogunate, Hōjō Yasutoki (北条泰時, 1183-1242), decided to connect Kamakura with Mutsuura. The port town was a centre of salt production and an important trade centre with commercial ties to other places in Kantō, such as Awa and Kazusa (in present-day Chiba), as well as more distant locations like Korea and China.

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According to legend, Asahina Saburō Yoshihide, the son of Wada Yoshimori (和田義盛, 1147-1213), a vassal (御家人 gokenin) of the shogunate, opened the pass in just one night. While this must have called for superhuman powers, the sign next to the falls also states that Hōjō Yasutoki himself oversaw the construction and helped carry stones and other materials on his horse. The Saburō Falls (三郎滝) at the entrance of the pass are also named after Asahina Yoshihide.

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Visitors should don solid footwear, as the path is steep, always wet, and quite challenging to negotiate. The cliffs are artificial, the rocks are very soft and brittle. Both sides of the path show remnants of former fortifications and flattened areas where posts and other structures must have stood once.

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A Buddhist relief on the crest of Asahina Pass: author and historian Francesco Baldessari, a resident of Kamakura, showed us around Asahina Pass and Kumano Shrine. He holds regular lectures in and about Kamakura and guides visitors around selected temples and places.

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Buddhist low relief at Asahina Pass

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Yagura around Asahina Pass. Yagura (やぐら) are burial caves for warriors or priests in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods.

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A slab and a wooden sign a few metres down the crest mark the turn-off point towards the nearby Kumano Shrine, the tutelary shrine for Asahina Pass built by Minamoto no Yoritomo himself.

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The spirit enshrined is that of Kumano Gongen (熊野権現), originally worshipped in the Kumano shrines of Kii Peninsula (Wakayama Prefecture). A gongen (権現, lit. "incarnation") was believed to be the manifestation of Buddha in the form of an indigenous kami, a deity supposed to guide people to salvation.

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Kumano Shrine at Asahina Pass

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Shide (紙垂 or 四手) attached to a tree. Shide are zigzag-shaped paper streamers used for blessings or purification.

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A Buddhist statue on the path leading up to Asahina Pass.

Asahina Pass is not the most accessible place to visit in Kamakura but certainly one of the most mystical, silent and remote, one - to quote Mr Baldessari - that is so close to the "real" world yet so otherworldly.

Access:

A 5-minute bus ride from JR Kamakura Station (No. 24 and No. 25) to either Kamakura Reien Shōmon-mae or Kanazawa Hakkei-eki; get off at Jūnisō (十二所) or Asahina-tōge (朝比奈峠). There are road signs pointing to Asaina Kiridoshi (朝夷奈切り通し).


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