A very early start that morning ensured that I had the entire day to explore the ancient city of Kamakura. For some reason, I had never before visited the famous place which is not even that far from Tokyo. Life was still starting up when I started to explore the quiet streets of the city that turned out to be lively later on. I first headed along the Wakamiya-oji street, walking in the middle section surrounded by trees. The street was once flanked by canals, but nowadays there is a fair share of traffic on either side of the old lane which gets slightly narrower towards the upper side in order to make it look longer. Once through the last of the three toriis or Shinto gates, I entered the main grounds on which Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine is located. I saw huge sake barrels, and small hills with shrines on top of them, before I climbed the stairs leading to the main shrine. After a look inside, I bought myself the right to get a bamboo stick with a number. A sweet Japanese girl handed me an omikuji, a fortune telling paper slip, which turned out to hold a pretty good outlook for my future. I tied the omikuji to branches where hundreds of older ones were already hanging. People started to flock to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine, which was a sign for me to move on. After walking towards the east, my next visit was to Hokoku-ji temple. More isolated, I found it almost empty and walked into a totally different experience.
Quiet corners, stone stairs overgrown with moss, statues and carefully tended small gardens made for a wonderful setting. The main temple was closed and it seemed that a ceremony for a deceased person was going on, so I decided to enter the bamboo garden for which Hokoku-ji is famous and from which its nickname, Bamboo temple, derives. I felt dwarfed by the enormous bamboo, and then found a row of small stone statues. I ended up tasting some delicious green tea in the teahouse, specially prepared by Japanese women in traditional dresses. I stayed a while just to soak up the very Japanese atmosphere, before I continued my tour through Kamakura. My next destination was the oldest temple of the city: Sugimoto-dera, presumably founded in the 8th century. Easily overlooked, it turned out to be a joy to visit. Climbing the old stairs, with some fierce deities protecting the temple in wooden buildings, I ended up at the rather small main hall. Banners everywhere, statues big and small, and as a bonus, a view over the city. From here, I descended and walked towards Zuisen-ji temple, which lies a little outside the city. Mostly famous for its lovely gardens, and nicknamed the flower temple, it proved to already have blossoming trees even though it early February. Back to the main road, I noticed a sign pointing to the Tenen hiking trail leading to Kencho-ji temple which is where I was heading - even though it pointed the other way than the temple actually was. I just felt like adventure and started hiking up the hills around Zuisen-ji temple. Where in the beginning the signs were in English, soon they were only in Japanese, and then there were none at all. With lots of paths branching off, and no one to ask, it was almost inevitable that I found myself on the wrong path after a while. I walked back towards the hills, and my efforts to find my way back to the main path ended up in a desperate struggle with bushes and small trees before I, indeed, found the main path again.
Once found, the road to 13th century Kencho-ji temple proved easy and short, and I descended on this temple complex from the backside. I immediately loved the enormous old wooden prayer halls, and marvelled at their construction. One of the main temples of Kamakura, Kencho-ji was founded by a Chinese priest. By this time, my stomach was begging for food, and I found an authentic Japanese place right across the street. Ready for more, I walked back to the railway station and took the Enoden train to Hase station. After a brief visit to the Pacific beach of Kamakura, I went to Hase-dera temple complex. It turned out to be very crowded, which did not prevent good views over Kamakura. I was certainly not alone to see the enormous golden statue of the goddess of mercy, Kannon, and subsequently visited caves in which I found stone statues in various sizes. A shrine where flowers could be placed proved a very interesting corner of Hase-dera temple complex, as there are row upon row with hundreds of stone statues - some of which dressed up with red woolen sweaters. The sun was on its way down when I speeded towards the Giant Buddha, my last destination of the day. After entering the area, and turning a corner, a superb statue of Buddha appeared at the other end of the park grounds. Once covered in gold leaf and seated in a building, a tsunami took the hall away and time took care of the gold cover of the Daibutsu. Over 11 metres tall, the statue makes you feel very small once right under it. While evening was falling over Kamakura, the statue was reduced to a silhouet against the dark blue sky, but then lights were lit making the view of the Giant Buddha a memorable one. It was probably the best way to end my visit to Kamakura. After a tasty dinner and with my head full of precious images, I returned to Tokyo.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kamakura (Japan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kamakura. Read more about this site.