Saturday, November 25, 2006

Guide to Kamakura

Photo (left) by Ikumi Kishiya
Photo (above) by Fuji Film staff
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture

(From Tokyo take the Yokosuka Line from Tokyo, Shimbashi and Shinagawa Stations approx. 1 hr)

"The capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333, Kamakura rivals Nikko as the most culturally rewarding day trip from Tokyo. There are a huge number of Buddhist temples and the occasional shrine dotted around the surrounding countryside, as well as some very pleasant walks." --Japan, Lonely Planet

I highly recommend this gem of the Shonan coast as one of the must see places in Japan. When deciding to write this guide, Kamakura was one of the first places after Kyoto I decided I would list. John Carroll`s, Trails of Two Cities (Kodansha International, 1997) is a good guide to the city and surrounding area. An area full of flowers all year round.

Kamakura has three main areas: Kita-Kamakura, the Great Buddha area, and Central Kamakura.The quietest, most scenic and most meditative is Kita-Kamakura (or North Kamakura). It is best to visit the city on a weekday as weekends tend to be very crowded.


Engaku-ji Founded: 1282 The entrance to the temple is near Kita-Kamakura Station.Built to comfort the souls of the warriors slain in the great Mongol invasion the previous year..If you go up the stone stairs to the right, you will see the Great Bell. It is famous for it`s beautifulsound and shape. Take some time to have some tea and contemplate life at one of the many subtemplessurrounding the main temple.

Kencho-jiFounded: 1253 The walkway to the Buddha Hall or (Butsuden) is lined with 700 year old junipers--wellworth seeing themselves. To the left behind the main temple is a famous pond garden reputedly made byMuso Soseki. The path continues into the hills and you can engage in some hiking if you`d like. The hikingaround Kamakura is very good.

Central Kamakura

Photo of Kamakura Street by Ikumi Kishiya

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu (Exit East Side of Kamakura Station)

Then it is ten minutes walk on foot. Walk along Wakamiya-oji Street which has three large gates so itis difficult to get lost. Part of the street is lined with cherry trees and is beautiful in the spring.This is the main shrine of Kamakura. Founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi whose clan rules Japan from Kamakura.The central entrance crosses a bridge over a lotus leaf pond called Gempei Ike. On the left of the ShrineHall or (Hongu) is a one thousand year old gingko tree. Sanetomo was assassinated by his nephew who leaped from behind the tree in 1219.

Japanese Language Point:Doko desuka?=Where is? (the `o` is hard not soft)If you get lost just ask one of the locals:"Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu doko desuka?" Surugowka hochymon doko des ka?This is: "Where is Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu?"

Kamakura`s Great Buddha Area

Daibatsu (The Great Buddha)

The Daibatsu or Great Bussha is one of the most enduring images of Japan. Indeed it is Kamakura`s most famoussight. It was built in 1252. It was once housed indoors but now sits outside guarding over the city. The statue is11.4 metres tall. It is artistically superior to the Nara Buddha, though smaller.

"Once housed in a huge hall, the statue today sits in the open, its home having been washed away by a tsunami in 1495. Cast in bronze and weighing closeto 850 tonnes, the statue is 11.4 m tall. Its construction is said to have been inspired by Yoritomo`s visit to Nara (where there is another, even bigger, daibutsu) after the Minamoto clanPs victory over the rival Taira clan. Even though Kamakura`s Daibatsu doesn`t match Nara`s in stature, it is commonly agreed that it is artistically superior."--Japan, Lonely Planet

Hase-dera (5 minutes from Hase Station on the Enoden Line)

This temple has a 9 meter tall gilded image of Kannon. This Kannon was carved from one gigantic camphor tree.The grounds are filled with many stone jizo dressed in red. These are to comfort the unborn children. (There are many abortions in Japan.)

"By legend, this temple`s 9 meter-tall gilded image of Kannon was carved from the sameimmense camphor tree as the celebrated Hase-kannon in the mountains south of Nara.The twin was set adrift and eventually washed ashore at Kamakura in 736, where this temple was founded for it."--June Kinoshia & Nicholas Palevsky, Gateway to Japan

There are many more temples in Kamakura than are listed here. However these are the must sees in my opinion.

Classic photo of a bridge in Kamakura

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