Kamakura: Shrines and a Giant Bronze Buddha

Kamakura was the seat of a powerful shogunate in the 13th and 14th centuries, and it has the impressive number of shrines and temples to show for it. It’s a popular tourist destination for Japanese and foreign tourists alike, and it was bustling when I went there in April. I made it to three of the famous sights, which isn’t bad for a day trip.

The Great Buddha in Kamakura

The Great Buddha in Kamakura

A shogun built the approach to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine for his son; quite the birthday present. It’s a straight path up from the sea, lined with cherry trees. It leads to a giant torii (main gate), which opens up to a small bridge crossing a manmade pond, and a long gravel path to a large courtyard.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

Banners at the shrine

Banners at the shrine

To the left of the stairs that lead up to the shrine stands what remains of the giant gingko tree that figures in legends of the shrine. The tree was struck by lightning several years ago, but people still pose for photos in front of the massive stump left behind. Behind the shrine is a small museum of treasures–calligraphy scrolls, suits of armor, some painted screens–which I admired but didn’t photograph, since there were lots of “No photos allowed” signs.

All those fortunes tied to the wires have to go somewhere

All those fortunes tied to the wires have to go somewhere

The stump of the 1000-year-old gingko tree

The stump of the 1000-year-old gingko tree

Possibly the biggest attraction in Kamakura is the Great Buddha. (Pun intended!) The bronze statue was cast in 1252 and has stood in the open air since 1495. The size did not disappoint; this is one large buddha. It’s also hollow, and you can go inside the base. That was cool, to touch the inside of a statue built 700 years ago.

The Great Buddha

The Great Buddha

Inside the Great Buddha

Inside the Great Buddha

Glamour shot with the kids after their school assignment

Photo shoot with the kids after their school assignment

The best part of visiting the buddha statue was all the schoolkids. They were there on a field trip, and they clearly had assignments to accost every foreigner they saw, because as I sat and admired the buddha, no fewer than three groups of 10-to-15-year-olds came up and asked to talk with me. Each person in the groups (made up of 6 to 8 kids) had to ask a question, and I answered “what is your favorite color?” “what sports do you like?” and “what is your favorite food from Japan?” many times. After I answered, they thanked me and gave me colorful little origami that they’d made, which was sweet, even if it was part of the assignment. The last group wanted to take a photo with me, so I got one on my camera too. Peace signs for everyone!

Hasedera Temple, housing the giant statue of Kannon

Hasedera Temple, housing the giant statue of Kannon

The final shrine I made it to was Hasedera Temple. It had a beautiful garden, and a giant gold-covered wood statue of Kannon, god/dess (has been seen as both) of mercy. The statue was not allowed to be photographed, and it was clearly an important focus for religious reflection. While I was there, a group of men and women in white half-robes were led in chant while they gazed at the statue, which was lovely to witness.

One section of Hasedera Temple has become a place where people remember their stillborn children

One section of Hasedera Temple has become a place where people remember their stillborn children

On a path to a view of the sea

On a path to a view of the sea

One of the minor gods serving Benzaiten, goddess of beauty and wealth

One of the minor gods serving Benzaiten, goddess of beauty and wealth

The temple grounds included a shrine that has become a sort of pilgrimage site for women remembering miscarriages and stillborn babies, a walk to an overlook on the sea, and a cave containing images of various goddesses. It was a large, lovely temple complex.

Advertisements

Dearest Fellow Travelers, tell me what you're thinking!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s