Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 2011 Day 16 (July 12): Kamakura

Today we took taxi, subway, & train, for a total of ~ 1 1/2 hours, & found ourselves (plus 4 friends) in Kamakura. Kamakura was one of the capitals of ancient Japan, founded in 1192 by the Minamoto shogunate, & it remained the capital for a little less than 150 years. There are 65 Buddhist temples & 19 Shinto shrines in Kamakura, but we only managed to visit 4 of them today :) That was enough, though, to see why it’s such a popular tourist destination. 
Our friend Momo, & her friend Hiroko, had planned a very elegant visit to Kamakura that began at the tiny Kita-Kamakura station, a much easier place to meet up than the large, bustling Kamakura train station one stop past Kita-Kamakura. Along with Momo & Hiroko, some friends from our town, Miho & her son TJ, who are visiting family in Japan right now, joined up with us. We all arrived around the same time at Kita-Kamakura & then found our first destination, the Engaku-ji Buddhist temple very close by.
L-R: TJ, Miho, Momo, Hiroko, Charlie, & Brendan

 The Engaku-ji, founded about 700 years ago, is famous for having a tooth of the Buddha enshrined there, although it isn’t on public display. 

The Engoku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple & is still actively engaged in training practitioners of Zen Buddhism. 

The main hall was beautiful, & I loved the dragon painted on the ceiling. 
The bell at Engaku-ji is one of the cultural treasures of Japan, so I climbed up far too many stairs to see it.

 I’m glad I did, though, as it was beautiful. There were omamori for sale nearby so I bought some as gifts.
Hiroko-san had done an interent search of Kamakura & found a restaurant that served vegetarian food near the Engaku-ji, so we walked over there next. 

There were so many of us that the only table big enough was on the tatami, so we all sat on the floor on cushions to eat lunch. The food was yummy!!
Then we caught a bus to the main temple in Kamakura, the Shinto Hachimangu shrine. 

It was gorgeous, up on a hill again (with lots of stairs...). 

We could see the very old & beautiful omikoshi stored in a side-building- these are the movable shrines that the gods are moved into & then carried throughout the town during festivals. 
After the Hachimangu, we walked down to the a bus for a ~10-minute trip to see the Houkoku-ji Buddhist temple. 

The Houkoku-ji is in the middle of a beautiful bamboo forest, something I’ve always wanted to see. It was indescribable, green & peaceful & amazing. 

At the Houkoku-ji they serve matcha green tea & rakugan sweets for a small charge, which you drink by a tiny waterfall in the bamboo forest. So peaceful & lovely.
This Jizou was wearing a red crocheted cap :)
Next we got back on the bus to the Hachimangu area & then walked down the “street of shops” (& ice cream, shaved ice, & other consumables) toward the Kamakura train station, doing a little shopping along the way. While waiting to cross the road, at one point, an older gentleman struck up a conversation with us in English- it turns out that he’s been studying English since he retired & was delighted that we were English-speakers, so we chatted with him through a few light-changes :) At the station we caught our last bus to the Kotokuin Buddhist temple to see the Daibutsu, the most famous landmark in Kamakura. 
The Daibutsu (“great Buddha”) statue, made 750 years ago, was once in a building that was washed away in a tsunami & has sat uncovered since then. It was yet another beautiful place that was somehow peaceful even though there were lots of people (& lots of schoolchildren) there. You can actually go into the statue for a small fee, which a few of our group did (I didn't because I was tired of stairs!).
Entrance to the statue.
Air vents on the back of the Daibutsu.

Instead of taking a bus back to the station, we decided to ride the small, Enoden railway back to Kamakura station.

 It takes you by the ocean & is very nostalgic for Japanese who visited Kamakura on school trips or in their childhood. At Kamakura station we all got on the train back toward Tokyo, but, 2x2, our friends got off the train at earlier stops to go home. We got back to Tamaki station, where we’d started out (got there by taxi) & bought some food for dinner before finding a subway to take us home. It was nearly 5:00 pm by the time we got back, tired, a bit sunburnt, but definitely pleased with our wonderful day!

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