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Kamakura 鎌倉

January 15, 2009

The first day trip away from Tokyo was about an hour to the south to Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture.  Between 1185 and 1333, Kamakura was actually the capital of Japan.  I was up and gone very early and arrived in Kita-Kamakura (North Kamakura) shortly after 8:00am.  I thought I would follow the suggestion from my Lonely Planet guidebook and see the temples around Kita-Kamakura first and then walk down to Kamakura to hop onto the short train ride to the Daibutsu and Hase-dera.  In retrospect, I did it ass-backwards.  The biggest draws in Kamakura are the Daibutsu and Hase-dera so guess where the crowds were by the time I got to them?

Regardless, it was a great day.  It was nice to see Mt. Fuji in the distance as the train got to around Yokohama.  Once I got to Kita-Kamakura, I headed to the nearest temple to the station, Engaku-ji, number two of the great temples of Kamakura.  This temple was established in 1282 to placate the souls lost, Japanese and Mongolian, in the two failed attempts that Kublai Khan’s army tried to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281.  Each time, Khan’s forces were dispatched by divine wind or kamikaze, the name which Japanese pilots took for themselves during WW 2.

The other two temples I visited on the walk to Kamakura were Jochi-ji and Kencho-ji.  Though built in 1282, Jochi-ji lost all its old buildings in the great Kanto earthquake of 1923.  Despite the lack old structures, the grounds are very nice, especially early in the morning and of the 3 places I visited in Kita-Kamakura, this is where I spent the majority of my time.

Kencho-ji holds the number one spot on the list of the five great temples in Kamakura.  Founded in 1253 it was the first temple to be built in the area.  Sitting on a claimed 20 hectares of land, it’s certainly one of the largest temple complexes in Japan.  What impressed me most were the 700+ year old juniper trees in front of the main hall.

The Daibutsu (big Buddha) at Koutoku-in is the second largest seated Buddha in Japan, after the one at Toudai-ji in Nara.  It used to be housed in a building but it was washed away in a tsunami in 1335.  I find it a bit odd that the building was never rebuilt.  At almost 14 metres tall, it’s pretty impressive to see such a huge bronze structure particularly when you consider it was build in the mid 1200’s without modern technology.

Legend has it that Hase-dera was established after two fishermen pulled the statue of the goddess Kannon from the sea in the 730’s.  The statue is impressive as it stands a shade over 9 metres, carved from a single piece of camphor tree and therefore holds the title of largest wooden statue in Japan.

I liked Kamakura and will probably return though next time, I’ll definitely head to the Daibutsu first.




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