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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.